Reading Ramblings – August 3, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #6—Sinai: August 3, 2014

Texts: Exodus 20:1-21; Psalm 23; Matthew 5:17-20

Context: Thus far our narrative preaching cycle has covered Creation, the Fall, the Flood, Abraham & Isaac, and the Exodus.  Having freed his people from oppression and from death, God the Father now outlines for his people the guidelines by which they will live as his people.  In the Hebrew, these are called the “Ten Words”, which might convey a different feel than “Ten Commandments”.  What God reveals here are not arbitrary rules, but rather a revelation of the very nature of creation, the way in which we were created to function properly in relationship to our creator and to one another. 

Exodus 20:1-21 — God has rescued his people from enslavement and certain death.  He has led them into the wilderness, forced them to rely on him for the basics of food and water, and in the process shown them his character.  He Is.  He is fully sufficient for their needs.

Having grown up in the polytheistic environment of Egypt, the people of God are well-acquainted with worship practices.  But God is different from the Egyptian idols, the imaginative half-animal, half-human gods and goddesses.  As such, worship of God is different.  Proper relationship to God means living the way we were created to live, in the midst of a fallen and broken world.  It means being able to clearly identify evil with confidence, in order to flee from it personally and confront it communally. 

At Mt. Sinai God reveals the proper way to live with him and one another.  These are not new or arbitrary rules—they are woven into the fabric of creation.  Every major religion or philosophy more or less echoes these ideas, evidence of their universality.  Knowing right from wrong is not so difficult, it would seem.  But knowing right from wrong is ultimately anchored in knowing God—the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt.  While human behavior is important (2/3 of the Commandments deal with how we treat one another), human relationship to God the Father is even more important, evidenced by the Commandments regarding our relationship to God coming first. 

Psalm 23 — This beloved psalm has been a source of hope and comfort for thousands of years.  The shepherd is the one who guides the sheep.  The sheep must know what to do, where to go, when to rest, when to eat and drink.  More than anything else, they must know to cling to their shepherd and trust him more than anything else—including their own fear.  The duty of the sheep is to trust and obey, not to try and tell the shepherd how to do his job.  It is not the duty of the sheep to rewrite the rules to suit their own personal preferences or ideas.  Either the shepherd is the shepherd, fully in control, or the sheep will be lost to predators and their own stupidity and ignorance. 

Matthew 5:17-20— Many would set the Old Testament and the New Testament against one another.  The Old Testament is Law, the New Testament is grace.  The Old Testament is judgment, the New Testament is mercy.   But in these few verses Jesus makes it clear that the two Testaments are linked.  What God did with his people in history has not changed.  Expectations have not changed.  Failure to meet those expectations has not changed. 

The Law still plays a crucial role in the lives of all humanity as well as Christians.  It helps us identify evil and resist it.  It shows us our sinfulness and need for salvation.  And it acts as a light to guide us in the best ways of living.  Jesus does not eliminate the Law, but rather fulfills it. 

What is the purpose of the Law then?  Perhaps it has no purpose.  Rather, the Law is simply life.  Failure to live according to the Law results in death.  Lawlessness, rebellion, and the literal suffering and death of those who forsake God’s Law and therefore forsake him.  Living according to the Law—all of the Law (not just the ethical/moral laws governing human interactions) leads to life.  The Law is not something we have for now, but will one day be eliminated in the final and complete reconciliation of heaven and earth.  Rather, the Law will continue.  The nature of God and his creation will continue.  But when we are perfected in Christ, the Law will cease to be unattainable.  We will be able to fulfill it.  We will be able to be perfectly obedient, perfectly conforming with who we were created to be. 

Christians struggle with how to deal with the Law here and now.  We deal with it joyfully, not fearfully!  While the Law constantly shows us how we fail to obey it, we no longer live in fear of the consequences of such failure.  Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly.  His innocent death was offered for your sake and for mine, as payment not for his own sins but rather ours.  His resurrection from the dead is evidence that the sentence for sin has been served.  Jesus is raised from the dead having served fully in three days what would have taken you and I eternity.  The Law no longer condemns us to death, but points us to Christ wherein lies our hope and promise for eternity.

But we continue to seek to obey the Law.  It is not an obligation, it simply is the way of life.  We won’t fulfill it perfectly at this time, but we practice for that day and time when we can and will keep it perfectly.  Living according the Law becomes a matter of consistency.  If it represents the best way of life that we will one day live according to easily, it’s only appropriate that we practice towards that future obedience.  Our lives in Christ here and now should appear somewhat like our lives in Christ will be after his return. 

To do otherwise would be grossly inconsistent, an indication of some serious breakdown in our recognition and identification with what Jesus accomplished through his incarnation, death, and resurrection.  To reject the way of life leads us to reject life itself, both in terms of our relationship with the source of life, God, and the effects of life as they pertain to others.  We cannot proclaim ourselves free of the Law’s demands, as though the Law is arbitrary and pointless.  Rather, with God the Son we affirm the beauty and glory of the Law, the nature of reality as God the Father created it.  By the power of God the Holy Spirit we continue to strive for obedience, not fearful of our failures, but joyfully looking forward to that time when we will be re-created and able to fully obey.

 

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