Thursday

“I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it…”

Judaizers have been speaking up again. I guess we'd better talk about it.

"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.”

That is pretty much the standard, go-to verse for people who want to convince you that you need to be in bondage to the Law like they are. Yeah, let’s look at that.

First of all, this statement is found in Matthew 5: Jesus is speaking to people under the Law. He is not speaking to New Covenant believers. He’s speaking in the language of folks under the Law, speaking to people under the Law, but he’s not reaffirming the Law.

Go look at it. Read all of Matthew 5. Jesus is not saying, “Be sure to obey the Law!” He’s saying, “The Law is only the starting point!”

Verse 17 is one example: “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.” If you don’t do better than the people who do the law the best, it ain’t gonna get you into the Kingdom. That's what this whole sermon is about: the Kingdom.

Then he gets real serious. What follows is where Jesus deconstructs the Law. “You have heard it said, … but I say to you….” Five times he raises the bar above what the Law had required.

Then he goes on (Chapter 6 continues that sermon) explaining a better way. He doesn’t really talk about the Kingdom for a while, but he gets to it: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That very sermon continues on through Chapter 7, too. He’s already dismissed the Law, the godly works of the old paradigm; now he dismisses the godly works of the new paradigm: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’”

Yeah, that's not the goal either. "Depart from me, I never knew you." It's about knowing him.

Then he finishes preaching wanders down the mountain and demonstrates his new Kingdom by healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom.

OK. That’s our context. Now let’s look at that specific phrase, “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it…”.

Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law. Now the Law is fulfilled. What does it mean when something is fulfilled?

My father fulfilled the mortgage on his house. Now that his mortgage has been fulfilled, that mortgage is obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless. That’s what “fulfilled” means. It’s done.

So, yes, ALL of the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (for that's what the law is) are now obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless, now that the Old Covenant is dead and gone.

The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law of the Old Covenant) is an interesting (and useful) history book. It tells the story of a covenant that God never wanted, and that never worked [Acts 15:10]. We can learn from their mistakes, and we should.

But it is completely without merit as a standard to live by today, if for no other reason than there is nobody, literally not one body, who is still part of the Old Covenant to which the Law applies.

People try to say, “But obeying the Torah (or at least the 10 Commandments) is good. It’s part of making us acceptable to God.

Balderdash! Obeying the Law is an obstacle, a stumbling block to us becoming acceptable to God.

I am so thankful that the Law has been fulfilled! This is such an excellent expression of God’s mercy!

You see, it is not even possible to obey the Torah in our day and age, and it hasn’t been possible for nearly twenty centuries.

A huge part of the law was the sacrificial system. And nowadays, there is no ark of the covenant (it was lost centuries ago), there is no tabernacle or temple (it was destroyed many centuries ago) with an altar to kill bulls and goat on. And James says, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

More importantly, there are no Levites left to offer those sacrifices to God. The Levites were the only ones whom the law allowed to do that. Even worse, there are no records of Levitical bloodlines, and without those records, nobody could minister if there was a temple.

All of the genealogical records (all of the documentation of who’s a Levite and who’s not) was destroyed when the Old Covenant was destroyed as the Temple was destroyed in the conquering of Jerusalem in the first century. [https://nwp.link/WikiAD70] There are many parts of the law that cannot be obeyed now, and stumbling in one point of the law makes you guilty of the whole thing. No wonder it was destroyed.

Scripture predicted that the Old Covenant was going to be done away with and the temple would be destroyed [Hebrews 8:13] and Jesus described it in detail [Matthew 24] a full generation before it went down. Literally, not one stone was left on another. (And because of his warnings, the Christians - the only ones who believed his warnings - escaped that destruction.)

Paul summarized this whole law business quite nicely: "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" [Galatians 2:21]

Does that mean that we live lives characterized by rebellion against the Law of the Old Covenant? Where the command is “Do not kill,” do we make murder our habit to lie in order to avoid an old, dead Law?

You can hear how silly that sounds when we see it in black and white. No, we still don’t kill people. But that's not because of the obsolete rule book of a failed covenant that never applied to anybody but Israel anyway.

Rather, we don’t kill because we’re like Jesus and he doesn’t kill. We don’t kill because he’s teaching us to “love one another as I have loved you,” and murdering people isn’t actually very loving.

So throw off the lies that say, “You must study the Torah! You must obey the Ten Commandments."

"Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” Cast out the efforts to obey as the way to please God. There is no inheritance for you in that path.

Tuesday

Lessons on Giftings & Callings From an Unlikely Source


I learned some things recently, and it’s not exactly rocket science.

This fellow looks like an eighteenth century British scientist, kind of like Sir Isaac Newton. Both were knighted by the queen (different queens), and they’re both astrophysicists, but this fellow is way more well known than Newton, though not primarily for his astrophysics.

Sir Brian May is better know as the guitarist and co-founder of a band that the Guinness Book of Records says is literally more popular than the Beatles ever were. He’s also a Doctor of Astrophysics, a 3-D stereoscopic photographic authority and a passionate advocate and campaigner for animal rights. (https://brianmay.com/brian/biog.html)  

I was listening to a song he wrote in honor of a flippin’ spaceship of all things (it’s a wonderful song: https://youtu.be/j3Jm5POCAj8), when some interesting thoughts wandered by.

• Your reputation does not determine who you are, or what you get to do with your life. (There are exceptions.)

• Your gifts and skills, even your gifts, do not determine who you are or what you get to do with your life. (Though they may provide some limits.)

• If you have great skills in one area, don’t be afraid to use those skills. (Planet Rock rates May as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. [https://nwp.link/2FvwYoa])

• If God blindsides you with success in an area, don’t be afraid of changing your path. (May was in the midst of his doctoral thesis on the Motions of Interplanetary Dust when his side gig, a band called Queen, suddenly found some success. He quit his studies to play guitar.)

• If you follow the blessing of God, don’t necessarily let go of your previous dreams. (After a 30-year break for rock-and-roll super-stardom, May finished his thesis, and got his PhD in 2007.)

• You can still follow other interests, too. Your job or your studies (or your ministry) is not your entire life. (May started a stereoscopic imaging publishing company, was a University chancellor for a few years, and was a collaborator with NASA for the New Horizons Pluto mission.)

My sense is that some people (I decline to comment about whether this includes myself or not) have sometimes felt, “Well, I have some gifting [or some success, or some training] here, I guess this is what I’m going to do with my life,” as if the gifts of God were a life sentence.

Stated in more blunt vocabulary, a lot of western believers seem to be awfully religious about their life choices, choosing a career because of religious expectations, or following a path of failure (of one sort or another) just because they see it as their religious “duty.”

I’m not saying your choices will lead you down an easy path. Most of God’s paths aren’t rosy: look at Jesus’ example. But if Jesus isn’t on the path, maybe you shouldn’t be either.

If you’re looking for Biblical support for this, consider how Jesus walked away from successful ministry (Luke 4:43), or how Paul bypassed part of the Great Commission for his ministry choices (compare Matthew 28:19’s commands with 1Corinthians 1:17).

Walk with Jesus. Know him well. Love him well. Then do what you want, what you feel you should do. Do what actually works for you.


Thursday

The Vengeance of God


Isaiah 61 begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...”



This much is familiar to us. It’s the part that Jesus quoted when he began his public ministry (Luke 4). It was him announcing, “This is my job description for the next three and a half years. This is the what Messiah will be among you.”

But the statement He quotes from in Isaiah 61 goes on; Jesus actually stopped in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know how many sermons I’ve heard - and I agree with them - saying “That’s because it wasn’t yet time for the next part.” Which reads:

“...and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

We are clearly no longer in the days of Messiah, at least the days of his earthly ministry. I wonder if we’re now in the next bit, “the day of vengeance of our God.”

Look at how this verse defines the day of God’s vengeance. It continues on and describes God’s vengeance as:

¤ to comfort all who mourn,
¤ to provide for those who grieve in Zion,
¤ to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
¤ [to bestow on them] the oil of joy instead of mourning,
¤ [to bestow on them] a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Resulting in:

¤ They will be called oaks of righteousness,
¤ [They will be called] the planting of the Lord.
¤ [They will be called] for the display of his splendor.

That is how Isaiah describes “the day of vengeance of our God”: comforting, providing for, blessing his victims, until they are firmly established and displaying his splendor.

Hmm. I  believe I’ve misunderstood God’s vengeance.

I had learned about vengeance from Romans 12:19, which tells me, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”

I’ve always interpreted this as, “Don’t you beat ‘em up and make ‘em pay. God can beat on ‘em far more severely than you can!”

That was my understanding of vengeance. It was the image of God as my hit man, so I didn’t need to dirty my hands (or dirty my soul). He’d do the dirty work for me.

If I was really honest, the idea that I’d always had modeled for me was “God save me and destroy my enemies!” And I rather adopted that idea too, not in so many words, but this was the worldview from which I prayed.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s right any more. That’s not what his vengeance is; where he’s leading us.

Rather, God appears to want to save me AND save my enemies! (What? He loves those idiots, too?)

Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah before he mentioned the vengeance of God. But that didn’t stop him preaching these values.

Everybody loved it when he quoted Isaiah and announced, “That’s right here, right now.” They all smiled and nodded and clapped politely.

But when he went on, things changed.

Seven verses later, Luke records, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”

That’s a pretty big attitude change. What pissed them off so badly?

I’m glad you asked. In between, he declared, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

He was preaching that God wanted to save Israel AND save the gentiles.

It angered the religious community then, and it seems to anger the religious community now. But that’s not my issue here.

My focus here is that this idea that God wants to save us AND save “them” too is far more consistent with God’s character than the idea that God iss our hit man, on duty to smite our enemies so we don’t need to dirty our hands.

I remember a verse from my youth (from when I used to focus on sin as I was presenting the “good news”): “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). That’s him saving his enemies.

I could go on. Now that I stop and think about it (and I’ve been thinking about this for months), I find the value all over Scripture, now that I’m beginning to be willing to see it.

But for now, I’m going to just make this statement:

The vengeance of God is not about  smiting my enemies. It’s about saving them, about blessing them with everything he’s blessing me with.