Jesus and the Law

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:7

The fourth gospel opens with this testimony that with the arrival of God’s Son on this world, things were different. The apostle Paul expands on that difference:

… through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:2

Where did this new view of God’s relationship with mankind come from?

I would maintain it came from Jesus Himself.

Jesus had a disdain for the practice of “using” the law to deny relief to the suffering, the tired, the hungry. See the story of the man with the withered hand: Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, and Luke 6:6-11. He was questioned – called down, really, by the Pharisees – for doing good, but still working, on (heaven forbid) the Sabbath! See what precipitated that; the fact that some of Jesus’ followers ate grain but did work by picking and rubbing the husks off on (horrors!) the Sabbath; the day of rest: Luke 6:1-5. They’re still following Him to document Sabbath violations later, so in Luke 14:1-6, Jesus again asks them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Right in front of them, again He heals someone; this time a fellow with dropsy. And they have nothing to say.

Healing people on the Sabbath wasn’t covered in the law. But lack of coverage in God’s law didn’t stop the Pharisees and teachers of the law from “interpreting” every new possibility and legislating it from that point onward. Then it became “law,” though they sometimes were honest enough to distinguish it as just “the tradition of the elders.” When His followers didn’t wash their hands before eating – one of those “traditions” – Jesus’ response was that they had set aside God’s law for their tradition of “Corban” (Matthew 15:1-20). But when Jesus didn’t wash His hands before eating, his Pharisee host’s surprise triggered His denunciation of all kinds of self-righteousness (Luke 11:37-54), including two that got right to the heart of what they were doing:

And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. (v. 46b)

Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. (v. 52)

Doubtless you will note that these encounters with Jesus would simply strengthen the resolve of His opponents to seek a way to put Him to death. Well, shouldn’t they have? Doesn’t Exodus 31:14-17 say explicitly that “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.”?

Doesn’t “any” mean “any”?

Jesus’ response in Mark’s account of His followers picking grain to eat it on the Sabbath includes this phrase: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

So was Jesus “anti-law”? Hardly:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For 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. – Matthew 5:17-20

What did He mean by that?

I think Paul fleshes it out for us:

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! – Galatians 2:21

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.- Romans 5:19-21

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:6

Jesus also had a disdain for the practice of “using” the law to deny relief to the sinful, the hopeless, the lost. So much disdain, it was worth His life to provide that relief. That’s what He achieved when He uttered the cry on the cross: “It is accomplished!”

He made it simple for us to enter the kingdom of heaven, rather than making it harder. One commandment, predicated upon the two He deemed greatest in the law:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. – John 15:12

Can we justify making it more difficult for others and ourselves; making it more complicated than it needs to be to have relief from sin and a relationship with God the Father through Him, after what Jesus has done to simplify?

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16

Do we dare insist upon creeds of conformity, patterns of perfectionism, laws of legalism, or doctrines of damnationism in light of the simple law of Christ?

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7 thoughts on “Jesus and the Law

  1. <>“…Lack of coverage in God’s law didn’t stop them from ‘interpreting’ every new possibility and legislating it…”<>Interesting that this post follows up your previous ones on acappella music. We can get into so many discussions like that…instrumental vs. acappella, women’s roles, the ‘how’ and ‘how often’ of communion, powerpoint vs. songbooks, clapping vs. not clapping, hands raised vs. no hand-raising, kneeling vs. not kneeling…<>*SIGH*<>The list could go on and on…But, at least in my opinion, none of that really matters. Thank you for this post which reminds of what does matter…His sacrifice that really does make it simple to be saved. Perhaps being a child of the King is not as complicated as we would make it out to be.

  2. bruce – Thanks; that is an interesting article … though nothing really new; I remember some of it discussed in my biblical studies classes in college more than thirty years ago.Good grief. Thirty years ago.Anyway, “forgery” probably is too strong a word. The original author may not have even signed this gospel. That it may have had more than one doesn’t trouble me … ultimately, I believe, scripture has one Author who inspired many others.

  3. Yep, you’re getting old! 😉I fall into the camp that most of Mark 16 doesn’t line up with the rest of the book. It seems like most folks I know tend to agree, including many leading theologians.But, I like your post in general.Care,

  4. Keith,I want let you know that this post is making me think and has challenged my faith. Your blog does that to me and so I say, thank, thank, very much brother. You have a gift and talent. As I read your blog I am inspired and my faith grows stronger. I believe Jesus came to fullfil the law that we have today is the law of love as Jesus tells a in John 13:34 “A new command I give you love one another.” So, the legalists that see prevalent today I believe will die out and the new generation of preacher will preach: love (which is the center of Christianity) grace, kindness, humility, self-control, genteleness, peace, unity and the attributes of Christ. Again that you for challenging my faith. God bless you and your ministry. God bless you brother.

  5. Keith … what an honor to have you stop by my blog. And, I appreciate you letting me know about “lark” and their spoofs. I didn’t have a clue. Have a great week, brother.

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