This past Sunday, my sermon was about the old covenant the Israelites made with God in Exodus 19-24. I asked for people to text in questions they had throughout the sermon and I attempted to answer them at the end of the teaching. Due to time restraints, we only got through two questions, so I promised I’d answer the rest online. Below is a video of the sermon followed by all of the questions that were sent in, including the two I already answered verbally in the sermon’s Q&A time:
Q: Do we still need to obey the Ten Commandments?
A: Yes and no. In the context of the old covenant, no. For example, the 7th commandment is to not commit adultery. To say we need to follow this old covenant command is also to say we need to follow the old covenant’s penalty for this command, death! (see Deuteronomy 22:22 or Leviticus 20:10) So no, we don’t follow the 10 Commandments and their penalties. They aren’t our law, they were the law decided between God and the ancient Israelites. These laws are fulfilled in Christ (see next question for more), as they all pointed toward the new covenant, which is the covenant we now have. In this new covenant both Jeremiah 31:31-34 (from OT) and Hebrews 8:8-12 (from NT) tell us that the law in the new covenant will be on our hearts and our minds, rather than on stone tablets with its punishments therein. You see Jesus showing his authority over the Old Testament commands (including the Ten Commandments) in Matthew 5:21-48 when he teaches a heart-command for each of the “letter of the law” commands regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge/punishment, and loving our neighbor.
The reason I still say “yes” we obey them is because 9 out of 10 of them are repeated as commands in the New Testament, with the exception being the Sabbath command, which Jesus gives lots of clarity to in Mark 2:23-27 as the Sabbath had become such a legalistic ritual and had lost its purpose, which was for people to refreshingly draw near to God for an entire day.
Just know that when you are obeying them, it’s because they are written on your heart. Meaning: You are doing them out of trusting and loving obedience to Jesus, not because you fear a law-forced punishment if you don’t do them.
Q: I am confused about new covenant, “new rent contract.” How does Matthew 5:17 tie into this concept?
A: Matthew 5:17-20 are the key verses in understanding all of this. Jesus begins in verse 17 by saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He goes on to say that not the least stroke of the pen of the law will disappear until everything is accomplished and anyone who sets aside the least of the commands in the law will be least in the kingdom of heaven. So are you confused yet when we’re saying we aren’t to follow the law?
Two key points: The entire old covenant points to Jesus. He fulfills the old covenant the same way Disney World fulfills all the signs you see for Disney World on your drive to Florida. The sign that says “Disney World in 20 miles” with an arrow pointing south is not the destination! It’s just a sign whose purpose hasn’t been fulfilled yet. In this way, the old covenant law was never meant to be the destination. This is what Jesus is explaining in verse 17. He is the destination. He then goes on in verses 21-48 and gives examples of how he fulfills the law, examples of how the law goes from something legalistic on stone with a set of punishments for each command to something living and active that’s in our hearts. Jesus does not care about rule following, he cares about our hearts. In a great paradox, we find Jesus taking the law to a deeper level than any law-abiding Jew ever had to, while at the very same time freeing us from the weight of the law and the punishments that come from disobeying it.
The other key point is that the old covenant law, as well as the entire Old Testament is still God’s word. Just because the commands aren’t for us, nor are the punishments for disobedience or the rewards for obedience, doesn’t mean that it’s not God’s word. We are still to apply it to our lives. The eternal principle stays the same, but the application changes because our context is very different from the original audience’s. For brevity sake on this post, please refer to two previous posts I’ve done that help unpack this: Despite its oddities, why the Old Testament is still God’s Word to Us & Why the Weird Old Testament Laws Ever Existed.
Q: Honestly why don’t we do communion every Sunday when it is the holy day to rest and remember our Lord.
A: This is a great question. At Crossroads, we’ve decided to do communion when it best fits the sermon being given. This isn’t to say it has to be done this way. The Bible doesn’t give a clear command that communion needs to be done every single Sunday. Jesus just tells us to do this in remembrance of him, which we feel we are doing at Crossroads. Church tradition was to do communion every Sunday, but we don’t follow church tradition as prescriptive commands for us today. For example, the early church also had a giant feast called an “Agape Meal” as a part of their communion (they were mirroring the entire Lord’s Supper, not just the bread and wine portion). But we don’t see the Agape Meal as a prescriptive command for us to follow today, just because it was something done in the early Church. At Crossroads, we feel there’s a fine line to walk with communion. On one hand, one of the reasons we don’t do it every week is because we don’t want it to become a meaningless ritual for some (ritual isn’t bad, but it often has bad unintended consequences where people just go through the motions and it loses its significance). On the other hand, we don’t want to treat communion like it isn’t sacred and essential to church life. I always appreciate when people ask questions like this one because it’s good for us to be reminded of the priority communion and remembering Christ needs to have in our ministry.
Q: How can we be lights in our workplace / everyday lives?
A: In your workplace, this can be as simple as showing up early / on-time, being respectful to your supervisors and doing what they ask, working hard, not gossiping, and being an encourager instead of a discourager. You also should see your workplace as your mission field. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel while at work. Talk about Jesus with people. Allow Jesus to be a natural outflow of your life, just as the rest of the things you love in your life are. It’s not that you have to preach at people or tell them they’re going to hell all the time, but people should know you love Jesus! And it’s okay to ask people, “What do you believe about Jesus?” and just hear from people. You’ll find people often have more questions for you than they even do answers to that question. Show respect and you’ll typically be given it. If you are living out the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in your life, you will have created an optimal opportunity to speak about Jesus to your coworkers. Another way of framing it: just be their friend. Be there for them. Show them the difference between the love of Jesus and the world’s “drinking buddy” friendships.
At home, you can be a light to your family by showing them the unconditional love and grace of Jesus that he has shown you.
Q: How do we understand commands in the OT that we would now consider racist or sexist, such as that female slaves were not to be given a jubilee?
A: Remember that the Old Testament was given to a lawless people during a barbaric, lawless period of history. Developmentally, the Israelites were only going to be able to handle so much obedience in comparison to what they were used to culturally. In a way, God was being a “pastor” to his people by giving them commands they could handle, knowing where they were at developmentally. This isn’t a cop out or an excuse, it really makes sense when we apply it to contemporary case studies as well. If a man becomes a Christian at the age of 35 and he’s lived a worldly life up to this point: he smokes weed, he isn’t married to his girlfriend but has two children with her and they’ve lived together for years, but he also has children with two other women, his current girlfriend isn’t a Christian, he is severely in debt, and he also curses like a sailor, would a pastor drop all the commands of the Bible on him at once and tell him he wasn’t really a Christian if all of these things didn’t change overnight? In a similar way, throughout the Story of the Bible, and this is why it’s so important to understand the Bible as a continual Story that has a beginning and a very long middle that progresses slowly and builds upon itself, God gives more and more revelation of himself to his people as his people grow and develop. You see his commands pushing his people toward an ideal principle, without him giving them the ideal principle. But then later, let’s say in the New Testament, his people are pushed even closer to that ideal principle. So both slavery and women are good examples of this, where all of the commands in the Old Testament about slaves and about women were giving slaves and women more freedom and more dignity than the surrounding culture. They were steps in the right direction: toward God’s ideal. In a culture where men were seen as so much more valuable than women, this is all that could be expected to be followed. But God was creating a new culture, which takes a very long time. Then in the New Testament, you see even more freedom and dignity given to women and slaves than the surrounding culture (and much more so than was given in the Old Testament), again God creating an even newer culture and pushing his people even closer to his ideal. A great book on this is Slaves, Women and Homosexuals by William Webb, where Webb shows how God was always progressing women and slaves forward against culture’s restrictions on them, but how the opposite was true of homosexual relationships, where God’s commands restricted this behavior while culture was fine with it.
Coincidentally to this question: speaking of God only giving his people commands they could handle, the year of jubilee was never actually obeyed at any time in Israel’s history! Go figure!
(Click here to read Part 2: the rest of the questions that were texted in)