Posts tagged law
In today’s reading, the author continues to develop the theme I discussed yesterday – linking Israel’s history, heroes and prophets to the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this reading, however, the focus is primarily on the ancient law, the sacrifices required and the priests who administered them.
Throughout these chapters, we are shown examples of the traditional Jewish “way” and then are told about the new way that goes even further than the old one. For example, the priests sacrificed with the blood of animals, but Jesus sacrificed with his own blood. The priests had to go back time and time again, but Jesus’ great sacrifice was once and for all.
These are important points, especially for the original Jewish audience. One of the accusations against Jesus and his followers is that they were breaking with ancient traditions, customs and laws. Here, the author tries to show how the life and acts of Jesus are actually rooted in the same foundation as the law, but go beyond it.
There is an attempt to help the reader (including us) to understand that the old law and old covenant do not compete with Jesus and the new covenant, but that they have, essentially, a common ancestry. “The Law,” as it was given to Moses, wasn’t the beginning of all morality or spirituality. God had principles prior to the law. There was a “moral ethos,” if you will, that flowed out from God even prior to the creation of the world.
It is from that ethos that both the old covenant and the new covenant flow. Like siblings or cousins united in common ancestry, these two covenants are similar, but not the same. The first was all about representation. It was a facsimile of heaven and of heavenly principles. The second covenant was something different – similar though it may have been.
The second covenant – the agreement that God made with us through Jesus – tapped in directly to the ethos of God. In this, there was no “stand-in” priest and no “stand-in” blood. There was Jesus, the high priest eternal, and his blood, the sacrifice eternal. The benefits, then, for all of us would no longer be the temporal things of this world – “stand-in” blessings – but would be the eternal blessings of heaven.
This is a big deal! We went from the playhouse to the real house, from the toy kitchen to the real thing. To be sure, that kind of transition comes with a new level of responsibility, but who would want to go back to the facsimile after experiencing the real thing? Sure, it might be more fun to “play house” than to pay a mortgage and put a new roof on a real house, but is that what you would really want your life to be like – just living in a pretend house in someone else’s living room? It’s a silly notion, right?
So, too, is the notion that we would operate under the old, temporal, stand-in covenant when we have the real deal available to us through Jesus. Like the real house and real stove, this new covenant comes with responsibilities, but it also comes with enormous freedom. Why would we ever go back?
While much has been made of Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit,” so little attention has been paid to back half of verse 23:
Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 4:23b)
In truth, that is the point Paul is trying to make here. His whole argument in this letter – and his complaint against the Galatians – is that they are trying to live by the law. He talks about how the law is impossible to live up to and how Jesus came so that they wouldn’t have to live up to the law. And then he offers a different perspective.
Instead of talking about law vs freedom in Jesus, he begins to talk about internal motivations – flesh vs Spirit. And these motivations end up in very different places. If we are motivated by the flesh – that is, by our own desires – the result is the long list of “acts” in verses 19-21 (sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, etc.) These could be called the fruit of the flesh.
The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, is the result of living a life motivated by the Spirit – by the desires of God. When we live by the Spirit, the natural outflow is love, joy peace, etc. Then Paul wraps all that up with a little bow, tying it back to his original point, by saying, “Against such things there is no law.”
Really, Paul’s message is this: you can live by the flesh even while trying to obey the law and the results will be catastrophic. If you’re trying to simply follow the rules, you will fail. However, living a life of freedom in Jesus means living by the Spirit and the results will be a life that is vastly richer and more holy than if you were trying to achieve holiness through following the law.
It’s a case of being compelled by Spirit or enslaved by the law. My prayer is that we would be compelled by the Spirit today. Great things can be done when we stop worrying about ourselves and focus on the opportunities that God places in front of us to live by the Spirit for the benefit of his kingdom.
Here we see Paul at his best – using his knowledge of Roman law, Jewish law, multiple languages, cultural differences and the profound favor and charisma he had been granted in order to change people’s minds or at least soften their positions. In fact, Paul seemed to have a way with just about everybody except the Jewish religious leaders.
It’s interesting to me how some of the most powerful men in the region – men like Felix – would listen to Paul. After all, these were men who had as much to lose as the religious leaders did. If Paul was right, they would have to completely change the way they governed. Just look at Felix’s reaction to Paul’s words:
As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (Acts 24:25)
He was afraid! Why was he afraid? Because if what Paul was saying – if there was a coming judgement for those who lacked righteousness and self-control, then Felix was in trouble. And Felix was hoping against hope that Paul was wrong, or, even more, that Paul was just blowing smoke.
The verses which follow reveal that Felix was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe. Not only would that have lined Felix’s pockets, but it would have also been an indicator that Paul was insincere – someone whose words didn’t really need to be taken seriously. If Paul gave him a bribe, then Felix would have considered himself off the hook.
But there was no bribe. There was no getting off the hook. For Felix, he would spend the rest of his days in office (and perhaps the rest of his life) haunted by Paul’s words, but too weak to change the way he worked. In fact, he was so weak that even in leaving office, he couldn’t stand up against the Jews. He left Paul in prison not because he thought he was guilty of anything, but because doing so would have angered a group of Jewish leaders.
Righteousness and self-control, it seems, are elusive traits in a politician.
The yeast of the Pharisees: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy has been around in the church for a long time. Really, in any situation where there is any kind of moral code, there is typically hypocrisy – people who verbally adhere to that code, but fail to live it out. There’s something in our nature which longs to be seen as respectable and obedient, but which also wants to live our lives the way we want to live them, regardless of the “rules.”
For the followers of Jesus who had grown up under the rule of the Pharisees, there was a very real threat of allowing that hypocrisy to seep into their new community. And Jesus used the metaphor of yeast in chapter 12 (as he would again in chapter 13) to illustrate how a very small amount of something (in this case, hypocrisy) can spread and affect the entire body.
Here’s the interesting thing to me. Jesus wasn’t just speaking hypothetically here. He had actually watched this happen in the Church – the original Church. Jesus, being fully God, existed back when everything was as it should be. He also existed after things fell apart and God was compelled to deliver a set of rules – the law – through Moses to the people of Israel.
Jesus was also around to watch those laws be abused, neglected, twisted, misapplied and used to manipulate people. He saw the “yeast of the Pharisees” when it was still just little specks of dust in the hearts of a few leaders. And he watched it grow in their hearts and then begin to infect the entire Church.
When Jesus warned about the dangers of hypocrisy, he wasn’t just warning about some future possibility. He was speaking of the very real state of his people. Jesus recognized the somewhat blank slate before him. Out of this group of people would grow a new community of believers who had a desire to follow Jesus.
His warning to them was clear – don’t let happen again what happened last time. Instead of the yeast of the Pharisees, Jesus encouraged his followers to take the yeast of the Kingdom of God and begin to work that into their lives and into the life of the Church. That was the kind of yeast that Jesus wanted to bring. It was the kind of yeast he wanted to see spread.
If Jesus and his followers were going to forever change the world, they had to avoid making the same mistakes that had gotten the world into this mess in the first place. And, in this moment of instruction, Jesus focused like a laser beam on this idea of hypocrisy. He recognized it as a cancer to the Church and to the individual relationships within the Church. He recognized it as a poor representation of who he is – of who God is.
So, how have we (the Church at large) done at guarding against the yeast of the Pharisees. Why don’t you ask a non-Christian friend to list three words that they think of when they hear the word “Christian” of “Church.” I will guarantee you that you’ll hear one word over and over and over again: hypocrites.
We’ve got some work to do.
What if everything we think we know about God is wrong? What if we’re trying to do the right thing, but we’ve completely missed it? What if my heart is right, but my actions are misguided? I was pondering this question today as I read 2 Kings 22. This is a story that first really caught me off guard last year as I was reading through the Bible at break-neck speed over the course of 90 days (you should really try it sometime!)
This is the scenario that Josiah finds himself in. He’s only eight years old when he becomes king and for his entire life plus the 50 or so years before he was born, there have been kings in power who didn’t follow God. Manasseh, who reigned most of that time didn’t simply continue the traditions of former kings. He actually rebuilt what his father had destroyed – returning Judah to the worship of Baal, the sex-rituals and self-mutilation exercises. He essentially removed God from the equation. I would imagine that by the time Josiah was born, all that remained of true Godly worship were a few stories and ideas passed down through oral tradition and told by some of the old geezers in town. And yet, Josiah somehow was able to see the truth in those stories. He was determined to follow the God that they spoke of, even though he didn’t have the whole picture.
Imagine the shock, then, when Josiah discovers that, in so many ways, he and the people of Judah have missed it. Suddenly, his men who are working on the temple discover this ancient book that contains instructions that Josiah knew nothing of up to this point. He freaks out:
“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13)
Suddenly, Josiah gets it. And when he does, he’s terrified. How in the world did the people who came before him NOT follow the instructions of the Lord? Well, as I’ve mentioned previously, tradition is a powerful force. “We’ve always done it this way,” sets in hard and fast. Fifty years of Baal worship had eliminated God from the minds of the majority of Judah. In one generation, study of the scripture was gone.
For us, the question still remains, although slightly nuanced. You see, we have the Bible and we know it’s full of useful knowledge and instruction from God. And yet, how often do we actually consult this book? If you started with me on day 1 of this journey and have made it this far, you can at least say that you are reading your Bible regularly, which most followers of Jesus, unfortunately, aren’t. But how many instructions are in this book that we are ignoring while we defer to how “we’ve always done it,” in our homes, our churches and our lives? What if we’ve got it wrong and we don’t even know it?