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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This entry was posted in Christian Liberty, Doing Good, God's Work, Ministry, Salvation, The Old Testament Law and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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