Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fulfilled? Or Not Fulfilled? Matthew 5:17-20

I will eventually get to some other topics, but there are certain passages of scripture related to the law/old covenant and the new covenant that I want to work through before moving on. Just trying to get them into one place so they can be referred back to in the future.

Another passage that often stirs discussion is Matthew 5:17-18, although for this blog entry we will work through verse 20. This passage, known as the Sermon on the Mount, is the longest piece of Jesus' teaching in the whole New Testament and includes the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer and extends clear into chapter 7.

Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience so the law (which includes the whole law and prophets, and certainly the 10 commandments, or covenant made with Israel) is something Matthew records since the listener(s) (Jews) would be especially attuned to what he had to say, and most certainly the religious leaders/Pharisees, the best law-keepers on the planet. Here is what Jesus taught:

I Came to Fulfill
"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." Matthew 5:17
Clearly, Jesus said he did NOT come to abolish the law (Law & Prophets). Rather, he came to fulfill them. This begs the question: Did Jesus do what he said he came to do, to fulfill the law? It is one or the other, either he did, or he did not.
"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 5:18
Some make an argument that goes something like this: "Heaven and earth have not disappeared, so the law has not disappeared." But this presents a big problem. If that was the point Jesus was trying to make, that heaven and earth would have to disappear first, the next part says that not even the smallest pen stroke (dot or iota) would have disappeared or changed. None of it! Which means that all of it would still be binding to those under the law. It is here that we must begin doing "scriptural gymnastics" to attempt to get around this fact, if we take such a position, because nothing in the Law or the Prophets would have changed. Many attempt to divide the law into different categories, which gets really subjective, and then argue that certain categories were fulfilled, but others weren't. But Jesus' words, in the context of the whole Law and Prophets are that not even the smallest stroke would by any means disappear.

The last four words are the key to understanding what Jesus was saying: "...until everything is accomplished." Jesus had just stated he hadn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In that context he is saying that nothing would disappear from the law UNTIL he accomplished what he said he came to do, to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

Did Jesus do what he said he came to do?

These Commands
"Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:19
In Matthew 5-7 Jesus is teaching and giving his commands. If we attempt to look at the word "commands" through the lens of the 10 C's (old covenant) this passage cannot be reconciled, since Jesus already made the point that he came to fulfill the law. Don't miss Jesus' commands (i.e. "You have heard that it was said...'You shall not murder...' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother...will be subject to judgment." vs. 21-22). He is teaching a righteousness that is beyond the scope of the law, which is why he fulfilled it. We've all been angry at someone, and even though we did not murder them (letter of the law) we were guilty of murder!

So, "the least of these commands" are contextually in reference to the "sermon" Jesus was teaching, Matthew 5-7. We don't have to guess what he was referring to because it's right there in the text. Setting aside "these commands" means you're called least in the kingdom of heaven. Practicing them means you're called great in the kingdom of heaven. The rest of the "sermon" is about teaching and commands regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, seeking revenge, loving our enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, storing up treasure in heaven, not worrying, judging others, seeking the Father, true and false prophets/disciples, and the wise and foolish builders. There is no gymnastic required when it is taken in context.

Righteousness Surpasses
"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:20
If Jesus didn't do what he said he came to do, fulfill the Law and the Prophets, this would be a seriously disheartening text to those who consider themselves "under the law!" The Pharisees were the best law-keepers in the world. They knew every "smallest pen stroke" and kept it. I've heard people attempt to rationalize this away by saying it is a reference to the additions to the law Jesus is referring to. But Paul, a former Pharisee, shows that he/they really were good law keepers:

Depends on Faith
"For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh - though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -" Philippians 3:3-9
That is from the "mouth" of an actual Pharisee who turned everything over to Christ. Jesus was teaching about a righteousness that is apart from the law he came to fulfill, a righteousness that only he could provide. Paul said he was "blameless" as far as the law was concerned, but that he counted it as "rubbish" in order to gain Christ, his Source of righteousness that comes through faith.

And so the question remains: Did Jesus do what he said he came to do, fulfill the law? I believe he did. What do you believe? Fulfilled or not fulfilled?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Law or the Lord? 2 Corinthians 3

I never really studied deep into the covenants God made with people until about 10 years ago. Even then it took a while to realize that the covenant Christians live under is different than the covenant made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, specifically the 10 commandments written on stone. Some people/groups view the 10 C's as being "eternal" even though they had a beginning point at Mt. Sinai. The 10 C's, written with letters on stone, was the old covenant that God made with Israel. They were carried in the...ark of the covenant. There are many places in scripture that tell us this, but here's one:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” Exodus 34:27-28
This passage alone shows that the old covenant was made between God and Israel and that it specifically was the 10 C's written on the tablets of stone. It did not exist prior as is shown in the 2nd place the 10 C's covenant is recorded, Deuteronomy:
"The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today." Deuteronomy 5:2-3
New Covenant
While much more time could be spent showing all of the places in scripture that refer to the 10 C's as the old covenant and the temporary nature of it, I want to jump into God's instruction to his church found in Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth starting with verse 6:
"He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Cor. 3:6
A distinction has already been made, that they are ministers of a new covenant that is different than the one made with letters. The contrast is between the letter, which kills, and the Spirit who gives life. It is a life and death matter.

Death, Condemnation, and Temporary
"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!" 2 Cor. 3:7-11

The 10 C's came with glory, but they were a "ministry that brought death" and a "ministry that brought condemnation." Notice it is unmistakable what we're talking about here, the 10 C's "engraved in letters on stone." Did they come with glory? Yes! Moses' face was so bright the Israelites couldn't even look at him! But that glory was "transitory," it was temporary! It was going to be outshone by the "ministry of the Spirit" which is even MORE glorious, a "ministry that brings righteousness!" The 10 C's were glorious, but not at all when compared with the glory that surpasses them. And that last sentence again repeats that the letters on stone were transitory, but how much greater is the glory of "that which lasts!" Paul repeats himself regarding the glory and permanence of the Spirit and the fading glory and temporary nature of the letters on stone, which means he's really trying to get a point across.

I know it's difficult for some to even attempt to grasp (let alone accept) what the clear implication of these words mean to those attempting to live under the old covenant or to make the old and new covenants the same thing. But Paul gets to that later on in this same passage.

The Veil
"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away." 2 Cor. 3:12-13
 Notice the reason Paul gives for Moses putting a veil over his face: to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. Again it is a reference to the 10 C's (ministry of death and condemnation) coming to an "end" and "passing away." I know the tendency to want to justify this by thinking that it is the "death and condemnation" that end and pass away because of Jesus taking the penalty on himself at the cross, but that is not an honest use of this passage. The "letters on stone" themselves are what pass here in order for the Spirit, which lasts, to emerge bringing "life and righteousness." It is tempting to want to have both exist together, but death and life, condemnation and righteousness cannot exist together. What is transitory, fading, temporary and ending cannot coexist with what is permanent and lasting.

But if you're stuck or experiencing some cognitive dissonance, there's a reason for it:
"But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts." 2 Cor. 3:14-
 Those trying to live under the "old covenant," which Paul clearly says is the "letters written on stone," cannot see because a veil covers their hearts. Are you finding yourself disagreeing with what Paul has written here, or trying to come up with some line of reasoning that justifies the living by the letters AND by the Spirit? Can you see it? If you cannot consider that a "veil" is preventing you from seeing the point here. Reflect on what Paul is saying and ask the Holy Spirit (the one that brings life and righteousness) to open your eyes. (It took me about three years to really get this passage and see it!)

Don't miss this: "But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read." Paul does a sort of play on words here. Moses put a veil over his face so Israel wouldn't see the fading glory of the letters on stone, and when we read the letters on stone a veil covers our hearts. Do you spend time reading the old covenant? Does your church or denomination? Are you stuck believing you are under the old covenant (10 C's) calling it "freedom?" If so, there is hope:

Real Freedom
"But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 2 Cor. 3:16-17
In verse 14 it said that, "only in Christ is it taken away." When you turn to the Lord the veil is taken away. It is interesting because Exodus 34:27-28 (quoted at the top regarding the 10 C's being the old covenant) a few verses later says, "But whenever he entered the Lord ’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord." (vs. 34-35) When Moses entered the Lord's presence he took off the veil. When we turn to the Lord the veil is taken away.

This verse also clearly identifies the Spirit as the Lord and tells us where real freedom is - where the Spirit of the Lord is. Are you turning to the law or the Lord? One is death and condemnation and ending glory. The other is life and righteousness and ever-increasing glory and freedom! Your answer is important to your own spiritual growth:
"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:18
Turn to the Lord only, have the veil removed, contemplate the Lord's glory, and experience being transformed into his image more and more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dead or Alive?

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:19-21
This passage generated some discussion on my fb wall. Growing up I could not see the reality of what Paul is saying here, that he died to the law SO THAT he might live to God. He no longer lives, and the law has nothing to say to dead people...they're dead! But Christ lives in him, and it's by faith, and righteousness does not come through the law (besides...he's dead to it!). Paul made a similar argument to the church in Rome found in Romans 7:4-6.
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were controlled by our sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Again he plainly says that we died to the law THAT you might belong to another, Jesus Christ (who was raised from the dead), that we died to what once bound us and have been released from the law SO THAT we serve in the new way of the Spirit. According to Paul here we die to the law IN ORDER to be joined to Jesus Christ or to live to God. You can't be "alive" to the law and joined to Christ. We can't be joined to Christ and "alive to the law as the law is a "ministry of death" and a "ministry of condemnation" (2 Corinthians 3 - next blog post). Being joined to Christ by dying to the law means we are alive in a new way - Jesus Christ can then live in us, and we serve in a new way - the way of the Spirit. To live as if you're alive to both would be "spiritual adultery."

 So, are you dead or alive to the law?

Blogging Again

It's been about two years since I blogged last. Many times I will discuss things on facebook or on a discussion site, but it just sits there going further down in the timelines or lists of topics. So I find myself blogging again in order to have it all in one place.