“Law” Jeremy Wales || One Story Ten Questions: Part 4

“Law” by Jeremy Wales || 08 May, 2016 || One Story Ten Questions Series: Part 4 ||  MP3 || .EPUB || .MOBI || YOUTUBE

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Sermon transcript

It’s an awesome thing when you find what you’re meant to do in life. When you get to be who you’re obviously made to be.

That’s why people try so hard to find their true calling in life. Like Briana Wiest in9 ways to figure out what you’re ‘meant’ to do”. She says to find out what you’re meant to be, you need to ask yourself: What makes you feel at peace? What do you actually want to do every single day? What does your fully-actualized, best self look like? And more besides. All to find what you’re meant to do. And beyond finding it, many think it’s worth serious risks, and substantial sacrifices to become what you’re meant to be.

Like Nile Cappello in “8 Reasons To Quit Your Job In Your Mid-20s, Because It’s Too Early To Be Unhappy” Cappello admits: “There’s no shortage of harrowing statistics reminding us of how nearly impossible it is to land a job in today’s extremely competitive market.” She knows it’s a big risk. It’s a big sacrifice. To just quit you job. But she says until you’ve found what you’re made to be, you’re headed for a crisis in later life anyway. Better to spare yourself a mid-life crisis, by having a quarter-life crisis instead. Far less traumatic. She says: “Your long-term fulfillment and satisfaction should be your priorities now.”

See, people have noticed, and you may have noticed too: full human life, real human flourishing, with satisfaction and fulfilment – it isn’t possible, until you’ve found what you’re made for and you’re living it. Which is intriguing, when we come to the law in the Bible, and we hear it’s designed to enable: human flourishing. We read the 10 commandments. The initial statement of God’s law that gets expanded and filled in by many more detailed commands in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And the claim is: these really are, not 8 or 9, but 10 ways to flourish. 10 ways to be what you’re meant to be. 10 ways to life which is satisfying and fulfilling.

See v16. Notice what Moses says to Israel. He says: “Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, [but why? why did God command his people to honour their parents?] so that you may live long and that it may gowell with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” God commands Israel so they’ll flourish.

Be who they’re meant to be. And it’s not just this command. Cast your eye down to v29. God says of his people: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, [why?] so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” Same in v33. All the commands. That you may live and prosper. That’s the claim of the Bible: God’s commands to Israel are what make their human flourishing possible.

But of course as soon as I say that, I’ve got to admit: That’s not a claim that’s accepted much today, is it? For many people today, it’s the exact opposite!!! For many, God’s commands don’t enable human flourishing. They stifle it. Following God’s commands doesn’t give life. It saps life. They don’t liberate. They oppress. Lydia’s friend had a very normal reaction: With all these rules, how do you have any fun???

So, for many people today, real satisfaction and fulfilment comes from sexual self-expression. And the thing that prevents that is exactly the kind of self-control commanded by God. It’s hard to defend God’s commands on sexuality today. It’s especially hard when so many of the other commands in the Bible sound to our modern ears frankly bizarre and harsh.

Perhaps the classic expression of this now is President Jed Bartlett’s speech in the TV drama West Wing. He’s confronting a radio show host over the Bible and sexuality. And he effectively asks her: why should we listen to the bible’s commands on sexuality, when we don’t listen to it’s other commands which are simply horrific? We do need to think about those questions. Bizarre commands about mixing crops. Mixing fabrics. Eating pigs. And the death penalty for not complying! This is the law that’s meant to enable real human flourishing??? You can see why so many people have a hard time believing that.

Of course, the easiest way out for a Christian might be to just say: Well, these are Old Testament laws. Followers of Jesus are under the New Testament. So say what you like about the law! We’re followers of Jesus. Not followers of Israel’s laws. And that’s true. It’s important to point that out from the start. But it’s not quite that easy. See, lots of the New Testament actually reiterates commands from the Old Testament law. In fact the New Testament ramps some of them up. Like the commands to sexual self-control, for instance. Which means if the Old Testament law is oppressive, then at least to some extent so is the New Testament. If God’s laws are going to have any positive influence in our lives, the influence they’re meant to in directing us to full flourishing under God, we do have some big questions to face. So what I want to do this morning is show from the Bible Three reasons the law is good. Even essential. Three reasons it was good that God gave Israel these laws. Three reasons it’s good for us to learn from them still.

And the first reason is this: God’s law given to Israel, is a picture of restored human nature. In the first week of this series, we heard the Bible’s claim that humanity is made in the image of God.

That means we’re made to love and trust God, in response to his goodness to us. And to reflect his goodness out to the world around us. That’s what we are all made for. We lost that though. When humanity rejected God. But God’s law shows Israel: what it’ll look like when they’re restored to what they were made for. So this is what the life of blessing, satisfaction and fulfilment – human flourishing under God – is going to look like.

There are ten commandments saying two main things. First of all they’re saying this: love and trust God above all else. Don’t reject him or replace him. See that in commandments 1-4: v6-7 No other gods than the one who’s saved you. v8-10 No making images of God when God has made you to be his images in the world. V11 No using God’s name to try and make him give you what you really want more than him. And v12-15: rest one day a week to remember how it’s God who saved you in the past, so it’s God who’s got your back now. You don’t need to work 24/7, and make your family and servants do the same, as if God won’t provide for you.

The first four commandments are saying love and trust God, for his goodness to you, like you were made for. Then the next six commandments are saying: ok, now reflect God’s goodness out to everyone around you. So v16, if you love and trust God, you won’t dishonour the parents God made in his image and put in your life. V17 You won’t want to kill people God’s made in his image and put in your life. V18 Or betray them. v19 Or steal from them. V20 Or lie about them. v21 You won’t want to have whatever they have. Because you’ll be satisfied in knowing God himself. You won’t be consumed with envy. You’ll actually be glad to see them flourish. Which is how you’ll flourish alongside them. Love and trust God. Reflect his goodness out to others.

That’s the good life. Because that’s our original nature. It’s what we’re made for. So living like that is truly satisfying. But of course, with lots of people thinking the exact opposite, we do need to ask, why would anyone believe this really is the good life?

One reason to consider it – that loving, trusting, worshipping God is the only real path to human flourishing – is the recommendation of David Foster Wallace. Wallace was an acclaimed postmodern novelist who was in no way religious. But he noticed this about human life. He said: There’s no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god… is that pretty much anything else you worship willeat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you’ll never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you’ll always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you’ll die a million deaths before they finally plant you… Worship power, and you’ll end up feeling weak and afraid, and you’ll need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you’ll end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

God commands Israel to love and trust him more than anyone or anything else. He’s jealous for them. Why? Because he’s the one object of worship that won’t eat you alive. Only when you love and trust God can you flourish as you’re made to.

Of course, that still leaves the other commands. Like not mixing crops and fabrics, not eating pigs, and the death penalty. And it might seem impossible that commands like those could ever fit into this human flourishing. But it becomes clear how they do,once we understand Israel’s mission. See, with some rules, you don’t understand them until you get the mission their serving. I want a describe to you a group of people. Just by some of their rules. See if you can guess who they are. They’re forced to work and sleep in the same clothes – socks, undies everything – sometimes for up 2 weeks straight. They’re forbidden to use any deodorant. And in some environments they’re commanded to toilet into a plastic bag which they then have to seal and carry with them. Who are they? You might think: I don’t know who this bizarre cult is but I’m going to call them the stinky brigade. But you wouldn’t say that once I tell you it’s actually SAS troops.

Now you can start to see how these rules might be necessary for their mission. When SAS troops get dropped say into Iraq on an intelligence mission in the fight against ISIS: They never know when they might be discovered by the enemy. They need to be battle ready always. So it’s too much of a risk to wash and change. They can’t use deodorant because it leaves a non-natural scent that’s easy to detect. And in some environments it’s unwise to leave behind any human traces, hence the toilet bag. See: Get their mission and you get their rules.

And it’s the same with Israel. Israel had a mission. Israel was to be the first nation on earth in a restored relationship with God. And all the other nations were meant to see that and join in. But what if the influence ran back the other way? Israel drawn away to false Gods instead of other nations drawn to the true God. The whole world rescue mission would be ruined.

Which makes sense of so many of Israel’s otherwise bizarre laws. Don’t mix crops. Don’t mix fabrics. Don’t eat pigs like they do. They’re all to remind Israelites over and over: stay separate, stay different to other nations. Don’t simply mix into them and adopt their Gods. The mission depends it.

Get Israel’s mission and you get Israel’s laws. And the more crucial the mission, the more extreme the measures to stay on that mission.

Did you know, for SAS troops on an intelligence mission, they’re actually forbidden from stopping an atrocity even when they can see it happening and they could stop it. Why? Because their mission isn’t to stop one atrocity. Their intelligence mission is to help end an entire war. The more crucial the mission, the more extreme the measures to stay on that mission. And for Israel. Their mission wasn’t even to end one war. It was to end all war. To restore humanity by sparking human flourishing under God throughout the whole world. It’s more crucial than any sas mission.

Which is why so much of Israel’s law carries the death penalty. We’re not meant to read that and feel comfortable with it. It’s meant to be gut-wrenching. Because it should be a gut-wrenching thought: that Israel, the one nation graciously chosen by God to reach all nations, might actually forget God, by not keeping this commands. As a deterrent to that, the law does carry the most extreme penalty. The death penalty. The fate of the whole world rested on Israel’s mission.

Now, you might still think that was going too far. But I can tell you, as it played out in Israel’s history, it actually didn’t go far enough. If you follow the story of Israel throughout the whole Old Testament, it’s the story of Israel forgetting God. Forgetting his commands. Despite their extremity. Instead of bringing God’s blessing to others. They brought the penalty of the law on themselves! The one good thing out of this sad story of Israel and the law is that shows us: how desperately and deeply all humans need God to save us. If we want to find the life we’re made for… we don’t just need education in living. Israel had that. It didn’t work. We need salvation. If want to become the people we’re meant to be… we don’t just need to be told how to live a full human life under God. We’re so lost. We need God to do it for us.

Which is what God did… In Jesus. It’s an extreme solution to an extreme problem. Jesus, God’s Son, became human, an Israelite, yet with none of the brokenness we’re born with. So that when he was executed on the cross: he took the death penalty of the law, not for himself, but for us. For everyone who would trust in him.

See how the apostle Paul puts it: “What the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh [our human brokenness], God did by sending his own Son [Jesus] in the likeness of sinful flesh, to be a sin offering.” So now Jesus can now give us his law-fulfilling spirit, to change us. As Paul goes on: “And so [God] condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who [now] don’t live according to the flesh [our human brokenness] but according to the spirit.”

That’s the law-fulfilling Spirit of Jesus who changes our hearts. Not just from the outside with commands. But now from the inside too. So that we actually want to love and trust God more than anyone or anything else. So that we actually want to reflect the goodness of Jesus to us out into the world around us.

Which means for followers of Jesus, there’s now the possibility, the opportunity, the freedom, to be restored, to live the human life we were made to live. Not by reinstating Israel’s laws and putting non-Israelites under them. As we saw, most of them wouldn’t make any sense outside the mission of Israel which Jesus completed. But by his own commands and his Spirit, Jesus brings us to the human flourishing under God that the law always pointed to. If you’ve been following Jesus for a while, you’ll know the changes Jesus makes in your life are never easy. It’s not until much later that they feel liberating. At the start they always feel constraining.

I think this is kind of what it feels like. Back when Lucy and I had just started going out. I confess I hadn’t yet learnt to drive. And after a while Lucy felt comfortable to share with me, that my inability to drive was not one of my more attractive qualities. But it was ok, she’d teach me. Sounds ok to me. We love spending time together. Why not? But as the person learning to drive, I realise suddenly now

I have to do everything lucy tells me to do. and I quickly discover: I really don’t like that. So she’s like: ok Jeremy. We’re stopped on a really steep hill. And there’s a Mercedes Benz a foot behind us! Your hill starts aren’t good yet, you’ll need to do exactly what I tell you. And I’m like: do you what you tell me??? We’re only here because you said to drive this way. I wanted to avoid traffic like this. Doing what you told me is the problem here! Or she’s like: Jeremy, you need to not turn so early or you’re going prang this park! And I’m like: if I don’t turn this early I’m going to end up hitting the curb! Just let me do it myself! Stop telling me what to do! After each session I had lots to apologise for. It wasn’t good.

But of course, after awhile, I could drive. Whatever it felt like at first. It wasn’t really constraining. It wasn’t really oppressive. It was really liberating. Now I could control the car myself. The way it’s meant to be driven. Eventually without even thinking about it. Which is the freedom to drive wherever I need to be.

That’s kind of what it’s like when we follow Jesus. It’s often hard to trust that his commands really are what’s best for you. In what you do with your money. What you do with your time. What you do with your body. What you do with your mind. It does feel constraining. But ask someone who’s been following Jesus for a while: what’s it like when Jesus changes something in you? And they’ll say: painful at first. But so liberating in the end. When you’re no longer trapped in loving other things more than God. Things that’ll eat you alive. When your free to care for others more than yourself because you know God’s got your back. It’s liberating. It’s satisfying. It’s what we’re made for. It’s not constraining. It’s freeing. It’s the human flourishing under God that the law always pointed to. And it’s Jesus who can give you that.