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Refuge REFLECTIONS 8-27: Law & Life

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As I write this, my dog Shelley is impatient; the little Welsh Corgi is convinced that it is, indeed, suppertime. I, however, am fully convinced that it is NOT suppertime. Now, I won’t tell you what time it is, or what time suppertime is supposed to be, but let’s just say the obvious: only one of us is right.

There are a lot of times – indeed, most times – that two parties can’t possibly BOTH be right. We could all think of a few exceptions to this, but many issues are like math: 2 +_ 2 = 4, or 2 + 2 = 5. It can’t be both. If one is true, it negates the other, which brings us to the headline news I stumbled onto this week.

Now, I don’t always agree with the Pope, as I’m not a Catholic, but he apparently caused a stir this week during a homily, when he stated that “the law (Torah) however does not give life. It does not offer fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it… those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfillment in Christ.”

I don’t always see eye to eye with the Pope, but when he says something so definitively biblical, I’ll trumpet that!

Israeli rabbis have sent a letter of inquiry and made complaints, suggesting this damages Catholic Jewish relations. They allege it is contemptuous language and “presents the Christian faith as not just superseding the Torah; but asserts that the latter no longer gives life, implying that Jewish religious practice in the present era is rendered obsolete.”

However, it’s important to point out that the Pope is only paraphrasing what Christian scripture says in the New Testament: Hebrews 10 tells us “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” Galatians 3 states “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law… our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…”

We could go on and on with more verses from the New Testament, but the reality is that it asserts the law doesn’t just “no longer give life” but indeed it never did, and thus Jewish practice in the present era IS obsolete, because of the Jew named Jesus and the Jewish disciples who proclaimed to the world that Christ had fulfilled the law of Moses. Now, if this upsets Israeli rabbis, it’s understandable… but to feign surprise, or suggest the Pope should speak otherwise seems disingenuous. These are intelligent men. Their complaint is that the Pope’s words suggest Jewish religious beliefs are “rendered obsolete” by this teaching, but suggesting the Pope (or any Christian person) recant such beliefs effectively renders the New Testament – Christian beliefs – obsolete. Or to put it in simple terms:

They can’t BOTH be right.

Either we are saved by our lawkeeping, or we are saved by Jesus Christ. The very words of scripture make this exclusive: one or the other. And frankly, that’s why on Sundays we’ve been engaging testimonies from Jews in the present era converting to the good news of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2 proclaims “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 ordinances, 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 the hostility.”

I pray this current kerfuffle causes more conversation about just how Christians differ in terms of how the Old Testament scriptures point to the promised Messiah, revealed in Jesus Christ. Praying for more people to hear – and respond to – the good news of Jesus Christ around the world should be a goodly portion of how we spend our prayer lives, and Sunday we’ll hit the pause button on our Exodus series to do focus on prayer, and invite each person to take a spiritual inventory of their prayer lives – strengths and weaknesses – as we move into the fall together. We’ll also have time after church service to share food, fellowship, and faith with each other and our friends from Life in Christ Ethiopian Church. That’s right! Barbecue and Ethiopian cuisine to share and bring August to a close.

And lest anyone think I started this with a parallel of me and my dog to suggest any degrading parallel about the two parties in conflict, let’s be clear: it’s 6:30 and the one who’s actually right… is Shelley the dog. I’m the one who’s wrong in this case, and I’ve got to go give her her supper. Sometimes God uses foolish things to shame the wise, and we need to be humble enough to see the truth.

Grace and peace, Refuge and friends! Hope to see you soon,

  • Pastor James