The Mixed Multitude

Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds — a great deal of livestock. (Exodus 12:38, N.K.J.V.)

When Moses led the Israelites out of their Egyptian bondage, certain non-Israelites joined the group. The Old Testament refers to these Gentiles as the mixed multitude. Various reasons are offered as to why these Gentiles chose to leave Egypt and join up with the Israelites. Consider the list:

  • Perhaps they had been greatly impressed by the way that Israel’s God had recently manhandled Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods.
  • Perhaps some of them were Egyptians who were slaves themselves to fellow Egyptians and saw Israel’s exodus as a way to freedom.
  • Perhaps some of them, like the Israelites, were foreigners in Egypt, having ended up there by having their races conquered by Egypt’s army or by some other means.
  • Perhaps some of them, whether they were Egyptians or non-Egyptians, just wanted to abandon a land that had been laid waste by a series of divine plagues.
  • Perhaps some of them were the dregs of society in Egypt, people who had nothing going for them there and were eager to try something new.
  • Perhaps some of them were non-Israelites who were the spouses or offspring of marriages (unequal yokes) between Israelites and non-Israelites.

Whoever exactly the mixed multitude were, it is for certain that they soon became detriments to Israel. They are mentioned again in Numbers 11:4, where they are described as the instigators who caused the Israelites to complain about the manna which God was providing as food. In complaining about the manna, the Israelites voiced their longing for the foods they had enjoyed in Egypt, foods such as fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.

To silence the complaints, God caused a wind to blow incredible numbers of quail in from the sea. All around Israel’s camp, from a day’s journey on one side to a day’s journey on the other side, the quails fluttered three feet off the ground. That made them easy pickings, and the people stayed up all day, all night, and all day the next day killing them and gathering them up into piles. Even the person who gathered the least amount of the birds managed to accumulate no less than 60-70 bushels.

However, the miraculous harvest of quails came at a steep price for the people. Numbers 12:33-34 says:

But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah (the graves of lust), because there they buried the people who had yielded to the craving. (Numbers 11:33-34, N.K.J.V.)

There are so many spiritual lessons that we can learn from this episode in Israel’s history: Be content with what God has given you. Be careful what you pray for. Don’t let your lusts get the better of you. Don’t long for the past. Enjoy the blessings God is giving you in the moment. Understand the potential dangers of griping, grumbling, and complaining.

But, if you are a Christian, be sure not to forget this one: Be wary of associating too closely with non-believers and allowing them to influence you. While the track record of the people of Israel certainly proves that they didn’t need any help getting themselves into trouble with God, who can deny that the influence of the mixed multitude threw gasoline onto the fire of a sin nature that already existed inside the Israelites?

And the same will be true in your life, Christian, if you allow lost people to influence you in negative ways toward God. Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:6-11 tell us that all the things that happened to the Israelites were written as examples to us to help us learn from their mistakes. Obviously, then, we would do well to learn from the mistake they made in listening to the voices of the mixed multitude and resist that temptation in our lives.

Posted in Backsliding, Choices, Contentment, Desires, Discipleship, Friendship, God's Chastening, God's Judgment, God's Provision, Greed, Influence, Lust, Prayer Requests, Rebellion, Separation, Temptation, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Selling Hamburgers

I have never served as the pastor of a megachurch, and I don’t figure that I ever will. My pastoral ministry has always involved small, rural churches. Still, I’ll admit that, like megachurch pastors, I feel the internal pressure to “grow” my church. How many people came for Sunday School last Sunday? How many attended the worship service? Is anybody mad and about to quit the church? How can we soothe their feelings? What do we have to do to get those visitors who attended last Sunday to settle down with us and join our church? What about the church’s finances? Are we taking in more than we are paying out? Believe me, these are questions that most pastors deal with constantly.

Sadly, churches today are oftentimes run more like businesses than bodies of Christ. Sometimes I feel like we are selling hamburgers rather than serving as local congregations for our Savior. And how do you sell the most hamburgers? That’s simple: You have to have a solid business plan.

First, you start with a good location for your restaurant. Location. Location. Location. That’s the old saying, right? You have to be where the people are, and you have to make it as easy as possible for them to find your church. This means that if your church building happens to be located on a site that is no longer the place to be, you really should think about buying some land out by the local interstate or the most used highway and building a new building. Good luck selling your old-timers on that idea.

Second, your restaurant needs excellent facilities. These days that means:

  • big-screen t.v. screens mounted on the walls
  • cutting edge audio equipment
  • wireless mics
  • internet access
  • an impressive sign (an electronic one with a huge screen works well)
  • adequate classroom space for your classes (and the rooms better be nice)
  • a beautiful fellowship hall with all the latest 21st-century kitchen gadgets as well as top-of-the-line tables and chairs
  • some type of family-life center where the young folks can run around and have a big time
  • an outdoor playground where the young folks can run around and have a big time
  • comfortable pews or chairs in the sanctuary
  • fresh carpet and fresh paint everywhere
  • adequate lighting everywhere
  • last but certainly not least, plenty of parking

Third, now that you have your sweet building on your sweet site, you need to hire a good staff to handle your customers. In current church circles, such a staff looks like this:

  • a worship leader (If all you have is a music director, you really are behind the times. Even better than a singular worship leader is a praise-and-worship team and band that can get the church house rocking and the people whipped into a frenzy.)
  • an impressive choir that operates hand-in-hand with the worship leader or the praise-and-worship team and band
  • a tech expert who is responsible for operating and maintaining the church’s audio and video equipment (This person might also oversee the church’s website, Twitter site, Instagram site, and You Tube site.)
  • a creative team that works with the worship leader or the praise-and-worship team to plan out the worship service (What should the topical theme be this Sunday morning? What pictures should we show on the video screens to go along with the theme? What videos should we show to go along with the theme? What skit or drama should we do? Should we use an object lesson? If so, which one?)
  • a pastoral staff who does all the counseling, hospital visitation, and in-home visitation
  • an outreach director (preferably a team) who is responsible for getting new folks into the building each week
  • some type of team (call them deacons, elders, overseers, church leadership team, or whatever) that handles the business decisions for the church
  • gifted, knowledgeable teachers to teach the church’s various classes (Your pastoral staff might serve as some of these teachers.)
  • groundskeepers, custodians, and maintenance workers to keep everything looking good and operating correctly

Fourth, now that you have your location, facilities, and staff, you need the cook that will prepare the main courses your restaurant/church will be serving. Ideally, this cook will be a certified Master Chef who graduated with an advanced degree from a prestigious school. In church circles, the cook is known as the Senior Pastor. He’s the guy who is responsible for writing the menu and preparing the meals that keeps the church fed. In the beginning stages of a big-time restaurant/church, it’s the cook’s meals that create the buzz, stir the interest, and get the momentum rolling. However, once the restaurant/church has established itself as the place to be, the cooks become interchangeable as long as they are each on the same high level in terms of food preparation.

Unfortunately for me and every other pastor of a small church, this business plan is as far from reality as the sun is from the earth. Just last week I heard the nationally known pastor of a megachurch say that in the early days of his church he received a $200,000 gift from a man he’d just recently met to purchase a certain building the church needed to take the next big step in its growth. I can assure you that I’ve never had anyone hand me $200,000 and say, “Use this to take your church to the next level.” My family and I went on vacation last week, and I was thrilled to death to get a card with a $100 bill in it from an anonymous church member. You see, that’s the lane in which my ministry rolls, and no matter how tasty I make my hamburgers, I doubt that my place will ever be the leading restaurant/church in town.

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A Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity

I’ve been preaching through the gospel of Mark on Wednesday nights at Oak Grove Baptist. In Mark 6:45-52, we find the familiar story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee to meet the chosen twelve, who were in a boat, struggling to make their way to the opposite shore through the teeth of a deadly windstorm. In Mark 6:48, we read:

Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. (N.K.J.V.)

I have several commentaries on Mark’s gospel, but not one of them makes much of an attempt —  if they make any attempt at all — to explain that last part of that verse. Why does the Bible say that Jesus would have kept walking right on past those disciples? I mean, if He was going out to rescue them from the wind storm, walking past them and continuing on His way to the opposite shore wouldn’t have provided much help. So, what was He thinking?

I’ll share with you what I shared with my folks at Oak Grove. If you disagree with me, that’s okay because we are all pretty much groping around in the dark on this one anyway. But my best guess is that Jesus intended to walk right past that boat because He wanted those men to raise their faith ceiling and join Him out there on that water! 

You say, “Oh, c’mon Russell, that’s crazy.” Okay, maybe it is, but in my defense I offer exhibit A: a guy named Peter who was in that boat that night and somehow took up the challenge of joining Jesus out there on the water. Mark’s gospel doesn’t record this part of the story, but Matthew’s does.

According to Matthew 14:28-33, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And how did Jesus respond to that audacious request? He said, “Come.” How I’d love to have an accurate picture of that moment. I just wonder if Jesus didn’t have a smile on His face — the smile of a proud parent — when He answered, “Come.” Could it be that Peter was the only one in that boat who had the spiritual capacity that night to really catch what Jesus was throwing? Could it be that he was the only one who understood the incredible offer that Jesus was extending?

Of course, we know how the story ends. Peter steps down out of the boat, walks on the water an undisclosed distance toward Jesus, becomes frightened by the high wind and big waves, starts to sink, and offers up what has been called the Bible’s shortest prayer: “Lord, save me!” Jesus then immediately stretches out His hand (which would seem to indicate that Peter had walked most of the distance to Him) and walks him over to the boat.

But with the rescue comes a certain quote from Jesus, one that I think might just show that Jesus wasn’t so much disappointed IN Peter as He was FOR him. Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In my mind, I hear Jesus saying, “Peter, you had it! You were just about to claim the fullest extent of tonight’s offer. Why did you let up?”

I don’t know where this post finds you in life at this very moment, but it might just be that Jesus is right now extending to you the offer to step out of the boat and join Him on the water. Perhaps the offer involves a move. Perhaps it involves a business opportunity. Perhaps it involves some other type of open door in your life.

Whatever the details are for you specific situation, just know that Jesus doesn’t extend such offers every day. Think about it, Peter never again got the chance to walk on the water, did he? Neither did the other eleven disciples, for that matter. So, it really could be that you are right now dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is coming straight from the hand of the Lord. And if that’s the case, there is only one question left to ask: How’s your faith these days, Peter?

Posted in Business, Choices, Doubt, Faith, Fear, God's Timing, God's Will, Ministry, Trusting In God | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Little Taste of the Law

The Old Testament Law series (post #4)

This post will finish up our short series on the Old Testament law. I make no claims that the series has been particularly thorough, but I trust that I’ve at least provided some help in understanding what is surely a complex subject. To finish things up, all I want to do is list some selected rules and commands from the law. Since I’ve already devoted a post to the different kinds of sacrifices the law required, I won’t recover any of that ground. My hope is that these diverse selections will give you a good taste of the kinds of subjects the law addressed and how it addressed them.

  1. One Jew could purchase another Jew as a servant for six years, but the servant went free in the seventh year. If the servant was married and had children when his service began, his wife and kids were set free as well. But if the servant had been given a wife by his owner, and if that union had produced children, the wife and kids had to remain with the owner. In such an instance the servant could choose to remain with the owner for life and keep living with the wife and kids (Exodus 21:1-6).
  2. If a Jew owned a servant and struck the servant in such a way as to put out the servant’s eye or knock out one of his teeth, the owner had to set the servant free (Exodus 21:26-27).
  3. If an ox gored a man or woman to death, the ox had to be stoned to death and its body burned. The owner was considered guiltless. If, however, the ox had previously shown a tendency to thrust, and the owner knew this and didn’t keep the animal pinned up, he was to be put to death as well. In some instances, though, he could pay a fine of restitution to the victim’s family and have his life spared. In all cases, the ox was to be killed (Exodus 21:28-32).
  4. Bestiality was associated with idolatry in ancient times, and any Jew who was caught having sex with an animal was to be put to death (Exodus 22:19-20).
  5. The Jews could sow and work the land for six years. But the seventh year was to be a year of rest for the land. It was the land’s Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-11).
  6. If a man had an emission of semen, he was to wash his body and consider himself unclean until evening. If a man and a woman had sex and there was an emission of semen, both were to bathe and be considered unclean until evening (Leviticus 15:16-18).
  7. Incestual sex, homosexual sex, and adultery were death-penalty offenses (Leviticus 18:1-22).
  8. Every 50th year was a Year of Jubilee. At the start of this year, all debts were to be canceled, all prisoners and captives were to be set free, and all property was to be returned to its original owners. All Jews were to abstain from working during this year, and the land was to be given a year of rest (Leviticus 25:8-17).
  9. A Jew could lend money to a fellow Jew, but he could not charge him interest on the loan (Leviticus 25:35-37).
  10. If a Jewish male died without a son, the inheritance went to the man’s daughter. If he had no daughter, it went to the man’s brothers. If he had no brothers, it went to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, it went to the closest relative (Numbers 27:6-11).
  11. If a Jewish man made a vow or swore an oath, he had to do according to his word. If a young woman who was still living in her father’s house made a vow or entered into an agreement, the father could overrule her but only if he did so immediately. If he let the matter ride, the vow or the agreement stood (Numbers 30:1-5).
  12. The Jews could eat oxen, sheep, goats, deer, gazelles, and antelopes. They were forbidden from eating camels, hares, and swine. They could eat water creatures that had fins or scales, but they could not eat water creatures that didn’t have fins or scales (crabs, lobsters, shrimp, etc.). They could eat many birds, but they could not eat birds of prey (eagles, vultures, buzzards, falcons, ravens, etc.) (Deuteronomy 14:3-20).
  13. A newlywed Jew was not to go out to war or be charged with any business for the first year of the marriage (Deuteronomy 24:5).
  14. If two Jewish men got into a fight, and the wife of one grabbed the opponent by his genitals, her hand was to be cut off (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).
  15. The Jews could not sow two types of seed in the same field, plow with an ox and a donkey in an unequal yoke, or wear garments that were wool and linen mixed together (Deuteronomy 22:9-11).

Now, before you classify some of these laws as crazy or weird, let me remind you that all of these were nothing less than THE WORD OF GOD for the Jewish people for centuries. So, before you start criticizing, you’d best remember who it is you are criticizing. I myself don’t fully understand the reasons why God built certain rules into the Old Testament law, but I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to figure out His mind. Also, I know that when God tells you to do something, He isn’t always looking for understanding on your part. What He is looking for is obedience. That applied to ancient Israel’s keeping of the law, and it applies to us today anytime He speaks.

Posted in Adultery, Bestiality, Capital Punishment, Choices, Christian Liberty, Disobedience, God's Word, Homosexuality, Making Restitution, Obedience, The Death Penalty, The Old Testament Law | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Sacrifices Required By the Law

The Old Testament Law series (post #3)

Any Jew today who desires to keep the Old Testament law faces an unscalable mountain of a problem. The problem is, the law required five types of sacrificial offerings that were to be offered up to God. Such sacrifices, of course, demand not only a sacrificial altar but also a priestly order to officiate the sacrifices. Obviously, today’s Jews have no altar and no priests.

The Burnt Offering

This was the offering a Jew was to bring to express devotion and dedication to the Lord. It was completely voluntary on the offerer’s part. The sacrificial animals could be a male from one’s herd (Leviticus 1:3-10) or one’s flock (Leviticus 1:10-14). It could also be a turtledove or a young pigeon (Leviticus 1:14-17). Any sacrificial animal had to be without blemish, the finest of the lot. In Malachi 1:6-14, God sharply rebukes the Jews for offering sacrificial animals that were blind, lame, sick, or blemished in some way.

The process for offering a burnt offering was downright gruesome. The Jew would bring the sacrificial animal to the tabernacle, or later on in Israel’s history, the temple (Leviticus 1:3). There a priest would examine the animal to make sure it was worthy. If the animal was from the herd or the flock, the Jew would put his hand on the head of the animal, thus signifying not only the person’s identification with the sacrifice but also the transfer of something to the sacrifice (Leviticus 1:4). Then the Jew would kill the animal as the priests caught the blood in a basin (Leviticus 1:5). Next, the priests would sprinkle the blood on all sides of the altar.

(If the sacrificial animal was a bird, the priest would wring the bird’s neck, drain its blood on the side of the altar, remove the crop and feathers, split the body at the wings, and then burn the body on the altar: Leviticus 1:14-17.)

As for the bloodless body of the animal from the herd or flock, the Jew would skin it and cut it into pieces (Leviticus 1:6). The entrails and legs also had to be washed with water (Leviticus 1:9). All of the dismembered parts were then laid in order on the red- hot altar and burned (Leviticus 1:8-9). Everything was burned except the skin, and the smoke that rose up from the altar made for “a sweet aroma to the Lord.” The priest who officiated the offering received the animal’s skin (Leviticus 7:8).

The Grain Offering

This was the offering a Jew was to bring to express thankfulness to God for providing him with the good things of life. Like the Burnt Offering, it was voluntary. The offering could be presented at the altar in one of five forms. It could be: fine flour with oil and frankincense poured on it (Leviticus 2:1); oven-baked cakes made from unleavened bread mixed with oil (Leviticus 2:4); pan-baked cakes made from fine flour and unleavened bread mixed with oil (Leviticus 2:5); covered-pan cakes made from fine flour and unleavened bread mixed with oil (Leviticus 2:7); or crushed roasted heads of new grain with oil and frankincense poured on them (Leviticus 2:14-15). Each type of grain offering was to be seasoned with salt (Leviticus 2:13) and without honey (Leviticus 2:11).

In the case of any type of grain offering, the Jew prepared the offering at home and brought it to the tabernacle/temple. Once it was presented to the priest, the priest would take a portion of it as a “memorial portion” and burn that portion on the altar (Leviticus 2:2,9). What was left of the offering went to the priests as food (Leviticus 2:3,10; 6:16-18; 7:9-10).

The Peace Offering

This was the offering a Jew was to bring to celebrate the fellowship and peace he enjoyed with God. Like the Burnt Offering and the Grain Offering, this offering was voluntary. The sacrifice had to be an animal without blemish from the herd or the flock, but it could be a male or a female (Leviticus 3:1,6-7,12). The Peace Offering also required the Jew to bring either unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of blended flour mixed with oil (Leviticus 7:11-12). Furthermore, he was to bring leavened bread (Leviticus 7:13).

After the Jew had laid his hand on the head of the animal in ceremonial fashion, he killed the animal. The priests caught the blood in a basin and sprinkled the blood all around the altar (Leviticus 3:2,8.13). Next, the dismembering began as the animal’s fat, kidneys, whole fat tail, and fatty lobe attached to the liver were removed and burned on the altar (Leviticus 3:3,4,9,10,14-15). The animal’s breast went to the priests, and the right thigh went specifically to the officiating priest (Leviticus 7:31-33). The priest also received one of the cakes (Leviticus 7:14).

As for the rest of the remains, everything else went to the Jew who had brought the sacrifice. This was the only offering in which the offerer received a portion (Leviticus 7:15-21). When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he sacrificed 22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep as peace offerings (1 Kings 8:62-66).

The Sin Offering

This was the offering a Jew would bring when he had somehow unintentionally violated a part of the law and been made aware of his violation at a later date. The offering was mandatory, not voluntary, because the law had been transgressed. The animal to be sacrificed depended upon who had committed the sin. If the sinner was Israel’s High Priest, he had to bring a young bull without blemish (Leviticus 4:3). If the sin had been committed by the entire nation, a young unblemished bull was to be brought as well (Leviticus 4:13-14). If the sinner was an individual ruler, he was to bring a male kid goat without blemish (Leviticus 4:22-23). If the sinner was a common citizen, he was to bring either a female kid goat without blemish or a female lamb without blemish (Leviticus 4:27-28;32-33).

Whichever animal was brought, there was always the ceremonial laying of hands on the animal’s head. (The elders performed the duty for the nation.) Then the animal was killed, drained of its blood, and dissected. In all cases, the animal’s fat, kidneys, fatty lobe above the liver, and fat tail were burned on the altar. In the cases of a High Priest or the nation, the rest of the animal’s carcass (the hide, head, legs, entrails, etc.) was taken outside the camp and burned (Leviticus 4:11,12,21). In the cases of a ruler or a common citizen, the officiating priest was allowed to take the animal’s flesh as food.

As for the animal’s blood, the officiating priest would catch it in a basin. In the cases of a High Priest or the nation, the priest would dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle blood seven times before the veil that separated the Holy of Holies room from the rest of the tabernacle/temple (Leviticus 4:5-6). He would also put some of the blood on the four horns of the altar of incense that sat just in front of the veil (Leviticus 4:7). In the cases of a ruler or a common citizen, the blood would only be placed on the four horns of the altar of incense. Finally, in all cases, the priest would pour the remaining blood at the base of the altar upon which the bull had been offered (Leviticus 4:7).

The Trespass Offering

This was the offering a Jew would bring when he had committed a trespass against either his fellow man or the holy things of the Lord. Like the Sin Offering, this offering was mandatory. While it’s true that every trespass was a sin, not every sin was a trespass. A trespass was a specific type of sin in which the offending party invaded, disregarded, or violated the property rights of another. The Trespass Offering was similar to the Sin Offering in that some trespasses were committed unintentionally (Leviticus 5:17-19). However, it differed from the Sin Offering in that some trespasses were committed very much intentionally (Leviticus 6:1-7).

Committing a trespass against one’s fellow man could be done in a wide variety of ways, including lying to a neighbor, extorting something from a neighbor, or refusing to return a found item (Leviticus 6:1-3). Committing a trespass against the holy things of the Lord could include failing to make one’s required sacrifices to the Lord, failing to pay vows made to God, failing to celebrate the law’s mandated holy days, or failing to pay one’s tithes under the law.

The animal to be sacrificed for a trespass offering was a ram without blemish (Leviticus 5:15,18; 6:6). This was true whether the trespass had been made against an individual or God. Special accommodation was made, though, if the sinner was a leper or a Nazarite. In those cases, the animal could be a male lamb (Leviticus 14:10-14; Numbers 6:6-12).

The distinctive feature of the trespass offering was that it also required restitution on the part of the sinner. This restitution had to be presented to the priest before the animal was presented. The restitution amounted to the monetary equivalency of the offense (paid in shekels of silver) plus an additional one-fifth (20%) as a fine (Leviticus 5:14-16). Also, the sinner had to confess his sin (Leviticus 5:5; Numbers 5:5-7).

Once the restitution had been presented, the sinner brought his animal to the priest, ceremonially laid his hand upon its head, and killed it. The blood was drained and sprinkled all around the altar (Leviticus 7:2). Then the animal’s fat, fat tail, fat that covered the entrails, fat on the flanks, fatty lobe attached to the liver, and kidneys were removed and burned upon the altar (Leviticus 7:1-5). Leviticus 7:6 also seems to indicate that the priests were allowed to eat the remains that weren’t burned upon the altar.

(It should be noted that commentators and expositors are not consistent on the question of whether Leviticus 5:1-13 belongs to the section on the Sin Offering or the section on the Trespass Offering. Some speculate that there is even an intentional overlapping of the two sections, with some of the 13 verses referring to the Sin Offering and others referring to the Trespass Offering. Whatever the correct interpretation is, the verses allow for the sinner to bring an offering of a female from the flock, a lamb, a kid goat, two turtledoves, two young pigeons, or one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour. This wide variety of options was no doubt intended to ensure that the sinner could bring an appropriate sacrifice irregardless of his or her monetary situation.)  

 

 

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Jesus & the Law

The Old Testament Law series (post #2)

The Old Testament law was not a failed experiment. It did exactly what it was supposed to do. Don’t think that God the Father sent God the Son (Jesus) down to earth as a quick fix because the Jews had bombed so miserably at keeping the law. In Jesus’ most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount, He made a point of saying:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18, N.I.V.)

The fact is that God the Father knew going in that the Jews wouldn’t be able to keep the law perfectly. As I noted in my previous post, He wanted to use the law to teach them what He already knew: that they were born sinners who had natures of sin and needed forgiveness of sin. The law was never about producing salvation for the Jews; it was about proving their need of a Messiah who could offer it to them. That Messiah would be Jesus. As Paul says in Galatians 3:24, the law was the tutor that played the role of bringing the Jews to Christ.

Jesus Himself was born “under the law” (Galatians 4:4). He was circumcised on the eighth day according to the requirements of the law (Leviticus 12:3; Luke 2:21). He lived His life under the authority of the law (Luke 10:25-26, Matthew 23:23). He defended the law against the Jewish religious leaders who perverted it (Mark 7:1-13). He even taught a deeper application of it (Matthew 5:21-48; 12:1-14). In all things and in all ways, He kept the law perfectly (Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 9:34-35; John 8:29,46,55; 1 Peter 2:21-22; Hebrews 4:14-15).

It was His sinless perfection at keeping the law that made Jesus an eligible candidate to die for the sins of the world. Had He sinned even once over the course of His life by missing the mark of the law in any way, He would have needed help Himself as a sinner. But since He kept the law perfectly, day in and day out, year in and year out, He was worthy to die as the sinless, substitionary sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Remember that it’s sin that necessitates death (Romans 5:12). Adam and Eve were immortal until they ate of the forbidden fruit. So, Jesus’ sinless life afforded Him the option of not having to pay the penalty of death. He forfeited that option, though, and voluntarily chose to die as the payment for the sins of the human race.

This, then, is how Jesus fulfilled the law (Luke 24:44). He was the first Jew to ever successfully run its gauntlet. He dove down to the bottom of its depths and came back up to the surface having conquered it. By doing this and then dying on the cross and resurrecting, He ended (completed/fulfilled) the law. While its true the Jews continued to observe the law even after Jesus’ resurrection (and still do for that matter), none of it is God’s will. In God’s eyes, the law era is over.

The word “testament” means “covenant.” The Bible’s old testament is the record of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the Jews. God formally entered into that covenant in Genesis 15:1-21. The sign (mark) of the covenant was male circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). The promised land of the covenant was Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21). The rule book for the covenant was the law.

However, once Jesus had fulfilled (completed/ended) the law, He instituted a new covenant with all those who place their faith (belief) in Him as Savior. The Bible’s new testament is the record of this covenant. In ancient times, covenants were ratified with blood sacrifices (see Genesis 15:1-21), and Christ’s new covenant was no different. He ratified it with His own blood, the blood He shed in dying on the cross. Jesus Himself attested to this via the symbolism involved in The Lord’s Supper. As He said of the cup portion of the ceremony, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).

Putting all this together, we can understand perfectly why Paul says in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Similarly, Hebrews 8:13 says that Jesus has made the first covenant “obsolete.” Going back to Paul’s own analogy of the law as a “tutor” that played the role of bringing the Jews to Jesus, Paul went on to say, “But after faith (in Jesus) has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:25).

And so, do we, as Christians, live under the Old Testament law? No. Certainly we can study the law and build its moral principles and guidelines into our lives. For that matter, nine of the ten commandments — excluding the one to keep the Jewish Sabbath — are restated in the New Testament as commands to Christians. But God doesn’t require Christians to live out the entirety of the law or carry out all its specific details.

The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29) was the monumental meeting in which the early church settled the debate concerning the Christian’s relationship to the law. That meeting produced The Jerusalem Decree (Acts 15:23-29), a point of doctrine that Paul made one of the major themes of his writings (Romans 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; Galatians 3:13; 4:4-5). The specific question that prompted The Jerusalem Council to render this decree was: Must Gentile Christian males be circumcised and keep the law? The answer The Jerusalem Council gave was, No.

In conclusion, though, let me say that the Christian being free from the law does not mean that he is free to live any way he chooses. In Galatians 5:13-14, Paul explains that Christian liberty should lead Christians to serve others through love. He even paraphrases Christ’s words from Matthew 7:12 and 22:40 in saying, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” He then follows that up a few verses later by saying, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In another passage, 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, he describes those to whom he ministered as being “tablets of flesh” rather than “tablets of stone.” The teaching is that when Christians minister to (serve) others, they live out a new kind of law, a spiritual one written into their hearts by Jesus.

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What Was the Law & Why Did God Give It?

The Old Testament Law series (post #1)

A chicken and an elephant were locked in a cage together. The chicken turned to the elephant and said, “We need to set a few ground rules. First, let’s not step on each other.”

Rules. Like it or not, they are a part of life. There was even a rule way back in the garden of Eden: Don’t eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, God doesn’t call His rules by that name. Instead, He calls them “commandments” or “laws.”

With this post we begin a short series on God’s greatest rule book, the Old Testament Law. If you’ve done much Bible study, spent a fair amount of time in church, or heard your share of preaching, you’re probably vaguely familiar with the term “the law.” The problem is that most people, even most Christians, are just that, vaguely familiar with it. Many of them know just enough about it to be dangerous. That’s why a series like this is needed.

The law also goes by the titles “the law of Moses” and “the Mosaic law.” Those two descriptions stem from the fact that God gave the law to Moses atop Mount Sinai to give to the nation of Israel. What many people don’t understand is that the law was not just one rule or even a short list of rules. To the contrary, it was a lengthy, complex body of rules, regulations, restrictions, and rituals. Still, though, it can rightly be thought of as a single unit.

By the Jewish way of reckoning, there were 613 specific commandments (rules, laws) in the law. There is no singular Old Testament passage in which all 613 of these are recorded. To find them all, you have to study multiple sections of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The law was given exclusively to the people of Israel. As evidence of this, in Romans 2:11-16 the apostle Paul describes Gentiles as being “without law” and Jews as being “in the law.” He does point out, though, that when a Gentile’s conscience causes that Gentile to live out the moral principles of the law, that Gentile shows the work of the law written in his or her heart.

The opening section of the law was the listing of the famous Ten Commandments. We find it in Exodus 20:1-17. Not only did those Ten Commandments serve as the beginning of the law, they also served as its moral center. God wrote those Ten Commandments upon tablets of stone for Moses, but the rest of the law wasn’t written upon stone.

Theologians typically divide the law into three main parts: the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial. First, as I said, the Ten Commandments served as the moral part. Second, the ceremonial part was dominated by all the rituals and rules regarding the various offerings (some blood, some bloodless) the people of Israel were to offer up to God. Those laws, along with all the laws concerning Israel’s priesthood, regulated Israel’s worship life. Finally, third, the judicial part featured all the laws that had to do with humans doing harm to each other. Under those laws, major offenses were death-penalty crimes while lesser offenses merited a wide ranging scope of punishments other than death.

For the record, I should probably mention that the Jews didn’t use this three-fold division to break down the law. What they did was divide the law’s 613 commandments into twelve families of commandments. Those twelve families were then subdivided into twelve additional families of positive commandments and twelve additional families of negative commandments.

But why did God give the law to Israel? Well, there were at least three reasons, and I’ll name them as the conclusion to this opening post of the series. Here goes:

  1. Any nation needs a set of laws to keep its citizens in check, restrain evil, and thus promote the advancement of its society. The newly formed nation of Israel, having just come out of its bondage in Egypt, was certainly no exception.
  2. The law was a perfect vehicle for showcasing the mind of God on a long list of subjects. The law evidenced His priorities, established His standards, and made clear His opinions of specific behaviors.
  3. God intended for the law to be a “mirror” through which the Jews could view their conduct as either sinful or holy (James 1:23-25). In this way, He wanted the law to be a teaching tool that provided them with a knowledge of their sin and their need for a Savior who could provide forgiveness for their sins (Romans 3:20). In regards to salvation, the law was an all-or-nothing proposition because breaking one part of it equated to breaking the entire unit (James 2:8-11). So, as the Jews tried to keep the whole unit perfectly, and inevitably failed to do so somewhere along the line, God wanted them to learn firsthand that they were sinners who could not “work” their way into His kingdom. This is why the apostle Paul called the law a “tutor” to bring the Jews to Christ (Galatians 3:21-25). 
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