We’ve heard some strange laws in our time and read of bizarre rules in other places. Apparently in Thailand it is illegal to step on money; in Samoa it is illegal to forget your wife’s birthday; and in France it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon. Every culture, every country and every club has its profusion of laws. The list, in fact, is endless. Have you ever wondered why?—why we need to have any laws at all?—why we can’t all get along?
When we spend time with other people we begin to notice something about ourselves: we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, and, (generally speaking, of course) in issues of differences, we tend to think our way is best. Think of an example—like, what should I wear today? That’s simple enough. If we were to ask a hundred people that question, we would likely get a hundred different answers. But in the end, we would choose for ourselves what to wear. Why? Because we fundamentally believe we are our own bosses. But of course it only takes multiplying ‘we’ by the billions of people that live and have lived on planet earth over its history and multiplying that by the number of possible conflicting ideas and we come up with nothing less than chaos if a consensus is required.
As Jesus began His public ministry in a tiny corner of earth under domination of the powerful Roman Empire, he started by talking about this fundamental state of mind we all have. He was speaking to Jews, primarily, because he was one Himself. The Jews were a people solidified through their law. Rather than being created by a committee, the law was God-given, inscribed by the divine finger on stone tablets. Remember them?
1.Worship no gods but God alone; 2.Neither make nor worship idols; 3.Do not misuse God’s name or reputation; 4.Rest every seventh day; 5.Honour your parents; 6.Do not murder; 7.Do not have extramarital sex; 8.Do not steal; 9.Do not slander others; 10.Do not crave others’ property or relationships.
That sounds clear. No one could mistake the meaning of the Big Ten. Yet fifteen hundred years later Jesus stood among the descendants of those who had received the Law. He saw the moral bankruptcy of the race He had been born into. Every command had been broken countless times over the centuries. Not one person had been able to keep the Law with the impeccable integrity it required. And it wasn’t only the Jews who had failed. They simply typified the common experience of every person on this planet.
What the teachers of the Jewish Law had engineered, though, was a means of twisting the true intent of the Law by adding a plethora of traditions to veil the deficiency. Instead of loving God with their whole heart, soul, strength and mind, and loving others as those made in the image of God, the Law had become legalistic. It had become a form for maintaining the status quo and perpetuating the hierarchy of power among the people.
Jesus enters this milieu and says something entirely different. Does He say ‘drop the façade and just do what feels right’? That’s what would make us all feel much better about the way we live our lives. No. The fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew records Jesus saying something that turns our world upside down.
“Be perfect,” he instructs, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
What? That’s impossible! No one is perfect. No can attain that standard. Is Jesus a madman to even suggest the possibility?
No again. Jesus is the ultimate realist. He’s laying the cards on the table to show us our true reality. We are all far from perfect. We cannot get anywhere near pleasing God by keeping even the most rigorous of laws. What Jesus is saying is that He will transform people from the inside out by His indwelling Spirit. We cannot keep any law perfectly, but the Law of Christ—His perfect and powerful law of grace and love—can keep us.
He speaks to the Jews to show them that their law had become distorted; He speaks to us to show us that our own attempts at social and political and moral law have all become distorted too. Only He can redeem the shadow of what we call law to become the perfect solution of restored relationship with God and people. As we invite Jesus to rule in us we learn what that means in ways more relevant to each of our lives than any external law was ever able to do.
“To him who is able to keep you from falling,” invokes Jude, another New Testament writer, “and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
(Picture Credit: [[File:Rembrandt – Moses with the Ten Commandments – Google Art Project.jpg|thumb|Rembrandt – Moses with the Ten Commandments – Google Art Project]])