Last Sunday, we began a series on the 10 commandments.
I made the point in that sermon that we are called to delight in God’s law, that there is beauty in it, and that it reveals God’s character and the way to human flourishing.
But…what about the parts of the law that just feel…well…weird.
Or what about the parts that seem cruel or harsh?
How can I say we should delight in the law of the Lord while I also don’t have a beard, wear shirts with mixed fibers, don’t throw rocks at adulterers, all the while I’m perfectly happy eating a BBQ sandwich or shellfish?
Here’s what you need to know about the Jewish law:
- There are 613 commands that come from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.
- And they can be divided up into 3 categories.
Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil
The Moral Law included laws like the 10 commandments, which represented the character of God. Commands like “Do Not Murder” and “Do not commit adultery.”
The Ceremonial Law included instructions about keeping yourself set apart for worship. Things like not eating animals whose hooves didn’t raise them up off the ground, or commands about how to kill an animal for temple sacrifice…(like you couldn’t strangle it, you had to slit its throat). Or commands about avoiding unclean things like blood.
The Civil Law included laws about how to apply the moral in the Jewish culture. So for instance, there’s a law that says that you have to put a fence on your roof. Well, that law is there because people hung out on their rooftops…and if you didn’t put a fence on your roof…you were liable for murder if a guest fell off your roof. So this was a way value human life by not letting people fall off your roof.
Actually, some of our civil laws now are like this.
Do you drive on the right side of the road? Do you stop when the light turns red? You are obeying civil laws that are applications of the Moral law “Do Not Murder”. They value human life.
“Why do Christians pick and choose what laws to follow in the OT?”
Well, lets take this a section at a time. First of all, Christians should obey God’s moral law. Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not Steal. Do not lie. These commands are all statements about God’s unchanging character and so we should obey these commands.
Now, what about the Civil law?
Well, remember, the civil law was the application of the Moral law.
So, the question is this: Is it necessary for me to put a little fence around the edge of my roof to keep this law?
Well no. That has no civil or cultural good. That is not helping me at all apply the moral law to not murder.
But stopping at a red light and driving on the right side of the road does. And I shouldn’t even legalistically keep those laws. For example, if an emergency vehicle needs to get through a red light, and I’m blocking the way, I’m going to run the light in order to pull over…because I’m valuing the human life in that ambulance.
Or imagine if I insisted driving on the right side of the road was THE ONLY GODLY WAY TO DRIVE!!!!! What would happen if I drove in Great Britain? I’d be killing people in the name of the LORD. Telling them they are all wrong!
Now, how about the ceremonial law?
The ceremonial law was given to point people to 3 things:
Their own sin, the fact God has set them apart for something special, and the way that God was going to deal with their SIN.
Let me give you an example of each one.
1) Ceremonial laws that reminded Israel of sin.
Leviticus 11:3: Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.
This ceremonial law was there to remind Israel that the ground was cursed when Adam and Eve sinned. When they had to go through the hassle and hunger of skipping the BBQ, they were reminded of the frustration of the cursed ground and prompted to want God to do something about the curse.
2) Ceremonial laws that set Israel apart.
Deuteronomy 22:10-11: You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.
This law about mixed fibers/not plowing with two different animals reminded Israel that they were set apart for something special…and that they weren’t to risk worshipping other gods by blending with other cultures.
SO, every time I want to wear a 50/50 blend t-shirt, I’m gonna be put out thinking, “DANG IT! God set me apart!”
Every time I want to plow a field with an ox and donkey I’m going to say “Dang it! We’re supposed to be set apart.”
God was using the ordinary to remind the Jews of truth.
3) Ceremonial laws that pointed to a blood sacrifice.
Leviticus 17:10-11: If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
This law said you can’t eat blood. Other laws say you can’t touch it. A husband and wife weren’t allowed to have sex on her menstrual cycle. Why?
Because blood was special. It represented life. And it was only to be interacted with during a sacrifice for sin. Because God was promising that he would use blood to forgive the sins of his people.
But see, when Jesus died on the cross and resurrected he was fulfilling the ceremonial law.
He was removing the curse of sin, so now we don’t inconvenience ourselves to not eat pork, but we enjoy it, remembering that Jesus has undone the curse.
…and we can freely wear a cotton blend t-shirt because now we know we aren’t told to separate to stay clean…but to take our light to the nations. We are set apart by the Holy Spirit to go to the nations with the gospel, not by withdrawing from them.
…and of course, we see the horror of our sin in the crucifixion of Jesus…and his blood is the blood that was promised to atone for us….so we don’t need reminders of what God promised…when we have already seen it come to pass
So, when someone says, “Why do you follow the Bible’s sexual ethic, but you eat shellfish and wear cotton blends? Aren’t you being inconsistent?”
You can say, “No. I’m living very consistently with Jesus’ death and resurrection.”