Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did Jesus Really Teach The Law On Steroids

I have noticed a concerning factor! Many people in the grace renewal are excluding much of Christs’ teachings.
There is a misconception that has arisen in this renewal of the gospel of grace over the past 6 years that is causing many in the church to not embrace some wonderful teachings of Jesus. This misconception is that“Jesus preached the law on steroids” or that “Jesus preached the law to the fullest extreme.”
It is important that we clear this up, and are able to see that Jesus in fact did not preach the law on steroids but preached the Kingdom. We only have to do a brief study in order to see this and clear up a lot of these issues. Without any long intro I would like to dive straight in.
To build this case we will need to look briefly into the Rabbinical order of the Hebraic culture, both the ancient and the one in which Jesus ministered.
Rabbis taught from the Torah and from the Prophets. This is known as the Tenakah (The scriptures)
A Rabbi had a body of teaching that would be called a‘Yolk.’ This ‘Yolk’ was not just a teaching but also a way of life that embodied that teaching in a practical outworking.
There were two types of Rabbis: 1) A general Rabbi; or 2) one that had ‘Shmekah.’ ‘Shmekah’ means ‘authority.’ A Rabbi with authority was allowed to have his own ‘yolk.’ If you did not have ‘Shmekah’ you would have to teach the yolk of your Rabbi who had ‘Shmekah.’ Only every 3 to 4 generations would there be a Rabbi with ‘Shmekah.’
In order to gain ‘Shmekah’ you needed two witnesses to publically confirm you. Jesus had these two witnesses at his baptism. One was John the baptizer who was a Prophet and the other was his Father who’s voice spoke from heaven at the same event.
To have ‘Shmekah’ would allow you to interpret the Torah in order to bring forward the very purpose the Torah was set in place to do. The Torah was set in place by God as part of the covenant He made with Israel and was primarily to establish the best ways for them to live in love towards Him and each other. It was very much also a social standard. After being slaves for over 400 years they needed to understand how to conduct themselves in a social, loving, honouring and respectful way towards each other. Things such as not killing someone because you covet his belongings was one such standard. Another was not to have relations with another man’s wife, and etc. This was effectively the heart behind the Torah (the Spirit of the Torah or as we know it the Law of the Spirit) After being slaves and having a slave mentality imbedded into their lives for generations these were pretty good standards to put in place in order for them to live in community as a nation who would reflect the glory of God. Over time Israel created human traditions and their Rabbis began to produce their own ‘yolks’ that began to bind and loose the nation. Binding and loosing had nothing to do with the demonic; it in fact has to do with what is allowed and what is not allowed. Most pastors/elders in a church are binding and losing all the time. For example: If I say to my congregation that there is not to be a drop of alcohol consumed by anyone at any time, then I have just bound the people to not drink. Anyone that even one drink will begin to feel guilty and even condemned. There should be a bit of clarity starting to come through now? The problem now came in that Israel began to believe that they could gain a right standing with God and justification through obedience to rules and regulations. Even the sacrifices were just a constant reminder of the saving blood on the door posts at the Passover. Yom Kippur was a yearly reminder of the covenant cut with Abraham, which Israel believed was their reason for being righteous, because they were Abrahams seed. The issue was not the law but sin and what it did in “taking its opportunity afford by the law…, therefore bringing condemnation.”
So the Rabbis began to bind and loose the people through their ‘yolk.’ The unfortunate thing is that in their human error, greed and pride they began to produce ‘yolks’ that were very restrictive and began to bind people up so tightly that eventually they lost most of the ‘Spirit of the law (Spirit of the Torah).’ By the time Jesus comes on the scene there is so much confusion, guilt, condemnation and religious traditions that people are living distant from God, except for following His festivals and sacrifices.
Jesus is baptized, is witnessed to have ‘Shmekah’ and begins his ministry. Now Jesus himself says “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.” What does this mean? Well a Rabbi would choose for himself some disciples. These first born males were the best of the best in society. These students (disciples) would sit under the teaching of the Rabbi and follow him around, living immersed in his life in order to learn from him, not only what he taught but also how he lived it out (his yolk). Their desire was to be just like him. Now, what he would do is ask questions based on the Torah and they would have to give an interpretation and an application to what he was asking. This application would have to be able to bring life to the hearers. If the disciple got the interpretation and application wrong, then the Rabbi would say“you have abolished the Torah (law)”; but if they got it correct then he would say “you have fulfilled the Torah (law).” However, this interpretation and application was in accordance with the ‘yolk’ of that Rabbi. So, when Jesus says that “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it,” what he was in fact saying was “I have come to show you how to interpret and apply the Torah so that it will bring life to you.”
Later on we see that Paul writes in Ephesians 2: 14-16 “ For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinance, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing their hostility.” (ESV)
But if we look at these verses in the Amplified bible we see something interesting that explains it more clearly: “For he is (himself) our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both (Jew and Gentile) one (body), and has broken down (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, by abolishing in his (own crucified) flesh the enmity (caused by) the law with its decrees and ordinances (which he annulled); that he might create in himself one new man (one new quality of humanity out of the two), so making peace. And (he designed) to reconcile to God both (Jew and Gentile, united) in a single body by means of his cross, thereby killing the mutual enmity and bringing the feud to an end.”
Now, have a look at how the message put its: “The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of hostility.”
In this above text it is related to the fact that the law was a divide between Jews and Gentiles. It is clearly shown that this divide was abolished. To the Jews the Gentiles were classed as unclean “dogs.” There was a great divide between them. A nation such as Israel who were chosen to be a nation of priests were living an elitist life, scorning others. It was clearly not a life of love. This also became the standard for how they treated their own people who were sick, born with disabilities, had issues of blood, leprous, demon possessed etc, They classed these people as unclean sinners who were being judged by God and they warned people to stay clear of these people. Clearly their traditions had warped the heart of the Torah.
So what part of the Torah was fulfilled? It was the law unto righteousness that was fulfilled in Christ. This means that we do not need to follow the external rituals of the law in order to gain righteousness. The Torah (law) has now been written on our hearts enabling us to live it out as we walk by the Spirit. (This is another discussion)
We know that the law is fulfilled unto righteousness and that this is a free gift from God through Christ and not by our own efforts.
But, back to the discussion about Jesus not teaching the law on steroids. Jesus would have used the only scriptures available in order to teach; this was the Talmud. He would have taught from the law and the prophets, which we see him quoting all the time. There was no new testament writings at this time. Having ‘Shmekah’ he would have been able to bring about his ‘yolk’ which was ‘easy.’ This means that it was not heavy or hard to live according to because it was based on loving God and loving each other. It had nothing to do with elevating man and placing barriers between man and God that were impossible to cross. His ‘yolk’ also took guilt and condemnation away, therefore bringing freedom to those who heard it. He was also bringing love and dignity back into the community, where-as the‘yolk’ of the Pharisees brought guilt on people and was causing people to ostracise each other, pointing out peoples faults all the time and therefore claiming many as unclean. This also gave the Pharisees a high position among the community as they appeared to be holy and without blemish. The more the peoples external errors were pointed out the better it made the Pharisees look, since they had great external appearances. Jesus calls them “white washed tombs” because anyone who came into contact with a dead body was made unclean, so in calling them this was saying that “you are louring people into your teaching because you look good on the outside, but when they embrace your yolk they are made unclean by trying to apply it since it is not bringing them any life.”
So, as Jesus comes in and brings his yolk the people are amazed and say “we have never heard such teaching, and with authority“Shmekah””.
Now I want to point out that never does it say that anyone felt condemned by Jesus’ teaching; not even the Pharisees. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were angered by him, but it does not mention condemnation. The law as it was being taught was bringing condemnation at the time, so if Jesus was to have taken it to the fullest extreme then it would have made people feel even more condemned than hearing a Pharisee teach it. We also need to understand that Jesus was addressing the Jewish people and the Pharisees at the same time; some were amazed and others angered, but non condemned. The Pharisees would approach Jesus while he was teaching people to question him on his ‘yolk’, something they would have done with each other all the time, since it was customary for Rabbis to sit with their disciples and debate other Rabbis on their ‘yolk’, and this was done publically. The thing is this, Jesus was undoing a lot of bad teaching done by the Pharisees, which was slanted to elevate themselves, therefore bringing an equality between all before God, which would have been embarrassing for them. Their main issue with Jesus however, was not that He was bringing condemnation to them, but rather that he was claiming to be the Son of God. Their second main issue was that through his teaching he was disabling their positions of power held over the people.
The teaching of Jesus was bringing the law of the Spirit which brings life, and not the law of sin which brought death. A classic example of this was the woman caught in adultery. They catch this woman in the act. They bring only her to Jesus. The reason they brought her to Jesus was because He was a Rabbi with ‘Shmekah’ and so he was allowed to pass judgement. They cast her at his feet and expect him to give the order to stone her. Now according to their law she did in fact need to be stoned, and Jesus knows this to be true. But, being a Rabbi with ‘Shmekah’ he is able to interpret and bring the application of how that ‘mitzvot (command)’ is followed out. He responds by saying “you who is without sin cast the first stone.” What is he saying here? Well, he is not saying they can’t stone her; but that those who are themselves righteous before God can carry out the judgement. They all leave because they know the truth. But note that it does not mention they leave condemned. He then asks her “where are your accusers?” to which she notices they are all gone. He then says to her “neither do I condemn you.” Jesus by rights could have condemned her and stoned her because he was the only righteous one there, now left alone with her. But the Torah states that you can’t bring a case against someone and have them judged to death unless you have two or more witnesses to accuse. Jesus being the only one left then applies that commandment, and in a sense says “well no one else is here to accuse you except me, and we need more than one, so you go free.” He then loosens her by saying “go sin no more.”
What about the time Jesus says to the people “It is written that you shall not murder, but I say (my yolk is. My interpretation and application is) that if you hate your brother in your heart you have committed murder.” Obviously to hate someone is not actually murdering them, so what was Jesus trying to say here? Well the Spirit of the Torah was life, and to hate your brother in your heart was to not show love toward him, therefore not bring forward life. It was one thing to not murder (do any physical harm) but what was the point if you still harboured hatred towards him. The whole of the Torah is summed up in this “to love the Lord your God (Yahweh) and to love each other.” It was about living in the light and bringing forth life and love. Apply this principal to everything you do; does it bring love and life or does it bring darkness? “We were once darkness but now we are light.”
Some of the scriptures quoted by Jesus seem to be harsh and contradictory to the new covenant life that was being brought forward. What we need to understand is that everything in the new covenant has a foundation found in the old covenant; and that no scripture contradicts itself. One style of teaching which was called ‘Remez”, was when a Rabbi would quote a text or verse but his point was found in the surrounding text, usually the verses before or after, so it is good to go to that text and read the context around it.
Jesus also used idioms in teaching. One example is when he speaks about plucking out you eye or cutting of your hand or feet. It will help to understand what these things represent. The hand represents your own works. The foot represents your own path. And the eye represents your soul (mind will and emotions). Sin is unbelief. To pluck something out or cut something off is to say “allow it to be put to death.” So what Jesus is saying is this: ‘If your mind, will and emotions, your own works or your own path is going to cause you to live in unbelief, the allow them to be put to death in order to enter into the kingdom (eternal life).’
It is important for us to start to read the scriptures with a Hebrew mentality and not try approach them intellectually. The scriptures are not a textbook, but a narrative about the person and nature of God. Everything centres around Jesus the Saviour, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and how man can live in relationship with Him, living in the light. If we look at it like this we will find in every teaching from any particular book of the bible, the application to live in that light. We always remember that it is through Christ alone that we are able to come into this life and it is not by any means of our own
We also need to realize that Jesus is our Rabbi, and therefore we are not allowed to teach any other ‘yolk’ except the one of our Rabbi. So if Jesus preached a mixture then so must we, and if Jesus preached the law on steroids then so must we. Obviously we know that this is not the case because Jesus himself said “that the law and prophets were until John, but since that time the KINGDOM of heaven has been proclaimed. This tells us that everything that Jesus taught was in fact kingdom, hence it brought life to his hearers and it was followed by power.
So what we need to do, instead of putting aside the teachings of Jesus because we can’t fit them into our personal interpretation of grace, is rather ask the Spirit to help us study and interpret the teaching, to understand the idioms, euphemisms and teaching style of the Rabbis (in particular the style Jesus himself use) in order for us to teach what he taught with the same attitude that he taught, in order for us to be able to bring life through that word to our hearers, the same as it did for those who heard Jesus.
Paul did not teach opposing messages to what Jesus taught. When Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians that “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse”, he is speaking about those who rely on observing the law in order to be justified. It is by faith that we are justified. You can see him address this issue with Peter when he came to Antioch. The issue with Jewish believers was they were trying to get Gentile believers to also adopt Jewish customs as part of their justification. Paul was not having this. If even the Jews did not have to do it, and they were given the Torah, then how could they expect the Gentiles to try fulfil it, who had no understanding of the Torah. The Spirit of the law, however, was for everyone. The Torah is now written on our hearts, and is internally fulfilled as we walk by the Spirit.
We have people who now hate the law, when it is perfect and it was given by God (Paul mentions this). Yet these folk do not hate sin. We hate something that God gave, but are neither here nor there on something the devil brought in. God hates sin, and it was sin that separated us from God, it was sin that brought destruction to the planet. We have been set free from sin. We have died to the law so that sin can no longer seize its opportunity through the law. We are no longer administrated by the law but by the Spirit, and He fulfils in us the Torah so that we live within the blessings that are afforded by it.
We cannot exclude the teachings of Jesus from our pulpits, but rather teach them in the same attitude that He did and watch the power of the truth transform people’s lives.

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