The Law

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This morning we come in our sermons on the Thirty-nine Articles to Article VII – which is simply headed, Of the Old Testament. And the Article says this:

"The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. 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."

This morning we are going to focus on the second half of that Article that is on The Law.

And I have three headings which are three questions, first, WHY DO WE HAVE ARTICLE VII? secondly, HOW IS JESUS "IN" THE OLD TESTAMENT? And, thirdly, WHAT DID JESUS TEACH ABOUT THE LAW?

So, first, WHY DO WE HAVE ARTICLE VII?

Let me give you three reasons.

First, we have the Article because of the perennial temptation, from the Garden of Eden onwards, either to add to God's Word written (as Article XX rightly describes the Bible), or to take away from it. So important is this that the very last chapter of the Bible ends with this warning:

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book..." (Rev 22.18-19).

Certainly this was a problem in Jesus' life time, with the Pharisees adding their traditions to what God had said, while the Sadducees were reducing God's Word to just the first five books of the Old Testament. Then in the early church the heretical Gnostics added to God's Word their mythical speculations about strange celestial beings. And the heretical Marcion denied the Old Testament saying that the creator and cruel God of the Old Testament couldn't be the loving God and Father of Jesus Christ. So, first, there is this basic problem of people adding to and taking away from the Bible's message.

Secondly, skipping over the centuries to the time of the Reformation and the time of these Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, we have Article VII because of a particular instance of this problem. By way of background you need to know that at this time the mainstream Reformers were not only concerned about the Church of Rome adding Church tradition to biblical truth. They were also concerned about radical groups within their own camp who were discarding biblical truth. For there were Charismatic Radical Reformers that were rejecting the Old Testament's clear moral law. And this is certainly behind Article VII.

Let me explain. The Thirty-nine Articles of 1571, that Anglicans have followed since 1571, were a revision of the 42 Articles of 1553. But some very interesting words from 1553 were left out in the 1571 revised Article VII. These referred to people who were taking away from God's word under a mask of spirituality. The earlier 1553 Article says, first, "no Man, (be he never so perfect a Christian) is exempt and lose from the obedience of those commandments, which are called moral". But then it goes on to say this:

"wherefore they are not to be harkened unto, who affirm that Holy Scripture is given only to the weak, and do boast themselves continually of the spirit, of whom (they say) they have learned such things as they teach, although the same be most evidently repugnant to the Holy Scripture."

So these people were saying the divine Spirit was teaching them to ignore and so take away from the message of the Bible. They were teaching that weaker Christians might need the Bible, but the Spirit was guiding them to ignore the Bible. They were just like many modern liberal clergy and lay-people with their various heresies and immoralities, not least today with their condoning of sex outside heterosexual monogamous marriage. We know that some of these radical Reformers were denying the deity of Christ and saying he was just a good man. But there were others we know who were advocating polygamy and saying even adultery need not be a sin. So the second reason – the specific reason why we have this Article VII - was these radical, Anabaptist (as they were called), Reformers, who were taking away from Scripture in an extreme way.

But, thirdly, we have this Article because of some less extreme Reformers in England. Some of these seemed not to see that God's revelation is progressive as well as cumulative. They failed to see that God taught his people differently at different times. And even though lessons had to be taught a hard way before Christ, that didn't mean those hard lessons were right for after Christ in this genuinely new age of Grace.

Take Thomas Cartwright. He was the Presbyterian opponent of the famous Anglican Reformer Richard Hooker. And there were others, who like Cartwright, ended up like some modern Muslims in sanctioning extreme punishments. For Cartwright said that idolaters, among whom he included those against, I quote, "the Word and Prayers", should be put to death. For that was the law of Moses. Similarly, Stubbs, only a few years after our Article was written, said that the law of stoning blasphemers, I quote, "standeth in force to the world's end." But Article VII warns against such views and practices when it 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."

That was said because the Ceremonies and Rites were fulfilled by Christ's death on the Cross as the letter to the Hebrews explains. But what about "the Civil precepts" not being "of necessity to be received in any commonwealth". The reason for that is this. The Old Testament Civil precepts (or laws) were for the theocracy, which Israel was in Old Testament times, with the State coterminous with the People of God. But, of course, the Church of Christ was told to go into all the World preaching the gospel and be in countries where there were non-believing people and rulers, and where they were told to "render to Caesar (always in the earliest years of the Church a non-believing ruler – 'render to Caesar … ) the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mt 22.21). The Old Testament Civil precepts, therefore, certainly the criminal punishments, were not necessarily right for New Testament churches to have to enforce belief and practice in this day of Grace – witness the Apostolic tradition of Jesus stopping the stoning of the women caught in adultery in John 8.1-11.

However, not "of necessity" implies that the principles behind those "Civil precepts" sometimes could still be of value.

So why do we have Article VII and the second part in particular? The answer is because, one, there is a general temptation to add to and take away from God's written Word; two, this was the case with those theologically liberal charismatic Radical Reformers who were rejecting God's Moral Law; and, three, there were some less radical Presbyterian Reformers who did not seem to be following Jesus in his rejection of violence to enforce belief in this day of Grace. And that brings us to our …

… second question, HOW IS JESUS "IN" THE OLD TESTAMENT?

First, he is "in" the Old Testament through his person and work. After his Resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples:

"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24.44).

The word "Psalms" stands for all the other Old Testament books. Jesus is, therefore, referring to the whole Old Testament. So he must have been pointing to more than his Messianic work in Salvation history of which the Prophets speak and Isaiah 53 is a classic foretelling. He must also be pointing to his Divine person in relation to the Wisdom literature, such as those Wisdom Psalms like 119 we said this morning and the book of Proverbs. Never forget that Jesus Christ is not only for our justification – getting right with God by faith, and also for our sanctification – that is doing all those right things we are saved or justified to do. But he is also our Wisdom and that creative Word of our first reading from John 1 at every Carols by Candlelight service. So he is there somehow by the Holy Spirit through God's law and through the Wisdom literature teaching us what is right. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1.30 that the believer is …

"in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, [then] righteousness and sanctification and redemption."

So first Christ is fulfilling the Old Testament and so "in" it, through what he does, his saving work, but also through who he is, his Divine person as the Wisdom and Word of God.

But then, secondly, he is "in" the Old Testament by his identification with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As Article VII says,

"he is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man."

And being God, when you read the word Lord in the Old Testament which is the translation for the Hebrew Yahweh (or Jehovah), you know from the New Testament that that Lord God is the one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So Jesus shares those divine characteristics we heard in our first reading that define the Lord in the Old Testament:

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34.6-7).

Marcion and those heretical Reformers got it all wrong. There is no cruel Old Testament God in opposition to a loving Jesus in the New Testament. For God did not want all the fierce punishments of the Old Testament. He was "slow to anger". So the invasion of the Promised Land had to wait centuries to allow time for the Canaanites to repent of the terrible things they were doing – see Genesis 15.16. But God's justice meant that that waiting could not last forever. It is clear, too, that when Christ came there was a new dispensation of grace, with a moratorium on severe punishments in and by the church. So Jesus, when being arrested, told his disciples not to defend him with the sword saying, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword". And he did not call down "twelve legions of angels" to fight for him (Matt 26.52-53). That is where there is a radical difference between the Christian faith and Islam. For as we will be thinking next Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die on the Cross. But Mohammed rode into Medina to be a military conqueror.

However, Christ at his return will be different. Let me explain. God is so merciful and forgiving, as Exodus tells us. But he is also a God …

"who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Ex 34.7).

And so in the New Testament Romans 11.22 says:

"Note then the kindness and the severity of God".

That is why you are not just to think about the kindness of God on its own, or his severity on its own, but both together. And the Cross of Christ is where that kindness and severity meet - God's severity and anger against sin, and his kindness and love for you and me in Christ's death in our place and on our behalf. So by faith in Christ you can be forgiven for ever. But this opportunity for faith will not be for ever. One day, there will be the severity of the day of judgment, witnessed with Christ at the head of all those legions it was so wrong to use in the day of grace. Revelation 19 tells you, in a dramatic way, of the end of time when there will be …

" … a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war … He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God … From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords."

That is the Jesus who millions are today ignoring or despising and so living in a spiritual cloud-cuckoo land. The eternal consequences are frightening. I wonder, if here is anyone here this morning in that cloud-cuckoo land. If so, remember, as Paul writes,

"Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6.2).

So with all that in mind, we can answer our …

… third, question, WHAT DID JESUS TEACH ABOUT THE LAW?

Answer, so much. But let me say six quick things.

First, Jesus and his Apostles began by teaching about the Kingdom of God and eternal life. That involved the teaching that the only way to flourish as a human being was by seeking God's forgiveness for sins, aligning yourself to God the Father and his will for your life, committing yourself to Christ, and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit for a new life. Then with that new life, and in his strength, you must try to keep the law. This contrasts with much Jewish teaching at the time. Jesus says, "live and keep the law." That Jewish teaching said, "keep the law so that you can live."

Secondly, Jesus' teaching about the Old Testament Moral law was that he himself was fulfilling it in various ways, not least by giving it a new depth. So Jesus teaching on love went beyond the Old Testament teaching on love. Jesus said (John 13.34):

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

That means Christian love has to be self-sacrificial Calvary love where Christ died for the ungodly. So Jesus taught Christians must love their enemies and be infinitely forgiving, because they have been forgiven. And Jesus gave Old Testament Moral law new depth by underlining heart attitudes and motives, and not just external acts.

Thirdly, Jesus emphasizes the positive side to the law, rather than just "thou shalt not". So in our New Testament reading we heard Jesus say:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22.37-40)

Fourthly, Jesus brings out the inner meaning of the commandments as is clear in the Sermon on the Mount.

But, fifthly, he is quite clear that he has come not to rewrite or reject the Old Testament law but to fulfill it. And he is emphatic:

"For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt 5.18).

And Christ fulfilled the Old Testament's Moral law by his consciously reaffirming that law but in creatively new ways.

So, sixthly, the heart of the Moral law for all and forever and so, for us today, in 2015, is in those two great commandments. The first, to "love God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind", means loving God with all your energy, talents and gifts. That includes, as Jesus elsewhere taught, self-denial, putting God before all else, faith and faithfulness, humility, prayer, Godly contentment and much else. The second, on "loving your neighbour", certainly, Jesus taught, includes being like the Good Samaritan. Interestingly, for today, that command "love your neighbour" comes from Leviticus chapter 19.18. And that is right at the heart of, and sandwiched between, the Pentateuch's teaching on sex and sexuality, with the Old Testament prohibitions on same sex relations in chapter 18 and repeated in chapter 20. That surely trumpets the fact that Biblical sexual morality is the loving way to live. And that is in line with Jesus then saying "on these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets". For that means that the rest of the Old Testament's moral teaching, including the fundamental Ten Commandments, is simply applying practically those two great commandments to daily life.

I must conclude.

To sum up – Jesus Christ not only justifies you through his Cross so enabling you to be right with God (as the Old Testament predicted and promised); but also by the Holy Spirit, through God's written Word in both the Old and New Testaments, Jesus Christ, as God's wisdom and living Word, guides and teaches you through God's law – indirectly through, what Article VII calls the law "touching Ceremonies and Rites" and "Civil precepts" but directly through "the commandments which are called Moral". So may we all seek to echo the Psalmist's words we said earlier,

"Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm. 119,97).

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