IF YOU HOLD TO MY TEACHING
To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’ (John 8:31)
Jesus’ promises often came with a condition. “If you do this…I will do that.” In this instance, being a disciple of Jesus is only possible if we hold to His teaching. In other words, as we have already come to understand, we can only learn to be a follower if we are in the yoke with Him, in close association with Him and learning to “plough a straight furrow” like a young ox learning from an older one.
The first question we must answer is, “Did Jesus change the rules in the New Testament?” Why does what He taught seem so different from the laws of the Old Testament? Did He do away with everything God taught His people before He came, and set up a whole new set of teachings for us to follow? Remember that He said:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfil (Matt. 5:17).
Did He mean that by fulfilling the requirements or the Law and the Prophets, they are no longer applicable to His followers? He certainly did not mean that God’s Word as recorded in the Old Testament, is longer valid. That cannot be because God’s Word is a revelation of who He is, and He does not change.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt. 5: 18).
If Jesus did not do away with the Law by fulfilling it Himself, what did He do?
First of all we must remember that the essence of God’s character is love. Everything He taught His people to do was the fleshing out – the practical application – of the two greatest commandments.
‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matt. 22: 36-40).
However, over the centuries, the great rabbis of Israel gradually added their interpretations of God’s teaching and created an ever-increasing set of instructions (called the Talmud) to help God’s people understand what He meant by His Laws and to protect the people from inadvertently misunderstanding (so they thought) and misapplying what God wanted from them. These interpretations and restrictions gradually overtook God’s original intention to teach His people to fear the Lord and to treat one another with honour and respect.
The Law with its additions became a noose around their necks rather than a way of life that expressed God’s love. Jesus’ intention was not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” but to peel off all the man-made additions and take His people back to the way God wanted them to live.
Jesus was constantly bumping up against the religious leaders in His attempt to show His people what God meant by His teachings (Torah). Their focus was on strict adherence to the letter of the law to the exclusion of love because they wanted the people to applaud them for being “holy”. They were more concerned about what the people thought of them than what God thought of them.
Jesus expressed His love for people, especially those whom the Pharisees held in contempt, by treating them with compassion, not judgment. He called Matthew, a despised tax collector, for example, to follow Him. Matthew was obviously a wealthy man from his dishonest extortion of money from his people. He made a banquet for Jesus and invited his unsavoury, outcast friends to the party. The Pharisees were outraged. Didn’t Jesus know who these people were? How could He mix with them?
Jesus heard them complaining to His disciples.
On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (Matt. 9: 12-13).
Did you get the point? He was quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures. God had spelled it out to His people in Hosea’s day – mercy, not sacrifice.
Jesus bumped into the Pharisees again soon afterwards. They were on His trail because His disciples had picked grain and rubbed it in their hands on the Sabbath. How could Jesus allow them to do that? Didn’t He know that they were “breaking” the Sabbath, according to their superimposed laws?
Once again Jesus tackled them about their attitude. God did not judge people in the Old Testament for ignoring His rules when they were hungry (read Matt. 12:1-6). He concluded with this accusation:
If you had known what these words mean: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent (Matt. 12:7).
No, Jesus had no intention of abolishing the Law. He came to show His people what God meant from the beginning and to put them back on the road to loving God and their fellow men by showing them how to love. When love is the motivation of our lives, we don’t need rules because love will always express itself through mercy.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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