Jesus saves, Law remains
Good morning, this morning is the last of the Australia vs England cricket matches for this year… not been a good year for Australia. If England win today they – you – will have won in all three formats – test, 20twenty and One Day International. Today's game starts about now, and will be finished by 6pm, where as test matches are scheduled to last 5 whole days. Today the teams will be in coloured clothes with a white ball, in tests white clothes with a red ball… but for all the differences they are recognisably the same sport. Meanwhile, across the pond, in a couple of hours the Toronto Blue Jays play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Now I'm told that Baseball started out as Cricket. But if you were to watch those two matches side by side it would be very difficult to see how the two sports are similar – aside from both hitting a ball with a bat they share very little.
And Jesus and the Pharisees are a bit cricket vs baseball. They appear to be playing a different sport, but the question is, is Jesus a wronged version of worshipping God – a whole different sport, … or is he more like limited overs cricket – different, but still the same sport? That's the question we're going to address this morning.
This week we have a funny little passage jammed in between two striking parables about money and heaven and hell. Last week we had the unworthy manager who was commended by God for using money wisely to prepare for the coming judgement. Next week we'll see the opposite – the rich man who indulged himself on earth and ends up in hell. They are clearly a matched pair of parables, just like chapter 15 has three parables about things that are lost and found – the lost coin, lost sheep and lost son. But these three verses don't seem to fit into that scheme… what's it doing here, what's it about?
Well at the end of last week we saw the Pharisees sneering at Jesus – they don't accept him, reject his authority. And their objections were couched in the language and rules of the Old Testament: Jesus just doesn't fit their religion. Jesus says that's because he's bringing something new – a whole new way of approaching God. But this new thing isn't undoing everything that came before, but building on it. How? Jesus doesn't give us the whole picture here – we need the rest of the New Testament to see it worked out in full – but he gives us a couple of key principles which frame the discussion. First he is starting something new – he's introducing a new way to come to God – not law, but gospel; second, the law still tells us right and wrong – God's moral standards. And third he illustrates how God's standards are much higher than they had imagined.
We see this in three points:
Jesus changes how we come to God
"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it."
This is an outrageous claim to make. The Law and the Prophets is shorthand for the Old Testament: God's entire revelation up to that point, the record of God's acts of salvation, his promises and his requirements. God revealed himself in mighty acts like the Exodus. And he delivered the Law from Mt Sinai in frightening pomp and splendour. And the prophets spoke the very words of God 'thus says the Lord'. And Jesus recognised the Old Testament. He constantly quotes from it and he always treats it as the very words of God.
And yet – he says – from now on, the Old Testament isn't the message, he is.
Their whole culture was based on the Law and the Prophets but Jesus says he brings something new, radically different.
Do you see how dramatic this is: nearly 2000 years of history and tradition giving way to something new, a whole new way to God – not the law and the prophets, but the gospel. Jesus doesn't fit their religion because he's doing something completely new. He is the new wine that doesn't fit in old wineskins. And at the heart of this new thing, this good news is an offer for everyone to be a part of the kingdom of God.
He's preaching good news and it's for everyone. The end of verse 16 has been translated 'everyone is forcing his way into it' can equally be translated 'everyone is being urged into it' – they look the same in Greek, you need context to determine which it is. And the context here is that Jesus is preaching the good news and urging everyone to enter into it – that what we saw last week, and what he's been doing for chapters. That's the message of the three lost and found parables in chapter 15 – everyone is lost, but anyone can be found: Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost. Jesus has come to throw open the gates to the kingdom of heaven and is urging us in. The Kingdom isn't reserved for the very good, not even for the Jews only. No Jesus opens the way into the Kingdom of God, he saves so we can all enter in.
So Jesus declares that his arrival signals a whole new work of God in his world, Jesus is the turning point of history, the start of something wonderfully new. He is more significant than all the Old Testament – they were simply preparation for him. Now he opens up the way for everyone to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is kind of obvious to us now, but it was earthshattering at the time. It's hard for us to grasp just how shocking this is. Perhaps an illustration will help: try if you will to imagine a world where no one had ever seen an actual movie, all you had were movie trailers… there are no full stories told, just trailers, just the adverts that introduce the movie. That's all you know, that's all anyone knows – so they become much more than just an add, they become the story that you tell. You could get a decent idea what the movie was about… most of the best bits… but you'd have to fill in a lot of the blanks for yourself.
In a world like that you would get quite a surprise when you eventually saw the real thing wouldn't you? A lot of the things you thought you knew would be wrong, or misleading – not because they were deceptive, but just because you filled in the blanks wrong, or you just didn't have the wider picture.
When Jesus came it was like the movie finally arrived after 42 generations of elaborating on a series of trailers – there were a lot of things that were basically right, but also some major errors in thinking; a lot of expectations that were understandable, but wrong. Right at the heart of the mistakes was the idea that the law was given to save us – no, Jesus says he saves us, it's the gospel of the Kingdom of God that opens the way to heaven.
I hope you can see this radical change brings with it a radical call. Don't look to what you do to get kudos with God. There is only one way into the Kingdom – and that is by trusting in Jesus. And the call is urgent – Jesus urges everyone to enter in.
So again the challenge comes to us - have you put your trust in Jesus? Jesus urges you to enter into the kingdom of heaven while the door remains open… and he warns that the time will come when that door will be shut and you won't be able to get in then!
And this urgency isn't just a matter of time, it's a matter of needing decisive action – as we saw last week the Kingdom is worth jettisoning everything for. So Jesus urges us to make this our main thing. Whatever else you do, enter into the Kingdom of God.
And this call is for everyone –If you're good and upright, trust in Jesus to enter the kingdom; if you're evil and degenerate – trust in Jesus to enter the kingdom; if you're weighed down with heavy conscience – trust in Jesus to enter the kingdom; if worn out with chasing perfection – trust in Jesus to enter the kingdom. Everyone everywhere hear the call of the gospel. Don't delay, Jesus invitation is urgent, don't go half hearted, Jesus invitation is to go all in.
But all this begs a question – what about the law then? Is Jesus seriously saying we just jettison 2000 years of revelation from God? Was it a mistake? Just a phase to get to Jesus? Does God now approve of things he once despised? Jesus says no – the law still tells us right and wrong, and that is the second point of this passage: Jesus puts it like this:
Right and wrong will never change
"It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law."
Jesus is bringing something new, but not a new morality, not a rejection of the old. The law doesn't disappear, it's at least as stable as heaven and earth. Jesus is as emphatic as can be here – not the least stroke of a pen – not a comma, not a full stop – is redundant. The law is more fundamental even than heaven and earth!
How can that be? It's because God's morality isn't fluid, he's not changing to keep up with us, and he's not leading us to new moral standards. The law reveals God's unchanging moral design for the universe. God's law tells us what is pleasing to him, how we were made to work, and that doesn't change, because that's who he is, and that's how he made us and the world to be. The morality of the OT law flows out of God's character.
So what change does Jesus actually bring? Jesus brings access to heaven for people who fail to keep the law – which is everyone. Jesus reveals a way to be saved that doesn't depend on our obedience, but on his. The law reveals that we fall disastrously short of Gods standard and deserve terrible judgment. Jesus rescues us from the punishment we deserve by taking it for us. So the law reveals our sin and our desperate need for a saviour, and Jesus rescues us.
In coming to save us from the punishment proscribed by the law Jesus confirms the law and fulfils it – God doesn't drop his standards a bit to let the top 10% in, he confirms the standard, but pays the way for anyone to come in.
OK, but doesn't Jesus actually say that some laws don't apply anymore? Mark chapter 7 verse 19 Jesus declares all foods clean, but Leviticus 11 lists off a whole lot of food that is unclean? We need to know that the Old Testament Law is not a monolithic entity, lots of different things going on in it – some law is clearly moral, reflecting God's character (eg the 10 commandments); some of the law is flagged as for the people of Israel when they enter the promised land – so it needs to be realistic and enforceable, civil code (like specifying particular punishments for offences); and some things are religious ceremony – how to practice Jewish religion, what the priests do, who can go into the temple, when to bring sacrifices. They all reveal God's character, but in different ways; and they are all fulfilled in Jesus, but in different ways; and they all continue today, but in different ways. So for instance – with regarding the religious laws, Jesus is the true priest, who offers the true sacrifice in the true temple etc. he fulfils it all, and we put it into practice by trusting in his finished work, not by trying to repeat it ourselves. The civil law applied for Israel in Israel, it doesn't bind us now to similar punishments… and morality that underlies all the laws remains God's character.
So the law still reveals God's standards to us – and they don't change. But we need to be careful in listening to Jesus and the writers of the NT who teach us how to understand it and apply it to ourselves today.
Law's of Physics are wonderful things. Limit what we can do – respect the law of gravity for instance… but allow us to do amazing things – think of an aeroplane, tonnes and tonnes of metal and plastic elevated miles above the earth – understanding the laws of physics we can fly… God's moral law is similar, it's built into the fabric of reality, just as much as the laws of physics. If we want to fly, if we want to live life to the full we don't do it by breaking God's laws, but by understanding how to live within them.
1) Morality doesn't change, right and wrong in the OT consistent with right and wrong in the NT bc all based on right and wrong in God's sight… therefor ongoing right and wrong now – not updatable
2) Some of law fulfilled in Jesus and now kept in different way – eg food laws teach us to be holy, separate from sin, not what we can eat –
3) Jesus gets to say how they change, not up to us to decide which bits apply to us, Jesus taught a logic, not haphazard so that we can update to keep in touch with changing morality of our society
4) Do right – not because you need to do enough good to get into heaven, but because that's how God has made you, life is better if we do right, because that's how God made it to be; and because though we sin and fall short, God still delights in our efforts to do what is pleasing in his sight.
So far so good, but now we come to the point where Jesus words get very pointed and hard for us accept. So before we look at verse 18 I want to remind you:
1) If it's true, it's good for us– even if it sounds all wrong
2) Jesus confronts us because he's full of compassion
3) The same person who says this died so you could be with him in heaven – he loves you profoundly and wants only what is good for you
Marriage is for life / remarriage is adultery
"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Where does this even come from, why are we suddenly talking about remarriage and adultery, what happened to money, heaven and hell? I think Jesus is making a point about just how seriously God takes his law – the Pharisees were famous for their religious good works – they were fastidious sticklers for the rules. But Jesus says their goodness doesn't go far enough (eg. Luke 11.37 – they were in fact experts at creating the outward appearance of doing good while carrying on deep evil in their hearts!) In this chapter he's already challenged their love of money. Here he picks another area of law and morality where they fudged the details, looking for loopholes instead of striving for obedience.
So Jesus exposes their pretend obedience: They argued about who could get divorced, and how seriously your wife needed to offend you before you could send her away and replace her (they were divided into the school of Hillel (trivialities like a burnt meal) and Shammai (only for serious offences)). But Jesus says they've missed the point about marriage. Even where divorce is allowed or right, remarriage isn't. Divorce is not an opportunity to upgrade your wife.
Jesus is revealing the underlying morality of marriage as given by God in Genesis 1 and 2. Marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman– for better or worse, richer or poorer – to the exclusion of all others. In marriage God joins the man and his wife together to become one flesh – and this is a wonderful gift from God for protecting families and raising children and producing stable society. And somehow in God's goodness that join is not undone by divorce… so that if we marry someone else when our spouse is still alive, we commit adultery – even if we've been divorced.
This seems a harsh teaching doesn't it. It means that the only options open to someone who's divorced are to remain single or to be reconciled and that seems unfair doesn't it?
Where is forgiveness? It's not a matter of God withholding forgiveness for divorce, but a reflection of the nature of marriage itself, if the bond remains, if in God's sight they remain married, then a new marriage on top of the old isn't right, just as adding a new wife isn't right before divorce.
Not only so, but Jesus says elsewhere that single life is a gift from God and good in itself, albeit with different hardships to married life, especially if following marriage breakdown there are kids with a single parent.
For some of us this is something out there… for others this is intensely personal. I want to encourage you not to dismiss Jesus words, but to take time to think them through and to mull them over. I'd be happy to talk through what they mean with you…
For all of us the challenge is to take God's word seriously – the law in the Old Testament isn't just a phase we've left behind, but the basis for our morality. We don't get into heaven by keeping God's law, but it does reveal right and wrong to us. We need to take God's word no less seriously than Jesus did. We will always fall short, and we always need to come to Jesus for forgiveness. And forgiveness is available for us all, no matter how far short we fall. But Jesus calls us to strive for the highest standards, not a surface obedience, but a hunger and thirst to please God. So our challenge is to pursue deeper righteousness than the Pharisees – not so we can boast or because God will love us more, but because he loves us so much we want to please him, and because it is good for us and for the ones we love
Don't be like the Pharisees, trying to reduce goodness down to something you can jump over. Don't be like the world we live in rejecting morality altogether. Listen to Jesus who knows what he's talking about and who gave his very life for you – he loves you profoundly, listen to him.