Sunday, June 28, 2009

The fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets

A couple days ago a friend of mine asked me, “What did Jesus mean when he said that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it?”

I gave my initial thoughts, but decided to sit down and study this passage and related passages. The question began to gnaw at me some, and lead me to sit at my kitchen table, with two Bibles (easier to cross reference that way), Calvin, and Matthew Henry for seven hours. It was a great deal of fun. Tish, I think, was a bit worried about me. She had left the house around 5:30 and came home at 10:00 to find that I hadn’t moved. Below are some of my thoughts, and I welcome the comments of others.

1. First, we must define what Jesus meant by “the Law” and “the Prophets.” If you asked a Jew in the first century what he meant by the Law, I imagine the answer would include the moral, dietary, and ceremonial law, encompassing even the Temple economy. By the prophets, a contemporary of Jesus would understand that to mean essentially what we would understand---those men who both commented on the Law and applied it to the people of their particular times, generally threatening judgment for Israel’s transgression thereof.

2. Abolish, of course, means to annul. Fulfill, as used by Jesus, would mean to satisfy.

3. How then, is the Law fulfilled? How is it that I can eat fried catfish if the Law is not abolished? We interpret Scripture with Scripture and find that “fulfillment” of the Law is in part what enables Gentiles to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, as Paul says that the Law put the two at enmity. We see also that Paul describes the Law as a tutor, and further as a guardian or manager of a youth until the fullness of time has come. From this last statement (found at the end of Gal 3 and the beginning of Gal 4) we note that the purpose of the Law changes over time. What then are some examples of the fulfillment of the Law?

4. Dietary: Peter’s vision of scrumptious pork chops comes to mind, as does Paul’s discussion to the Corinthians of meat sacrificed to idols, and Paul’s letter to the Roman church about matters of conscience with regard to certain foods.

5. Circumcision: Circumcision, of course, precedes the Law, but Paul goes to great lengths to describe that circumcision is not necessary to set apart God’s people from the world. Rom. 2:25-29; Gal. 3 (discussion contrasting the child of the bondwoman to the child of promise); Eph. 2.

6. Sacrifices: No better place can one go for a discussion on what Christ’s sacrifice means for the Temple economy than Hebrews 8 and 9. There we read about the impotence of the blood of bulls and goats, and the power of the blood of Christ. No more sacrifices are needed because Christ died once, bearing the sins of many.

So whatever Christ meant by his statement, fulfillment must result in us no longer having to adhere to dietary and ceremonial laws. Theologically, this seems to be because such laws were provided as types and shadows, fulfilled in Christ. Now that Christ has come, there is no need to preoccupy ourselves with shadowy images when we have the resplendent beauty of Christ. This view is bolstered by:

7. Christ’s statement regarding abolish/fulfill is in the Sermon on the Mount, and must be read in context. The laws discussed immediately following this statement include laws about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. Unlike the ceremonial and dietary laws which no longer need to be observed (in fact doing so would be an offense!) the moral laws outlined by Christ are each stricter than the Law of Moses. Now we must not only avoid murder, but unjust anger. Not only is adultery forbidden, but also lust (note the “eye” and “hand” language in that context and chew on it a bit). The divorce laws from Moses is narrowed. (The original law being a divine solution to a human problem---God creating a civil means of dealing with the fallen people who were abandoning their wives.) The same with oaths, etc. Thereby, we may view Christ’s statement regarding “fulfilling” the Law as twofold with regard to moral law: (1) Christ would live a perfect life, and (2) the Law is not only satisfied by Christ but also completed, by more fully describing the spirit of the Law. I would add a third meaning---the first of two eschatological observations----that while Christ fulfilled the Law there is an already/not yet aspect to this fulfillment in that God’s people await a time where they will fully abide by the spirit of the Law in glory.

8. The giving of the Law must be viewed in light of redemptive history. Paul points out that the promise preceded the Law by 430 years. The question, then, is not whether the gospel abolished the Law, but whether the Law annulled the promise. The answer is clearly no; rather, the Law was given, as previously stated, as a tutor or guardian until the fullness of time.

9. Now, historically speaking, the Law has been fulfilled, and adherence to dietary and ceremonial laws is not only misplaced and misguided, but blasphemous as it rejoices in the type over that what was typified. This is partly what Paul has in mind when he says, in the context of his discussion of Abraham being justified by faith, that the Law is thus established. This brings me to my second eschatological observation---the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD in part because sacrifices of goats became an abomination to God, a strange fire offered to the Lord, you might say. (I’m not preterist, by the way.)

10. While dietary and ceremonial laws are types and shadows, the moral law of God displays God’s attributes, characteristics which we as his children should possess. These are eternal, and we should bear fruit to that end, culminating in us eternally keeping God’s law in heaven.

11. The moral law of God, of course, cannot be met by us in this life. Therefore, the first covenant is obsolete. (Heb. 8). While the first covenant is obsolete, the Law is not obsolete, but fulfilled in Christ.

12. Here is pretty much what I got out of the commentaries: the Law was a vessel partly filled or a picture roughly painted, and Christ completed the filling of the vessel and painting of the picture. I like those metaphors.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hands

I'll never forget what my science teacher told me in 9th grade. She said, "from the moment you're born, you begin dying". Racing toward death, to the moment our vitality ceases: that is our destiny. Some wordless image has been burned into my mind every since I heard her say that ominous and strangely comforting phrase.

At 1:30 in the morning on March 3rd of this year I opened my eyes to realize that I had been lying in bed for 2 hours trying to sleep; the pounding of my heart had shocked my eyes open and caused me to realize the truth: I was mourning. I could feel blood throbbing through my body and pounding my temples and flooding my mind and heart with the image of my mother in her coffin, her hands that had been busy her whole life serving and loving and giving now posed on top of each other, still and at rest. I thought of her lying there and how the seeming torment and pain of life had ceased, and I longed to be like that; I would have given anything to be at peace.

So I did what I do in all of my moments of personal despair and loss and confusion: I wrote.


Hands of Love

I am the racing dead, repulsed by shrill
Pulsings of my own heart, beating bleeding
Life into these veins that would remain still,
Collapsed if my will were a heeded thing.
Lying here bound by the sound of this slow
Death, this carnal clockwork winding down and
Loosing life's coil with each chambered hollow,
I am stilled and filled with peace by Your hand.
Your hand that wrought me in my mother's womb
And through her own touch showed me purest love.
Her hands rest now as You once did, entombed,
But she lives and loves, held in hands above.
In hope my heart cries, "Death, where is thy sting?!";
She rests with Him, the Daughter of the King.

3/3/09
1:30 a.m.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Fruit Stand

I tried gardening a few years ago: squash, peas, cantaloupe, watermelon, and tomatoes. Lots of work for a little produce: break the ground; remove the stones, thorns, and debris; dig the rows; plant the seeds, encircle the garden with marigolds to keep out rabbits and squirrels; raise a rickety scarecrow to ward off what its name implies; water almost every day, and then wait. The garden was productive, and I can think of no greater excitement in recent life than the expectation of the fruit of my own hands’ work, and no greater satisfaction than to taste the fruit of one’s labor. But, alas, when I considered the time and money expended for the garden, I decided just to get my vegetables from Mr. Pug Lightsey and his sweet wife, Yvonne.

Mr. Pug’s place is just about four miles from my house, just off the county road, so it’s quite convenient just to whip in the driveway and buy fresh fruit and vegetables. If Mr. Pug or Mrs. Yvonne is not there, they have an “honest box” on a table. Each fruit or vegetable basket has a plastic spoon standing up with the price of the basket inscribed in the spoon with black felt pen. You just take the spoon out of each basket you want and, when you have made your selections, the spoons add up to what you owe. Then you put your money and the spoons in the “honest box.”

But today Mrs. Yvonne was there in her red apron. She came out of the back room immediately when I drove up. I thought I remembered Judy saying something about this lady having cancer, so I took a risk and said, "I hope you’re cancer is in remission.”

“I don’t have cancer," she said. “You’re Hal, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied. I didn't know she knew me.

“I’m so sorry about your wife. May I tell you a sweet story?’

“Yes, ma’am.” I braced myself.

"The day before my biopsy your wife stopped by here for some fruit and vegetables. When I told her about the lump in my breast, and the pending biopsy, she asked me, ‘May I pray for you?’ Of course I said, ‘yes,’ thinking that she would pray for me tonight or tomorrow. But she bowed her head right here, and said, ‘Father, I pray for Yvonne, that you would give her grace and peace. Father, if it’s your will, I also pray that the biopsy would be negative. Bless and strengthen her family through this, in Jesus’ name, Amen.’”

“She was the sweetest person,” Mrs. Yvonne said, “I’ll never forget her for that, and the Lord answered her prayer.”

“Yes,” I said, choking back what was in my throat, “she was the sweetest person I ever knew. God bless you, Yvonne, goodbye.”

I picked up my cantaloupe and my fresh green beans and butter beans, and headed to my car. As I drove away, I realized that the succulent fruit and vegetables in my car were just physical and temporal, and that the real purpose of my stop at the fruit stand was to taste another and better kind of fruit, eternal and spiritual, planted in love, sown in faith, nurtured in Judy’s life, and harvested by Mrs., Yvonne, and now by me.

“Dear Father, make my life a fruit stand.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Housekeepers

Judy was an immaculate housekeeper in terms of cleanliness, organization, and aesthetic taste within moderate income. She kept our clothes washed and cleaned, the beds made beautifully, the floors clean, the kitchen orderly, and too many times did too much in teen-age boys’ rooms. She hated to vacuum (she was so small it was difficult for her), and she did not like to cook, although when she wanted to cook she could “do it up right.” As our incomes increased in mid-life, we used a housekeeper once or twice a month. We also spent a small fortune eating out, especially when the boys’ lives got frantically busy with athletics. We both worked for schools, so eating out often was practically a necessity in terms of protecting our time together and avoiding going home to cook and clean up after a long day’s work.

Now that she’s away, I’m the housekeeper. I’m amazed at what work it takes even for one person: cooking, washing, sweeping, cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the windows, keeping the rooms straight, making the bed, doing the wash, folding the clothes and towels, putting up the dishes, keeping a grocery list, going to the store, etc. And then when I think about all that Judy did outside the home, I’m frankly amazed, which brings me to my theme, not housekeeping, but housekeepers.

In his epistle to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to exhort mature ladies to instruct younger ladies to be “keepers at home,” good “housekeepers.” Paul’s Greek word for “housekeeper” is oikouros, one who maintains domestic order. At a philosophic level, a clean, beautiful, and orderly home is a reflection of the larger cosmos, God’s house, which evidences design, order, cleanliness, and beauty throughout the earth into the galaxies. One might say that the precious wife who is a good housekeeper is a reflection of God's own orderly nature. Add to her responsibilities the care of children, including discipline, instruction, and their own cleanliness, then the housekeeper is even more a reflection of God who, in His house, cares for His children and both instructs and expects them to be orderly and clean.

I don’t see how godly women do it all, except that they possess the very virtues of heaven.

Husband, do not take your wife for granted, especially her role as a housekeeper. She is doing God’s work, more important than yours away from home.

Why don’t you take her out for dinner this evening or, better yet, why don’t you volunteer to keep the house for one week?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Self-examination and Holy Communion

But let a man examine himself,
and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

I Corinthians 11:28

I have known a few Pharisees who say, “I cannot take holy communion because I am not worthy.” What ignorance! What arrogance! The worthiness of communion derives not from the communicant, but from the One with Whom we commune; His flesh and blood, not ours, make us worthy of communion with a Holy God and the holy saints. He who abstains from communion denigrates the infinite efficiency and glorious efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, and silently testifies that he clings to abiding sin. Paul allows no exception; he commands self-examination, not that we should abstain from communion, but that we should forthwith “eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Paul’s exhortation is no feeble suggestion but an apostolic imperative, the negligence of which grieves the Holy Ghost and thus sins against Christ and His church.

Paul’s word for “examine” is dokimezato, a term applied to the examination of precious metals whereby one tries the gold to determine its genuineness. Who is that refiner who sees the dross and then throws away the gold? “Art thou a foolish man?” Heaven asks. “Discard not the gold but kindle the fire and blow the billows by which the fire consumes the dross and purifies the gold.” That fire is holiness, its billows repentance, and the dross, sin.

Anticipating Holy Communion, the obedient saint, like a wise refiner, examines his soul’s gold, scrutinizing his mettle for dross, whether sin against man or God. He who rightly examines himself says, “I shall not pollute the bread with soiled hands, and I shall not stain the cup with wicked lips. Give me bread unleavened, and wine undiluted. By heaven’s graces I shalI examine myself, purging every speck of dross from my repentant soul, and I shall indeed eat of that bread, and drink of that cup, testifying to the glorious death of the Lord, Jesus Christ, until He comes.”

Saint of God, if, at the altar of communion, you remember that God or man hath ought against thee, leave thy sacrifice at the altar and first be reconciled; then offer thyself in communion to God and to His holy church. Negligence of this holy duty wrought havoc at Corinth: weakness, sickness, and even death. Woe to that Pharisee who does not “examine himself and drink of that cup,” and woe to that careless profligate who examines himself yet does not repent of his sin, for neither man is worthy of communion, and both “eat and drink damnation” unto themselves, “not discerning the Lord’s body!”