Perhaps we should defy the law of the land and gather for worship even though it is illegal for us to do so right now? Some churches in Ontario have tried that, and are facing charges. Is our allegiance to the law of God, or the law and customs of the land? Of course this could apply to far more than just worship attendance.
Jesus was tested on this very question of allegiance:
As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.John 8:3-5 (NLT)
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
Normally the law of Moses was to be the law of the land for God’s people, but the Romans were in charge, and they expected their laws to be the law of the land. The law of Moses called for stoning in certain circumstances, evidently this was one of them. However, the Romans did not allow the Jews to put people to death. We see the religious leaders appeal to this fact when they call for the Romans to execute Jesus. Of course sometimes they got away with it as we see with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.
So with the woman caught in adultery, will Jesus follow the law of Moses, or the law of the land? Where is your allegiance, Jesus?
In his typical wise way Jesus turned the question right back onto the religious leaders:
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.John 8:6-9 (NLT)
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.
The one without sin, the one with true allegiance to the law of Moses can cast the first stone. No one dared cast that stone. The religious leaders knew that they were caught in their own hypocrisy. Of course their allegiance should be to the law of Moses and not the law of the Romans. They knew that. But of course they were often operating according to the law of Romans. So one by one, they left.
The religious leaders left, but Jesus and the woman caught in adultery still remained. So too, does the question of whether the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses or the law of Caesar.
Bear in mind that Jesus, being without sin, can cast first stone. In fact if the true allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses, perhaps he should cast all the stones?
Let us also keep in mind that Jesus also has the right to cast the first stone at us. After all, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and there “is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 KJV). Because of our sin, Jesus can cast the first stone, he can cast all the stones.
Back to the woman caught in adultery. Where was the allegiance of Jesus?
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”John 8:10-11 (NIV)
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
So the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Caesar? No, the allegiance of Jesus was to neither the law of Caesar, nor the law of Moses, but to the law of love. Jesus was living out the new covenant which he was about to establish. The new covenant is not about following the law of Moses, or the law of the land, but following Jesus and the law of love. Our allegiance, as Christ followers, is not to Moses or Caesar, but to Jesus.
Jesus followed the law of love with the Samaritan woman and he follows the law of love with us. Remember, Jesus can cast the first stone at us, there is no hiding our sins from God. But rather than cast stones at us, he took the nails for us on the cross.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)
Jesus chose the nails over the stones. In Christ God does not treat us as our sins deserve. We therefore now live, not by the law of Moses, but by the Spirit. We are to follow Jesus in the law of love.
The law of love is the gentle way, “then neither do I condemn you.” The law of love is the challenging way, “Go and leave your life of sin.” This means being gentle with people, as Jesus was gentle with the woman caught in adultery. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. This also means we challenge people, just as Jesus challenged the woman caught in adultery. Faithfulness is also fruit of the Spirit.
When we feel like we face a decision between following the law of God and the law of the government, we follow Jesus and the law of love. We follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Right now we love our neighbour by doing our part to reduce the possibility of the COVID plague spreading. Of course, there are so many other ethical questions we face in life which would seem to put us at odds with the law or customs of the land. What does it look like when our allegiance is to Jesus and the way of love in each of those?
Where is our allegiance? The law of Moses or the law of the land? May our allegiance be to Jesus!