Laws and Commandments

Service St Chad’s Wednesday March 22 2017.

Readings: Ps 147:13-20

Matt 5:17-19

Often in the church the Old Testament tends to get ignored. People say, well, we’ve got Jesus now, we don’t need all that Old Testament stuff, all that fire and brimstone, all those rules.

It’s true that a lot of religious rules and customs had arisen by Jesus’ time, and he was quick to point out where they didn’t line up with God’s overarching love for people. In today’s Gospel, Jesus states quite clearly that he has not come to replace the Old Testament, but to fulfil it. Not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, or in the King James version, not one jot or tittle – will pass from the law till all is accomplished.

What did Jesus mean by the Law?

I think it must be the Ten Commandments. If he means all the Deuteronomy rules and regulations, which are used by some to ban things such as homosexual relationships, we would also have to refrain from wearing garments made of mixed fibre. Well, who would mix wool and linen anyway, you might ask. How about possum and merino? You can see how it could get ridiculous. Many of the regulations in those parts of the Old Testament were for the Israelites at a particular point in their history, while they were wandering through the desert, and many have a sensible basis in health care, especially those about handling the sick and the dead.

If we come back to the Top Ten, we discover several things. The first 4 commandments are about our relationship with God. Remember Jesus was adamant that these were important and would always stand. That means for us too.

We must have no other gods before God. We must no make idols.

Hang on, you may ask. I’m not in the habit of carving a figure out of wood and worshipping it. But other things can be idols. Some people these days worship money, some worship film stars, some get really obsessed with their grandkids. You can see how it’s not quite so straight forward. Anything that would take our attention from God in God’s rightful place at the head of our awareness could be an idol.

How about taking God’s name in vain? Most of the swear words over the centuries have been some variation on this. People who want a good swear used to know they were doing something outside what is right when they used God’s name this way. But nowadays so many don’t even know that Jesus is a person, not just a swear word. Maybe next time you’re on the bus and you hear someone taking God’s name in vain, you could tell them about Jesus.

The other six commandments are about how we treat other people. And they stem from how we see God, and how we believe that God sees us. If we honour God, and know that God is worthy of honour, and that God loves us, we will see that God loves other people too, and all the other commandments will fall into place. They can all be summed up as being a decent person. Not because it’s the right thing to do and because people will like you for it, but because by treating other people as God’s precious creation we are honouring God.

Can you see why Jesus took pains to tell his followers, both those with him at the time, and those down the ages, why the Law would never be abolished?

Imagine what the world would look like if everyone honoured God. There would be no religious war because we would all be on the same page, even if we use different names for God.

How about if there were no adultery? Or no murder?

How about covetousness? This may seem like a small thing, telling us to be happy with our lot, and not envying our neighbour because they can afford to go a trip, or because their dahlias are bigger than ours. But how about those nations that decide to foment war in another state so they can come in, sort out the conflict and take all the mineral reserves for payment? It’s happening in Yemen right now. The Saudis are breaking the commandment about covetousness, and along the way are breaking a few more.

This reading is very reassuring to us in this war-torn age, that there really is a blueprint for how to live. It’s hard to follow at a personal level, so we need the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s hard to follow at a corporate level, so we need whistleblowers and other people of conscience speaking out. It’s hard to follow at a national level, so we need brave and prayerful politicians and diplomats, who look at the greater good, not at how to line their own pockets.

Today, may you be encouraged by Jesus’ words, that as you follow the Commandments you help bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth.

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