Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Torah, the Law, and the Messiah in this Age

Our modern world learns much of its theology through Facebook memes.  Sometimes the basic message is direct from the scriptures but polluted with a slight twist here and there.  Let’s use a different word for twist or twisted—wicked.  Sometimes these posts use the Hebrew names for God and other times or events to add some pseudo credibility as if only truth-seekers would use these words.

Somewhere along the way, the church forgot that it was to be Berean and search the scriptures.  Oh, we still open our Bibles and find the scriptures that seem to back up our position, but few seek the full biblical witness.  That takes work, study, more work, and more study—to include the iron sharpening iron Bible study among committed believers, and it is so much easier just to jump on the meme bandwagon of the month. 

One of those memes or pseudo-theological quips is that Jesus always met the physical need of a person before he contended with the spiritual need.  The world has sold the church this bill of goods and we didn’t bother to check it out for ourselves.  I challenge anyone to produce three instances where the gospels support this statement.

Jesus healed in response to faith, out of compassion, and sometimes we are told that he healed many, but nothing supports the model that Jesus first met the physical need and then the spiritual.  When we look at the miracle of feeding the 5000, we see a group of people who had followed Jesus out into the countryside and after a day’s worth of teaching, didn’t have much to eat.

Jesus and his disciples didn’t set up an all you can eat buffet and hope that someone hung around afterward for a little teaching.  People were hungry for the words of Jesus.

When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus in his hometown, Jesus first forgave the man’s sins then he healed him.  The spiritual need was met straight away in response to the faith of the man and his friends.

The laconic musings of the last few years seem to revolve around the Torah, the Law, and the Messiah.  This one is a bit more complicated, especially in an age where clicking the Read More link on an online post typically results in scrolling to the next entry.

But the topic deserves more than a couple cute memes.  The challenge is to make it less than a treatise but more substantial than the average online read.  That said, I know that many will check out at this point, but for those who are a bit more Berean that most, let’s examine this area further, seeking the full biblical witness.

It is two millennia after the death and resurrection of Christ and still the Judaizers want their religion back.  Feasts, festivals, food, and of course, circumcision were the issues of the first century.  Many of God’s people and surely the religious hierarchy didn’t want to let go of righteousness by the law.

Those Jews who came to Christ noted that nobody—not even the patriarchs—could bear the full burden of the law and decided not to place it on the backs of the new Gentile believers.

As far as the Hebrew people went, their shortcomings opened the door for salvation for all, not just God’s Chosen People.  These people through whom we received the Christ are not kicked to the curb but held over to disobedience so that all my come to receive God’s mercy and grace.

Everyone who comes to right standing before God comes by grace through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Nobody gets there by complying with the law.

But what about the law?  For that matter, what about the entire Torah?  

Some suggest that it was nailed to the cross, but that’s not what the scripture says.  The bill or invoice for our sin was what was nailed to the cross.  The law did not go away.

Here is where people wrestle with the law’s role in this age and can find good justification for their opinions, but often at the expense of the full biblical witness.  Elements of the law and the Torah are eternal—forever.  They will not really be done away with but we need to see them as a foundation not the entire building.

We need to see that the Torah guides us through our disobedience to the law and brings us to Christ.

The glory of God that we know in Christ Jesus surpasses the law.  So, the Torah and the law point us to the Messiah—to Jesus.  It’s not the other way around.  Jesus referenced the Torah and the law and more.  He came to fulfill the law and the prophecies—even those contained in the Psalms.

Jesus hung on the cross and declared, It is finished.  What’s finished?  His fulfillment—completion—of the law, not putting an end to it but providing the end state--grace.  No one had ever done this before or since.  Why is this important?  We fulfil the law through Jesus.  He gave us all a command to love one another as much as he loves us.

Jesus is sending us forward in love not backwards into compliance.  We grow in grace and bring glory to God with every moment lived in love.

In fact, love for one another is the only debt that we should have.  When we do this, we fulfill the law.

But I don’t observe the Sabbath on the seventh day. In today’s world, we think that would be Saturday. I often work Friday nights and sometimes Saturdays and I don’t mandate that my employees (servants) observe the day either.  I don’t travel to Jerusalem for any feasts.  I don’t even make twig huts in my back yard.  Surely, I have no regard for God’s commands.

But if you love one another as Jesus commanded, you have fulfilled the law.  There are several requirements to become a U.S. Citizen, but these requirements are considered fulfilled with honorable military service.  You didn’t jump through all the hoops but you fulfilled the requirement.

Jesus said that he was always working just like his Father in heaven.  How can he do that when the Sabbath is forever?  He is Lord of the Sabbath.  If love fulfills the law, then we have observed the Sabbath through Jesus.  Our Sabbath rest comes through Jesus, and we need that rest.  The Sabbath was made for us and not the other way around.

We discard God’s words on the Sabbath when we say it is Saturday. Just because the world gave the name Saturday—or something similar—to what it recorded as the seventh day, does not make the inverse true.  The Sabbath is the seventh day.  Saturday derives its name from the pagan god Saturn.

God’s command was that six days you shall labor.  It’s not Sunday through Saturday you shall labor.  For centuries the Sabbath worked out to be Saturday.  The command was applied at the aggregate level, but is it not valid at the individual level?  Must the seventh day always be a Saturday?

For the one whose faith is in Christ, the man-made names do not govern.  The Sabbath which Jesus is Lord over should be observed, but through him, we may observe it every day.  Usually, we set aside one day over the others, but the command is work six and rest one.  That rest is not regulated but given to us by our Lord.

The law points out our shortcomings.  The law points us to the Messiah.  The law condemns. Salvation comes through Jesus and not the law, but the law did not go away.  It was, however, surpassed.

Consider the law as foundational.  It did its work and now it’s time to live in the surpassing glory of Christ.

Christ is also presented as our foundation, so in this analogy, the law points us to this new foundation.  To continue the analogy, the law was like the forms for the concrete of our foundation in Christ.  We are counseled not to keep rebuilding the same foundation but to build upon it.

Don’t extend the analogy or make it allegorical.  That’s not the intent.

But what about the dietary laws?  Should we observe those?  Surely pork is bad, right?  If you live in the Gerasenes or in Iowa, this is not even a question to be voiced.

God gave dietary laws to separate his people from the rest of the world—what we would call the Gentile world.  God did not give these instructions to Noah.  All he told Noah was to drain the blood before eating meat.

So, were pigs healthy from Noah to Moses and then not so much?  There are other animals involved and sometimes Peter’s vision of the sheet lowered from heaven is interpreted to be metaphorical and apply to taking the gospel to the Gentiles.

This requires some suspension of reliable techniques of exegesis and is likely eisegetical.  How does this metaphor show up from an author not fond of metaphors?  Luke used other literary techniques, but metaphor is a bit out of character and out of context.

The words go kill and eat bring home the point that something which was previously off-limits was made clean and that it not only may be eaten, but that God had directed Peter to eat.  Kill and eat does not work with the gospel to the Gentiles metaphor.

To make this metaphorical and render the interpretation that it’s meant to take the gospel to the Gentiles make the scriptures that follow redundant.  The interpretation works best in the context that scholars have interpreted for centuries. 

God is opening up the entire world to his people—what they eat, what they do for a living, and even their DNA will no longer separate them.  Jew and Gentile alike have one thing in common.  They all fall short of the glory of God.  Only Christ Jesus can make anyone right with God. 

The full biblical witness tells us this is about food.  Consider Paul’s letter to Timothy.  He foresaw the argument and deception that would come and noted that whatever God made good and is received with thanksgiving has been consecrated by the word of God.

The Jerusalem Council had a chance to weigh in on this but did not.  Their only directives about food other than those given to Noah was that it should not be strangled or sacrificed to idols.

Paul gives two pieces of powerful counsel on this subject.  He noted that if his dietary habits caused a young believer to stumble, he would abstain from eating whatever was the stumbling block.

His most powerful counsel is that what we do that is not done in faith is our real sin.  We are to live by faith not sight.  There is nothing wrong with what the Torah and the Law say, but our lives are based in faith in Jesus the one and only person to fulfill the law and prophets.

You have to wonder that if Jesus ate with sinners, were they sinless in their preparation and presentation of their meal to the Messiah?  We don’t know what he ate but it did not make him a blemished Lamb.

Consider these.

But what about all of those directions to obey God’s commands and the words that Jesus gave while he was on earth?  As we work out our salvation as the most important thing that we will do, some will only be able to follow the checklists in the Torah, but some will truly be able to live.

It’s sort of like putting your master’s money on deposit with the bankers to get a little interest or putting it to work to produce a fantastic return for you master.  Remember, that in the referenced parable, the master gave his talents to his servants in accordance with their ability.

If you are a one talent servant, perhaps the best you can do is follow the rules.  But if you are a two-talent or five-talent servant, then you might do much more and get a Well Done from our Master.

The Torah and the Law did not go away.  They are still good.  God gave them to his people who didn’t know how to be his people for their own good.  That goodness is not diminished.

The glory of God that we know in Christ Jesus surpasses that of the Law and the Torah.  Jesus told us to love one another and we know that love does no wrong.  Living out our salvation in love can not offend the law.

Here’s my standing example for the Law and Christ.  Think about driving on that country road at midnight and someone is approaching from the other direction with their headlights on.  They are the new lights that illuminate two and a half football fields and blind all the deer in the surrounding acreage.   You probably have some choice words for the driver of this vehicle as you pass at midnight.

Twelve hours later you are on the same road going the same direction and meet the same car with its headlights on.  You hardly notice that the lights are on.  It’s high noon and the light from the sun surpasses the light from the headlights.

The light of the headlights was not diminished.  It is just that the light from the sun greatly surpassed that from the headlights.  Now consider the law as the headlights and Christ as the sun.  The glory of God that we know in Christ Jesus surpasses that of the law.

Here’s one to chew on.  The law was given so the trespass might increase.  Ouch!  Does that sound like the God of love we want to portray?  Yes, for grace increased even more.  Only by grace may we be made right with God.  Everyone comes to God out of disobedience.  We navigate through our disobedience to the law only with grace.

How does this statement sound when the law is the objective? The law was given so the trespass might increase.  Whether it was a single command or over six hundred, God knew that we would be disobedient.  He didn’t have three courses of action.  He knew we would disobey and that his grace would increase.  To get humankind through disobedience, the Torah pointed us to the Messiah not to the law.  The law increased our disobedience.  The Torah brings us to the one who redeems us from it.

Our response to grace then can’t be only trying to get it right this time, though that is a noble goal. It is to never seek anything over what Christ is to us.  Christ plus the law, Christ plus this feast or that one, Christ plus anything gets us off course.  We were running a good race.  Who cut us off?

Jesus told those who questioned him the first and greatest commandment was to love God with everything we had and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  Everything in the Law and the Prophets is supported by these two commandments.

The Law is not bad.  The law is good and was given for the people’s own good.

The Law did not go away.

The Law just does not govern us anymore.  We no longer need a guardian.  The guardian did his job but we are ready to fully live and fully respond to the love of God.  We live by faith in the favor and grace of God that we know in Jesus.

Consider riding a bicycle.  You may have started with training wheels to keep you upright.  But at some point, you didn’t need the supports.  There was nothing wrong with the training wheels but now they seldom touched the ground as you had your balance and were ready to go places.

As we respond to God’s grace, faith must govern and love prevail in all that we do.  If your faith calls you to live by the Torah fulfilling the law word-for-word instead of fulfilling it through Christ Jesus, then do it.  Do it all the way.  Don’t falter as a single point.

We are not talking about living by the law to obtain salvation.  This is about working out your salvation with fear and trembling.  This is about living out your salvation.  It’s about living by faith.  And if all you can do is follow what’s written, then do it completely.  Do not stumble at any point.

But if your faith is in Jesus, your hope is in Jesus, your rest is in Jesus, your peace is from Jesus, then you should fulfill the law through Jesus by living a life of love. Love does no harm.  Love lets you live your life to the full and makes your life the best offering ever.  You become the living sacrifice that you are called to be.

The law will not go away while we walk this earth.  Some of it is clearly noted to be eternal. The law can point us to Jesus.  The law can condemn our ungodly lifestyle.  The law is good and was given for the good of God’s Chosen People. 

There should be no dichotomy between covenants new and old.  We should note a journey not a classification, a journey with a destination which in reality begins our real journey—living in and by love.  God leads us through our disobedience to a single command in the beginning and then through 613 of them once he chose a people.  Humankind comes to a place whereby the blood of the Messiah we are in good standing with him once again and free to live a life of love.

But what about the words of Jesus?  We are to love our enemies.  I don’t see that in the Torah.  You should!  God has put humanity on this course to be governed by love.  Understand that the message of the Torah takes us through the law that could never be fulfilled by human flesh until the Messiah came.  It brings us to the Messiah.

I would hope that our love for God has taken us to the point where the law need not be our guardian.  I would hope that we don’t need training wheels anymore.  I would hope that our entire response to the grace of God is rooted in love.  I hope that we do not live with a spirit of fear that God will not be pleased unless we are the best rule-followers ever.

If we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first, we live by love.  As it turns out, we fulfill many of his commands but those commands are not a burden but the natural—our new nature—outpouring of our love.  I pray that we are known by our love.

I hope that you do not accept this essay at face value.  Search the scriptures but refrain from cherry-picking.  Don’t look for those that would support what you think and exclude those that make your position more difficult.

Our objective should be to bring glory to God.  If you made it this far, I think that desire is within you.  Find what you believe God has told us in the full biblical witness as guided by God’s own Spirit.  Put it into practice in your life.  Share it with others and explore more always in search of the truth, always in search of how God has called you to bring glory to him.

Do not demean other believers because they do not see things your way.  Even when we disagree, we are still called to encourage one another.  Who am I to judge another man’s servant? 

Do not be a stumbling block.  Don’t park yourself in the judgment seat and criticize a new believer trying his best to live out his faith.

Now to be fair to the modern day Judaizers, we must consider that we are grafted in as a wild branch and become sons of Abraham.  Some would say that because of that, we must comply with the Law of Moses.  We are not grafted into the law but into the family.  God is moving all people away from division and into inclusiveness so that the distinction between Jew and Gentile is less significant than being brothers and sister in Christ.

To be fair to the Judaizers, some verses seem to stand alone and would preclude other parts of the Bible.  That can go both ways and is why some dismiss the Old Testament altogether.  We must not do that or worse, cherry-pick our verses.

Let’s try this on for size as we put Judges 16 and Luke 10 in juxtaposition.  Samson went into town to see a prostitute.  Jesus said, now go and do likewise.

That’s ridiculous.  I agree, but too often it is the model that Christians use to justify their point.  Too often we want to be right so much, that we link some scriptures together at the expense of others, and subsequently the truth is lost.  Thus, we come to the importance of the full biblical witness.

Thus we come to the importance of sharpening one another in God’s word.  Our job is not to be the best fault-finder there is, but to seek truth and right living and bring glory to God.  We need to reach this point as believers if we are to fulfill our commission in a lost world.

Too often, we want to have the most unique perspective, making us appear more knowledgeable than other Christians.  This is a virus of the modern church.    Sticking to the truth is not enough.  My dog has to be better than your dog.

Too often, My truth has to be better than your truth because it is unique and causes controversy.  The truth may upset those not seeking it or who are blinded by the god of this age, but it should not cause controversy among believers.  We may disagree but our prayers and scripture searching should bring us to one accord.

Let’s understand that the law has not been abolished, nailed to the cross, or diminished in any way.  It has been surpassed by the glory of God that we know in Christ.  The old things are a shadow of things to come through Christ.

Here’s a parallel that may or may not make sense to all, but perhaps will help with some.  After being commissioned a second lieutenant in the Untied States Marine Corps, I went to a two-year school for all lieutenants which took just under six months.  That is to say, I lived and breathed everything Marine Corps for just about half a year.  The school was called The Basic School.

At the end of that year I went to follow-on assignments and sometimes used the things that I had learned in those first six months.  Twenty years later, I still used some of the things that I learned in those first months, but had that been all that I used, I would have been a terrible officer of Marines.

In twenty years, those instructions and directives that I learned so well in the beginning, governed about one percent of the decisions that I made.  They were great as a guardian or as training wheels but surely not the end state of what I was to be as I commanded and supported Marines. 

There was nothing wrong with my training.  If fact, despite the dry humor with which most officers considered the school as we navigated it, it was a fantastic foundation.  But we were made for more.

There is nothing wrong with the law.  There are no shortcomings in the Torah.  Both are from God.  They are good.  They are just not the end state.  Our end state is living a life governed by love that brings glory to God.

Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  He was there in the beginning and now calls us to live out our lives governed by love.  The Torah did and still does its work seeing us through our disobedience to the law and bringing us to the only one through whom we may obey the law.  Only through obeying the command of our Master to love one another can we fulfill the law.

Christ fulfills the law.

Love fulfills the law.

We who live by love fulfill the law in Christ.

Do not take this essay at face value.  Search the scriptures—all of them.  I have referenced some in the context of this missive, but don’t stop there.  Read passionately but don’t put a deadline on when you must finish.  Make sure you invite the Holy Spirit into your search and don’t set your sights on being right but set them on finding the truth.

You want to live out your salvation in faith not fear, so dive fearlessly into God’s Holy Word and listen to His Holy Spirit.


A good read on the law.

Tom’s message – Love fulfills the law

Another good read:  Reading Moses Seeing Jesus

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