Jesus and the Laws of the People

Jesus confirmed the Law and applied it situations that he encountered.

1. He promised blessings for those who are merciful.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matt 5:7).

The Mosaic law promised blessings, so it must be merciful. Therefore we must choose merciful interpretations over harsh ones.

2. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of gouging out eyes and cutting of hands.

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.
If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away (Matt 5:29-30).

Jesus was using expressions from the Mosaic laws to make a dramatic point, but he did not expect his disciples to take these expressions literally. We should take a similar approach to interpreting the Laws for People. Harsh physical actions are for emphasis, not for implementation.

3. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus distinguished between the laws given to Moses and local sayings.

You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you, love your enemies (Matt 5:43-44).

Much of what they had heard about the law was not in it. The law did not command them to hate their enemies. Jesus taught them what they really said. Unfortunately, many Christians interpret the law as if it required us to hate our enemies. We must treat those who have harmed us with love not hate, so our interpretation and application of the law must be consistent with love

4. Jesus explained that the Teachers of the law did not understand God's law.

Their teachings are merely human rules (Mark 7:7).

Most Christians have an understanding of the law that is the same as these teachers so they have distorted it with human rules. Jesus wanted an understanding of the law that was totally different. We should avoid the traditions of these men (Matt 7:8).

5. Jesus confirmed the three step process for settling disputes outlined in the law (Matt 18:14-17).

  1. Show the person their fault
  2. Take witnesses to the judge
  3. Tell the community

If they refuse to accept the decision of the judge, and moral pressure from the the community to put things right, exclude them from the community (treat as a pagan).

6. Jesus explained that the interpretations of the teachers of the law were an obstacle to the kingdom of God.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to (Matt 23:12).
Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52).

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees got the law wrong and closed off its insights into the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom needs laws, so people who are interested in the kingdom will need a different approach to the law. Jesus gave the key to the Kingdom to his disciples.

7. The Sabbath had become a problem in Jesus' time.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

The Jews thought they understood the Sabbath. The only hard part was deciding on the definition of work. Jesus had a radically different and more gentle interpretation of the Sabbath. The same applies to the law. The law was made for man, and not man for the law. Jesus interpreted the law in a way that made life better for people. It was very different from the miserable and mean interpretation of the Teacher of the Law.

Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers (Luke 11:46).

Interpretations of the law that place an impossible burden on people are usually wrong.

8. Jesus said that loving our neighbour was the second most important commandment.

The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself (Matt 22:39).

Love of neighbour is the heart of the law, so applications of the law must be based on love of neighbour. Therefore, we must read the law through the lens of love for our neighbour. The word neighbour extends to everyone in our community.

9. The parable of the Good Samaritan was a message about understanding the law. The Priest and the Levite complied with a strict interpretation of the law, but they did not understand it. Jesus exposed this problem, but we continue to accept a Jewish interpretation of the law. Those who seek the Kingdom of God, must apply the law in the same way as the Good Samaritan.

10. Jesus' new commandment was a modification of the second most important commandment.

Love your neighbour as yourself (Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39).
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:35).

The direction of love changes from "neighbour" to "one another". However, Jesus was not giving permission to stop loving our neighbours. Rather the gospel should so transform our society, so that our neighbour becomes a "one another".

11. Jesus confirmed the validity of the Law of Moses.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law..For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (Matt 5:17-18).

Jesus never suggested that Roman law was better than Moses' law. He did not prophesy that English law would be superior to the law for Moses. He did not promise that the US Constitution was better than Moses law. Men cannot create laws that are better than God's laws.

If Christians spent in the UK and America loved God's law as much as David did, they would have something to offer to the world.

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes (Psalm 119:97-99).

If Christians spent as much time studying God's law, as they spent watching political commentary on television, the world would be a better place.