Sermon from St Edward’s 25 June.
Readings: Exodus 20:1-21, Matthew 5:17-20
I have borrowed from some of the excellent videos from The Bible Project for this sermon – check them out here:
Today we are looking at the law. The first 5 books of the bible. The Torah or Pentateuch as we talked about last time.
I wonder how many of you are thinking it’s just a bunch of irrelevant instructions? That the law is boring for example? Well, as we heard in our Matthew reading, Jesus came to fulfil the law. And he was a Jewish man who knew his scriptures, so we can’t just ignore it or gloss over it. And I hope we will see as we go through how it relates to Jesus. Now there is a lot to cover this morning, we’re talking about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy so we are going to fly through it – printed sermons at back or on website.
But I think this is important are because many of us have never read the law books or we avoid them, but I think if you can understand the basis of the law and how it came about it will make a huge difference to how you view the bible. So I’m going to start with an overview of what each of these books contains and then go into some more detail on the law. We looked at Genesis on Tuesday which takes us from creation through God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah –
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you..
And finishes with the story of Joseph – Abraham’s great great grandson – his downfall, dreams and then becoming Pharoah’s right hand man.
Then we move to Exodus – a few years later and by now the Israelites are oppressed, kept in slavery by Pharoah. Moses is sent by God to ask Pharoah to set them free. Then the Exodus happens as they leave Eqypt. We see God’s covenant with the people. Starting with the 10 commandments as we heard
But then the Israelites broke that covenant. Which leads us into Leviticus which essentially is how can a sinful people still be in relationship with God after what happened
Numbers – lots of statistics, counts, figures etc hence numbers
Deuteronomy – is the end of 40 years in the desert, essentially a retelling of the Law for a new generation, and finishes with the death of Moses.
So to go into some more detail…
The people have been in slavery to Pharoah for years, and God sends Moses to free them from this oppression. To help win Pharoah over there are the 10 plagues, finishing with Passover. A blood sacrifice which marks them out as different and ultimately brings them back into relationship with God – remember Earl saying the light of Christ shines backwards through the OT? So here we have a blood sacrifice marking people out as different, and bringing them freedom from oppression – the same festival – Passover at which Jesus was later crucified. Let’s read this in the light of how this points us to Jesus – Jesus as a blood sacrifice – but now the ultimate one – who brings us all freedom from spiritual oppression and bringing us back into relationship with God.
So – Pharaoh gives in and lets the Israelites go, but then relents and sends his army after the Israelites after all. eventually they cross through the red sea to safety and pharaoh’s army is washed away. Looking back in the light of Christ – as we go through the waters at baptism – we too are set free – spiritually.
Now here’s where the law starts to come in – about half way through the book of Exodus we See God inviting this freed people/ Israelites into a covenant relationship.
An agreement that they will be in relationship with one another. This is what God wanted and still wants. And this covenant starts with the 10 commandments – the basic terms, if you like, of this agreement with God.
And the following chapters essentially fill out these 10 commandments, giving us the fine print of the agreement. The purpose of which is shaping Israel as a nation in relationship with God.
The people agree to all this. Ex 24:3:
3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”
So God says God will come and dwell amongst the people (Ch 25)
So we see the restoration of God’s presence with the people, since the garden of Eden.
There then follows lots of detail of how to construct a tabernacle – this is where God will reside among them.
It’s all going great but…
Then Israel breaks the covenant – already!
While Moses is up the mountain getting all the details of the agreement from God, they get impatient because he’s up there so long and so they approach Aaron – Moses’ brother – asking for Gods they can relate to and even saying:
As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
And Aaron makes a golden calf for them to worship.
I mean what any of them were thinking, I do not know! But just as they were rebellious so are we – and we follow the pattern of constantly turning away from God and then back again
But God knows what’s going on and says to Moses these people, your people have quickly turned away from me and I’ve had enough.
But Moses fights for the people, intercedes for them and they are, mostly, forgiven
Moses remind you of anyone? Who is the one who intercedes for us now? Jesus.
Anyway things move on, the tabernacle is built, and God’s presence comes into this tent.
But we move on to Leviticus.
Now the key here is God’s presence is holy so if Israel want to be in this place and live they too need to be holy – no sin can be in God’s presence.
So Leviticus is essentially laws, rituals, feasts and so on to help this people who have broken their agreement with God, to still live with God’s presence.
So the rituals offer the blood of an animal – the animal symbolically dies in their place – atones for – ie: covers their sin. Making them clean or pure.
And then we also see priests being set apart and given roles – called to the highest level of moral integrity – so they stand between God and the people representing each to each other.
There were also 7 annual feasts – which tell the story of how God has rescued this people – a reminder of who they were and who God is to them.
Some of these laws are not entirely clear even to academics but together they offer cultural symbols and standards that reminded the people of all God has done and is to them, and that God’s holiness should be throughout all of their lives.
Ok so far? You with me?!
Now one final thing here in Leviticus, – God was aware that for most people not all sins would be covered by sacrifices, so one of the annual feasts became the ‘day of Atonement’. Once a year priests would take 2 goats – one as a sacrifice and one as a ‘scapegoat’ – symbolically carry Israel’s sin – be set off into the wilderness. Thus making sure everyone was clean and pure, their unatoned for sins being carried away by this scapegoat.
Now remember Jesus said he came to fulfill the law? He becomes later this ultimate sacrifice, the lamb who was slain, to take away all sin once and for all – echoing – or fulfilling these laws.
Finally Leviticus ends with – Moses calling people to follow the laws and live in God’s ways.
Ok so far?
Then we get to Numbers – after a year at Mt Sinai, law given, tabernacle built, the people now head out into the wilderness to find the promised land, led by the presence of God in a pillar of fire by night and cloud during the day.
You’d think by now the people would be on track but almost straight away they start complaining and rebelling.
We get to about half way through the book and Moses sends out spies to see this new promised land, to find out what it is like. Of the 10, only 2 say it’s any good – Joshua and Caleb – but the others are afraid and drum up support from the people to say they don’t want to go.
Obviously God isn’t entirely happy about this – the land he has said is theirs and they are rebelling again. Now Moses intercedes again and they are saved but God says they will not enter this promised land – only their children will.
Now however we know the ultimate promised land is there for all of us who walk in the ways of the Lord – in eternity.
To continue – the Israelites complain some more – now about thirst. And now Moses gets something wrong because God tells him to speak to a rock to bring out water but instead he hits it and then says shall ‘we’ bring forth water – rather than giving glory to God. So now he too is not allowed to enter the promised land.
God is cross again and sends snakes among the people – again Moses intercedes – there’s a theme here – and so we get this slightly strange story of a bronze serpent put up on a pole – but the point is that those who look on this tree – look to God for healing – will be saved. Just as those who look to the cross – look to Jesus who was lifted up on a wooden pole – will be saved now.
Numbers finishes with the next generation preparing to finally enter the promised land.
Are you keeping up?!
Finally – Deuteronomy – which is largely Moses telling this new generation about God and what’s has happened – reminding them of the laws and God’s faithfulness, and he calls on them to be more faithful than their parent’s generation.
And amidst this we see the greatest commandment:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
This commandment that Jesus says is the greatest.
For the Israelites this was a reminder as they were on the verge of entering a land who worshipped other Gods and who had some unsavoury practices – to them this was a final word: focus on one God – the God you know who has saved you. It is about obedience to God and a wholehearted devotion to God with one’s whole being. Just as we are still called to focus on the one God – Jesus is the way the truth and the life we read in John 14.
So that’s the law in a nutshell with some pointers with the light of Christ shining backwards from the cross through the OT.
One final point – we must remember that these detailed instructions were given to a people group thousands of years ago, to set them apart from nations around them. When we look at the lands around them it makes more sense why God’s rules were different. Not necessarily comparable with today. What we need to focus on is what are the key principles within them that can help us – which is essentially
The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
We should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
And that God’s word should point us to Jesus. I’ve pointed out some of these key ways but let’s remember to read the bible and as we go through the OT to read it looking for how it points us to Jesus.