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The Law: What it is, What it isn't

February 15, 2015 Preacher: Series: The Big Picture

Topic: Sermon Scripture: Exodus 20:1–20:21

Giving of the Law

-We are in week 6 of our Big Picture overview of the Bible. We want to try as best as we can in 17 messages to show major thematic elements of the Scripture, to remind us how God has been authoring the same story from the beginning until now, to see the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ in all of Scripture, and Lord willing, to whet your appetites for Scripture.

-Last week we talked about the Exodus, God’s miraculous deliverance of His people - for His glory, through no merit of their own, and foreshadowing a coming salvation that would far exceed even that powerful display.

-The people of Israel now find themselves in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Lord willing, next week Larry will preach on the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel.

-Today we are going to talk about the giving of the law. While the passage I’ll be reading from is the actual Mt. Sinai, giving of the 10 commandments passage, I intend to talk about the whole of the law, as described in Exodus, Leviticus, and parts of Deuteronomy.

-I want us to also see the law in light of the gospel, to consider how the person and work of Christ applies to the law.

-This is a survey, which means we will be motoring through a bunch of material. And for messages such as these, the balance between teaching and preaching is a challenge. But I hope that we will see there is much to exhort and encourage our souls today.

-Read Exodus 20:1-21

-I hesitate to tell you this, but I am essentially breaking my message into 13 points. Usually my sermons are somewhere around 1 point, so this is quite different. Don’t get caught up in trying to take notes - feel free to listen and I’ll post the points online with Scripture references this week.

-13 points, Scripturally speaking, relative to the law. Each point will get a very brief treatment. To be clear, the OT law seems to have 3 categories, basically speaking. Moral (human behavior), civil (organizing government and society), and ceremonial (rituals for cleansing and sacrifice).

-While there is some overlap among the 3, I will be spending very little time talking about civil law. The US government is not a theonomy, that is, one run by the Mosaic covenant. I personally do not feel compelled that we ought to be, though I would love to have people in government who represent my Christian worldview.

1. The law reveals the character of God

  • God’s law, even if we just consider Exodus 20, reveals so much of the character and heart of God Himself.
  • “No other gods before Me…you shall not make for yourself a carved shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” These commands clearly display God’s love for His own glory, as we talked about last week. He says He is a jealous God, jealous for the glory of His name, not bearing with contenders for His throne.
  • Why? Because there are none. He is God alone, and these commands reveal that it is His desire to be worshipped as such.
  • The other commands given in Exodus 20 reveal that our God loves people, His created ones. He commands us to do good to one another, He commands rest, He commands protection of one another, valuing of one another’s lives, freedom from sinful coveting of one another’s stuff. His love for His people is perfect, and He lays down commands for the good of His people.

2. The law reveals the holiness of God

3. The law is demanding with regard to righteousness - if any portion is broken, all is broken

  • Deuteronomy 27:26. “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.”
  • For the person who sets out to show their worthiness of God’s blessing by keeping the law, please understand this (setting aside the question of whether this is even possible for right now) - the standard for righteousness is perfection of law keeping.
  • And that perfection of law keeping involves perfectly keeping the heart of the law. So Jesus tells the people in the Sermon on the Mount “You have heard it said….but I say…”
  • It’s not just about not murdering, it’s about not having a heart of anger
  • It’s not just about not committing adultery, it’s about having a heart free from lustful thoughts.
  • The law is demanding. And Jesus helps people to see that the ante is much higher with regard to the law and righteousness than we had even imagined. It’s not simply about external behaviors that look like love for God, it’s about real love for God from the heart.
  • And if you fail in just one area, you are guilty - James 2:10-11

4. The law calls for holiness - God desires a people set apart

  • Leviticus 20:22-26
  • This is a theme repeated many times in Leviticus. Because of the holiness of God, His complete otherness, He desires a people set apart. A peculiar people, different from the nations who would surround them.
  • Ideally (and we will see later that this is only possible by grace through faith), the nation of Israel would be the light of the world as they followed their God in holiness, being blessed by Him and blessing others.
  • Maybe you’ve tried to read Leviticus and been tremendously confused. Why can’t they boil goats in their mothers’ milk? Why can’t they wear clothing with 2 different fabrics? Why can’t they sow 2 different crops in one field? Why can’t they touch mold?
  • It all gets back to this central idea - God wants them to be reminded, and to visibly display, their set apartness. He does not want them to be anything like those around them, and these outward acts were to be (again, ideally) evidences of hearts that desired to live godly lives.

5. The law makes provision for the sinfulness of man, but only in a temporary way

  • In the giving of the law, there is an anticipation that man will not be able to keep it.
  • If time permitted, I would spend lots of time here, but there will be another point later where I can dive into this a little more.
  • But there were animal sacrifices, scapegoats sent into the wilderness, high priests who would go into the most holy place once a year to make sacrifices for the sins of the people (and his own sin first).
  • The point of this is that a holy God cannot be approached by any person who has failed to be perfectly holy himself. God does not say “Oh, you had a couple oopsies this week? No big deal.” Violation of the holiness of God is a BIG deal.
  • And to stay the wrath of God, to keep Him from giving full vent to it, substitute animals were sacrificed, blood was shed, for the covering of sins. But we know that this is not a one for one transaction - that is, the blood of animals does not atone for the sinfulness of man…

6. The law is a delight to the one who loves God

  • Because the law is in and of itself a further revelation of the character of God, there is a joy in meditating upon it for the one who loves God.
  • If you have read the Psalms, you cannot go far without seeing the Psalmist delighting in the law of God! Why? Because in the law he sees more of who God is!

7. The law is meant to reveal the sinfulness of our hearts, it was not designed to make us righteous

  • We need to hear and understand this today - the law actually could not make us righteous!
  • When this law was given, man was already sinful! Romans 5:12-14. In Adam, all men sinned. Done deal, born sinful. Live sinful apart from an act of grace. Were sinners even where law did not exist.
  • So the law is meant to be a mirror to our hearts. Romans 3:19-20, 7:7-11, 1 Corinthians 15:56
  • It is meant to reveal what dwells within. Not holiness, rebellion. Hatred of the good commands of God. Doesn’t that Romans 7 passage sound similar to what happened in the Garden of Eden?
  • Law shows us all that we are not in the presence of a God who demands perfection.
  • God wants love, love with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength. He wants love for neighbor that is perfect. PERFECT! It’s not just make meals for those in need, it’s lay your life down for those in need. It’s not just don’t murder your next door neighbor, it’s do not harbor anger against, do not covet the stuff of, do not think ill of your neighbor. Sacrifice for your neighbor, even to your own hurt.
  • Not just show up to church, but LOVE GOD from a pure heart.
  • These are the demands of the law, meant to show you your personal unrighteousness.

8. Therefore, anytime we attempt to put law keeping in the category of “makes me right with God,” it is an offense to God, for it ultimately defames the work of Christ and professes an extremely low view of the law.

  • Romans 3:20 said it, right? Paul says it to the church in Antioch in Acts 13:36-39. You cannot be set free from the penalty of sin by works of the law!
  • There is no scenario where you will boast in your law keeping before God, and He will deem you worthy of entrance into His eternal Kingdom.
  • When you say that you will be ok before God because you were a good person, you have no understanding of His demands. And when someone within the church says God will be satisfied if we just try our best, they misunderstand the holiness of God.
  • Where in Scripture does it say “Just be as good as you can, and that’s good enough for God?” Nowhere. God wants, in order for a person to be deemed righteous, perfection of heart and action.
  • You who say or believe that it will be good for God to decide on your worthiness based on your life of law keeping, look harder at the law! It will teach you that you do not keep it, if you have eyes to see.
  • And those who believe law keeping is a means to righteousness also defame the work of Christ. They say no sacrifice was really necessary, if a person would just do better. Or maybe they say it’s good there was a sacrifice, but I need to add more to it. By my works of righteousness, I will make myself MORE righteous!

9. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

  • That’s Romans 10:5. Listen to 9:30-10:5.
  • Believe in Christ. Your gaze at the law is meant to drive you to ask God to have mercy on you, a sinner! Israel, as described here in Romans 9-10, was pursuing a law based righteousness. But the law is actually meant to DRIVE you to Christ!
  • Luke 24:44, John 1:45, John 5:39
  • We were meant to be looking for God’s salvation, an alien righteousness, and it is found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ!
  • If you are trying to scrub your body with the mirror, instead hold it up to your face and look and see! See your unrighteousness, and see also Jesus Christ who was the perfect lawkeeper on behalf of all who believe! Also….

10. Jesus abolished the sacrificial law by being the perfect sacrifice for sin.

  • Hebrews 10:1-18

11. Salvation by grace always precedes any ability to keep the law

  • We see it even in the Exodus passage - 20:2
  • Reminders of God’s grace, and faith in His finished work and ability to empower are the basis by which any real law keeping happens.
  • That is the very heart of the New Covenant, right?
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34. God will do something that man cannot do, He will write His law on our hearts, He will transform, He will forgive.
  • Ephesians 2:1-10

12. The law is good, and of good use, when used lawfully

  • That’s what Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:8-11
  • The law is not laid down for just people! The law is not laid down to add shine to our salvation.
  • The law exists, as stated earlier, to show us what we are like. It exists to keep order among sinful people as well. It exists to direct men’s hearts to Christ for not only a saving work, but the work of transforming us from one degree of glory to the next. Because….

13. The believer in Christ has a genuine desire to fulfill the heart of the law - love for God and others. But this desire must never be put into the category of righteousness unto salvation. This desire leads to war within the believer, and it is only by faith that we can uphold the law.
Romans 3:21-31

  • The work of Christ produces in us a longing to please Him because we love Him, because He has loved us. And yet that desire, when face to face with what God asks of us, is met with instant resistance.
  • The believer is a person at war. War within. The Spirit and the flesh are opposed to one another, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

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