Tuesday, March 03, 2015

God's Law and the Crowd-Thinning Words of Jesus (Part 2)

Wow, do I love the gospel!  The good news!  When Jesus was born, a scene appeared in the countryside in which "a multitude of the heavenly host" was praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

Who had "goodwill toward men"?  God did!  And what "peace" was this? God's peace! (Rom 5:1, 10:15, Eph 6:15).  In Christ, God would be reconciling people to Himself, not counting their sins against them (2 Cor 5:19), and anybody ("whosoever") could receive all of this as a free gift, by God's grace, through faith (John 3:16, Rom 3:22).  What's revealed in the gospel is God's very own righteousness given as a free gift to sinners - not through anyone's law-keeping or good works (Rom 1:17, 3:21, Eph 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-7).  That's the gospel! That's the good news!

As I mentioned in Part 1 (please read it before reading Part 2), God's good, holy and just law is not the good news, although it did have a lofty God-ordained purpose.  The law's purpose was to minister death, bondage, guilt and condemnation.  Anytime death, bondage, guilt and condemnation is produced, that's not good news!

So why is it that Jesus, whose coming was highlighted with a trumpeted declaration of "good news," is often found speaking to people with words that don't sound like good news at all?  If Jesus said He didn't come to condemn people but to save them (John 3:17), then why did His words often bring condemnation upon people?  If the good news is that sinners gain a righteousness that is a free gift by grace through faith, and not at all according to their own good works or law-keeping, then why did Jesus raise the bar and call for even greater works than the law called for as a means of people gaining entrance into the kingdom of heaven? We'll get to that.

But first I'll ask a few more questions that will hopefully spark our thinking about why Jesus said the things He said.  Was it was actually the gospel that Jesus was preaching in these crowd-thinning sermons that caused many people to turn away and leave.  When He said "cut off your hand" and "pluck out your eye" if they cause you to sin, and when He warned of hell fire in the Sermon on the Mount, was this in line with the angel's prior declaration of good tidings and great joy?  In saying, "Your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, or you won't enter the kingdom of heaven," was Jesus delivering the message of the gospel?

Have you ever considered or wondered about these things?  Has it ever occurred to you that these particular words of Jesus were not good news.  They were not the gospel.  So what did Jesus mean to accomplish with His "bad news" words?  If the gospel is good news, and God's intention was to draw sinners to Himself and save them, not according to their works and law-keeping, then why did Jesus speak such hard words to them about their works and law-keeping that ended up driving them away?

The Bible says that Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law..." (Gal 4:4)  Jesus first had a ministry to those who were under the law.  This ministry to the Jews - those under the law - was a law ministry.  It wasn't a "good news" ministry.  Jesus was using the law with law-people for the very purpose for which the law was intended to be used.  Romans 3:19 says that the law speaks to those who are under the law, for the purpose of 1) stopping their mouths and 2) making them guilty before God.

In His ministry to the people of Israel, Jesus not only taught the law but He put a magnifying glass on it.  He amplified it.  "You have heard that is was said... But I say to you..." (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-37, 38-39, 43-45).  "It's not just the act of adultery, it's looking at someone with lust." (Matt 5:27-28)  If those under the law thought they were righteous because of their law-keeping, Jesus was showing them just how unrighteous they really were.  His teachings brought out their guilt and it stopped their mouths!  He was preaching the bad news to them, showing them that the law was far more severe than they had previously thought.  These teachings weren't able to help them live right any more than the Law was able to.  He was actually making it even harder for people to enter into the kingdom of God through their own works.

One time Jesus told His disciples that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  The disciples reacted with great astonishment, saying "Who then can be saved!"  Notice that Jesus' words caused them to think that it's impossible for anyone to be saved.  After all, how possible is it, really, for a camel to go through an eye of a needle?  So the statement "it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" isn't good news.  It's bad news.

However... Jesus then adds something.  He says, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  The former declaration  - "this is impossible" - is bad news!  But when "it's possible for God" is added, it turns into good news!  Do you see it?  Light at the end of a very dark tunnel!  When a person comes to truly understand, through the bad news, that he falls short of God's glory and that it's impossible for him to save himself, it makes him feel hopeless.  But that all changes when he finds out the good news that what's impossible for him is possible with God!  The bad news points to, or leads to, the good news.

Can you see, then, that Jesus had good reasons for preaching the law to those who were under it, even when His ultimate aim was to get them out from under it?   Can you see why He preached the ministry of death and condemnation, even when He came not to condemn but to save and to give life?  We know that Jesus said He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and that's exactly what He did.  And all the while, we also see Him preaching it for the exact purpose for which it was given.

Part of the confusion regarding these particular words of Jesus comes from the fact that He didn't come right out and say what He was doing: preaching the bad news in order to show man his need for the good news, so they would repent of their self-righteousness and turn to God instead, by faith alone.  He let people (especially those who trusted in their own righteousness) go away sad, angry and confused, without filling them in on the grand scheme.  He left it to them to work it out in their own hearts.  But as we saw in Part 1, years later Paul did come right out and lay out the law's purpose in great detail, leaving nothing for us to guess about.  Paul helps us to understand why Jesus said the things He said.

So you can see from all this that we're not neglecting the words of Jesus.  We don't discard any of His words.  We don't run away from the words of Jesus.  To the contrary, we highly respect the words and the entire earthly ministry of Jesus, and we take His words very seriously.  To take His words seriously is to pay close attention to the context, to who He was talking to, and what His purpose was in saying the things He said.  Understanding the purpose for the harsh sayings of Jesus helps us to love and appreciate the gospel all the more!


  1. Joel, these (both parts) are excellent reading. I will have to read again. So full of mind broadening truth. What a Jesus! Thank you! I'm grateful to be able to still read your words outside Facebook :)

    1. Thanks Becky! Indeed, what a Jesus! Happy to be able to still connect with you outside FB as well. :)

  2. Thanks for going into that Joel! It is a hard teaching to read through without the context and the understanding you described, as Jesus didn't stop and explain what He was up to. But thank God the Spirit can guide us through the word to get the bigger picture. The impossibility as the backdrop making the gift of His righteousness so very sweet indeed.
    I caught myself asking God why do so many take the sermon on the mount as something to live by? But it was more phrased like why are so many believers seem to be under law? And I just felt the response immediately, why aren't you? And I felt very grateful indeed and more passionate about the message of His grace.

  3. Indeed Blake, it truly does make a person grateful to have the understanding that we're not under the law and that we've been set free to the ministry of the Spirit. The ministry of the law is death and condemnation, whereas the ministry of the Spirit is "bearing fruit to God."

    One of the reasons that I think so many people think that the Sermon on the Mount is for believers is because many people simply open up their Bibles and think that whatever it says is for them. They don't take the context into consideration. When they come across a hard passage, they either ignore it or sweep it under the rug and hope that they can get by, or they bear down and teach others that we're meant to keep it all. Such legalism and strife comes out of that! And a lot of self-righteousness as well. But like you say, I'm very grateful and I'm humbled to be able to look at passages like this in context, and know that Jesus' words were in many cases directed at the people of Israel, who were under the law, and that in many cases it wasn't the good news of the gospel that He was preaching, but rather the bad news of the law - which was to lead people to to the good news! :)

  4. Jesus frees us....today we have the Law bibbers who only hide behind grace lest they arr exposed as Law dealers in the American christian church. ..I believe one of the reasons men hide behind Law yet two facedly talk grace today is grace or Grace leads people to naked without shame..like Adam and Eve were....Grace leads to realness. ..vulnerability. ..transparency. This scares people to no end...being fake is comfy....all men will speak well of you. Etc...Grace leads people to freedom from the fear of man...Jesus frees us! john peter

  5. How do I connect with you? What Church/Denomination is this? I love your teaching. I Believe this is Truth. I have felt like this for years, that this is what Jesus meant.
    And what God wanted us to understand about all of this. No one in my family believes this way and I feel I have stood alone in my walk, well, except for the trinity and thats most important! Thank You for using your writing gift and putting this out here.

    1. Hi Debra,

      The things I write aren't associated with any church or denomination. I kind of 'cut my teeth' on this stuff when I attended a little non-denominational church for three years in the late 90's, but other than that it's not coming from any church or denomination.

      So I know what you mean about standing alone in this. I did for quite some time, and even to this day I still don't have many people close to me who see things the same way I do. I fortunately have 3 guys that I meet with weekly who are on the same page as me, and my podcast cohost is also local. The church that my family attends has also begun preaching more and more of this grace message within the last couple of years or so, so that's been encouraging.

      The good news is also that more and more people around the U.S. and around the world are catching on to this stuff. I hope for this to be "normal" teaching some day!

      There's a website that has a list of grace-based ministries that you might find helpful. These are either churches or ministries, and if you find one in your area you may want to contact them to see about connecting with others. No guarantees, of course, but this may help.

      The website is for Network 220, and if you go to the "Locations" tab you will find the list of ministries. Network 220 is based on Galatians 2:20.