Law

The Resurrection: Tradition to Transformation

empty-tomb

The lost tomb is one glaring example establishing that the disciples contradicted cultural norms as Israelites and began to blaze new trails in the name of Jesus, but the tomb is only one example of such radical reform. As the Jewish people were frequently raided, overrun, taken hostage, attacked and oppressed throughout history, it became extremely important for leaders to teach the legacy, ancestry and history of the Jewish people to future generations, not merely as a means of cultural emphasis, but to remind the future generations that the people of Israel held a unique place in the Creator God’s plans for humanity. Thus, while the tangible value of Israel wavered throughout history, the commands of God to Moses established in the Torah and the salvation displayed and promised by God to the people of Israel never faded. This longevity was due to the painstaking commitment made by the Jewish people to establish the Law, remind people of the Law and keep the Law. In this climate of extreme rule keeping and obedience, one witnesses in the Gospel narratives the disciples redefining the Law as established by Jesus, and following a new Law or covenant grounded in the deity of Jesus Christ. The disciples regularly break the long-established Law of the Sabbath by their activity on that holy day.

Matthew 12:1-2

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

The new law established in and by Jesus changed the disciples’ paradigm. As a result, because Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, the disciples no longer worshipped the Lord on the common Holy day of Saturday (Sabbath) but moved their worship to Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples revise the long-established tradition of the Passover meal as they not only ate the meal away from their immediate family but also seemed to forget the most important element of the meal, the lamb. Only the direct intervention of God could alter that God-established tradition.

Mark 14:12-25

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

In following the example of Jesus, the disciples repeatedly break laws concerning the clean and unclean, interacting not only with the physically unclean, such as lepers and the paralyzed, but also with the spiritually unclean, such as the prostitute and tax collector. Without the resurrection, the argument that these humble and unimportant men suddenly decided to simply revise and disobey the laws their forefathers followed for thousands of years becomes ridiculous. One must also consider that if Jesus did in fact die and remain buried in the tomb, the disciples themselves would want nothing to do with such a blasphemer, liar and heretic and would have continued awaiting the true Messiah. However, given the resurrection of Jesus, we find reason to believe that their newfound courage and unusual behavior were motivated by one truth and one reason alone. Jesus resurrected from the dead and fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies that rooted the Law of Moses. They witnessed the sacrifice of God himself as Jesus Christ. They witnessed the resurrection of God himself as Jesus Christ. Thus, the law and the prophets were fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ the disciples were given a new covenant that overruled the previous law and requirements of their forefathers.

Hebrews 9:11-15

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Joshua 20

Read Joshua 20 bible

There is a scathing irony in how man views God and how man views himself. Man’s belief in his own humanity and righteousness is foolishly skewed and misguided. Man possesses a view of himself in regards to righteousness and justice that has been proven to be false throughout all of human history. Within man does in fact exist the purity of love and justice that man so desperately defends and professes. However, alongside this purity exists an inability to wield the power of sin also present within man in abundance.

This presence of sin makes executing pure love and justice naturally impossible for man on his own. While man may attempt to be fair or righteous on a daily basis, there will ultimately come a time when he is wronged and seeks justice not for the sake of pure justice but out of a personal and often irrational reaction to the injustice done to him. When action is taken from a standpoint of being wronged, one can no longer claim justice. Justice is objective and unbiased. Justice must be upheld with a standard based not the emotions or opinions of any one man but a fair verdict applicable to all. The scathing irony is that while man often views God as being unjust in the unequal distribution of suffering and blessing portioned out to all of humanity throughout the world, the true source of injustice does not fall at the feet of a Holy God but at Sinful Man. The instinct of man is to be moved by injustice and yearn for justice but falls short in execution. Many people want to act but do not. Many people want to speak up but remain silent. Many people want to be unbiased but cannot.

Therefore, fully aware of his creation and the inadequacies of the human heart to be a judge, the creator God found it necessary to establish law in the world where man could not be expected to create justice. Just as children cannot rule over a household, nor would they ever be expected to, God acknowledged that humankind would not be capable of running the world on its own. While the rules of a household may appear confining to a child or the rules of God may appear confining to human desire, God’s rules and regulations are not purely an exhibition of God’s authority and power. The mere fact that God has given the law and regulations by which to follow it is a testament to the loving nature of God himself. Seeing that a creation left to its own devices would destroy itself, God knew that lacking the law meant death for his children and giving the law meant life. The law is not an oppressor. The law and the regulations that come with are liberators. Within the law is freedom to enjoy this life without living in fear of losing it at a moment’s notice. The law does not prevent us from experiencing our true potential for good. Rather, the law protects us from experiencing our true potential for destruction. With God one finds peace in knowing that in his presence is safety from ourselves. Without God we are left out in the open, unprotected and vulnerable, living in a constant state of anxiety, apprehension and fear.

Thursday Reflection: Oreo Perspectives

oreos source

During a Bible study on Matthew 5:17-20, we read about Jesus discussing the importance of the law and regulations that preceded him and how they related to his Gospel ministry. 

17 “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.
18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Matthew 5:17-20

After we read the passage, the question was posed as to how one would explain this passage to someone with little to no background on Jesus, or the Law and prophets he talks about.  The answer we found was unconventional, but effective: the Oreo.

First, I am a lover and devotee of all things snacks. In all honesty, I would be totally content to entirely replace all large meals with unending and continuous snacking. Of course the problem is that doing so is a slippery slope, a diet with no boundaries or limitations and no cap as to when enough is enough. Because, although our stomachs can correctly inform us of our physical satisfaction, one glance at a bag containing what, in that particular moment, is all that is good in this world, “what’s just one more handful?” Oreos can be your best friend and worse enemy.

Oreos are unique cookies. The two chocolate cookies are separated, yet united, by a thin, or sometimes if you’re lucky, double-layered, cream filling. The Oreo is unity in contrast. The cookies, while delicious if eaten on their own, leave something to be desired apart from the filling. They are quite dry and the richness and crunchiness of the chocolate can be somewhat overwhelming. On the other hand, the filling in the middle, while sweet and easy on the palette, is simple and one dimensional without a contrasting texture or flavor.

The only way to fully appreciate an Oreo, the Oreo that everyone knows and loves, is to eat the cookie in its entirety with both the cookies and filling contributing equally to the experience.

What does any of this have to do with Matthew 5? In the Bible we see two contrasting sides. On one side we find the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis and ending in the prophet Malachi.  On the other, we find the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew and ending in Revelation. One’s approach to the Bible and how these two sides interact or contrast with one another can radically determine on’s approach to God and his son Jesus.

Compare the Old Testament to the chocolate cookies. For some people, the experience of the Old Testament is less than positive. The Old Testament can be difficult to understand, difficult to relate to and difficult to find any use for in the present day. One might say that the “texture” of the Old Testament is too “crunchy” and the flavor is too rich and overwhelming in too large of quantities.

If the Old Testament is the cookie layers, the New Testament is the cream filling. The New Testament is seen as a welcome departure from the Old Testament: the language seems easier to understand, the stories seem more heart-warming, and Jesus seems quite loving and gentle as opposed to the God of hell, fire and damnation of the Old Testament. The stories of Jesus often concern healing, grace and redemption. One might say that, like the Oreo Cookie filling, the New Testament is sweet and enjoyable and a welcome respite from the crunchy rich chocolate cookies.

This brings us finally back to the scripture in Matthew. In the passage Jesus stressed the importance of the Old Testament scriptures and how necessary they are to fully understand his Gospel ministry. One can view his mission as a circle. Prior to Jesus, the circle was forming but not complete. Jesus did not come to create a new circle but to complete the circle already being made. Without a strong understanding of the prophets and the history preceding Jesus, nothing about his Gospel ministry in Israel makes sense or matters.

In fact, it is because of the entire Old Testament that Jesus did the things he did and say the things he said. The more we read the Gospels, the more we realize that everything Jesus did was motivated by the desire to connect the listener to the past, where God spoke in the same words and acted in the same ways. His entire ministry was overflowing with a consciousness that he is the great “I am” from Exodus, completely unchanged.

For the purposes of our Oreo analogy, Jesus is saying that the filling of his Gospel ministry is sweet but without the cookies of the Law and prophets, the product is incomplete. Filling without the cookies is not an Oreo, it’s simply filling. The writer of Hebrews expounds on this point by saying:

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,
40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 
Hebrews 11:39-40

With cookies and no filling, or filling but no cookies, you don’t have an Oreo.

Many of us spend 90 percent of Bible-reading time swimming in the New Testament. While I do this myself from time to time, we cannot disregard the Old Testament as disconnected from the New. The Old Testament is the foundation of the New, and the New is the revelation and completion of the Old. The Bible is two sides that cannot exist independent of each other. Jesus came to connect and reveal the two. To focus only on one is to misunderstand the teaching of Jesus himself and to misunderstand the relationship of God to us.

In my Bible studies we spend a lot of time with people who are new to Jesus and the Bible. With this being the case, we often spend more time in the New Testament introducing people to the Gospel and Jesus. However, once these individuals witness Jesus’ Gospel ministry, we see them diving head first into the previously offensive and at one time overwhelming Old Testament, where they begin to see the pearls that the Spirit begins to reveal.

While one side of the Bible might be more appealing to you, never neglect the other. It is in the marriage of the two that you see the truest picture of God and how he relates to us. Once someone asked me how I could say that, by reading the Bible, I can gain a better and more complete picture of who God is and what he is like. My response was that reading the Bible is like building a jigsaw puzzle. By reading the Old with the New Testament together, we are given the pieces to the puzzle. While we will never possess all of the pieces to the puzzle and the picture will always have missing sections for our faith ponder, the pieces provided by both the Old and New Testaments reveal enough to us to see God and understand him, as he desires us to.