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Showing posts with label Matthew 5:17-20. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matthew 5:17-20. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2023

Why Christians Follow Some Old Testament Laws But Not Others

Jesus is the most amazing person who ever lived.  His teachings are revered by people all over the world—even by those of other, non-Christian, world religions.  We find His core teachings in chapters 5-7 of Matthew, what is called the Sermon on the Mount. 

In this message series, we are working our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, lesson by lesson.  Today, we come to Matthew 5:17-20 where Jesus explains His relationship with the Old Testament.

Matthew 5:17
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 

What is Jesus talking about here?  What is the Law of Moses and the prophets?  The “Law of Moses” is the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  The “prophets” (sometimes called “the writings”) were all the other sacred Scriptures—which included historical, liturgical, and prophetic writings urging the people of Israel to be faithful to God by obeying the Law of Moses.  Together the Law of Moses and the prophets make up the collection of books Christians call the “Old Testament”.

Some people in Jesus day (as well as some people today) believed Jesus was so radically different that He would throw out the Old Testament all together and make something completely new.  But Jesus definitively clears up that misconception right here.  “No.  I came to accomplish their purpose.”

Jesus did not abolish or throw out the requirements of the Old Testament.  He accomplish them.  Now, if that’s true, the question people today always ask is, “Then why don’t we still follow all those crazy rules in the Old Testament law?  Why do Christians eat pork and shellfish?  Why don’t Christians still stone people to death for certain crimes as the Old Testament Law commands?

Types of Old Testament Law
Part of the reason people misunderstand is they don’t understand the Old Testament Law.  We can put Old Testament law into three broad categories.  Now these are modern ways of categorizing; the lines were more blurry for the ancients.  But I believe these categories can be useful to help us consider the ancient Law and how it applies to Christians today.

First of all there were civil laws.  These are laws to help maintain order in civil society.  We have civil laws today.  We have traffic laws like the speed limit that help keep us safe on the roads.  We have property laws about trespassing.  We have laws about contracts that help protect us in our business dealings.  

And we also have some laws that have become irrelevant.  On the books today in Georgia, there is still a law that says, you can't keep a donkey in a bath tub.  Now I don't know why in the world we need a law that says that. I don't know anyone today who is keeping a donkey in a bathtub.  But apparently, at one point in our history, that was a problem so they made a law about it.  

Residents in Acworth, Georgia are legally required to own a rake.  I suppose at some point in history, maybe there was a problem with people having untidy lawns in Acworth in the fall.  So they made a law that if you were going to move to Acworth, you have to own a rake.

In Gainesville, Georgia, the made a law that you must eat fried chicken with your hands.  Don't be all fancy trying to eat your fried chicken with fork and knife.  Just pick that greasy goodness up with your hands!  Now, there's a reason for that law.  Gainesville has a big chicken industry and they wanted to pull a publicity stunt (I guess to promote the down homeliness of eating fried chicken) and so they made a law that says you have to eat your fried chicken in Gainesville with your hands.

Israel was a civil society that needed rules to live together in an orderly, peaceful manner.  Plus, they had a purpose.  Israel was supposed to represent God to the whole world.  They were to be a royal and holy priesthood set apart as different from all the other nations around them.  So Israel had rules about even minor details of civil life which included:  how to dress, what to eat, how to punish criminals, and even how to treat strangers, foreigners, orphans, and widows.

So why don’t most Christians feel obligated to abstain from eating pork and dress like ancient Israelites?  Because we don’t live in the ancient kingdom of Israel.  That kingdom no longer exists.  Some might say, “Well, Israel still exists.”  Yes, but even that modern country is not the ancient kingdom of Israel.  That do not have the same purpose and mandate from God.

Then there are ceremonial laws.  These were laws about religious rites and festivals for ancient Israel.  How and when to sacrifice a goat.  How to ordain a priest. How to heal a leper.   And there's also a reason Christians aren’t obligated to follow the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.  We believe Jesus fulfilled everything that those laws required.  In simple terms, those laws no longer apply because Jesus achieved everything those laws foreshadowed.  For instance, we don't have to sacrifice a lamb to celebrate Passover because Jesus is THE Passover Lamb and His blood shed on the cross covers our sin once and for all.

Finally, there are moral laws.  These are laws about right and wrong, good and bad behavior.  In this category we could put the laws found in The 10 Commandments--do not murder, do not steal, do not worship idols.  We could also include rules about sexual immorality and prohibitions against the exploitation of widows and orphans.

Now these moral laws are universal.  They apply equally for all humanity regardless of where you live and when you live.  It doesn’t matter if you live in America, Africa, Iran, Russia, or China, it’s still wrong to murder (and everyone knows it).  It doesn’t matter if you’re living in the 1st century with Jesus, the 18th century with John Wesley, or the 21st century in Whitfield County, it’s always wrong to steal, to bear false witness, or to commit adultery (at least according to God’s way of living spelled out in the Bible). 

So these morals laws we find in the Old Testament, that Jesus lived by and taugt his Disciples to follow, still apply to us today.  That is why we believe there’s nothing wrong with eat pork, but we still believe sexual perversion is an abomination to God and harmful to human society and degrades human beings who were made in the sacred image of God.

Matthew 5:18-19
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus Fulfills the Law
Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets.  He came to satisfy the demands of the Old testament and he fulfills everything it pointed to.

The purpose of the ancient kingdom of Israel was to be a royal priesthood to bring all nations back to God.  That was their real purpose.  I’m not making that up.  It’s spelled out throughout the Old Testament—time and time again.  I don’t have time to spell out all the Scriptures.  Let me just share a couple.  Isaiah 49:6 spells out God’s hope that it won’t just be the people of Israel who are reconciled to God, but Israel will be a “light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Another example is the Book of Jonah.  God sent Jonah to preach to the Ninevites—an evil and violent people—to call them to repent.  You see, God wanted everyone—not just the Israelites—to be His people.

Israel was supposed to be a holy nation set apart to represent God to the whole world and to invite everyone everywhere to turn away from sin and let God be Lord of their life.  Yet Israel was self-absorbed and full of sinful pride—thinking God loved them more than everyone else.  All they wanted to do was enjoy their status as the chosen people without ever obeying the Law to actually live as a people chosen by God to reconcile the world to God.

Although Israel failed in that mission because they constantly turned away from God and broke God’s Law, Jesus fulfilled everything the Law said, including the purpose the Law was given.  Jesus is the only person who ever lived who never sinned, never broke a single commandment, never violated the spiritual purpose of the Law.  Jesus life, death, ressurection, and ascension is the fulfillment of even the smallest details of God’s Law.  Everything the Law pointed to, Jesus accomplished.

Matthew 5:20
“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Jesus ends with a stern warning that’s meant to make us realize how desperately we need Him to save us.  Think about it.  Unless you are more righteous than the Pharisees in the Bible, you can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Pharisees strived to be absolutely obedient to every single letter of the Law.  When the Law says, “Don’t work on the Sabbath Day,” they wanted to know exactly what that meant.  So they determined you could walk no further than ¾ of a mile on the Sabbath.  And they had rules like this for all 613 of the laws in the Old Testament. And they had them all memorized to help them obey all the laws completely.  They were considered the holiest, most perfect people in Israel.

And Jesus says, unless you are better than them, you will never enter to Heaven.  What!?!?  Here’s the point:  Jesus is pointing out it’s impossible.  You can’t do it. 

You can’t do it.  But Jesus can.  And Jesus did.  Jesus fulfills the Law.  And Jesus paid the penalty for your failure to keep the law.  Jesus offers you grace and mercy.  All He asks is that you repent of your sin and believe in Him. 

To repent means to turn away from your sin.  It means to turn away from your rejection of God.
It means to stop living however you want to live and start living the way God wants you to live.

Believing Jesus means trusting Him.  It’s not just believing it with your head. It means trust Jesus following Him—living the way He teaches you to live.  

So I plead with you, repent of your sin and believe in Jesus today.