Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"CHRIST IS THE HEART OF THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
What do you think of the Old Testament law? The book of Genesis is interesting to read, and the first half of the book of Exodus is too. But once Israel has come to Mt Sinai, the book of Exodus gives us law upon law, hundreds of commands from God to Israel about how to build the tabernacle, what to do in the tabernacle, who has to do what. Thereís countless commands about daily life, about not eating that kind of fish, not sitting on that chair, what to do with spots on your skin, what to do when you sin, how to treat the poor, how to say thankyou to God for His blessings, and so on. The second half of Exodus, the book of Leviticus, the book of Numbers, the book of Deuteronomy too are largely law, laws so distant and remote from us, laws so dry to read and boring too.
Now we read in our text that "Christ is the end of the law." We read that and conclude that with the coming of Christ the law is history, is past, weíre not bound to the law. And the next thought that arises in our minds is that we neednít bother much with the law, we can skip it in our reading, in fact, we can do without the law; maybe we should drop the law from the worship service tooÖ. For "Christ is the end of the law"; with the coming of Christ, the law has endedÖ.
It will be true, congregation, that we donít find the laws of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy all that exciting. But that, my brothers and sisters, will be because we do not understand what these laws are all about. In our text, the apostle Paul gives us the answer. Moved by the same Holy Spirit that directed Moses to write these laws down, Paul gives to the Romans the key to understanding these laws. In so doing, he explains too why so very many Jews rejected the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Christ is the key, Christ is the content, Christ is the message of the law, itís end. And thatís why we today need to treasure the law, in all its aspects.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
CHRIST IS THE HEART OF THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW.
In understanding this statement, we need to come to grips with three points:
- The meaning of Paulís statement
- The cause of Paulís statement
- The challenge in Paulís statement
The Meaning of Paulís Statement
"Christ," says Paul, "is the end of the law." It should be clear in our minds first of all, congregation, what Paul means with the term Ďlawí. That term can refer to the Ten Commandments given by the Lord to Israel at Mt Sinai. The term can also refer to the instructions God gave in how to build the tabernacle, how Israel should worship Him in the tabernacle, how they should live their daily lives with commands about washings and being clean or unclean, etc. The term Ďlawí can also refer to the whole of the Old Testament. Commentators agree (for reasons that donít need our attention today) that Paul uses the term here to describe the law of Moses, that is, the revelation of God at Mt Sinai as contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers as well as Deuteronomy. And those books describe the revelation of God in which He outlined for His people by covenant how He wished to live with them, how He wished them to live with Him. The tabernacle service and sacrifices made there, the way each Israelite was to live with his neighbour Ė all is included when Paul uses the term Ďlawí in our text.
Paul says concerning this law that Christ is its "end". The term Ďendí can have a variety of meanings. If I say, "The end of the school year has finally come," then the children know very well whatís before them; they are free of school, theyíre on holidays Ė finally. If I take that meaning of the word Ďendí and apply it to our text, we have this: in Christ the law has come to an end, so that now we are free of the law, no longer bound to the law. So we of the New Testament dispensation need not concern ourselves with all those laws given to Moses, and that suits us fine for we find them dry and irrelevant anywayÖ.
But I can use the word Ďendí differently. Consider this sentence: "The end of going to school is to become educated." We understand: in that sentence the word Ďendí has got nothing to do with the last day of school. Instead, the word Ďendí describes here the purpose of school, describes here what school is all about Ė you go to get an education. You see: the word Ďendí has different meanings.
As it turns out, itís exactly the same in Greek; the word Paul uses in our text can mean either of the two meanings I just mentioned. Yet the first possible meaning simply canít be correct; Christ is not the end of the law in the sense that the law is history and we can cut Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy out of our Bibles. The second possibility is far better; Christ is the purpose of the law. Thatís to say: the law as God gave it to Israel through Moses had as purpose to show Israel who the promised Messiah was. It had as purpose to make plain to Israel how much they needed this Messiah, to teach Israel too what this Saviour had to do. In other words, the law was given in order to teach Israel about the coming Christ. The real meaning of the law, itís true content, was Jesus Christ. The law was not an end in itself; the law was rather meant to direct Israelís attention to the Messiah to come.
Here is something we Reformed people understand quite well. When the people of Israel, for example, presented a sin offering in the tabernacle, they had to lay a hand on the head of the animal to be offered, and confess over the animal the sin theyíd committed, and then the animal had to be killed (Lev 4). Why this ceremony? Because God would teach Israel that sin required atonement, and that atonement would come by Israelís sins being transferred to another and that other one dying in place of the guilty party. So Isaiah could say of the coming Messiah that "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities" (53:5). You see: the sacrifices of the tabernacle and how they had to be done laid the gospel of Jesus Christ before the people of Israel. Christ was the centre, the heart, the true meaning of the law.
A second example. In the law the Lord told Israel what foods they could eat and what they could not eat. Why? That was done to impress upon the people that they were different from those around them. Yet what made them different? This: they were saved from Satanís power, while the Canaanites were not. They were holy while the Philistines were not. Yet being saved from Satanís power and being made holy is distinctly the work of Jesus Christ. And thatís what was impressed upon Israel through the laws of holiness; you are a people holy to the Lord because you are ransomed from Satanís power through the blood of the coming Messiah. In a word: the laws of Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy all explain the need for a Saviour, explain what this Messiah will do. That is: they point to Christ, have Christ as their purpose, their end, have Christ as their true content.
That is why, when Jesus spoke to the Jews about His work, He told them that the Scriptures they had "testify of Me" (Jn 5:39). And when Paul wrote to the Colossians about the certain Old Testament laws, he described them Ėchap 2:17- as "a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." Likewise the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote that the tabernacle with its sacrifices were intended to draw attention to much more than what the eye saw; the whole Old Testament worship pattern was intended to draw attention to the Christ (Heb 8:5; 10:1-10). In agreement with this teaching from Scripture, the church has confessed in Article 25 of the Belgic Confession that the "truth and substance" of "the ceremonies and symbols of the law" "remain Ö in Jesus Christ". For "Christ is the end of the law," that is, Christ is the content of the law, Christ is the true meaning of the law, Christ is the purpose of the law, Christ is the substance of the law.
What do you think, then, congregation: can one use our text to argue that with Christís coming the law has become history, has no value any more, so that today we need not concern ourselves with the books of the law? Surely itís clear: thatís not true at all. Certainly, we need no longer offer sacrifices according to Leviticus chapter so many, for Christ has died and so fulfilled what was foreshadowed by those sacrifices. But the law remains a reality, and its instruction about Jesus Christ is most helpful and necessary for us today as we seek to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paulís words to Timothy are true concerning the law also: "All Scripture [the law included] is given by inspiration of God, and is [today] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16f).
Here, then, is instruction for us as we come in our Bible reading to the laws of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Itís for us to read them, to read them also with the children entrusted to us. Itís true: there are many laws in these books that we struggle to understand. That simply means we need to be prepared to study them. And maybe thereís a good idea; let the fathers and mothers read a short commentary on the passage that will be read at the table, so that you can explain to the children those laws taught Israel about the Christ. And what Israel learned about the Christ through those laws, we today, of course, can learn also.
That brings us to our second point: why does Paul tell the Christian of Rome that Christ is the end, the purpose, the content of the law? What prompted this comment?
The Cause of Paulís statement
The apostle, you will recall, had, in the first chapters of his letter, explained in detail how a sinner can become righteous before God. The sinner canít, Paul had said, make God happy with him through his works, for no sinner is able to obey the law of God (chap 3). Instead (as we hope to hear again this afternoon), one becomes righteous before God through faith in Jesus Christ, one becomes righteous by entrusting oneself to the God who has given His Son to pay for sin (chap 4) Ė as the sacrifices of the Old Testament taught.
After the outpouring of Christís Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles proclaimed this good news concerning Jesus Christ first to the Jews. The Jews Ėthough theirís was the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and promises (Rom 9:4) - rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ in large numbers. So the apostles turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:42ff; 18:6). Amongst the Gentiles were numerous who embraced this good news as the truth of God and the only way of salvation. Youíll recall from chap 9: that was the problem facing the Christians of Rome, the problem facing Paul too: how was it possible that Godís own people by covenant - the Israelites- would reject the gospel of Jesus Christ while the Gentiles (who were not Godís people!) embrace it in faith? Was God somehow not faithful to His promises (vs 6)? In chap 9 Paul had answered that question from the doctrine of election; God, the sovereign Potter, "has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens" (vs 18).
But Godís eternal election, says Paul in the passage we read today, is not all that there is to say about the matter. There is also the element of human responsibility. And itís precisely on the point of human responsibility that the Jews failed, while the Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus Christ did not fail. Hereís the material of 9:30-33. The Gentiles were not running hard to obtain a good relation with God, for they didnít even know the true God. But the Jews did know God, and they pursued that righteousness for all they were worth. How the Jews pursued? By seeking to obey every aspect of the law God had given. The Jews saw the law God gave to Israel on Mt Sinai as the means to win Godís favour, as the way to make God happy. So, in the days of the prophets they brought countless sacrifices to the temple, so many that the place was awash with blood (Is 1; cf Ps 50; Mic 6:6). Surely, they thought, so many sacrifices will keep God very happy with us. In the days of Jesusí earthly sojourn, the Jews insisted on tithing punctually even the smallest of seeds (Mt 23:23). The pious among them fasted twice a week, kept their distance from sinners, prayed at length, etc, etc. It was fixed in their minds: by obeying to the letter the laws God had given them in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, God would be happy with them.
But the tragedy of the matter was that, while they were so busy with the law, they missed the true meaning of the law. Jesus told that Jews that "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (Jn 5:39). "But," Jesus added, "you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life" (vs 40). That the law drew attention to Christ, that the law spelled out that reconciliation with God was possible only through someone else Ėthe Messiah- dying in my place: these were thoughts the Jews just could not buy into. Was it their pride that got in the way? Whatever it was, the Jews had it fixed in their minds that the purpose of the law was that by obedience to it one could crawl oneís way into Godís good books. So they pursued the law as the means to righteousness, and they sweated and moved mountains and watched their every step from dawn till dusk in a valiant attempt to please God and so inherit eternal life. Chap 10:2: they had a zeal for God alright; nothing was too much in the service of this God.
But, says Paul in Rom 9:31, all their efforts came, tragically, to nothing. "Israel Ö has not attained to the law of righteousness." Why not? Vs 32: "because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law." Had they embraced in faith the heart of the law ĖChrist, that gospel of Another freely taking Godís curse on Himself so that the sinner might go free- had they embraced in faith the heart of the law, they would not have pursued righteousness by their own efforts Ė and rejected the Christ when He came. But now, because they rejected the Christ, because they stumbled over the notion that Another had to die in their place to pay for sin, they had cut the heart out of the law, and so came to insist on external obedience as the way to salvation. All their zeal in obeying the law helped them nothing because they did not have knowledge, did not have insight into the true meaning of the law (10:2).
See there, congregation, why Paul says in our text that "Christ is the end of the law." Heís telling the Romans that the Jews refused the gospel of Jesus Christ because they never understood what the law was really all about. The law was not given so that through picayune obedience to it one might claw his way into Godís favour; the law was rather given to teach Israel about the need for and the work of the promised Messiah, the Christ.
So we can understand also the last words of vs 4. If Christ is the content of the law, is the meaning of the law, one becomes righteous before God not through obedience to the details of the law, but rather through believing that heart of the law, Jesus Christ. Thatís what saves: faith in Jesus Christ.
And see: thatís what the Christians of Rome Ėtheyíre mostly Gentiles- what the Christians of Rome had. They believed in Jesus Christ, believed that He was the heart of the Old Testament laws, that He was the only way to the Father. The gospel had come to those Gentiles of Rome, and through the labours of the preacher the Old Testament Scriptures had been opened so that these Gentiles came to see Christ for who He really was. It happened to them as it happened to the Ethiopian eunuch; "Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture [the reference is to Is 53], preached Jesus to him" (8:35). It happened to them as Paul did in Thessalonica; Paul "reasoned with them from the Scriptures [and thatís the Old Testament; the New Testament didnít exist in those days yet], explaining and demonstrating [from the Old Testament Scriptures] that the Christ had to suffer and rise againÖ" (17:2f). It happened to them as it happened to the Ephesians; Apollos "show[ed] from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ" (18:28). It happened to them as they later saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears from Paul himself; once Paul was imprisoned in Rome, "many came to his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the law of Moses and the ProphetsÖ" (Acts 28:23). You see: the apostles opened the Old Testament Scripture (for that was the Bible in those days), and from the Old Testament laws showed who Christ was and what His work on Calvary was all about. And because they saw the Scriptures fulfilled, many of the Gentiles came to faith Ė while so many Jews who had the Old Testament Scriptures did not believe because they didnít understand that the law was ultimately about Jesus Christ.
That brings us to our last point: the challenge of Paulís statement.
The Challenge of Paulís Statement
So Christ was the end, the meaning, the content of the law. Why did the Jews not accept that Jesus was the end of the law, and believe in Him? Paul makes very clear to the Romans Ėvss 5ff- that it was not because they had not been told. God, says Paul in vs 5, said very plainly in Lev 18 already that no one can obtain Godís favour by obeying the law, for then you need to obey every aspect of it perfectly Ė and thatís impossible. And (Paul continues in vs 6-8) God made plain in Deut 30 that His Word of salvation had come very near to the people. In fact, in Jesus Christ that Word has come as close as possible. Faith recognises that we donít have to reach out to Christ, donít have to attempt to obtain Christ, to bring Him down from heaven or up from the dead. Rather, Christ has come to us, has come to us in His Word Ė be it in the law of the Old Testament or in the preaching of the apostles. Vs 18: the sound of the gospel has long ago gone out to all the world. But, vs 16, "they have not all obeyed the gospel," as Isaiah already lamented (Is 53:1). You see: thereís the problem: God held out His hand all day long to Israel, but that disobedient and contrary people refused to accept the righteousness God offered to them in Jesus Christ.
How come, then, that Israel missed out on salvation? Because the Word of gospel had not come to them? Not at all. Because, maybe, they didnít hear the Word that came to them? Not that either. The problem was not the preaching (be it through the law of the Old Testament or the preaching of the apostles), the problem was the ears of the hearers either. But the problem was that the Jews didnít want it. That was the problem; they rejected the gospel.
So: that they missed out on the promises and salvation of God in Jesus Christ was totally and completely their own fault. They were responsible for believing the Word of life that God set before them and their ears heard.
And here, brothers and sisters, is the challenge for us. Christ is the end of the law. Thatís to say: you have in your possession a Bible that would compel you from cover to cover to see Jesus Christ for what He is, namely, the only way to the Father. You wish God to be happy with you? From the laws of the Old Testament to the preaching of the apostles in the New Testament, the message of this Bible is the same: you cannot win Godís favour through obedience to any law. From the laws of the Old Testament to the preaching of the apostles in the New Testament, the message of the Bible is the same: God is happy with those who believe in Jesus Christ. From cover to cover Jesus Christ ĖHis saving work for sinners- is the message of the Bible.
And this gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to you countless times over the years, and you have heard the proclamation too. What, now, is your responsibility? What is the challenge of Paulís word in our text? This: do not do as the Jews of old did (and so many today still do). They had the Bible in their hands, all those laws of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and they were told that these laws spelled out who the Messiah would be and what He would do, but they rejected that gospel. Do instead what so many Gentiles in Paulís day did: they accepted that all the Scriptures speak of Christ, and so embraced as fact the good news of Godís redeeming work in Jesus Christ. Thatís the challenge for you today: believe the preaching you hear - lest you (to whom pertain the covenant, the promises, the preaching of the gospel, the use of the sacraments, the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament Scriptures too, and the confessions of the church also) pursue righteousness Ö and miss out. It happened to the Jews; it can happen again.
Why has God included the law in the Bibles He gave to us? Because "Christ is the end of the law," and God wants us to know Christ. So: treasure the law, and believe the gospel contained in the law. Amen.