Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896Isaiah is the tale of two cities. Both of them are Jerusalem.

There is the old Jerusalem with its temple – the House of God. It represents the pinnacle of human and religious strength. If anywhere could be safe from the coming judgement, it would be Jerusalem. Yet the LORD repeatedly asserts that Jerusalem is first in line for divine judgement.

A few examples:

In Isaiah 5 there might be a 6-fold “woe” pronounced on the people in general, but it culminates in the temple with the LORD’s own prophet (Isaiah 6:5).

When the LORD commissions Isaiah to preach to Jerusalem, his preaching will completely cut down the tree until only the Holy Seed is left. (Isaiah 6:13)

When Isaiah pronounces oracles against the nations (Isaiah 13-21) they culminate with Jerusalem (Isaiah 22; 29-31).

In Isaiah 51, it is Jerusalem that will drink the cup of the LORD’s wrath first (cf Jeremiah 25).

Yet on the other side of this judgement comes a salvation that is also “to the Jew first.”

Isaiah is cleansed by fire from the altar (Isaiah 6:7)

The holy Seed will come as a shoot from the stump of Jesse to be universal Ruler (Isaiah 11).

After cosmic judgement, our hope will be manifest “On this mountain” (Isaiah 25:6) but “On that day” (Isaiah 25:9).

After drinking the cup, the LORD takes it out of Zion’s hand and comforts them (Isaiah 40:1ff; 51:22)

So we see that judgement and salvation as preached by Isaiah is not like this:


It’s not that good behaviour could ever avert the judgement of God that rests on Jerusalem. Instead it’s like this:


Or, to be more precise, it’s like this:


Judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Israel is the house(hold) of God. The temple is the house of God. And, in fact, the world is the house of God. But it’s all scheduled for demolition – from the top down.

Yet what about this holy Seed? What about this Offspring of Jesse? Surely He will sum up Israel – isn’t that what a King does? Represent people?

What about this Servant King who is the covenant (Isaiah 42:1-6)? What about this Anointed One who takes up the lost cause of His people? (Isaiah 61).  He will bring salvation to Zion, light to the nations, peace to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11). First He must suffer in a very temple-kind-of-way (Isaiah 53:1-10) and then be glorified (Isaiah 53:11-12). In this way He will sprinkle clean many nations (Isaiah 52:15). They will stream to the true House of God (Isaiah 2:1-4) and so salvation can reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 65-66).

salvation-judgement31In this way the preaching of Isaiah is classically law-gospel. There is the righteous judgement of God which cannot be evaded by any of our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). And there is one hope for us – the Divine, Davidic Christ of God. He alone bears our punishment and rises to give life. We who receive His word are brought into His eternal covenant and blessed with all His divine blessings (Isaiah 55:3).

Luther did not invent such a paradigm. It pulses through the Scriptures. Because all the bible preaches salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

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Luther BibleAs early as 1520, Luther identified a proper distinction of law and gospel as central to his evangelical understanding of the Scriptures:

“the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.”

The commandments are law and to be obeyed. The promises are gospel and to be trusted. Confusing these categories is the fast-track towards losing the gospel.

For Luther and the reformers, the theological use of the law is to convict us of sin and guilt and to drive us to Christ. His blood alone can answer the demands and damnation of the law.

And so, for Luther (and for many even in the reformed tradition), evangelical preaching involves this journey of law and then gospel – the demands that kill and the promise of Christ that brings life.

At which point, non-Lutherans are liable to say, “That’s sweet. And artificial. Are we really meant to force Scripture into this mould?” It can seem a little alien.

Now I’m not a Lutheran, certainly not in the denominational sense. But let me suggest that something like “law-gospel” is not a Procrustean bed for the Scriptures, but the natural contour God’s Word.

As I argue here – it’s not just Genesis 1 that can be divided into forming and then filling. The whole of the bible runs from form to its filled-full reality. The law is a key example of this. The Good Life outlined by Moses is filled full by Jesus (Matthew 5:17).

And the journey from form to filled-full reality is a journey from death to life. First comes darkness, then light. First the seed, then the plant. First the curses of exile, then the blessings of restoration. First Adam, then Christ. First the cross, then the resurrection. First the old covenant, then the new covenant. First the old earth, then the earth renewed.

In all this, the ultimate reality is known and intended in advance, but there is a journey to undergo. And law-gospel is but one expression of that journey – through death to life. Luther was by no means the first to spot this pattern. I want to argue that this is the basic preaching of the prophets. Today we’ll think about Jeremiah. Tomorrow, Isaiah.

In Jeremiah 1, the prophet is called by the Appearing Word of the LORD who puts His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. At this point in history, the Word of the LORD will not appear to Israel en masse (Hebrews 1:1). Christ speaks through His prophets to the people. Only in the last days does the Word of the LORD come in the flesh as His own prophet (Hebrews 1:2).

But here in Jeremiah 1, what is the shape of the proclamation which Christ commissions Jeremiah to fulfil?

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

Notice the pattern? Uprooting, tearing down, destroying, overthrowing. But then: building and planting.

As Jeremiah speaks to his own people he will proclaim total destruction. Exile will come.  Inescapably.

Essentially, those in Jerusalem respond: “Yeah, sure. We’re with you on the total destruction thing. Total destruction for the nations. But we have the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

But no, says Jeremiah. The temple is the first place to feel the flames. Judgement begins with the house of God (cf 1 Peter 4:17). God’s people are not exempted from judgement. In fact they are judged more harshly. Doom is coming. And it is unavoidable. Your special status, special places, special rituals, special behaviours, special leaders are all worthless. The end is nigh. Your only hope  is God’s Leader, His Shepherd:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

It’s law then gospel. It’s Israel and all its worthless efforts then Christ and all His mighty salvation.

The whole pattern of prophetic preaching is like this. The prophets preach righteousness to the people. But they also make it clear that the people’s righteousness cannot save. Exile is coming and the only hope is God’s Messiah on the other side of judgement.

Law-gospel isn’t a 16th century invention. It’s at least 2000 years older than that.

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Galatians 3-4 Sermon





…This was how the Galatian believer saw the history of God’s people from Adam onwards.

Now for them, Christ’s coming and dying was very important: We must realize that these Galatians were not denying the centrality of Christ or His cross. But, they thought, surely the law comes first – the law is foundational.

The default way in which God relates to His people has surely been law.  From the garden of Eden, surely – He commands and we are to obey.  And when Moses went up Mount Sinai surely he was given the law of laws – He was given the very commands of God, written by His finger on stone.  Surely these words, being God’s words, express His eternal will for the people of God.  Bottom line – there is a law, law is to be obeyed.

Now, in this timeline, the cross is important, and Jesus’ dying is central because we need His sacrificial death for all our failures at law-keeping.  So there is an understanding of Gospel here.

The Gospel comes and helps us out when we fail to live up to the law.  But, basically, what God wants is legal obedience.  That is the bottom line for being a Christian.

Now this view of history was a big problem for the Galatian church.  Because they thought like this, when preachers came and told them that they needed to obey the OT Law of circumcision to be a proper Christian, they fell for it.  Why? Because, they have gospel and law running along together, side-by-side, in their minds and hearts.  They have faith in Jesus AND legal obedience in their thinking about what makes someone a Christian.

If you have this understanding in your head about Law and Gospel then you will fall for false teaching time and again.  You will seek your Christian identity in duties and observances and not in Christ.

So we need to over-turn this telling of history.  And thankfully Paul does that for us in chapter 3, beginning at v6.

First thing he does is he under-cuts Moses.  Paul goes back in Israel’s history and leap-frogs over Moses and says ‘think about Abraham. Think about when there was no Mosaic law to be obeyed, not even the covenant of circumcision, think about the life of the people of God before there were any commandments at all.  What made Abraham a fully-fledged believer?’  Answer (v6):

“He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.

In verse 8 Paul describes this faith as faith in the Gospel.  We are children of Abraham when we trust the Gospel, because that’s what Abraham trusted.

So the history of the people of God does not begin with law at all it begins with Gospel

Now the Gospel promises spoken to Abraham were about the Seed (v16) and that Seed, that promised offspring, was Christ.  That’s why I’ve got the Gospel stretching right back to the time of Adam because the Seed who was promised to Abraham was first promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.  Right from the garden of Eden, Jesus was promised as the Seed of the woman.  He would crush Satan’s head but at great cost to Himself.  Right from the beginning, Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection, His victory over Satan was preached.  And people trusted this gospel – people like Abraham – and they were saved.

So this Gospel is how God relates to people.  Gospel is God’s bottom line.

But if that’s true – where does the Law fit in? It begins 430 years after Abraham (v17) and it lasts until (v19) the Seed had come.

The Law begins at the mountain of Sinai and ends at the mountain of Golgotha.  That is the Law’s place….





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I was walking through our local shopping centre on Thursday morning and I bumped into some friends.  We were chatting away and then the whole place went quiet.  For a second we were puzzled but then we remembered – it’s 11 o’clock.

So quickly we shut up and started remembering.  But for the next two minutes, the shopping centre was divided into two camps.  On one side there were lots of people bustling along, chatting away, oblivious to the time and its significance.  They were breaking the “silence” rule.

On the other side there were those who had remembered to remember.  And you know how they spent the next two minutes?  Glaring at passers-by, tapping their watches, pointing to their poppies and rolling their eyes to one another.  If they weren’t so resolved to be silent I reckon the tutting would have been deafening.

And so I wonder… out of those two minutes, how much time was spent remembering the sacrifice of others and how much time was spent feeling superior?

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s possible to simultaneously glare angrily at the rule-breakers and to remember our war-dead.  But I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of remembering done, even by the rule keepers.  And actually their zeal for the rules worked against the spirit of remembrance.

But, time and again, that’s what rules do.  They make you feel safe and they make you feel superior.

They make you feel safe because you’ve drawn a line and put yourself on the right side of it.  You’ve done your bit, you’ve played your part, you’ve ticked your box, and now no-one can touch you.  You’re with the in-crowd.  You’re not babbling away in the shopping centre, you’re with the moral majority.  Rules are so often kept as a way of distancing yourself.  When something is asked of you, or the world impinges on your personal sphere in some way, very often our reaction is, “No fair, I kept the rules!”  We feel like if only we play by the book we ought to be free from the claims of others.  Rules make us feel safe.

And rules make us feel superior.  Because now we can look down our nose at those on the wrong side of the line.  We can feel better than others.  There was a lot of superiority going on in that shopping centre on Thursday.  Lots of people kept the tradition of remembrance.  Few people followed the spirit of actually remembering.


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Good with food

Apparently 50% of anorexics go on to become bulimics. That’s only counting those who admit to bulimia.  And it doesn’t include all the other eating disorders “not otherwise specified” (which are the majority of eating disorders).  My guess is that disordered eating remains a problem for the recovered ‘anorexic’ in the great majority of cases.

Emma discusses why this might be so in “Starving and Stuffing: The Same Thing?”  It’s not that the disordered eater wants to be “bad” with food or weight.  They want to be “good”.  So telling them they’re being bad with food and now need to be good with food will certainly change their eating patterns.  The starver might well start stuffing.  But you’ve only changed the behaviour.

It turns out I can’t really address my issues with food and weight by focusing on food and weight. Something (or rather someOne) else needs to capture my heart.

Read the whole thing…

This links in with stuff I’ve been talking to Matt about.  When rules are the paradigm in which healthy / holy living is conducted then being surrounded by laws can go hand in hand with inner lawlessness.  When the law is driving the behaviour rather than something (someOne) bigger then “being good” turns into its opposite very quickly.


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Previously, Peter Leithart asked:

What assumptions about sex are behind the common opinion that the Song [of Songs] is only an erotic poem, only a celebration of human sexuality and marriage, full stop?

Jim Rogers of Texas A&M writes:

I think a part of the answer is this: Commentators (and many Christians more generally) come to the other parts of Scripture dealing with sex with materialist/anthrocentric assumptions, so why wouldn’t they do so also for the Song?

For example, we read Gn 2.24 as pertaining primarily to the type and not, first, to the antitype. But Paul doesn’t:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall be come one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

The first application is to the antitype – Christ and the church. The second application is the type, i.e., human marriage. (So, too, cf., 1 Co 6.15-20, although it’s a bit more blended there. Still, the focus is on the implication for our union with Christ.)

Even in the OT, there is far more extended discussion of idolatry as spiritual adultery than there is discussion of human adultery. But, still, we read the sex laws in the Law of Moses almost exclusively anthrocentrically rather than Christocentrically (or Yahwehcentrically, as the case may be).

This despite the fact that Christians know that the law reveals Christ first (Lk 24.27, 44). This means that the law on polygamy, the law on taking interest, the laws and theft and murder and etc., first reveal Christ – and I mean that it reveals to us the person of Christ directly (and his relationship with his people), not just stuff about the ethics for his people.

And don’t we see this in Moses as well? E.g., Exodus turns at the Golden Calf incident. But isn’t the bitter waters test in Nm 5 a development of the rite that Moses implemented in Ex 32.20-21ff?

Indeed, when we have entire schools of thought devoted to reading Moses with an eye to how the Law applies (or should apply) today to human relationships (whether approving Moses or disapproving Moses), why would you expect those same Christians to read the Song as anything more than a guide to human sexual relationships? All they’re doing is being consistent.

Read the post here.

That is wonderfully, brilliantly and 100% correct.


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Read Exodus 25-27

The goal of the LORD Jesus’ redemption was serving God on the mountain (Ex 3:12).  But when the people get to the mountain, they don’t go up (Ex 19:13b).  Instead priests go up a certain distance (Ex 19:22) and Moses alone goes all the way to the top.  But he goes on the people’s behalf (Deut 5:27).  In this he is like the Prophet-to-come (Deut 18:15ff).

But now that the people have arrived at the mountain, what are they to do?  Camp out at the mountain?  Well, no, there’s a promised land to inherit.  So instead, the mountain camps out with them.

The tabernacle is given to the Israelites as a kind of portable Sinai.  It has the Glory cloud at its heart (pinnacle).  It is stratified with places for the people, for the priests and for the high priest.  And salvation is pictured as the progression (ascension) from estrangement to the most holy place through sacrifice.

The mountain and heaven are very closely identified in Scripture (Gen 2:10; Deut 4:36; Psalm 15:1; 24:3; Isaiah 14:13; 2 Pet 1:18) and so on the mountain Moses receives the heavenly blueprint for the tabernacle.  It is expressly a copy of the heavenly perspective (Ex 25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8) – and so it stands at the heart of the old covenant, a picture of heavenly things, not the reality itself.  The shadowy nature of it was very clearly taught in the OT itself.

This is the layout:

Let’s think about the furniture first:  The NIV headings are quite helpful.  You’ll see from 25:10 that the first thing Moses was to build was the ark of the covenant (orange box on left).  Then (25:23) the table of the bread of the presence (orange box on right) and then (25:31) the seven-fold lampstand (to the south of the table).

Before anything else was – there was the Three.  Then, 26:1 – according to the pattern on the mountain, Moses is to make the tabernacle.

If time permits we may look at the materials in another post, but after these are described we read in 26:31 that a curtain is to be made which cordons off one section of the tabernacle from another.  And this curtain is inlaid with cherubim.

The last place we saw cherubim was at the end of Genesis 3, blocking humanity off from re-entering the presence of God.  Here this curtain cordons off the ark of the covenant.  And so 26:33; this divides the tabernacle into the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place.

Now, what do these things mean?  Well perhaps we should start with the Table of the Bread of the Presence.

Jesus is known as God’s Presence among the people (see Ex 33:14; Deut 4:37; Isaiah 63:9) and He is the Bread of life (John 6).  He is represented by the Table.

The seven-fold lampstand is equated with the Holy Spirit in Zechariah and Revelation. (See for e.g. Zech 4:1-6; Rev 1:4).

So we have, Christ, we have the Spirit – what about the ark – placed in the Most Holy Place?

Well Hebrews 9 (v24) tells us that the Most Holy Place represents the throne-room of heaven so we can safely assume that the ark of the covenant represents the Father – or at least His throne.

The curtain of the temple is the division that has occurred between God and humanity through the fall.

Since the problem is our estrangement from God, no wonder that the very next thing on the tabernacle-building agenda is the altar (ch27:1).  Only through sacrifice is the way back to the Father opened up. (See Mark 15:38).

One final piece of furniture to note – chapter 30:1 – the altar of incense (the yellow box).  This was placed before the curtain into the Most Holy Place and between the Table and the Lampstand.  In the bible this represents the praying saints (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8).  More on this in a future post.

So what do we have modelled here?  Here is the way back up the holy hill for sinners.  Naturally it’s a route that takes you through fiery, piercing judgement (Gen 3:24).  And it’s a route that only the consecrated and anointed Priest can make – but He does so on the people’s behalf, carrying them on His heart into the Presence of God Most High.

This multimedia presentation of the gospel was at the very centre of the law.  It  was very centre of Israelite life.  The heart of the law is a gospel presentation proclaiming the way to heaven.  When the law was seen as a way of us ascending into the Most Holy Place then we are dashed to pieces on it.  It brings only wrath and curse.  But when the OT Israelites saw the shadows as shadows cast by the great Light, they were led to the End of the law – Christ – and found mercy, righteousness and peace in Him.

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