Moderator's Comments - Posted 8 February 2016
I am starting 2016 preaching at a conference called Sweatcon, being held in the south western suburbs of Sydney. The theme of the conference is, Discipleship in Mission and I will be speaking on Jesus’ answer to the fourth, of the four most fundamental questions of life:
• Where did I come from?
• Where am I going?
• Why am I here?
• How do I live?
In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5 to 7, Jesus answers that fourth question in the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon describes the lifestyle of the redeemed, those who are salt (5:13) and light (5:14), those who are persecuted because of their allegiance to Christ (5:11), those who have a reward in heaven waiting for them (5:12).
There are many parallels between the experience of Jesus and that of Moses, however, Jesus is not merely another Moses. God the Father says of Jesus, in the presence of Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John “this is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).
The lifestyle of the follower of Jesus, is determined by Jesus not Moses, the wise man, who builds his house on the rock, “hears these words of mine,” Jesus said “and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24).
It is important that we recognise the continuity and strong parallels between Jesus and Moses, that Jesus is the prophet like Moses to come (Deuteronomy 18:18) but also to recognise that Jesus is Lord, he is the authoritative revealer of God and interpreter of God’s law.
God’s commands through Moses are “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12) but they are not the final word, they anticipate fulfilment. We must not take new covenant believers back to Moses to answer the question of “how should I live”?
The early Christian, Origen said, “we who belong to the catholic church do not reject the law of Moses but receive it, if and when it is Jesus who reads it to us” (Joshua Homily 9:8). Thus we are commissioned to teach others to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20). In short we are to read God’s law through the lens provided by Jesus. The fundamental relationship then is not that of Jesus to law, but that of law to Jesus.
That brings us to Matthew 5 where Jesus gives six examples of his reading of the law. Six times he says “But I tell you” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). He is the authoritative interpreter of the law.
Twice, in relation to murder (5:21 – 26) and adultery (5:27 – 30), Jesus extends Moses beyond the act forbidden to the thought behind the act; four times he restricts or edits Moses: in relation to divorce (5:31 – 32), Moses insisted on a certificate to prevent flippant divorce but Jesus restricts the grounds of divorce to marital unfaithfulness alone; the law made no command about oaths (5:33 -37) it allowed them while prohibiting lying and slander, but Jesus sets oath making aside and says, let your word be your bond; revenge, the so called “lex telionis” (Exodus 21:23), eye for eye, is set aside as Jesus gives four examples of how personal loss and generous reaction is to be the new covenant believer’s response. Finally, hatred of enemy implied in the imprecations of the Old Testament, Jesus demands love of enemy and prayer for persecutor as his unique ethic. Thus one greater than Moses is here, he has the right to edit, extend and revise Moses, which he does.
The gospel brings us to Christ. His so called law begins with the command to repent and believe and urges us to walk in Holy Spirit empowered love in all its fullness.
So the law of Moses looks forward to Christ, he fulfils it (5:17), Jesus gives the law its fulfilment to the end of the age (v18). Every detail of Moses’ law, fulfilled by Christ and passed on by him must be taught and obeyed and such practical righteousness constitutes the righteousness of God (5:48) and surpasses that of the Pharisees and scribes (5:20).
How am I to live? As a disciple of Jesus Christ, redeemed by his life, death and resurrection, empowered by his Spirit, I live in obedience to his teaching and that of his Spirit inspired apostles and messengers (John 14:26, 16:13).
Read the many ways that Spurgeon describes God’s law, in his sermon on “Grace Abounding” delivered on 4 March 1888. “The law of Moses, is a mirror, it doesn’t wash you, you cannot wash in a mirror, it strips us of every cloak of justification and drives us to the robe of Christ’s righteousness. The law is the medicine which throws out (draws out) the depravity of man, makes him see that depravity in his actions and even provokes him to display it; the law stirs the mud at the bottom of the pool and proves how foul the waters are. It is a storm which wrecks your hopes of self salvation and washes you upon the Rock of ages!”.
The law anticipates, it prepares us for Christ, it drives us to Christ and his law for both justification and sanctification (Galatians 3:23- 25).
We dishonour the gospel by bringing people to Christ for justification and back to Moses for sanctification, as if that were the guide as to how the Christian life is to be lived.
2016 will be a year of many challenges for the church in Australia, let us seek preaching clarity, “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8).
Rt Rev David Cook