Saturday 22 June 2024

It is finished

The influence of the written law and ability to condemn finishes with Jesus
Quite a while ago I used to work for something called the “West Midlands Regional Health Authority” (WMRHA). There came a time when I could see significant changes were ahead and sure enough about a year later, there was a big exercise which changed WMRHA completely. The total number of staff was reduced from around 1500 to about 350 and my division of 75 people was reduced to 6.

I, along with many colleagues, was made redundant. I went through a series of stages in this becoming a reality. I foresaw the change, I heard that change was planned, I went through the process of restructuring, I had a temporary Job which lasted 6 months, and then I was “redundant”. I learned quite a few lessons through the process – but those are for another time. As you can see, the experience itself was extended and taxing, and in the final 6 months each day seemed to pass slowly. I was confident that our family and young children would be alright and that everything would work out as the Lord had planned, but knowing what to do and how to “be” on each individual day was more challenging. Then, unexpectedly, there was the promise of a different future – one in which I worked for myself and used my experience and skills to a different end – the promise of something different. I now waited excitedly for the day on which everything would change and, in the end, it arrived!

On that final day my work with WMRHA finished. I no longer had any obligation to the Health Authority and in fact it was abolished soon after. I now worked under completely different conditions – I had my own company and anyone was free to hire me to do work for them. No one from my old employer could come along and tell me to do some work for them – they had no hold on me. Some of the rules, practices and experiences from my old job proved very useful but I now lived a completely different life – deciding when I worked and who I worked for.

I still remembered what it was like to be employed, but my new freedom cast a shadow back over those memories. The experience that I had, had been useful to get me to a place where I could work for myself, but there was no comparison between the two. I passed from a time of learning and preparation to a different life where I was using that learning and preparation to help others.

Now why am I sharing this I hear you ask? Well, it is because I have been reading through the New Testament again recently and a number of scriptures have made a deep impression on me – particularly in Romans, Galatians and Hebrews - which I have read in a completely new light. I am going to compare some of these scriptures with the story that I have shared above, starting with Romans 10:4: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”.

No half measures here! Its Jesus first, Jesus last and Jesus in between! The influence of the written law and ability to condemn finishes with Jesus. The bible tells us that in this new post-resurrection, Holy Spirit outpoured era, God will write His “laws” – inscribe His very character - on the hearts of every follower of Jesus. Hebrews 10:16: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds, I will write them…”

On the day I left WMRHA and began a new life, my contract with my former employer ended. In the same way, on the day that we become a true follower of Jesus, our obligation to the law finishes. That’s not to say that my years of preparation were not useful – indeed they were very necessary. Similarly, Paul tells us in a number of places that the law from the Old Testament serves as an instructor – a teacher that brings us to an understanding of sin and its effects. Galatians 3:22-24 tells us that: 22 …the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

No wonder Paul in various books like Galatians “wonders out loud” on the page: “Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4 Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? (Galatians 3:1-4)

He takes them to task that, after being freed from the observance of special days, rituals and religious practices of various sorts, people in the Galatian church are being entrapped and their freedom torn away by false teaching:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God; you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favour with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. 12 Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

Paul even takes issue with Peter when Peter was ashamed to eat with gentile believers after some visiting Jews came from “Headquarters” (Jerusalem) He says: 11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, … 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? (Galatians 2).

Crooked Glasses
In Hebrews 10:1 the writer, addressing a then main audience of Jews (possibly in Jerusalem), is getting towards the end of his message setting out the way in which Jesus in multiple ways fulfilled the law and its signs and symbols. He illustrates his point in this way: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship”. The point is that a shadow is not the reality – it is merely an indication that a “reality” is present. Why live in the shadows when the Holy Spirit is here to reveal to us the reality? When I finished my job with WMRHA it became a “shadow” of the reality that I was then in. A useful reference point, a reminder of ways to do things, a resource, a good practice guide etc… But it was not my reality – it was a shadow of who I was in the past. Now I served a different reality and a different master. Hebrews points its readers away from signs and symbols and towards the reality – Jesus.

Jesus had good news for the Samaritan woman who had made a real mess of her life, also for all who seek to worship in God in reality: John 4:21-24 “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…  23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” It doesn’t matter who you are or where you worship. Now – and in the future - our Father in heaven will reveal Himself in spirit and truth – to anyone, at any time, in any place. Jesus taught us that humankind’s efforts to constrain the Godhead with our fabrications and attempts at wisdom would all be confounded. It’s characteristics such as child-likeness, humility, obedience, willingness to seek His face and repentance that commend us to the Father…

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that salvation was of the Jews because up until then the revelation of the scriptures had been in the main committed to them. Long before Israel or the Jews existed, Abraham received the news that God’s plan included all nations. Galatians 3:8 tells us that: … the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

This is a starting point for the gospel story, going through God’s revelation of examples and types and reflections of heavenly things shining through in the Old Testament – Paul’s “shadows” of the reality that came with the coming of Jesus. We can pick a number of vital points in the story of the gospel but one of the clearest assertions in scripture was from Jesus Himself – it marks an ending, a passing away, the dawning of a new age and promise. Summoning His last breath on the cross He declared: “It is finished”! and nothing was the same ever again! Glory to His holy name forever and ever…

Author: Chris Pearson

May God bless and enrich your life

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