While looking for content for this weekend’s newsletter, I was skimming through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy and came to where Moses shares the Ten Commandments with the Israelites (again) as part of his reminder to follow the law as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land.
The thought then struck me, “Does the Law really even matter anymore?” After all, Jesus died to remove from us the penalty from breaking the law, and most Christians believe that the law was something only useful in the distant past, but I always prefer to give questions such as this a hearing in my mind, and in this case, a hearing in newsletter form.
The book of Deuteronomy contains an excellent summary of the whole law that Israel had received, and it includes instructions about worship, civil matters, economic policies, social and family boundaries, rules for leadership, instructions about proper sanitation/hygiene, and the consequences of sin (sacrifice). I like to think of the whole book as Moses’ farewell sermon to the people of Israel before handing the last of the leadership duties fully over to Joshua.
But our question still exists: Does the law matter anymore? In Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT), Jesus tells us:
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. 18 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.
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!
The religious leaders and the Pharisees were the most elite religious people in society, so Jesus’ concluding remarks paint a sober picture for those who were listening (v.20). It also paints a bleak picture for those who ignore the commandments and teach others to do the same. Least in the kingdom of Heaven sounds ‘humble and noble’, however Jesus is contrasting two opposing ideas and sharing how they differ in God’s eyes.
Those who ignore the laws and teach others to do the same are least, while those who obey and teach others to obey (God’s Law) are the greatest. Since heaven and earth still exist, this teaching of Jesus has to be still as true today as it was when He spoke it.
For me, understanding the Law of God comes down to looking at a couple of areas of scripture. First, I look at the passages that describe a world without sin, and look for elements of lifestyle. (The two places are the first two and a half chapters of Genesis, and the last two chapters of Revelation.) From creation, I see that God created men and women (and marriage), blessed the last day of his creation week, and created the idea of purpose/work/calling (since God created man to manage the earth and the garden, as well as naming the animals), to name a few.
The next place I look is anywhere that God speaks, and where it indicates something about obedience. The two main places in the Bible I see this is when He speaks the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and through the teachings of Jesus Himself. Closely looking at how the term “law” is used throughout the Bible will show how there is a “Law of God”, and a “law of Moses”.
Lastly, I look at passages in the rest of the Bible and view them through the lens given by these first two sets of scripture.
Jesus came to offer the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The perfect sacrifice means that we are able to look at Jesus’ life and see the standard that we would have needed to keep (in order to achieve salvation on our own), and to let us know that sacrifice, which foreshadowed Jesus’ death and the fate of sin was ‘fulfilled’. This is what allows a law ‘ignorer’ to be the least in Heaven. Jesus took the penalty of God’s law on Himself when He didn’t deserve it.
However, when you read or hear people talk about the law and how Jesus fulfilled the 613 or more Jewish traditions, they seem to indicate that they are all grouped together, thrown away, and then Jesus created something new (The New Covenant). This is a fallacy of logic, because even if this were true, the gospel writers themselves said that Jesus spoke so many things that everything couldn’t be included in a book. They use the illustration that only what was included was important (the old wineskins and cloth, vs. new wineskins and cloth).
The logic supporting this fulfillment (that looks like replacement or ‘abolishment’) falls apart when we simply look at some of the Ten Commandments and other regulations from the writings of Moses. We will do this over the next few weeks, but remember, keeping the law does not give us salvation, because people who can ignore the law can be in Heaven (v.19), but the law (even the sacrificial law) still matters for other reasons. Stay subscribed to learn more over the next few weeks!
What are your thoughts? Share them below.