Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is the Gospel in the Gospels? Part 3

Continued from Part 2

The second thing to learn about the Good News of the Kingdom from Jesus' explanation in Matthew 5 is that those who teach and live according God's instruction as laid out in the Law and Prophets and embodied in Jesus' life will be called great. I'm only using the words that Jesus uses here: read Matt. 5:19. ". . . whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Okay. So how is this good news?

Whether anyone in this life recognizes it or not, those who seek to be scrupulous about their conformity to God's instruction are blessed by God.

This is not to say that they merit God's favor or that they earn their position of greatness by means of brownie points with God. Rather, remember, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, to the Israel of God who have been chosen by God, graciously redeemed by God, favored by God's unmerited love and grace, and made part of his kingdom.

Part of the problem here is the way we have used the words "commandment" and "law." We've reduced these to the "moral law," but the words refer to everything in the Pentateuch and Prophets. That includes all the instruction about humility, promises of forgiveness, and the encouragement of the people to seek restoration and forgiveness from God by means of prayer and the sacrificial system. That's part of the Law. Yes it is. More than being just "part" of the law, the sacrificial system is foundational in the Law.

In fact, most of the OT revelation is given over not to moral laws and commandments, but to instruction (torah) about confessing one's sins and seeking regular restoration and renewal at the Tabernacle and Temple. Remember, the bulk of the "legal" instruction in the Pentateuch is about priesthood, Tabernacle, sacrifices, clean and unclean foods, etc. What did Moses receive on Mt. Sinai? What is most of the book of Exodus taken up with, moral law or instruction about priests, sacrifices, and tabernacle maintenance?

But Jesus point here is: God has not given us the right to pick and choose which commandments we will follow. You cast off a part of God's law and you throw off the Lord's yoke entirely. You reject his Lordship and authority over you. Some of us are really sticklers about certain commandments, especially when it comes to other people breaking them; but then we are very quick to excuse ourselves from obeying the commandments that we have concluded don't apply to us.

If you seek to actively undermine someone's faith in any portion of the Bible, you are in serious trouble. If you help them find excuses for not submitting to a portion that they don't like, you are the least in the kingdom of God. This was what the scribes and Pharisees were doing, as we shall see. And this happens all the time in our churches. It's not Good News.

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