In trying to understand how the Old Testament, Jewish law and the Jesus’ gospel of grace work together I’d like to compare the two to a simple glass of water.
First of all, there have been many throughout history who have misinterpreted Jesus’ feelings about the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t hate them. On the contrary Jesus loved them. He stated that He was originally sent to them and He considered them ‘lost sheep’. It was only when they rejected His gospel and His nature as God in the flesh that Jesus opened up His offer of salvation to everyone. He never did hate the Jewish people even after He was rejected by them. He never gave up hope that they might turn around and see Him for Who He truly is. After all, Jesus, Himself was Jewish. In fact, the writer of the gospel of Matthew spent the first chapter of the gospel pointing out that Jesus descended from the Jewish line dating back to Adam. There weren’t very many Jewish people who had as defined, straightforward and clear of a Jewish heritage as Jesus. Also, Jesus never says that He is renouncing or leaving His Jewish heritage or religion. That is because that is not what Jesus came to do. So, what did He come to do? He came to fulfill the requirements of the Jewish law.
It is much like going to a restaurant. You place your order for your food and drink, at some point you pay your money and the waiter or clerk behind the counter brings you your food. When the food is given to you, you find it is what you ordered, and it appears acceptable to eat, you the order has been completed. The waiter, waitress or fast-food clerk has fulfilled your order. They have (in effect) met the requirements of the verbal contract that you initiated. They have, therefore, fulfilled the mini, verbal contract that you initiated.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this before but Jesus said that He didn’t come to do away with the law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. This means that Jesus didn’t come to do away with or get rid of anything pertaining to Judaism. He didn’t come to destroy what the Father had created or spoke through the Prophets or the law but to fulfill its requirements. This also means that by fulfilling its requirements it now has no power over us. That is because the requirement has been completed. The fulfilling of the contract has now made the contract obsolete. The need for the contract is now not a need anymore. The need is gone. The agreed upon price was paid and the way in which Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law was found acceptable to the Father. Just like the food order in the restaurant.
When you read the New Testament letters and the gospel accounts of what Jesus said He came to do, you come away with a sense of Jesus’ goal (besides forgiveness of sins) as being to bring grace, mercy, love, goodness, kindness, peace, joy, connection with the Father, relationship with God, etc. Jesus lived as our example of how to emphasize faith, grace and mercy as the pattern of how we should treat each other. He also came to tell us that these qualities were what the Father wanted us to know were at the center of His heart as well. We had mistakenly assumed that what the Father wanted most was for us to keep a bunch of laws. It appeared as if the Father thought the keeping of the laws was more important than the flesh and blood reality of the humans the laws were created for. It felt as if the humans were created to serve the laws to please the Father in heaven rather than the laws were a guide to serve the needs of mankind.
Paul writes in his letters about the law. He tells us that the law is still necessary because it keeps us from abusing God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. It keeps us within the boundaries of letting loose and thinking that everything is acceptable to think, be or do. The Old Testament Jewish law was still needed. It is a way of keeping us from crossing over borders and boundaries of behavior and attitude that would sweep us away in our desire to be free; to run wild; to be completely uninhibited and lawless.
As I was re-reading one of my journals today and I came across a note that I made about how grace and the law work together. I saw a picture in my mind of a glass of water. I identified the water as Jesus’ new covenant with us that ushered in the age of grace. Grace being that yielding quality that is given when one could turn towards being exacting and demanding but yields to being gentle, forgiving and friendly. Grace is fluid and flows. Grace, mercy, forgiveness all merge together and seep down into the hardest of dry ground and softens the soil so that new plantings can grow. But, it is borderless. I mean that it is without limits. There is no end or beginning to water and there is no upper or lower limit to how high it will go or how low it will reach. It goes wherever it is needed to accomplish the goal of moistening, softening, healing or forgiving. Water can break up the hardest concrete and it can spring up in the driest desert. That is what grace through faith in Jesus does for us.
Then there is the law and it can be compared to a glass. The glass is rigid and unyielding. It doesn’t flow or change shape according to the needs of the one drinking from it or pouring from it. But, we have come to depend on its rigidity and its unyielding nature. After all, without this part of its nature the water would deform the glass and lop right over the bending edges of the glass’ rim. But, in comparison to the water, what material makes up the glass cannot be added to or subtracted out of. The glass cannot reach up to new heights or down to new depths either. The glass can hold various things but holding something is about the limit of its functions. It doesn’t have the life span of the water and it can be broken very easily where water (of course) cannot be broken. Water can be divided but then can return to one again.
So, it may seem that the water has it ‘all over’ the glass? The water is certainly much more necessary to supporting life than the glass. It is much more durable than the glass. And it has many more vital applications than the glass. We may ask, “Why keep the glass at all?” And again, it’s obvious why we keep the glass. It’s obvious why stores keep selling glasses and why we keep buying them. It is because the water and the glass work together to do the job.. They are a type of ‘team’. The glass is pointless without the fluid and the fluid would be undrinkable without the glass to hold it.
I mean, we could think of water being outside the glass but the world is still filled with things that substitute for the glass. These would be the lakebed or the pipes running to a faucet, etc, but they are all containers holding the water into a necessary form so that it is drinkable, sprayable or useable. All we are really doing is shifting the water from one type of container to another.
Getting back to the first analogy, the water is what in the bible is called, grace and the glass is like what in the bible is called, the law. While we don’t like the hardness, exacting nature and demands of the law, it keeps us within certain borders of behavior. Without it we’d run wild, free and eventually amuck. But, Jesus saw that the law was too exacting. He saw that its demands were too great and too difficult for humans to keep. He realized there was no grace or mercy in the law. It was, at times, so rigid that it was unfair. It took a priority over the life of the person under its rigid demands. Justice became injustice. Mercy was nonexistent. Nothing was based on faith anymore, it was all based on provable or unprovable things. The law was made for the people but now people were being ruled over by the law and it was crushing them. Yet, even with all these failings Jesus saw that the Old Testament law was vitally important to be the container that held His gift of freedom, faith, grace and mercy. So, Jesus didn’t do away with the Old Testament law but filled it. He found it to be the perfect vessel for His needs of bringing freedom to those trapped within its boundaries. He found it to be the perfect vessel to bring freedom from its oppressive weight.
This was all to ensure that, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:46 NKJV Jesus gave us freedom by using the very thing that was making us prisoners. Jesus used the law in order to administer grace, mercy, faith, love and freedom from the laws requirements. By dying on the cross Jesus fulfilled the strict and unyielding requirements that the Old Testament Jewish law demanded. Since Jesus completed the contract it now held no power over anyone. Jesus boiled the mountainous law down to just a few simple words. Love God with all you’ve got and love others as much as you love yourself.
So, having an empty glass at the dinner table is of no use and having the waiter pour the water into your cupped hands is not an option either. Grace and the law are friends not enemies.
This is Janet Williams from the middle of my garden sharing my glass full of good news!