We have a rule in our home. No running in the house! I admit with some pride that I am very good at keeping this rule. In fact I can keep this rule for months even beyond the confines of our home. Our boys, well not so much. Boys will be boys, and we have boys who are great at being boys. But they do not aspire to greatness when it comes to the rules, esecially not that rule.
It is not an arbitrary rule. It is not a rule I created so that I could practice projecting my voice whenever the rule is broken. Though plenty of practice I do get. Rather this is a rule with a purpose. It is there to ensure our neighbours in the downstairs apartment don’t move out. They are as quiet as church mice. In comparison the boys in full tilt sound like a herd of elephants. Now just imagine if I didn’t keep the rule! You see the rule is not just a rule. It is an expression of value.
When it comes to the Bible, I find that there are many who don’t like the Old Testament, harbouring the sentiment “too many rules – and not rules relevant to me. We’d rather have Jesus and know God through the New Testament.”. But would Jesus be impressed with that attitude? Certainly we tend to like being the centre of attention, but would Jesus be comfortable with us discarding the Old Testament so that we can focus solely on Him?
Let us turn again to the Sermon on the Mount and those examples Jesus gives on righteouness that surpasses that of the Pharisees. Some might conclude that Jesus is turning us away from the Old Testament and its traditions when in Matthew five he says repeatedly “you have heard it said, but I say . . .”. But is he? Instead of murder, deal with anger. Instead of lawsuits, reconcile. Instead of looking for legal loopholes to get out of a marriage, get into it. Instead of special oaths, now just be honest always. Look more closely and it becomes clear that Jesus is not turning us away from the rules of the Old Testament at all, but from a wooden understanding of them. He is turning us from a righteousness like that of the Pharisees with its obsession with knowing and keeping the rules, and turning us toward a surpassing righteousness that is obsessed instead with knowing and pleasing God the Father. Same rules, different outcome.
Far from turning us away from the Old Testament, Jesus sends us deeper into the Old Testament, so that we may know God better, learning His values, His heart. Perhaps a paraphrase will help: “You have heard it said, ‘keep the Old Testament rules given about murder, oaths, divorce etc. and the things God does not want you to do’, but I say ‘from the Old Testament rules, realize the heart, desire, and values of the One who gave you them and be the kind of people He wants you to be’. It goes much deeper than mere obedience. And it goes much deeper into the Old Testament.
Furthermore, Jesus also includes in his examples one that shows a misunderstanding of Old Testament law: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Matthew 5:43 (ESV). To say that tradition missed a crucial teaching of the Old Testament is an understatement. In fact the Old Testament teaches that God has a plan to reach all nations through Israel (see Genesis 12:1-3), which includes their enemies! Furthermore the main point of the book of Jonah is that God loves our enemies! Jesus is not taking us away from the Old Testament, but to a better understanding of it when he says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44,45 (ESV). We don’t love our enemies to become sons, we love to show that we are sons, that there is a family resemblence to God our Father. In other words we love our enemies just as He loves our enemies. And we know He does because the Old Testament teaches us that He does.
So in conclusion. For us to say that we love Jesus and the New Testament, but have no time for the Old Testament, well, if we are following Jesus, he himself leads us to reconsider the importance of the it. God has not changed. He reveals Himself in both Testaments. Even though we do not “keep” the Old Testament code as Christians, we seek to emulate and please our Heavenly Father, and those “old” rules give us a great glimpse into His heart and how we can do just that.
(adapted from a sermon July 2011)