James Meehan - Does This Apply to Me?
James Meehan: Welcome to this week's episode of Switch Uncut, where we are tackling your questions about all things faith, the Bible, God, how to follow Jesus in our modern world. And something that hopefully you're aware of is the fact that we have been walking through Jesus's teachings found in The Sermon on the Mount for our weekly messages that play at Switch in real life and Switch online. You can find them on our YouTube page if you just check out the most recent video that was uploaded, that will bring you to the most recent week's message. Well, this most recent week we were walking through the portion in The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is taking the Old Testament law and pointing us to the character transformation it was meant to produce from the very beginning. It's this series of teachings that begin with, "You've heard it said, but I say". And so we spent some time talking about what that means and how we can interpret it, but naturally it led to a bunch of questions. And one of the questions that came up most frequently is exactly what we're gonna tackle today. So Caitlin, what is the question that we're wrestling with today?
Katelyn Caffrey: Yeah, I think that this portion of The Sermon on the Mount invited a lot of us to ask the question, so, okay, as Jesus followers, what the heck do we do with the Old Testament? Do we throw it out, are we still following it, like, what was Jesus doing in this part of the sermon and what does that do to inform us about what to do with the rest of the Old Testament and that old covenant law?
James Meehan: Such a great question. During my years as a nonbeliever, in the Middle school, high school, I didn't believe in God, my friends and I would get together before school and they would go through all of the different memes on a Reddit page that was designed to make fun of Christians and the number of memes that were based around pulling Old Testament Bible verses out of context and turning them in to these weapons to show how unbelievable Christianity is, there was a ridiculously large amount of those. And so I remember as a middle schooler and high schooler thinking that the idea of faith in Christianity and belief in God and trusting the Bible was almost just ridiculous because of the kinds of things that are found in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. Because it's in Old Testament where we get these laws about how eating shellfish is an abomination, how we're not supposed to wear clothing that are made of multiple cloths sewn together. So like the skinny jeans that are my favorite thing ever to wear that are a mixture of like denim and also I think like polyester or whatever the stretchy material is, wouldn't be allowed under the Old Testament law. And there's other things like that in the Old Testament where you hear these stories of horrible kings doing horrible things and it's like, wait, is that what we're supposed to do? Like, how is that in the Bible? And for me, it produced so many of those questions and it was evidence for me against the goodness of God or the trustworthiness of Scripture. But now obviously so many years later, my perspective on those difficult parts of the Bible has changed dramatically, especially on just the overarching goodness of the Old Testament has dramatically shifted because of the things that I've learned about how we can interpret it wisely. So I say all of that to say, I do not blame you for your questions, it can be incredibly challenging and confusing and complicated and for me to begin to appreciate the Old Testament has been a really long journey that I'm still going on and I'm still learning more and discovering more. So hopefully in our conversation, we can share some perspective and some ways of thinking with you that will help you as well navigate some of those difficult questions.
Katelyn Caffrey: That's good. When I was preparing for this conversation, thinking about this question, I did a quick little Google search...
James Meehan: Ooh, come on!
Katelyn Caffrey: About what Christians believe about the Old Testament.
James Meehan: Oh, I love this!
Katelyn Caffrey: Okay? So, let me read you what it says. It says most Christians believe that the old covenant, only the parts dealing with the moral laws are still applicable to us today. Some people believe none of it applies. Some people believe only the Jews are supposed to follow that stuff and we're scot-free, and still other people believe that all of it applies. So when I'm looking at these four different perspectives that it seems like not even Christians can agree on what the heck we're supposed to do with the Old Covenant law, help me navigate through that because it feels like we probably shouldn't be cutting and pasting until we get some sort of version that we want. But what's a wiser way to look at this?
James Meehan: That's so good. I think what you just said at the end is the thing that we first have to deal with, which is, are we basing our understanding of what the Old Testament application to our lives should be based off of what we want it to be, or based off of what it is that Jesus shows us?
Katelyn Caffrey: It's good.
James Meehan: So this is so important because the reality is, is that as human beings, there are certain parts of the Bible that we have no problem with. Cause like, yeah, no, I actually agree with that. So of course I'm gonna believe that or of course I'm going to practice that. But then as human beings, there are going to be parts of the Bible that we disagree with, that are challenging for us. And when we run into those challenging parts of the Bible, the most important indicator of how true we are when it comes to our faith in Jesus is how do we respond. Do we immediately just ignore it? Do we try to throw it out? Do we try to redefine it to mean what we want it to mean? Or do we actually go through the work of wrestling with that Scripture to understand. Okay, 'cause it could just be that at first glance, the way that you're reading it is not the way the author intended it to be read. Because what we've got to remember is that the Bible is God's word for us, but it wasn't originally written to us, right? It was written to a group of people who lived in different time, place, culture, spoke a different language. And so now, all of those cultural understandings and examples and metaphors and the differences in language have been adapted into English to help us as modern readers best understand what it is that God was doing then so we can understand how to live it out now. And so there are gonna be times where, why we have a disagreement or a struggle with the Bible is simply because we just don't know how to understand what was written. But then there are going to be times where even when we do the work of properly and wisely interpreting whatever that part of Scripture is, we still have a hard time with it because we just don't want to do it. And this is why the journey of being a disciple of Jesus is a journey of repentance, of changing the way that we think, of changing the way that we live, not based on what we want but based on God's will. And I think this is the thing that can be so challenging about the different conversations around the Old Testament, is that there are some times where people arrive at their conclusions because they've done really good and thorough research on what those words meant and how we're supposed to live them out. But then there are other times where honestly as Christians, we can just jump to the answer that we feel most comfortable with. And what we wanna do as followers of Jesus, as a Switch Movement, is we wanna figure out okay, what was God's intention here? What was the author trying to show us? And how do we live in a way that is most true to who Jesus has called us to be?
— That's really good. And how Jesus sets up that portion of the sermon is with this statement of like, hey, I haven't come to abolish the law, I've actually come to fulfill it.
— So Jesus isn't anti law, right? What's the posture that, like, what is Jesus doing in this part of the sermon, what's the posture that Jesus would take about the law and how can that help us figure out what to do with it?
— Yeah, I think that's such a good question because with that aspect of this portion, Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, "I didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it". So what does that mean? What He means is, I didn't come to throw out the law, I came to complete it, I came to show you what it looks like when the law is fulfilled, not just in what He says, but also how He lives. So what Jesus is doing here is He is showing us what the law was always meant to do. And this is what's so important because, unfortunately, we refer to the Old Testament, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible as the law. But honestly, what that comes from is the way that the Hebrew word was translated into Greek and then into Latin and then back into English. Because the way that most Jewish people think of the Torah is not simply this list of rules we're supposed to follow. They think of Torah as a set of teachings or instructions that are showing us how we're meant to live. And so even just the starting place is a little bit different because we think of laws that if we break them, we will be punished. But the starting place for them is a set of teachings that are meant to show us how to be truly human. Because that's what it means to be image bearers of God. That's what it means to be followers of Jesus as we're discovering what it really means to be human, how to live in the way that God intended for us to live. And so that's what the Old Testament law was all about, it's instructions given to the Jewish people to show them what true life looks like. And so these different restrictions and things that seem really complicated and difficult to us were meant to help those people develop the skills to become more God honoring, to become more loving to others. And this is what we talk about when we look at Jesus's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount is this list of you've heard it said, but I say. Not Him listing out a bunch of rules for us to follow just for the sake of following rules, what they are is there are a set of instructions that if we follow them, they will help us become more like Jesus, because life in the kingdom of God isn't about following a bunch of rules, it's about becoming more like Jesus. Now, we haven't yet answered the question, what parts of the Old Testament are we supposed to follow and which parts are we not, and we haven't answered it yet on purpose. Because that's the answer that a lot of people want to rush to. But before we can get there, we have to have a proper understanding of the Old Testament because if we walk backwards in time and we go to the moment when God first presents the law, the Mosaic law to the people of Israel, we've got to understand the context here. The context was that God had just liberated the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, they had been enslaved there for hundreds of years and even longer than that, they had been living there. And so these people were people of God that were separated from God, were enslaved in Egypt and then all of a sudden, God shows up, frees them in miraculous and dramatic ways, leads them into the wilderness, and says, "I'm your God and you're my people". So they've got to figure out how do we live as God's people? How do we live as slaves that were just freed from Egypt where the culture of Egypt was all about worshiping these false gods and elevating the name of Pharaoh and here we are being liberated by this God that we don't even know. It's what God was doing when He first gave the law of Moses to the Jewish people was saying, hey, I'm forming a special relationship with you, and a part of this relationship will be defined by the covenant that I'm making with you, this divine partnership, and with the covenant comes these lists of commands that are gonna set you apart from the surrounding nations, because I want you to be different, I want you to stand out, I want you to bear witness to just how different I am as your God. And so when we take a step back and we look at the context of the Old Testament and what it is that God was doing when He presented the law to the people of Israel, He wasn't just placing this unrealistic set of expectations on them, but He was offering an invitation to them, an invitation to be a special kind of people with a special mission to represent God to every corner of creation. This is what the law is all about, it was a way for these Israelite people to like actually relate to God. The way that I've talked about it before is that the law is a tangible way for human beings to relate to an invisible God. Because if we're meant to have a meaningful relationship with God, we've got to know how to actually live into that relationship. With a wife, I just spend time with her, I talk to her, I ask her questions, we go on a date once a week, I do the dishes, I do those things to show my wife I love her. Well, when it comes to an invisible God that we can't have face to face conversations with because he's not a human being like us, how do we show God we love Him? Well, He gave us a set of instructions to do exactly that and that set of instructions is the law. And so I think that that context helps us to put our understanding of the law in a more wise place so that we can then begin to move on to, what parts of it are we supposed to fulfill as followers of Jesus today?
— Yeah, I will say that understanding that context completely radically changed my understanding of the law and the Old Testament. I think that realizing that these were a set of instructions given to a people who had just been liberated from slavery is so beautiful and such a gift. I think about like me being thrown into a situation where I have absolutely no idea what to do with myself, and like the amount of like embarrassment and kind of like confusion and just like not great feelings that it invokes inside of me to be in a situation where I literally have no idea what to do or how to operate within that context, that's terrifying. I don't like that at all. And so what God is doing by giving them the law is eradicating that possibility and setting them up for success so that as they step into this new context, this new way of being in the world, they actually know what the heck they're doing. They're not just being thrown into the deep end and say, figure out how to swim, is an instruction manual that guides like, no, I got you. So I don't know that definitely completely changed the way that I looked at it.
— On top of that, it's just the idea that every step of the way that we've got to remember is that yes, this part of the Bible does have a lot of instructions, it does have a lot of commands, but when we think about the Bible, we can't just reduce it to the commands found in the Old Testament. Because the overarching context of the Bible is so much more than simply a set of rules we're meant to follow. The Bible is a story that leads us to Jesus and changes us to become more like Jesus. It's a story that started in Genesis with a good beginning and a loving creator. It's a story that unfortunately, ended up with us sort of like making everything go bad when we rebelled against God. But then God was relentlessly pursuing us and it was through choosing a man named Abraham and then through his family, forming a nation, a nation of Israel that God said, I'm gonna use you to bless the rest of the world. You're gonna be part of my plan to undo the damage of sin and rescue all of humanity and bring them back to me. And so that's the part of the story that the Old Testament law fits into, it's the nation of Israel that God is creating a special covenant with, with the set of instructions that goes with it.
— Yeah, that's really good. So if the law was always meant to help make us into the kind of people who love God with all that we are and can love people the same way that he's loved us, does it still do that or is there a different mechanism now?
— Yeah, and this is the great question. So what we've got to begin to now do is move into the next question, that actually was the first question which is, how does this apply to our lives today as followers of Jesus? And this is the thing that's important to acknowledge, is that when Jesus was teaching, He's teaching from the context of Him being a Jewish rabbi speaking to Jewish people. And so Jesus is beginning His ministry in the context of talking to the nation of Israel, God's chosen people that He had formed this covenant with. And Jesus is a Jewish man from the nation of Israel, so He lived according to the law of Moses because the law of Moses was given as the set of commands that went along with the covenant made to the nation of Israel. But then were things started to get a little bit messy in the early church was when non Jewish people, Gentiles, were putting their faith in Jesus and becoming Christians because then the question arose in the early church, just like it arises today, about okay, but like what part of the law applies to these non-Jewish people? Like should they have to fulfill the entire Law of Moses just like we do? Like, are they supposed to become Jewish or is there something else going on? And this is what so much of Paul's writings and the different letters of the New Testament are actually addressing this question, what part of the law is meant to be applied to non-Jewish people? And what we're going to find throughout Paul's writings is really the idea that the covenant that non-Jewish people have entered into is not the Old Covenant but the New Covenant. It is not the covenant that was made with the nation of Israel, but it's a covenant that Jesus made with all of humanity at the Last Supper and through His death and resurrection on the cross. And with this new covenant, He just issued a new command, one command; to love one another the same way that He has loved us. Now, this is the new command that defines the New Covenant. Now, does that mean that that's the only thing that we have to do? Well, maybe but this is where the rest of Jesus's teachings are so valuable because the rest of His teachings are sort of like adding flavor to what it really looks like to love others. To figure out what practices we can adopt, to become the kind of people who can truly love others because it's one thing to say you love others and it's another thing entirely to actually love others. And this is why in three out of the four Gospels, Jesus says to the Jewish people that He's talking to, the greatest command in the entire Old Testament is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and a second one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. When He says a second one is like it, He's saying, there's a second one that is equal to it. So just as important as loving God is loving your neighbor. And then in Matthew's version of this, in chapter 22, verse 40, Jesus says, on the entire law and the prophets, hang these two commands. So what He's saying is, these two commands summarize everything that's found in the Old Testament. So the entire Old Testament law can be summarized by two commands, love God and love others. And those are the two commands that then get reduced into a single command love others the same way that Jesus has loved us that define what it means to be a follower of Jesus for non-Jewish people, for people like the majority of us watching this video. So if you were to ask me, what parts of the Old Testament law apply to us? Well, I would say they technically don't because we're living under the new covenant. The partnership that God made with us as non-Jewish people is made based off of the life and teachings of Jesus. And so that's where we go to our instructions. Now, does that mean that things in the Old Testament don't apply to us anymore? Well, some of them absolutely do because everything that Jesus taught, He was pulling from His Bible, the Old Testament. When Jesus was teaching, the New Testament didn't exist yet. And so He absolutely pulls things from the Old Testament and He brings those into His teachings. And so it's not like always super simple or obvious but the reality is, is that this question is a question that has existed from the beginning, and from the beginning, it's something that we've been wrestling with. And so I just wanna bring it all back to what Jesus said at the Last Supper, John 13:34-35, A new command I give to you love one another. In the same way that I have loved you, so you are to love one another. By this, the world will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.
— Come on. It Sounds like the preeminent value in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is introducing in the Sermon on the Mount is exactly that.
— It's love. And what He's showing us through this part of the teaching is that the law showed us a way to love God more fully and love people more genuinely.
— Come on, absolutely.
— And that is what we are called to continue to do as followers of Jesus. So yeah, that's really all I have for this conversation, James. Thank you so much for helping us wrestle through that and if you guys have any other questions about this topic, Old Testament versus New Testament, Sermon on the Mount, what do we do with some of these topics, please drop them in the comments, let us know because we would love to talk about them on the show.
— Yeah, absolutely. Thank you all so much for joining us, make sure you like the video, hit subscribe if you aren't already, send this to somebody who's asking the question, what do we do with the Old Testament and we'll see you next week.
— Yeah, cool. Bye, guys.