Does it ever worry you when you open the Old Testament to so much stuff in there – stuff which God's people were commanded to do – which we don't do now? Does it? We can't do some of it - We don't have a temple or an altar or a priest to offer a sacrifice, how could we bring a sheep to sacrifice for our sins?
But there are many things we can, but we still don't – we could separate out different fabrics, we could grow our hair on the sides of our heads, we could avoid eating shell fish – but we don't, even though the Law says to. And then there are things in the Old Testament law that we do keep and we insist everyone should keep them.
What's going on there – are we just being inconsistent?
That's what it looks like. Last year Steve Chalk, a well known church leader announced that he was in favour of Gay marriage, and he would be performing gay marriages in his church. He explained his reasoning and that was basically it: there's lots in the Bible that we don't keep, we can't do one and ignore the rest… – the morality of the Bible is now out of date – just cultural baggage – and we need to find a new morality for our age.
He's far from the only one saying that, the Episcopal Church – the US arm of the Church of England – is miles ahead of him, they claim the Holy Spirit has led them to reject significant sections of the New Testament as well as the Old. So are they right? Is that what we're left with - we need to pick our way through the Bible and work out for ourselves what bits work for us now and what bits we can chuck?
Well that's what this week and last week have been about. Two weeks ago article 6 summarised the Bible's authority and power – all we need to know is in the Bible, and nothing outside of the Bible is needed to be saved. This grows out of belief in the Bible as God's word – so trustworthy and all we need.
But then how do we read the Old Testament now? Last week we got the first bit of the answer. Article 7a says that both Old and New Testaments are about Jesus and how God saves through him. Even though the Bible is 66 books, it's all the same overarching story of how God made us, how we rejected him and fell under his judgement and how by his son he rescues us again and makes us his people, all through Jesus.
What we see today is the other side of that equation. The whole tells one story, but there are differences in how we understand and obey now that Jesus has come. The Old Testament needs to be read in a New Testament way now that Jesus has come. That means some things don't apply to us like they did to the Jews in the Old Testament, but some things do. And the key thing is that we don't choose for ourselves, the Bible tells us how things change. Our article this morning summarises the changes from old to new testament like this:
"Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."
There are three things to notice here:
First the Old Testament Law is divided into Three different categories, ceremonies and rites, civil precepts and moral
Second Ceremonies and rites and Civil precepts are no longer binding; but
Third Moral law remains binding
We're going to look at those three ideas really quickly this morning.
1) Old Testament Law is Divided Into Three Different Categories, Ceremonies and Rites, Civil Precepts and Moral
We see this in our Mark reading. Look at Mark 7.14 with me:
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him'unclean'." After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body."
(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean".)
Here we get to the heart of the issue straight away - Jesus contradicts the Old Testament law. Leviticus 11 deals with food laws, and it's very clear, some foods are clean and some unclean and to be avoided. After listing unclean foods Leviticus 11.24 says
You will make yourselves unclean by these.
Pretty clear: some foods clean and some unclean. But here's Jesus saying: Nothing from outside can make us unclean by going into us… and so declaring all foods clean.
Whatever else we want to say, we have to say something has changed. But in the same discussion Jesus quotes the ten commandments, verse 9 –
And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said,'Honour your father and your mother,' and,'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother:'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."
Jesus quotes from Exodus 20 and Exodus 21 and condemns them for not keeping these laws, which are the very word of God he says. So Jesus holds them to these laws, but he won't let them hold him to the cleanliness law. If we didn't know Jesus better we might think he's being hypocritical wouldn't we?
But there's more: at the end of our passage Jesus says it's not food that makes us unclean, it is our moral failings, our inner immorality, that's verse 20-23, which we'll look at later.
What's going on here? Jesus distinguishes between things in the law which no longer apply and things that do, and at the heart of the difference is morality.
We can't develop this in detail, but in Leviticus 11 the food laws are explicitly said to relate to ceremonial cleanness (Leviticus 11.4)
There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you'.
But some laws have to do with inherent morality: these things are either evil or good, as Jesus points out. The underlying logic is that the morality of the Old Testament flows out of God's own character: God is good and he can do no evil. He commands us to do good and shun evil. This isn't about religion as such, it's more basic, showing what is right and good and moral; and what is wrong and evil and immoral.
We can see Jesus dividing out categories here. Some Old Testament laws are ceremonial, and some are moral.
But there's more… the Pharisees want to put Jesus to death for not keeping the Sabbath according to their view of the Old Testament law… because that was what the law required. This is the civil law. These are laws about what to do with people who break the law – both ceremonial and moral. So for instance Leviticus 20.10 says that a man who commits adultery must be stoned to death. Punishment is specified for all kinds of crimes – murder, theft etc. ; And punishment is spelt out for breaking the ceremonial laws too – Leviticus 24.14 says
Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Civil laws require the state to mete out punishment on those who break God's law.
Now these distinctions aren't always obvious when we read the Old Testament. The law wasn't laid out in a convenient table with three columns, or colour coded so we can see which is which. And sometimes they're all mixed up and it's quite tricky to see where one ends and the other begins (e.g. the Sabbath– it's ceremonial … but allowing time for your employees to rest one day is a bit moral… and setting to allow everyone a rest is a civil matter.) That they aren't clear at first shouldn't worry us, because everything in the Old Testament is unclear until Jesus comes to fulfil it!
So while we may not see these categories flagged up for us at first we do see Israel wrestling with the differences as the Old Testament unfolds – see Psalm 40 and 49 for instance … and in the New Testament we have Jesus interpreting the law, revealing it's inner logic and making distinctions between various laws. The rest of the New Testament then continues to reveal that logic and the distinctions between various laws. For example the book of Hebrews shows how Jesus fulfils the ceremonial laws; and many of Paul's letters explain how Christians are not under the law like the Jews were.
The point is we're not just getting rid of the bits we don't like. It's not a free for all, and it's not random. We're following Jesus example as he shows the distinctions between the various laws.
This is good news, we don't have to make it up as we go along, instead we need to listen carefully to the bible. It is possible to ignore one law to pass away and insist on another without hypocrisy, that's how God intended it.
Knowing the laws are different is a start, the next step is to see what we do with the different laws, so let's move to our second point.
2) Ceremonies and Rights and Civil Precepts Are no Longer Binding
Jesus declares all foods clean. Something has changed now that Jesus has come. As we've seen in home groups he bring a new age, like new wine it can't be fit into the old wine skins.
So what's changed? Jesus fulfils the ceremonial laws.
The Old Testament rituals and rites and ceremonies do two things:
– they teach us the truth about ourselves and our sin – sin really does make us unclean before God, it keeps us far from God, we need a sacrifice to cleanse us – the law reveals our sin and it's consequences. And
– The ceremonies also point beyond themselves to a deeper reality – lambs, bulls and goats sacrificed for us can't really cleanse us, the temple can't really contain God, ritual washings can't really cleanse our conscience, our inner self.
When Jesus comes he reveals the deeper meaning of the law and fulfils all it's demands for us. He is the true sacrifice, priest and temple, he truly cleanses us of sin. Those ceremonies and religious rituals of the Old Testament are no longer needed, the one they point to has come, their work is done.
And the civil elements of the law? They also pass away with the coming of Jesus – there is no nation state that represents God's people now, God's people come from every nation. So there is no nation state to enforce God's laws, no nation represents God to the world. Those laws which are moral may still need to be enforced by law – we certainly don't want a free for all on murder and theft … but the system of civil law described in the Old Testament is so tightly tied to Israel's identity as God's people that it can't be applied to any other group as it is.
Like the ceremonial laws these laws have a teaching function, pointing us to sin and it's consequences; and a predictive function, pointing us to Jesus who releases us from the condemnation of the law.
What was all mixed up in the Old Testament is divided out by Jesus. The ceremonial and civil laws have done their job, now Jesus has come they are not binding on us as law. So article 7a says
"the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men; nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth.
It's saying those Old Testament laws that are ceremonial or civil do not operate as law for us today. Individuals can eat shell fish, mix our cotton and wool fabrics, and we don't have to go to the temple to sacrifice a lamb everytime we sin. And corporately no nation is bound by the penal code – the civil laws – of the Old Testament. They were binding on God's Old Testament in Israel, but not on England or Australia or any other country.
Neither civil nor ceremonial law is binding today – but they still teach us we are sinful and need a saviour. But the moral law is different.
3) Moral Law Remains in Force
This is where we look back at Mark 7:20.
Jesus went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him'unclean'. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man'unclean'."
There is a whole nother sermon here, but we haven't time. So briefly: notice Jesus is preaching the same moral universe as the Old Testament. The law says do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not covet, do not give false testimony… and Jesus has already said they must honouring their parents – that's the last 6 commandments, all the commandments that talk about how we relate to each other. What the law says about right and wrong continues
The underlying morality of the Old Testament flows out of God's character and he doesn't change. The Holy Spirit is not leading us today into a new morality that contradicts the morality of the Old Testament – God is not growing up or getting more insight into the human condition, he knows us inside and out, he knows the end from the beginning, he determines what is right and what is wrong, and he does not change his mind.
I don't have any time to develop this point, so let me direct you to our sermon series on the rule of law from July 2011, you'll find it on our website.
As God's people now we are free from the condemnation of the law – there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1). But law still speaks to us. And the moral law continues to speak to us as command.
As New Testament Christians God doesn't say to us 'it's not a good idea to murder, try and cut down'; God says 'you shall not murder'. The standard God calls us to is not less than the Old Testament law, but greater. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus expands on the commandments – you shall not murder means don't hate in your heart so that you wish them dead; do not commit adultery means don't look at a woman lustfully and so commit adultery with her in your heart, and so on… Jesus says– Mattew 5. 20:
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
And sums it up in Mattew 5.48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect
The standard set for us in the Bible is not near enough is good enough, it's perfection. We are not just encouraged to it, but commanded to it. And God's law teaches us what that is, the Old Testament law reveals God's perfect morality, and the NT teaches us how to understand it in it's fullest, widest and truest application.
And we strive to keep it all, perfectly.
Now we know that we won't manage perfect obedience, but the Bible doesn't say settle for less then, it says run for the prize, strive for perfection – and know that when fail you can trust Jesus to make good all your failings.
So don't throw out your Old Testament's, read, mark and learn them. Inwardly digest them. From the ceremonial and civil laws learn who you are and what Jesus has done for you. From the moral laws learn what is right and what is wrong. And from it all learn that you need a savior who is perfect, and cling to Jesus.