Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 13: Love of the Law
March 14, 2010
· BW 160, HP 1/24/10
Scripture reading: Psalm 19:1-6
We innately dislike rules, see them as restrictions, but help us see your love flowing through your laws and rules.
David’s love song
I can really get into that first part of Psalm 19. As I have said before, I am moved by seeing God in nature. But I have a harder time “feeling” the next part:
NIV Psalm 19:7-9 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
He practically gushes about the Law, oh it’s so great and perfect and makes me feel all warm inside. It’s like he would marry it if he could.
The things is, I know David is talking about things (it’s what we are reading now) like what’s kosher, what to do if your house had mildew, circumcision, and how to sacrifice animals.
Q Why on earth is David so happy about this stuff?
Q Has that bothered any of you?
The typical response is to say that David’s talking about the Bible as a whole. One pastor that I respect very much took that approach when he preach this passage – replaced “law” with “Word” and preached on how great the Bible is.
· The problem is that’s not what David says: Law, statutes, commands, ordnances – David is talking about the Mosaic Law.
So I repeat – why is David so happy about a bunch of rules, and not just the moral ones like the Ten Commandments, but also a ton of ritual and dietary laws?
· The short answer: They were (and are) a demonstration of God’s love. Even the mildew and kosher stuff? Yes.
Learning to love the Law
In our daily reading, you’ll read a lot of laws, and rather than trudging through it as antiquated rules and regulations, I want you to have a deeper understanding of God’s love in them.
· My goal is you get the warm fuzzies when you read the law.
Okay, not quite, but that you can view the OT law in its proper context and delight in it as David did.
That’s not easy because I need to remove the cultural and theological distance between us and the OT laws that we may be able to truly love the laws of God.
The Mosaic Covenant
Let’s briefly set the stage: The Israelites have just come out of Egypt where they’d been for 430 years. In that time, there’s been no revelation of God, and they know very little about him.
· Through the plagues, they know 1) He is on their side and 2) he is more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt.
· But they know very little about what he is like and what he wants from them.
God bring them into the desert, to Mt. Sinai to reveal himself to them and establish their relationship. This relationship takes the form of a covenant – the Mosaic Covenant.
A covenant is a mixture of a business contract and a relationship: It is a binding relationship with promises and requirements. The best example is a marriage.
· The difference: A covenant is usually between unequal parties.
Covenant is a major theme in the Bible and is important to us because is show us God reaches out and is committed to us, not because of anything we can offer or worthiness, but his love.
Furthermore, the giving of the Mosaic Law follows the form of ancient covenant, showing that this isn’t God handing out a rule book, it’s God forming a covenant relationship.
Here in the desert, God establishes his covenant with Israel:
NIV Exodus 19:3-8 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” 7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.
This is kind of like the “I do” portion of the ceremony. Now from here, God lays out the terms of the covenant. We begin with the Ten Commandments, and then go from there.
Q Can you guess yet how God’s law was a sign of his love and something God’s people should be excited about?
Hint: How many other nations were privileged enough to be God’s covenant people? None!
· These laws demonstrated their unique relationship with God that no one else had – they are special, in a good way.
They’re like the talented kid who can’t go out to play because she’s practicing to be the world’s youngest Olympic athlete.
Israel is meant for something special; they have a special role in God’s plan, so he has to work them, keep them separate so they can be a light to the nations.
· I am going to get a little thick here, but it’s important because it helps us understand how we relate to the Law now.
As we read, you may notice that the covenant commands are a mixture of ethical and ritual laws, the 10 Commandments on one hand and kosher laws on the other.
The ethical commands we get, and they are either repeated or expanded in the NT, but why is David so excited about not wearing wool and flax or not eating bacon?
These laws were about demonstrating who belonged, who was in and who was out. They were boundary markers, showing who was part of God’s community.
· You didn’t keep the Law to be saved but demonstrate you were part of the covenant community – that’s how you were saved.
Q Let’s now move into today: Do these ritual boundary markers still apply to us? Can we eat bacon?
Q If not, has something taken their place to keep us separate?
The New Covenant
As great as the Mosaic covenant, Israel broke it time and time again. To use the marriage analogy, Israel divorced God, and that covenant was broken beyond repair.
Centuries before Jesus, God began to promise a new covenant, where the law would be written on heart, and that the Holy Spirit would fill his people and help us obey.
· Jesus fulfilled the law and instituted the new covenant, and we’re no longer under the Mosaic Law (cf. Acts and Epistles).
As I said, the ethical stuff is repeated or built on in the NT, but we are free from the rituals “boundary markers.”
We can eat pork without being excommunicated, we don’t have to get circumcised before getting baptized, and chopping firewood on Sabbath is no longer a capital offence.
Q Do we still have boundary markers?
Yes – by fulfilling the law, Jesus didn’t make things easier, he made them harder, because he took it from external to internal:
· Getting circumcised as an adult would be no fun, but loving your neighbor as yourself is way harder.
Throughout the NT, God reveals what it means to be a people of the new covenant: love God and others, the fruit of the Spirit, and forgiving, and so on.
· Even though no longer dress or eat differently, God’s people must be clearly set apart by their attitudes and actions.
That’s the first reason we should love God’s law – it sets us apart as his people.
It shows we’re special in God’s eyes and made for a greater purpose, to be a light and bring glory to God. But it’s not an exclusive club, all are welcome (contra Pharisees).
Seeing God in his laws
There is a second reason we should love God’s law – the writings say a lot about the author. In other words, God’s Law reveals what God is like.
The big deal is that God has spoken and has told us what he is like and what he wants. As I said before, in both the Bible and Jewish literature there is an emphasis upon the fact that God has only spoken to his people.
· The rest of the earth is left trying to figure him out.
· This is general revelation (Ps. 19:1-6) and special (19:7-14).
To understand God’s character as we read, we have to remove our 21st century, western world glasses and put on 12th century BC, Ancient Near East glasses.
· BTW: The reason we have the morals we do is because of these laws – “Judeo-Christian ethics.”
Knowing about ANE culture and that most of the ancient gods were capricious and cared very little about humans and justice, we can skim through the OT laws and we see that God is different:
· The slavery laws were much more humane.
· Cities of refuge for manslaughter.
· “Eye for an eye” limited punishment.
· Women were granted rights.
From this foundation, God built a higher morality in Christ.
· As you read through the Mosaic Law, look for glimpses of what God is like.
Finally, the law shows God’s love because it warns us of the agony of sin.
The Mosaic Law is far more than do’s and don’ts, it is his revelation of how we were made to function. As I have said before, it is God showing us what hurts us, hurts others, and hurts our relationship with him.
· Finding this in the Law is tricky because the ethical and ritual laws are intertwined.
In the NT, the laws are rewritten (as I said) to move from external ritual to internal heart change, so we don’t have to worry about the Mosaic ritual, but we are still required to live in obedience to God’s laws (as a demonstration of the covenant).
The law is an act of love because sin kills you whether or not you know the fact. Being ignorant of the law of gravity doesn’t let a person float along:
Romans 5:12-14 12 ¶ Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-- 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
· The Law allowed the people to see the “disease” that was killing them, but it was unable to heal them (need Jesus).
The longer I live and the more I see, the more clearly I see God’s rules are acts of love. Just think through your life – at all the pain you’ve experienced because of ignoring God’s rules.
· God is a parent that wants to save us from heartache is we’ll let him.
The problem is we only trust God as far as we can see. I believe that adultery will make me miserable, but what will I do about the commands I don’t understand?
All of you know what I am talking about – things you know that Bible condemns, yet you can’t understand how that thing hurts you. What do you do then?
· Whenever we choose to sin, it is because we don’t believe that God’s way is best or that he has our best in mind.
I was struck by the testimony of a lesbian who become a Christian, “I can’t understand why God would forbid this life, because it is the healthiest thing I have know, but I trust that he has my best interests in mind, so I will obey.”
God’s Law is love because it warns of agony of sin. He is trying to save us from pain and death.
Can you see why David would delight in the Mosaic Law, and that we too should delight in God’s law?
The law of the LORD is perfect, it shows us how good, loving, and just he is.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, they teach us right from wrong and save me from a world of hurt.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, they show the world that we are children of God and has great plans for us.
The big idea, the main thing I want you to take away from this is not just know, but feel that God’s Law flows from his love.
· I want us to see the love in his law and then learn to love his law.
First with the Mosaic covenant and now with the new Covenant in Christ, God’ commands are not something to avoid but embrace. Whatever God calls us to do is what we really want.
· We can know this, but believing it is something different.
· I am currently struggling to believe that fasting is something I want!
What the law can’t do
Final thought: The Law is like an MRI technician that can find the cause of the mysterious illness that is killing you. But yet, he is unable to actually fix it.
For all its value, the Law cannot change our heart. In OT and NT there were saints who loved, sought, and obeyed God. And in both there were those who obeyed the rules without loving him.
Salvation and forgiveness only comes by joining into God’s covenant community, through faith in Jesus and his sacrifice. From there, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us and helps us live according to God’s law.
Q & A
Objectives of sermon:
· That we might delight in the Law of the LORD, even as we understand it in our context.