On one wall of my office I have four shelves of antique radio parts. There are capacitors, variable resistors, meters and a variety of other items. One variable capacitor is 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. By today’s standards these 100 years old parts are gigantic. Everything today has been miniaturized. But one thing has remained constant, the laws of physics that govern the flow of electrons in devices we build. We’ve learned how to make things smaller and more efficient, but we can’t change the governing principles that make the devices work. Of course, this has its counterpart in life and society. Our God, the God who devised our being and brought us into life has established the laws by which we function best. We may manipulate all manner of things in society, but we can’t change the laws God has established for our best good. Perhaps we should look again at the Designer’s schematics.
Why were Jesus and the Pharisees at such odds with each other? Jesus didn’t reject the Jewish worship at the Temple or the synagogue. He didn’t reject the laws of Moses. In fact, on a couple of occasions he sent people to them to do as they instructed. Rather, they had established such a rigid system with the laws that they lost all sense of grace and caring for the good of the people. And because they were keepers of the law, their pride of position elevated themselves above everyone else. They had lost sight of all that the law and the prophets were pointing to. It’s easy for us to sit here 2000 years removed and judge them for their hardness of heart, but we must always be careful not to fall into their same patterns of life. Rigidity for the way we’ve always done things is at time a church characteristic that can get in the way of ministry and service to others. And the specter of pride of position is present in any leadership task. Laws and doctrines are important. They guide us into the true life of our Lord. They are given for our good, but they must be administered with humility and grace. Our call is always to love as Jesus loved. He died holding to the truths of God, but He was also the One who washed the disciples feet.
The Bible is not a law book, though many treat it that way. The Bible is a narrative about a relationship between God and His people. Both Old and New Testaments use the image of marriage to depict that relationship. Adultery takes place all over the world, but there is no culture that sanctions adultery as a positive value. Regardless of how free we are with our sexual mores, when a couple gets married there is the expectation of fidelity. If a couple is serious about their relationship they guard themselves from temptations that would harm that treasured relationship. They choose not to do or say things that are destructive. That’s what Biblical “laws” are about. They give us guidance concerning the things that honor our Lord and those that don’t. We simply follow that guidance because the life we have found with our Lord is more precious and valuable than the things that would pull us away from Him. It is not a matter that we can’t do things, but that we don’t want to do them because they are hurtful to something we have that is far more beautiful.
Many times, throughout the Old Testament, it is shown that when the people obeyed the commandments of the Lord they lived in prosperity. When they did not, disasters followed. We are people of the New Testament, living under the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We are taught, time and again, that we are freed from the law. Is there a contradiction here? Are there two different gods, two different instructions? Not at all. Our salvation has always been by God’s grace – in the Old Testament looking to the promise of the Redeemer, and in the New, the promise fulfilled in Jesus. Further, the law never changed. It has always expressed the will of God for the kind of life we are to live – the kind of life in which God shows how we will prosper. We are freed from the law as legal statutes that condemn, but we are guided by the law to a life that honors God. It is well for us to read again the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), and Jesus’ interpretation of them in Matthew 5. Meditating on God’s law is always a good guide for life.
As Americans we hold freedom as a cardinal value. We believe that a person should be able to say what they think, live and work where they want, have freedom of the press, of religion, free assembly, and so forth. This is good, and we work hard to preserve our freedoms, but this does not mean that we can do anything we jolly well please. In society, our freedoms are guided within a framework of laws, and we are to be obedient to the governing authorities. As Christians, we enjoy these freedoms as well, but we also live by a different standard. We obey the laws of the land, but have a yet higher standard. We live to please the Lord our God. Paul writes, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”(II Cor.10:5) For a Christian, freedom isn’t license to do anything we please, but to do those things that please and honor our Lord. All of the Apostles called themselves the slaves of Christ. The essence of true freedom is in knowing and doing the will of our God.
Sometimes people play with the question, which came first the chicken or the egg? But there is another posed by Isaiah, can the pot say to the potter, he knows nothing?(29:16) The verse begins with the statement, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me.'” Unfortunately, many really do throw this question up to the Lord. What right does God have to say I shouldn’t do this or that? Why should He tell me how I’m supposed to live? How dare He say that He is supposed to be first in my life? We go our merry way as if we made ourselves, and have to answer to no one. But God is our Father. He created us, and we are His. Because we are His creation He, alone, knows what is the best way for us to live, and in His love, He does want the best for us. So He gives us the commandments, and the Scriptures as our guide. And, by golly! the more we are willing to yield to His will, the more we find that He is right after all.
St. Luke tells us that, “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” What is this Kingdom? It was a central part of the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and all the Apostles. I suppose it is easier to first say what it is not. It is not a kingdom we are going to form on earth. Our own technologies, industry, and skills are not going to bring it about. It will not be formed by politicians, or any form of government and laws. It is not comprised of any church, group of churches, or buildings. The Kingdom is first a relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ in the knowledge of His love and gracious work for us. In that relationship, our relationship with all others is changed and deepened, seeking to reflect the love we have received from Him. The Kingdom is found in responding to Jesus’ gracious invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt.11:28) This Kingdom will never end.