This Week

  • Sunday: 10:00 Worship
  • Tuesday: Bible Study @ Jeremiah’s, 2 p.m.; Elders, 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday: Outreach 1 p.m.
  • Saturday: Emmaus Reunion Group, 8 a.m.; Music, 2:15 p.m.
  • AA Meetings: in the Parish Hall:
    • Tuesdays, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Discussion
    • Wednesdays, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. – Big Book
    • Fridays 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. – Discussion

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  • Sunday, October 30, 2-3 p.m. Hymn Sing at Jeremiah’s Coffee House. Tell your friends!
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Sermon Tomorrow: “Compared To What?” – 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14.

Why Bother With Biblical Law?

Jonathan Burnside (Continued….)

1. Jesus took Torah seriously and He expects us to as well

The place to start, in this complex debate, is the fact that Jesus treats all of the Scriptures, including the Pentateuch, as the Word of God. For example, when the Sadducees debate Jesus on the subject of the resurrection, He responds by saying: “… have you not read what was said to you by God…” before quoting from Exodus 3:6, where God declares “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”” (Matthew 22:31). Although we may live in a neophiliac society, which automatically privileges what is “new,” Jesus does not see the Hebrew Bible as being either ‘old’ or ‘out of date.’ It is, instead, the Word of God “to you.” Elsewhere, Jesus teaches that everyone is to live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It is all the Word of God for Jesus. Jesus treats the Scriptures with complete seriousness as the timeless, authoritative Word of God, which is always speaking and, hence, always capable of creative application.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus quotes various misrepresentations of the biblical laws (“You have heard that it was said…”) before presenting His own, authoritative, interpretation (“But I say to you…”). Here, and elsewhere, Jesus challenges wrong uses of Torah and asserts there is a right way of understanding it, under His direction. But Jesus doesn’t negate it. He is absolutely explicit on that point (Matthew 5:17-19). Jesus’ hearers are to listen to Him because He will provide them with the right way of interpreting Torah and of building upon it. But Rabbi Jesus’ teaching, and understanding of Torah, is normative not only for His disciples, but for everyone. Jesus concludes the Sermon by claiming that the advantage of following His words, and His understanding of Torah, is that you will have a life that is built on solid rock and won’t be in a state of disintegration and collapse (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus’ Torah teaching is applied to the whole world, for everyone is called to repent and to become His disciple. Jesus’ summary of the Law and the Prophets – loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40) – covers both Jew and Gentile. It is precisely because Christians rightly focus on Jesus that they must take seriously the things that Jesus takes seriously. This includes Jesus’ own understanding, and appreciation of, the importance of Torah.

2. Biblical law helps us to understand better who Jesus is

If Christians believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of Torah, they must engage with the subject seriously. It is precisely because Torah prophesies about Jesus – the Person whom we say matters most in our lives – that we need to understand it properly. We are talking about one Person and one life that is so cosmically and eternally significant we need the entire history of God’s dealings with humanity and with His people, just to understand who He is. If we do not know much about what Torah is, its substantive content, and how it relates to Jesus, then we have diminished our understanding of who He is. It’s like looking at a statue of someone with a lump lopped off. It’s not such a good likeness. We might not even recognize them at all. If we do not give due attention to those parts of Scripture that Jesus says talk about Him, we are at risk of entertaining our own personal vision of who we think Jesus is. This could be ‘Strict Jesus,’ or ‘Indulgent Jesus’ or the ‘Jesus’ of our own sinful imaginations. When we understand biblical law better, as part of the whole witness of Scripture, we get a better understanding of who Jesus is. If we try to understand Jesus without it, then we are not going to understand Him as well as we might. It’s a bit like reading a musical score: if we just focus on the top line, it isn’t going to sound as good as if it would if we brought in all the other notes as well. God expects us to play the whole thing.

To give just one example, the seven main Festivals of the Lord enshrined in biblical law are clearly significant for Christians in terms of who Jesus is, what He has done and what He is going to do. The first main Festival of the year is Passover (Pesach; Leviticus 23:5) which Jesus fulfills as “our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7). He lay in the grave during the Festival of Unleavened Bread, burying our sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23), which is the third main Festival. The 50-day counting of the omer (Leviticus 23:16) brings us to the fourth main Festival, the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22), and, in Acts 2:1-4, to the giving of the Holy Spirit. The fifth Festival, the Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6) awakens us to repentance and alerts us to the return of the Messiah. One day, the Last Trumpet will blow (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The modern Christian is located, prophetically, between the fourth and fifth festivals, that is, between the giving of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ return.

The next event in the annual calendar is the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32), which also launches the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-17). The future, and final, Day of Atonement, where humankind is separated before God’s throne, will be joyfully celebratory for some, and a tragedy for others. Jesus’ entry, as our Great High Priest, into the Holy of Holies with His sacrifice of Himself, makes possible the future restoration of all things, including new resurrection bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49-55). This future Day of Atonement will not only announce the end of the present age but will also launch the Messianic era of Jubilee and eternal Sabbath. The final Festival, in the annual cycle, is the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43), when the harvest is brought in, and the nations are prophetically said to be gathered (Zechariah 14:16-19). The great, and future, Feast of Tabernacles will proclaim that “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people…” (Revelation 21:3). By means of these great Festivals, some of which Jesus has already fulfilled, and some that He will fulfill, biblical law provides the framework for human history.(To be continued.)

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