Saturday, April 26, 2014

Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount

Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount


" 'Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot, or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled' " (Matthew 5:17, 18, NKJV).


On Sabbath's entry our lesson gives us an overview of the Sermon of the Mount and state there objective.  Let us read,


When most people think about the Sermon on the Mount, they automatically think of "the Beatitudes" (Matt. 5:1–12).  However, the Sermon on the Mount actually covers three chapters that have been divided into four sections. The Beatitudes comprise only the first section. In the second, Jesus compares Christians to light and salt (Matt. 5:13–16). The third, Matthew 5:17–48, is where Jesus gives us a new and deeper perspective on the law. And then there is the final and longest section, Matthew 6:1–7:23, in which Jesus provides clear teaching on Christian behavior. The whole talk ends with the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matt. 7:24–27), which stresses the importance of obedience to what God calls us to do.

This week we will investigate the third section, Matthew 5:17–48 (which theologians call the antitheses, cases in which sharp contrasts are presented), to see what it teaches us about the law.


The last sentence shows us what the premise and bias of our author: the Law is the Ten Commandments.  This is a premise we disproved two weeks ago (See  We concluded that the keeping of the Law is loving: God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.  It is laying down your life for them (1 John 3: 16).  It is living for them, at the expense of your own life.  This can only happen when God writes this principle in our heart.  This is God's covenant promise to us.  We read in Jeremiah,


Jer 31:33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.


This is the Gospel: good news.  Through the Holy Spirit Christ dwells in us, and while in us He rewires our minds and hearts to be more like His mind; in only we allow Him.  Hebrews 11 gives us a list of those who have allowed God to do this work in them.  This is to be an encouragement to us.


What we call the beatitudes are promises made to those who exhibit nine specific attributes of those who truly follow Christ.  This proves that God "…is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11: 6).  Christ is establishing a contrast between what HE is and stands for and with the leaders of the church are about.  He does not ignore or forsake those who suffer.  The reason He lets them suffer is twofold.  First, is to develop a righteous and loving character in the sufferer, and second, is that through the development and exhibition of this loving character others may be encouraged to trust God also.  His light shining through those who trust Him disperses the darkness of Sin in the world.  The light not only lets us know that we are sinners, but that God is love.  Salt gives flavor, preserves, and melts ice cold hearts. 


So, Christ continues to establish the contrast: "you have heard it say…, but I say…"  Remember who Christ is talking to.  He is talking to a people that believe that by obeying a myriad of ordinances from oral tradition as originated by well-known elders.  They believed that following these rules would lead to obedience of the larger rules.  Christ showed them that outward behavior was not enough.  What is cherished in the heart is Sin also.  We are born with it.  We inherit it.  And, only God can fix it.  Can a lustful man truly have grounds for divorce from an unfaithful wife, when he in his heart he has been unfaithful also? 


Christ continues by giving practical applications of how the life of a person who lives by faith will look like.  Still in contrast to the religious leaders of the day.  Christ finishes the sermon warning the people to beware false prophets.  He says that by the fruit you will know them.  Do not let their apparent zeal and piety fool you.  Many claim to be His, but are not (Matthew 7: 21).  This may be the brother sharing the pew with you, or the elder or the Pastor.  God may be using you to be light and salt in their life.  

Raul Diaz

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Commentary: Christ and Religious Tradition

Christ and Religious Tradition

Tradition is a long-established custom or belief passed on from one generation to another.  It is also the transmission of such customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.  In Christianity it is a doctrine not explicit in the Bible but held to derive from the oral teaching of Christ and the Apostles.  In Judaism it is an ordinance of the oral law not in the Torah but held to have been given by God to Moses.

Traditions may have had their purpose when they started.  There was a reason based on circumstances of time and place, but, that original purpose has long been forgotten.  This reminds me of two stories where something was done originally for a reason.  The next generation continued the practice, even when the circumstances that wrought the practice had change.  Story number one: a guard is placed by a garden for hundreds of years.  No one knows why.  Until one day someone questions the need for the guard by that garden.   An inquiry is ordered.  Only to find out the original guard was posted there to protect a flower that the princess - centuries before - was fond of the flower. 

The next story is of a woman who cuts the end of a link of sausage before she placed it in the frying pan.  The daughter asked why.  The mother said she followed what grandma did.  The astute child eventually saw grandma put the whole link in the prying pan.  So, she asked grandma, "Mommy cuts the end of the sausage before putting it in the frying pan, and said she learned it from you.  But, you do not cut yours."  Grandma started laughing.  She told the granddaughter, "The only reason I would cut them was because the frying pan was too small to put the whole link." 

In These two stories the traditions came from a real need.  Sadly for the Jews these traditions, costumes and rules came as a way of interpreting the Word of God which all had misunderstood.   Our lesson stated that the Israelites (Jews) found more than 600 laws in the Torah.  They believed that if these rules and traditions were kept faithfully, they would also keep the bigger laws.  To them only the perfect keeping of these rules and traditions would please God.  Their traditions were based on these more than 600 laws.  Ellen White tells is why these Laws were given.  Let us read the passage,

"If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}"

Paul says of Noah and Abraham,

Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Heb 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Heb 11:9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

Heb 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

Heb 11:18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:


If Noah and Abraham lived by faith then they pleased God.  No ritual or traditions were necessary.  So, what we have here is a competition between Christ and the elders of old; between tradition and faith; between God's word and the words of men.  This is what Christ expresses in this week's memory text – Matthew 15: 8-9,


Mat 15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

Mat 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.


Their myriads or oral ordinances did not bring them close to God.  On the contrary, it kept the Light away from them and others.  Because, Jesus often did not follow the ordinances they accused Him of being against the Law.  Jesus response to them was, 1. "I came to fulfill the Law"; 2. "You do not keep nor fulfill the Law." 


Could it be that we have fallen in the same trap?  Ellen White says,


The substitution of the precepts of men for the commandments of God has not ceased. Even among Christians are found institutions and usages that have no better foundation than the traditions of the fathers. Such institutions, resting upon mere human authority, have supplanted those of divine appointment. Men cling to their traditions, and revere their customs, and cherish hatred against those who seek to show them their error. … In place of the authority of the so-called fathers of the church, God bids us accept the word of the eternal Father, the Lord of heaven and earth. {DA 398.3} 


Let us say that the church makes a trip to the lake on the Sabbath day.  Everyone knows not to go in the water, and if they do, not to go beyond where the water is beyond your knees.  All of a sudden a deacon dives in the water and goes off swimming far into deeper waters.  Can you see the faces of disapproval?  Can you hear the murmuring?  The Elder – trying to assert authority – states categorically, "This is unacceptable.  What kind of testimony is he giving?  We will have to disfellowship him.  This kind of behavior should not be tolerated.  He has shown today what kind of Christian he is."  Everyone said, "Amen!" 


3 minutes later the deacon is seen swimming back to shore.  He is struggling.  He is dragging someone along.  Who could it be?  The elder's face fell and turned read when he realized that the deacon - the elder had just condemned - had saved his daughter.  No one, except the deacon, saw her drift away into the deeper waters of the lake - far beyond where the water hits the knee. Things are not always what they seem.  The intentions of the heart matter.  Needless  to say, there was no mention of disfellowhipping the deacon after that.  Christ said, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Mark 3: 4).

Raul Diaz

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Christ's and the Law of Moses

Christ’s and the Law of Moses

The introduction to our lesson states that the emphasis of the quarterly is the Moral Law, in other words the Ten Commandments.  But, the memory text for last week’s seems to downplay the importance of knowing these laws.  Why?  Let us read our memory text,

Romans 2:14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,

This verse says that it is possible to do the law, without knowing the law.  For the Bible student this should not come as a surprise.  As we read in Galatians 3:6, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  The word used for righteousness in Greek is the same word for justice.  So, that the righteous are just.  The just are doers of the law and they live by faith (Romans 1: 17; 2: 13).  Now, faith comes through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10: 17).  Abraham heard God’s word, Abraham believed it, therefore was reckoned a doer of the law.  Did Abraham know the Ten Commandments?  No, he did not.  Abraham knew the Gospel, but not the Ten Commandments.  These were not given more than 400 years after.  It begs the question, what Law did Abraham keep?

Even angels did not know there was a Law, until they learned it from God.  Ellen White says, 

But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8. {MB 109.2}

No one will deny that the angels are doers of the Law, but they were doers of the Law even when they did not know there was a law.  So then why was the Law given?  Paul says in Galatians,

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, …

Here the word added has a connotation of being spoken, declared.  The word transgression in Greek has a connotation of stepping aside the path.  So, the Law is declared because of our stepping aside the path of Christ.  This is clear in the following Ellen White’s quote,

“If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}”

What our quarterly intends to uplift was given because the people failed to cherish God’s covenant to them.  Anytime the 10 Commandments are lifted up is a reminder that the belief in the Covenant has been abandoned.  Should we then keep the Ten Commandments or the rest of the law hidden? 

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

When I was growing up a 15 year old had to wait until he was 16 to take the driver’s license test.  Should he hate the law because he is 15?  Or, should he wait a few more months until he turns 16?  Even those who are displeased with the law will likely wait until they fulfill the requirements.  What does the Law require?

“The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can ‘be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’ Rom. 3:26.”—The Desire of Ages (1940), p. 762

The law is a reminder that we do not believe God’s promises, that we are not keeping His covenant.  And, it is by believing the promises that we become righteous.  Since, the righteous are the doers of the Law, and love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13: 10), then it follows that by believing God’s promises that we become loving. 

Now, Jesus is very clear, He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5: 1).  However, being that Jesus is God, and therefore love, He is the fulfilling of the law.  He not only gave it or kept himself subject to it, He fulfilled it.  We need to add here that the word Law in the New Testament refers to the books of Moses.  Jesus said that these books, indeed Moses, spoke of Jesus (John 5:46).

The reason Jesus made Himself subject to the Laws, is clear on Wednesday lesson.  Although, the author of our lesson uses the story to push his own agenda.  Let’s read the passage in question,

Mat 17:24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
Mat 17:25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Mat 17:26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Mat 17:27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

This incident was a trap to discredit Jesus as much as was the incident with the adulterous woman.  Priests and prophets did not pay the tribute.  If Jesus did not pay they could accuse Jesus of being subversive.  If He paid, Jesus was saying He what the leasers were saying of Him was true.  Ellen White elaborates,

“ If Jesus had paid the tribute without a protest, He would virtually have acknowledged the justice of the claim, and would thus have denied His divinity. But while He saw good to meet the demand, He denied the claim upon which it was based. In providing for the payment of the tribute He gave evidence of His divine character. It was made manifest that He was one with God, and therefore was not under tribute as a mere subject of the kingdom.” (DA 434).

According to the author of our lesson Jesus gave money to the ungodly church leaders, therefore so should we.  But, Jesus did not give money from neither Peter nor Jesus’ pocket or from the purse that Judas held (John 13: 29).  .  He sent Peter to catch a fish, open the fish’s mouth take out a coin in the mouth and give it to the tax collector.  Peter could have kept the fish to eat it.  Also, the verse tells us why Jesus gave the money, “less they be offended.”  Jesus did object to giving.  But, He gave anyway to not offend the leaders, for whom He longed that they would accept Him as their Savior.  Jesus expression “less they be offended, reminds us as Paul when He wrote, to me all things are legal, but for the sake of the weak, I refrain…”  Offending the leaders, unnecessarily, would mean to place Himself beyond a place to reveal His love for them.  Again from Ellen White,

“While Jesus made it plain that He was under no obligation to pay the tribute, He entered into no controversy with the Jews in regard to the matter; for they would have misinterpreted His words, and turned them against Him. Lest He should give offense by withholding the tribute, He did that which He could not justly be required to do. This lesson would be of great value to His disciples. Marked changes were soon to take place in their relation to the temple service, and Christ taught them not to place themselves needlessly in antagonism to established order. So far as possible, they were to avoid giving occasion for misinterpretation of their faith. While Christians are not to sacrifice one principle of truth, they should avoid controversy whenever it is possible to do so.” {DA 434} 

We are to prayerfully pick our battles. 

Raul Diaz