Opening Up the Bible
5. The Law
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cambridge ON
Sunday May 198 2008
-Read Ten Commandments story
from A Child's First Bible by Kenneth N Taylor
(Tyndale House Publishers, 2000. Pages 54-55).
-[Explain picture: Noah holding stone tablets...]
-These stone tablets were very important
to God's people.
-So they made a special box
called “The Ark of the Covenant”
to keep the stone tablets safe.
Show picture from The Lutheran Handbook (Augsburg Fortress 2005) page 184.
-Not allowed touch the box
Like wearing gloves so not touch the Stanley Cup
but even more so – it was that special!
-I'm going to say more about the Ark of the Covenant in the sermon....
Hand outs for Bible books.
Prayer thanking God for love and asking help to live as God would like.
means so much to Jews
that the longest chapter in the whole Bible
is a love-poem to the law.
-It's length, alone bears witness
to Judaism's love for the Law.
-Turn with me in your worship books
to Psalm 119.
-The psalms are just before the hymns....
-First notice that Psalm 119 takes up 6 pages!
-Then you'll notice that there are little red headings,
consisting of single, unrecognizable words.
are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
-All 8 verses in each of the 22 sections
begins with the Hebrew letter for that section.
-It's an acrostic poem,
but uses the entire alphabet,
-Each verse uses a synonym for the Law.
-In Psalm 119, the Law is called:
teaching, decrees, and ways;
commandments, statutes, and righteous judgments;
word and promise.
-These many synonyms begin to give us an idea
about the various functions that the Law holds
the Law consists of not just the 10 commandments,
but “the totality of God's written instructions.”1
-It's a “reliable guide for living”
that enlarges one's understanding.
the Law channels God's love, wisdom, and new life.
-God's Law is like channel markers
to keep one safe.
-God's Law gives Jews their identity.
-In the First Testament,
there are more than 600 laws from God,
but chief among the laws
are the Ten Commandments,
which are considered the basis
for all the other commands.
-And because it was God who wrote the
Ten Commandments onto two stone tablets
and gave them to Moses,
these stone tablets became important to Judaism.
-”Because of their importance,
a special box
known as the Ark of the Covenant, or Covenant Box,
was built to hold the stone tablets
on which [the Ten Commandments] were written.”2
-The Covenant Box,
lined inside and out with pure gold,
was kept in the Tent of the Lord's Presence,
the Tabernacle where the Hebrew people
gathered for worship.
-Just as Psalm 119 about God's Law
is the longest chapter in the Bible,
“descriptions of the tabernacle
make up the largest subject in the Bible.”3
-The people were so supportive and enthusiastic
about the building of the tabernacle,
that they had to be restrained
from giving too many offerings!
-Now that's such a wonderful problem
that I'd like you to turn to Exodus –
the 2nd book of the Bible –
and read along with me from chapter 36, verse 2:
2 Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill [in the construction of the sanctuary], everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3 and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.4
-The amount of effort, love, time, and personal offerings
poured into the Tabernacle
to house the Ark of the Covenant,
bear witness to its centrality in early Judaism.
-People support generously
what they love, value, and cherish.
-As the Hebrew people travelled from Egypt
to the Promised Land,
they carried the Ark with them.
-Whenever they camped,
the Ark was set at the exact centre of their camp,
with their tents radiating out from that
-The placement of the Ark
reminded God's people about God's central place.5
-When their 40 years in the wilderness is finally over,
Moses' successor, Joshua,
leads the people across the Jordan river
into the Promised Land.
-And they're preceded by the Ark.
-Details of that crossing
are given in Joshua chapter 3 beginning at verse 2:
2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, 4 so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits [that would be about a kilometre or half a mile!]; do not come any nearer to it.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 6 To the priests Joshua said, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on in front of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went in front of the people....
[Then continuing at verse 14...]
14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. 6
-This is a kind of second Exodus –
a second crossing through the Red Sea
as they had done 40 years earlier,
led by Moses.
-Yet again, the waters are parted
and the people go through on dry land.
-One time in the Promised Land,
the Israelites were in a battle with the Philistines,
and the battle was going badly for the Israelites.
-So the Jewish elders suggest
that the Ark of the Covenant be brought
to the battlefield
to help them.
-The Philistines get wind of this,
and their reaction is recorded in I Samuel chapter 4,
beginning part-way through the 6th verse:
When [the Philistines] learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”7
-The Philistines fight doubly hard,
and in spite of the presence of the Ark,
Israel is defeated,
and the ark was captured.
-I Samuel, still in Chapter 5, tells a fascinating story
about what happened when the Ark was put into
the house of Dagon, the god of the Philistines:
1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.8
-As a result,
the Philistines send the Ark back to Israel!
-Later, when David became King,
he wanted to move the Ark
into the centre of the capital city,
to be a focal point for God's people.9
-When David's son, Solomon,
built the marvelous Temple,
it was to house the Ark of the Covenant.
-In a later war with the Babylonian army,
Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed.
-And that's the last time the Ark is mentioned
in the Bible.
-Many scholars believe that the Ark was destroyed
along with Solomon's Temple,
but others hope it survives
and will someday be found.
-The action series “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
is based on that hope.
-The Ark of the Covenant
contained the two stone tablets
on which God had written the Ten Commandments,
the basis for Israel's more-than-600 laws.
-In comparison with laws from other countries at that
God's Laws made a considerable advance.10
Old Testament laws have greatly influenced
our laws today.
-Some of the remarkable features of God's Laws:
-People mattered more than property.
the Bible does not require the death penalty
for crimes against someone's property;
and slaves were to be treated as human beings.
-This was not true of many other legal codes
at that time – and still isn't today.
-Another remarkable feature of God's Law
is that it sought to limit retribution and revenge.
-That was the purpose of the “Eye for an eye
and tooth for a tooth” law.11
work against the establishment of a class system,
and offer protection for the poor and the weak.
-Many of God's laws seek to redistribute wealth,
so that all have enough,
and no one has too much.
- “God's rules were intended to form a nation of compassionate, consistent, fair-minded people”
who act lovingly toward the neighbour –
and “particularly toward those in need.”12
-Because God is loving, kind, and merciful,
God's people must be too. Amen.
Hymn 722: O Christ, Your Heart, Compassionate
Sending Thought: Law Isn't Enough
-Today's sermon presented the Law
from a Jewish point of view.
-Now I want to speak about a specifically
Christian and Lutheran point of view
regarding the law.
-St. Paul in Romans 7 startting at vs 15, says: (GNT)
15 I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.16 Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. ... For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it.19 I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do....
21 So I find that this law is at work: when I want to do what is good, what is evil is the only choice I have.22 My inner being delights in the law of God.23 But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body.24 What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death?25 Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ! 13
-Paul is saying
that he wants to follow God's law,
but he just can't seem to do so.
-And this is the big problem with the law:
it can tell us what is right and wrong,
but it can't help us to do right and avoid wrong.14
-So it's fascinating to see how Jesus himself
understood this concept and used it.
-In the well-known story
of the woman caught in adultery,
“Jesus preached law
to those who were ready to stone the guilty woman.”
-Jesus pointed them to their sinfulness,
saying that one without sin
should cast the first stone.
-But “to the woman [caught in adultery],
Jesus spoke only gospel:
'Woman, where are your accusers?
Has no one condemned you?'
When she answered 'no one,'
Jesus continued, 'Neither do I condemn you.
Go and sin no more.'
- “The woman knew her sin;
there was no need to load on the law....
Jesus offered the gospel
as a power for new life.”15
-Law can't give us power for new life;
only gospel can do that!
-And that's why God in Jesus Christ
came to earth in a second covenant:
to do for us what the law rightly required,
but what we are unable to do ourselves.
- - - - - - - - -
-On a different topic.
-Many of you will likely have heard
that on Friday evening,
a man in a same-gender marriage
was ordained at an ELCIC congregation in Newmarket:
Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
-Normally only bishops ordain.
-But this ordination had to take place
without our bishop,
because current church policy denies ordination
to self-declared practising homosexuals.
-This ordination followed the practise of the
that bishops are not required for ordinations.16
-Bishop Pryse was interviewed on CBC radio's
“As It Happens” last Thursday,
and it gives a good overview of the story .....
Available on the Internet: http://www.cbc.ca/radioshows/AS_IT_HAPPENS/20080515.shtml
Click on “Part 1”.
Bishop Pryse' interview starts at 9 minutes and 4 seconds.
The Benediction follows ....
1The Student Bible with notes by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford, NRSV. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids Michigan 1994 and 1996. “A Love Poem to God's Law” page 631.
2Cheryl Perry, The Story of the Bible: How the World's Bestselling Book Came to Be, editor Alyson Huntly. Wood Lake Books, 1998. Page 9.
3Yancey and Stafford, page 117.
5Yancey and Stafford, page 115.
6Joshua 3.2-6 and 14-17
7I Samuel 4.6b-9
8I Samuel 5.1-7
9II Samuel 6
10This section thanks to Yancey and Stafford, page 143.
12Yancey and Stafford, page 143.
13Romans 7:15,16, 18b, 21-25 (GNT)
14Book of Concord Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article II. The Law: the law was given by God first of all to restrain sins by threats and fear of punishment and by the promise and offer of grace and favour. But his purpose failed because of the wickedness which sin has worked in [us].... the chief function or power of the law is to make original sin manifest and show [us] to what utter depths [our] nature has fallen and how corrupt it has become.”
15The Lutheran, May 24, 1989. “Since You Asked: Give me law and Gospel” by Norma and Burton Everist. Page 40.
16Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (page 324). Minneapolis: Fortress Press: “Therefore, as the ancient examples of the church and the Fathers teach us, we should and will ordain suitable persons to this office ourselves. [The first ordination conducted by the Wittenberg reformers in Wittenberg took place on 20 October 1535.] They may not forbid or prevent us, even according to their own laws, because their laws say that those who are ordained even by heretics should also be regarded as ordained and remain ordained. [Gratian, Decretum I, dist. 68, chap. 1; III, dist. 4, chap. 107.] Similarly, St. Jerome writes about the church at Alexandria that it had originally been ruled by the priests and preachers together, without bishops. [For the references see SA II, 4, 9.]”