In our catechism time this morning, my daughter read, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mat 5:17 ESV) Which raised a question from my son: Does this mean we should go around killing someone who disobeys one of God’s commandments? (He was referring to the many violations of the law for which the prescribed penalty, in the Old Testament, is death.)
The fact is, the words may change from person to person, but that has got to be, at the heart of it, one of the most common questions pastors get asked. Certainly I have been asked, over and over again, about why God says this in that passage, or why God commanded that in this passage, all of which gets at the same thing: now that Jesus has died on the cross, can we ignore the Old Testament?
As we talked about that and moved along in our catechism reading, my son next read Psalm 19:7-8, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psa 19:7-8 ESV)
The Bible here makes an astounding claim: that the Bible, meaning at that time the Books of Moses, revives, makes wise, enlightens and… [struggling to turn “rejoicing the heart” into a transitive verb, I came up with,] rejoicefulates. But my kids agreed that reading the book of Leviticus never has that effect on them: it never revives, makes wise, enlightens or rejoicefulates. “So,” I asked, “does this mean Psalm 19 is lying?” If the Bible, in Psalm 19, is lying then the situation is even worse than if, now that Jesus has died on the cross, we should ignore the Old Testament!
I explained to my kids this morning, what I have often tried to explain to others who asked similar questions, that the Bible never fails to accomplish what God means it to do; rather we fail to use it for what God gave it for. We must not ignore the Old Testament and Psalm 19 is not lying. Jesus said that He came to “fulfill [the Law and the Prophets]” (Mat 5:17). This means that the Law and the Prophets are about Jesus ultimately: what they talk about is ultimately fulfilled in Him. Those obscure passages about procedures for offerings in the Tabernacle—they have a purpose which, if used for that purpose, will not fail to revive, make wise, enlighten and rejoicefulate the reader. Here’s a very quick example (I picked this passage at random to illustrate the principle):
” 8 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 9 “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. 10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. 11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.” (Lev 6:8-11 ESV)
What on Earth does this passage have to do with Jesus? How in the world can this passage rejoicefulate the reader? There is much more that can be said about these verses, about the historical situation and original intent of the author, but even on the surface we understand that the way in which one attempts to approach and worship God is of the utmost importance. Why? Because God’s holiness is such a weighty reality, He cannot be treated casually. We cannot worship God on our terms. Proper worship, that takes His holiness seriously, must always be on God’s terms. We learn at least that much from considering Lev 6:8-11. So what does this have to do with Jesus? He ultimately fulfills this passage. Jesus is what the burnt offering was only a type of; Jesus is also the ultimate High Priest of which this priest is merely a symbol. Moreover, God’s holiness is still so weighty a reality that if we try and worship God on our own terms, He will kill us.
Proper worship of God must not be on our terms but on His terms. And the only way He has appointed by which we can approach Him and draw near to Him is through the offering and priesthood of Jesus Christ. When we read about instructions for offerings, we should be reminded that there is only one way to worship God. When we read about the many laws for which the penalty for violating them was death, we are reminded that we deserve death. When we get up from reading such passages, we should not say, “Oh no! That’s serious! I’d better get serious about trying to obey all these commandments!” No. When we read such passages, we should say, “Oh no! That’s serious! I’m guilty of so many crimes against God’s holiness that I’m dead if He doesn’t save me! I need a Saviour. I need Jesus.” Then, when we turn from conviction for our sins, to consolation in the cross of Christ, then, glory to God!—then, we are revived in our souls, made wise, enlightened in our eyes and understanding, and, yes, rejoicefulated.