Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Kinder, Gentler Moses?

I realize I'm doing this out of order, but as a follow-up to my last post on Christ in the Prophets I'd like to discuss the issue of preaching Christ from the Law.

Again, we must beware of the danger of simply drawing the line from the Old Testament commandment straight to ourselves. I realize we're a self-obsessed and narcissistic lot, but our need for self-application can easily get us into trouble.

The Penteteuch (the five books of Moses) forms the foundation of the covenant that Yahweh made with Israel on Mount Sinai. That may sound rather obvious, but please don't miss the point. The Mosaic Covenant had some important distictives that radically affect how its commandments come to us on this side of the cross and empty tomb. The most significant of these distinctives is the "works principle" that stands behind the various laws and precepts of the Old Covenant. Paul sums up this works principle by quoting Leviticus 18:5:

"For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them" (Rom. 10:5 cf.Gal. 3:12).
Looming over the entire Sinaitic legislation were the promised blessings for obedience and threatened curses for disobedience. If Israel did what they swore they would do, then they would enjoy long life in the land of Canaan, but if they transgressed the law, they would suffer the covenant curses, culminating in exile.

What about us today? Do we labor under the constant threat of disinheritance? Is our standing in continual jeopardy?

Absolutely not. All of the curses of the law have been poured out upon Jesus Christ, the second Adam and true Israelite. The terror of Sinai has been swallowed by the mercy of Zion, and God's children are now free to obey him as full-grown heirs whose future inheritance has been brought forward into the present by virtue of the indwelling Spirit if the risen Christ.

In a word, Jesus suffered the exile which the Babylonian captivity foreshadowed in order to elicit obedience from his children without fear. He is neither a "kinder, gentler Moses" nor a harsh tyrant whose sermon on the mount ratcheted up God's demands while providing no hope for their fulfillment. Rather, as Paul assured the Romans, "Christ is the end of the law for righteouness to everyone who believes" (10:4).