Law and Gospel – Sermon by Jim Bagley – 4 October 2020

communion cup and broken bread

Communion Worship Service

Reminder: If you are planning to take part in the Lord’s Table at the end of the service, have your bread and juice ready.

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. As this is the first Sunday of the month, we will be observing the Lord’s Table at the end of the service. If you are participating, be sure to have bread and juice ready. Even though we know that we will not be taking part at the exact same time, we ask you to use your imagination and place yourself in the sanctuary among us. We look so forward to the day we will no longer have to use our imaginations!

Scripture Reading

Psalm 19 New International Version

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5     It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Prayer

Dear Lord,

We come into your presence this morning carrying with us all the baggage of our lives. As we worship here today with our brothers and sisters, and in our homes, may you draw us together and help us to fix our eyes on only You.  Open our eyes Lord, that we may see You!  Amen.

Song

Today's Message: Law and Gospel

Introduction

Here in the last month of my time here in Kingsville, I find myself feeling the pressure of wanting to leave you knowing who God is, how much He loves you, and how to live your life with Him. I am continuing to follow the lectionary, and thankfully, the passages set aside for the day always include at least one that speaks to these foundational teachings of the gospel. That shouldn’t surprise either of us, because if it is actually the centre of the gospel, it should be easy to find!

Last week, I read the account of the Hebrew nation in the Egyptian desert, how their complaining created a barrier between them and God; challenging us to identify the barriers that affect our own relationships with Him. This week I want to look at a topic that we as followers of Jesus get confused all the time; the relationship between the law and the gospel.

The Law

Let’s start with the Law, and no better place to begin than the 10 commandments, found in Exodus 20:1-20.

Scripture Reading

Exodus 20:1-20 New International Version

The Ten Commandments

And God spoke  all these words:
“I am the  Lord  your God,  who brought you out  of Egypt,  out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image  in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship  them; for I, the  Lord  your God, am a jealous God,  punishing the children for the sin of the parents  to the third and fourth generation  of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand  generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the  Lord  your God, for the  Lord  will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath  day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  10  but the seventh day is a sabbath  to the  Lord  your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  11  For in six days the  Lord  made the heavens and the earth,  the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested  on the seventh day.  Therefore, the  Lord  blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12  “Honor your father and your mother,  so that you may live long  in the land  the  Lord  your God is giving you.
13  “You shall not murder.
14  “You shall not commit adultery.
15  “You shall not steal.
16  “You shall not give false testimony  against your neighbor.
17  “You shall not covet  your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
18  When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet  and saw the mountain in smoke,  they trembled with fear.  They stayed at a distance  19  and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak  to us or we will die.”
20  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid.  God has come to test  you, so that the fear  of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

The 10 Commandments are pretty familiar to us. If I had a chalk board and asked you to call them out, I am pretty sure we could get all of them – maybe even in order!

The great thing about these 10 Commandments is that they give us a set of rules we could pretty much keep if we put our minds to it. Some seem easier than others for most of us; like murder, adultery, stealing. Others look like they could be a bit trickier, like honouring your parents, or coveting, or telling the truth.

To the Israelites in the desert, these were an incredible blessing from God. After all, they had no Bible, no written law at all, no set rules for worship. When we read of them building the golden idol of the Bull while Moses was up on the mountain, we wonder, “How could they possibly have thought that was a good idea?” But the reality is, that is what they knew. That was how everyone worshipped their gods, so in the midst of uncertainty they went back to what they knew – they didn’t really know much better.

These 10 commandments gave them a great deal of guidance for their future worship. Note how the first 4 relate to their relationship with God and worship; His call to be treated with exclusivity and respect: no other gods; no idols; no misusing His name; the command to keep the Sabbath. These 4 laws form the principles behind all of the ceremonial laws that would come in the future.

On top of those first 4, the next 6 laws gave the basic principles for how to live with each other in community; ethics and prohibitions that are admired around the world, and have remained unchanged over the years.

In fact, what is remarkable about the 10 commandments; laws given to us as much as 3,500 years ago; is how contemporary they sound; how much they still stand up; how applicable they remain as the foundation to our own lives – even though our lives are dramatically different than the ones lived by the original audience.

The problem with the 10 commandments isn’t that they are obsolete or irrelevant. The problem is that over the years people have interpreted them as the “last word” and not the “first word;” the “end” and not the “foundation.”

Even in Old Testament time, the 10 commandments on their own were not enough. The Pentateuch is filled with additional detailed interpretations of the laws that grew through the centuries before Jesus. Situations would come up that required clarification, and the new law to cover it was developed. By the time of Jesus, it had grown to what was then an unwieldy 613 laws attributed to God: although that number does pale in comparison to the thousands of laws in our own law books.

Here we can see the problem. There is no end to the clarification of laws over time; law books only get bigger – never smaller! When it comes to God, following Him can become so complicated that it takes all of your energy just to keep up with knowing what you are supposed to do!

But that misses the reason God gave us the law in the first place. God gave us the law, so we could know His heart. Obedience centred on the law leaves us lost in cold technicalities. Obedience centred in God’s heart is all about intimacy and relationship.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the perfect example of those who knew the letter of God’s law, but for the most part had neglected the heart it revealed. And if we are not careful, we can become exactly the same! We KNOW this is true!

Reflect

Do you focus more on God’s rules than God’s heart? In what ways?

When we miss God’s heart, we miss God. We might be doing everything “right”, but still miss the life we are called to. We could be ethically pure, have impeccable doctrine, be able to recite scripture forward and backward; but if we don’t have God’s heart, we have nothing – echoing the sentiment of Paul’s famous “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13,

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

The Gospel

Jesus came to change all of that, and no one knew it more than the Apostle Paul. Listen carefully to his testimony in Philippians 3:4-14:

Philippians 3:4b-14 New International Version

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:   5   circumcised   on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,   of the tribe of Benjamin,   a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;   6   as for zeal,   persecuting the church;   as for righteousness based on the law,   faultless.

7   But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss   for the sake of Christ.   8   What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing   Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ   9   and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,   but that which is through faith in  Christ—the righteousness   that comes from God on the basis of faith.   10   I want to know   Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,   becoming like him in his death,   11   and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection   from the dead.

12   Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,   but I press on to take hold   of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.   13   Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind   and straining toward what is ahead,   14   I press on   toward the goal to win the prize   for which God has called   me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

(repeating verses 8-9)

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing   Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ   9   and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,   but that which is through faith in   Christ

Paul was a Pharisee, and an enthusiastic one; who tried to wipe out the Christian church – not because he had a nasty streak, but because he honestly thought they were breaking God’s law. He believed the fledgling Christian Church was disrespecting God and needed to be stopped! He was counting on his ability to know the rules and keep them to maintain his own standing before God, and to ensure him of eternal life one day.

But when Paul met Jesus, he realized all that he was counting on was as good as garbage – actually, the original Greek better translates it as “dung.” Paul had come face to face with something more than the law, he had come to know the heart of God! The God behind the law; underneath the law; over the law!

Challenge

In this day and age, there is great pressure to be Christians of the law. We spend so much time trying to figure out who is out and who is in; who is to be excluded and whose sin we can overlook. It sometimes feels almost impossible to resist the pull to become a modern-day Pharisee.

But Jesus is calling us to more. Jesus calls us to see the law for what it is; a revelation of God’s heart. And then He calls us to move closer to Him.

When Jesus walked on this earth, He didn’t exclude anyone from His invitation to the Kingdom – no one. Not the simple or the poor; not fishermen or shepherds; not the rich or powerful; not even the Gentiles; not tax collectors; not prostitutes. I don’t think the Gospels could be any clearer if it was written in neon lights! Jesus excluded NO ONE! That was a radical acceptance 2,000 years ago; and it is no less radical today!

The good thing is, Jesus did spend lots of time with Pharisees like us; religious people who thought they had all the answers but who failed to see God’s heart behind the law.

CLOSING REMARKS

So how do we know if we have taken God’s law too far away from His heart? When we begin to use His law to condemn people. When we begin to exclude them because they struggle with sin; struggle with life; struggle with themselves. 

That doesn’t mean that there is no right or wrong. Not at all. But it does mean right and wrong are not defined the way we think they are. It does mean that we need to look behind and beyond the rules. Listen to this familiar passage once again:

Matthew 22:34-40 New International Version

34    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,    the Pharisees got together.    35    One of them, an expert in the law,    tested him with this question:    36    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37    Jesus replied:    “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’   38    This is the first and greatest commandment.    39    And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’   40    All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In other words, “If you get these two laws right, you understand God.”

Are we loving God with all of our hearts, souls and minds? Are we loving our neighbours as ourselves? Only when we say yes to both of those, are we following God’s law. Only then will we have His heart.

Prayer

Dear Lord,
We come before You and confess our sins:
We confess that we do not love you with all of our hearts, souls and minds. Instead, we look to satisfy our own desires, our own agenda’s, our own appetites and neglect what You have called us to. We seek to be the gods of our own lives. We ask Your forgiveness.
We also do not love others as we love ourselves. Instead we give our love conditionally; reserved only for those who will love us back. And we are stingy with our forgiveness; choosing to let our hearts grow hard and cold.
Forgive us for breaking Your law to love You and love others. Give us more and more of Your empowering Spirit so we can change and become who you have called us to be.
And be near to those who are struggling today. Struggling with sickness, with sadness, with confusion and with loss. You promise that you can bring good in all circumstances, and we cling to that promise, even when it seems impossible.
As we approach the Lord’s Table this morning, may we take the bread and the cup and be reminded that it was You; the Creator of the Universe; the Eternal Son of God; Who came and suffered and was willing to endure the indignity of death on a cross so that we could know Your love, receive Your life, and live!
We draw together this morning around Your table, and once again give You our hearts.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Lord's Table

When the disciples gathered with Jesus around this table for the very first time, they had no idea what was about to happen; no idea how this meal would sustain them and all who would follow through the centuries; no idea of the events that would begin to unfold after they left to pray in the Garden; no idea that their greatest tragedy was about to happen, but that it would soon after become their greatest victory!

Today, we have the perspective of 2,000 years to look back at the cross and the empty tomb. We remember that the God we serve and have put our faith in chose to reveal Himself through suffering and shame. May that truth remain with us, and may we resolve to live in the truth revealed to us that day.

Reflect

Take the bread that represents Christ’s broken body, and the cup that represents His shed blood, and remember that God came to be with us; to show us, teach us, and sacrifice Himself for us; so that you and I could have life!

Take the elements together, and pray a silent prayer of gratitude to God for the life you have been given through faith in Jesus.

Song

Benediction

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen.

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