THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD
THE NEW TESTAMENT LEADS TO THE OLD, AND THE OLD IS PERFECTED IN THE NEW BUT THERE IS NO ROOM FOR SHUFFLING
RATHER IS WISDOM TO BE FOUND IN ALL SCRIPTURE, THE ENTIRE BIBLE
Today, we shall look with care at Matthew 5:17-19, in which Jesus Christ characterises the law and the prophets, this collection of grace, this determinate assemblage of items. There is an intimacy between these two concepts: what we learn of GOD in revelation and what we learn of His REVELATION as an instrument, in the presence of God. God is near to His word, and His word is near to Him.
Is it not so also with you ? If not, I fear you have trouble! What then does JESUS CHRIST say here? and how is it to be conceived in the light of the often fanciful flights of men's minds, relative to what is in fact written. Concerned logically to see what the Bible says on this topic, but aware of psychological and spiritual and arbitrary thrusts to the contrary in man, let us then investigate the matter. Let us see the divine attitude and approach to the use of His word, and its coverage.
As we shall see, there is the utmost clarity in what Christ has to say. One reason why so many raise such needless issues as that of the word, is this: quite simply they do not like what it has to say. In one dimension, this relates to the judgments of the word of God. Let us look at some of them.
Is God - could it be that He is - one thing in the Old Testament and quite another in the New ? It has often been urged, not least by the ancient heretic Marcion, but often in 'modern' theology also .
Often the unbeliever will challenge a Christian concerning God as revealed in the Old Testament. What, he will ask, of Joshua and Canaan ? Was it indeed the God of love exhibited by Jesus Christ in the New Testament, who had a whole race condemned, whole populations destroyed; who added this to Saul's condemnation, that he had not killed Agag, king of the Amalekites: a people whom God had ordered destroyed, as a nation ? COULD this be ? WOULD love ever act like that, or ask such a thing as that ?
Now some take refuge in a not uncommon gambit. Oh no, they will say - Why of course not! We would not ACCEPT all that! Why, we are a New Testament Church!
A New Testament Church ... what an ambiguous term. At first it may impress. Here, you may well think, is a Church which will put first things first, one which is soundly grounded and founded on Christ.
But CHRIST firmly grounded things on the God of the Old Testament; and in the Old Testament Scripture, that part of the Bible already written in His time. What a strange move for a fundamental Church, you may well say, to follow AWAY from the Old Testament, this JESUS CHRIST... who leads right back to it. To depart from a city, you do not well to catch a flight TO it. Besides, you would not really move. The purchase of a ticket would be a mere show, or nominality; for such a flight on such a ticket, even if you took off at all, would lead only to the very office from which you took it out.
In the Old Testament, it is Isaiah who says:
TO THE LAW AND THE TESTIMONY! IF THEY DO NOT SPEAK ACCORDING TO THIS WORD, IT IS BECAUSE THERE IS NO TRUTH IN THEM (8:20).
In the New Testament, Christ Himself says:
Do not think I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:
I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I tell you, till heaven and earth pass,
one jot or tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commands,
and shall teach men so,
he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven:
but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).
You notice here from Christ's lips, the same inflexibility relative to God's words in the Old Testament, the whole law of God at that time, as He held for His own words: diction which He stated, also came from the Father. God's words forfeited in the Old Testament ? No. Further, not a jot or tittle is to pass from the law at all - there is an extra word in the Greek here for extra emphasis - no jot or tittle will at all pass from the law, from the BIBLE, till it is all fulfilled.
The tenor of this remark of Jesus Christ is an exclusive one, and in a different sense, an inclusive one: it is also a tenacious one and a majestic one. Let us look at all this.
It is EXCLUSIVE because it excludes any exception to the precious preservation and power of this law; it is INCLUSIVE because it thrusts out any compromise on this point: the law INHERENTLY AS SUCH is to be maintained, sustained as long as this earth lasts. The statement of Christ also has MAJESTY - or it exhibits majesty in God who gave the law - in this, that it secures the law beyond the dignity of earth itself; for more readily can earth pass than any part of the law fail or fall, lack consummation or fulfilment (cf. Jeremiah 31:35-39). This law to which Christ referred, has fallen from the very mouth of God, and as such will be maintained by His power and hand.
Yes, parts of the law of the Old Testament may by all means fail... provided the heaven and the earth fail first! This is the tenacity of this remark. Of striking relevance, however, is Christ's statement in Matthew 24:35 - that heaven and earth WILL fail, but His words will not pass away. Here the limit is extended still further.
The possibility that we might be looking for a place to stand with the universe flying away, and find the law of God not around, is there removed! -cf. Isaiah 51:6! EVEN WHEN - not IF - the heaven and earth pass away, GOD'S WORDS - BECAUSE GOD'S - will not fail. The creation, the cross and the consummation are all alike determined and pre-determined by God, whose word rules: when the world comes to be; when the crisis of the Cross comes; when the end shall be. As Isaiah says (46:10), God is the one who is "declaring the end from the beginning." This having been said, we note that Jesus deemed this statement as we have just put it, grammatically inadequate. He found it necessary to add a second negative word of further exclusiveness to demarcate this wondrous law, to define it in distinction from all other writing at that time. It shall NOT AT ALL fail, He said. We noted this EMPHATIC negative earlier; but now we add it in order, and in its place.
In the above thoughts, we note Christ's PRONOUNCEMENT on this subject. Now secondly, we see His APPLICATION. After the REVELATION OF THE FACT comes the APPLICATION OF THE RULE.
We read this in Matthew 5:19. THEREFORE, says Christ. Now you will note that. It follows, Christ states, that whosoever teaches and does the very least of these commandments - now He is quite undoubtedly referring to the Old Testament in the context, but how much more does it apply to His own words (John 12:48-50) - whosoever does this and teaches it, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. This is the area of discourse and this the arena of trial and test which He has specified. ANY point in the law is, broken, place for condemnation, says James: break one, break all, it is the principle implicit, the sovereign beyond. ANY really understood requires a heart in the Lord, without whom the words are like distant choruses or idle refrains, to the ungodly (cf. I Cor. 2:14) - or even less; and such an awakened heart has eyes, and a Lord, so that ANYTHING seen, means the whole scope of the commands lies open; so that in this way, the least is index to all, and all obedience blesses.(In Kingdom of heaven terms, of course, if one WERE to focus one and fail the rest, then any ONE of the rest mistaught and miswrought would in these terms reduce the operator to the least, at once, in view of the "breaking and teaching one of the least" provision. Moreover, this is IN the kingdom. As Jesus told Nicodemus, the way IN is by new birth; so that in these instances, what we are seeing is the way within, as operational, once inside the kingdom.)
That is, the LEAST of these commands, because spiritual, spiritually discerned, the very least taught and done, truly performed, is a straight avenue to being called great in His kingdom. When we see the world's opposition to them all, the commandments of God Himself, then we can begin to understand that statement of Jesus. Spiritually discerned, these spiritual commandments are performed by spiritual people. You will notice also, that Christ says - WHOSOEVER teaches and does this... the least of these commandments.
Thus not only is the LEAST of these commandments of such intrinsic worth as to have this extraordinary place, but WHOSOEVER does this least and teaches men so, shall be called great in His kingdom. This is the emphatic emphasised, the minute maximised: it is the majesty of the law of God, the intensity of the holiness of God, the precision of the utterance of God, vindicated: it is God glorified. It reminds us of Paul's words - that "the foolishness of God is stronger than men" - I Corinthians 1:25. The LEAST done and taught by WHOMSOEVER has this potency.
God's word tests and challenges and reveals: the very least command thus taken, thus has power. The most apparently inconsequential person doing and teaching TH1S is to be called great. The least person doing the least of these commands, and teaching so, is to be called great. How great is the greatness of God when His least commands, thus taken, do so much to the least of persons, have a result of such magnitude!! On the other hand, how great is the wonder of God when the greatest of men, failing here and teaching so, shall be called least in GOD'S KINGDOM. How vain is the following of man, when we consider the teaching of God! It is THIS which Jesus Christ taught, and we find written in this passage before us.
It is as if to say - Whosoever does this, now it does not matter who he is... Jesus could have said - 'He who' does this; but He said- 'whosoever', bringing out the point significantly. In other words, again, Jesus is dealing with a wholly over-riding concept: that of security, and certainty of retention and fulfilment of the whole meat and meaning of the law; and - He is doing this both intensively and extensively, and directly and also by way of application; and in application, all over again, He is doing it intensively and doubly.
As to the intensive side of this stringent underwriting and guarantee which Christ issued concerning the Law, we read that: not EVEN an angle of a letter (the curve which differentiates one letter from another), or a tiny letter (the smallest in the alphabet), will lose force and fail. That is what the two terms 'jot' and 'tittle' mean - Matthew 5:18.
So here is yet another emphasis. You have thus two grammatical emphases: not AT ALL, and WHOSOEVER; you have an orthographical emphasis - jot and tittle; and indeed you have an astronomical emphasis - till heaven and earth pass.
Now all this signifies that the person who is God has spoken and will not relent: our stage may change; but not His directions. Our history may falter - but not His speech. Now that speech is the Law of God, the whole Old Testament at the time of Jesus. Of Moses, Jesus said: "If you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words ?" (John 5:47). In other words, this is the level, the standard of impartation of inspiration, and the INTENSITY of God's performance of what He says. It is here a question of the ORIGIN and INTEGRITY of the words, His COMMITMENT to their performance. It is wholly a matter of what He said, apart from all question of any other kind, such as who thinks it is this, or was that. What He DID say, He WILL do!
Dr J.I. Packer of Oxford in his Fundamentalism and the Word of God, says of Christ:
He did not hesitate to challenge and condemn, on his own authority, many accepted Jewish ideas which seemed to Him false. But He never opposed His personal authority to that of the Old Testament. He never qualified the Jewish belief in its absolute authority in the slightest degree. The fact we have to face is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, who claimed divine authority for all that He did and taught, both confirmed the absolute authority of the Old Testament for others and submitted to it unreservedly Himself.
This witness is true.
Therefore such a turning to Jesus Christ as the source of some new-fangled New Testament Church which would escape certain ingredients felt to be disagreeable in the Old Testament, is false. It is vain. It is illusory. Further, it won't work.
Turn to both - the Old Testament and Christ; or to neither. That is the option which the Bible provides. You must not halt between two opinions. You must choose here in particular; and also in general, between doing what you will and what God says. A Biblical Church can ONLY choose for obeying... all, any of the word of God.
What then are we to make of the Old Testament case of Joshua, to which we first referred - in his invasion of Canaan... or with the case of SAUL with the command to slaughter ? Is this no problem ? Does this fit with harmony into the character of the face of Jesus, that face of which Paul the apostle writes in Corinthians (II Corinthians 3:18) like this:
But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the LORD.
Now the answer to this question is simple and emphatic. It is precisely the case that such actions as those cited of Joshua in his invasion of Canaan, DO fit with perfect harmony into the character of Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ knew exactly what He was doing, when He adopted and endorsed with His complete authority, the whole Old Testament - as provided by and inspired from the Spirit of the very God whose Son He was, who swears by Himself He does not change (Malachi 3:6) - just as Jesus Himself does not - (Hebrews 13:8).
What then is the particular answer ?
It is this. Joshua, and Saul for that matter, were leaders of a theocracy - a nation state politically under God's direct jurisdiction as such - to execute judgment for God. Saul for his part was sent to do this to the Amalekites. Let's look at that case first. In EACH case the objective issue was clear.
Now the Amalekites were a nation which had sought to destroy, maul, mar or hinder little Israel, on its Exodus and escape from Egypt by God's hand, when God showed His might (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, 1 Samuel 15:2). Hence the Amalekites had placed themselves, at that time, in opposition to God in one of His very saving acts, one exhibiting His glory... and if you'll read Reader's Digest for August 1969 on Russian prisons, you'll get some refresher teaching on the gross and abominable cruelty which human beings can show to those whom they fear and enslave, in any of the ages of this present world.
Now Jesus spoke of the unforgivable sin, a spiritual way somewhat similar to the way Amalek behaved at a political level toward Israel, and thus at that time and in that situation, toward God: Christ referred to learned hypocrites trying to prevent or scoff at His dealing, and saving works with those who were devil possessed and stricken (Matthew 12:24-32). When God saves, it is great; but to oppose Him, AT SUCH A TIME AND IN SUCH A CASE, is one of the most dangerous, as it is one of the most heartless of all proceedings. It reminds one of the reputed act of the Khmer Rouge who taking Phnom Peng, simply forced out the sick, the disabled, and caused them to proceed to farm, or at any rate... out.
THAT at the physical level, is the sort of devilishly dehumanised folly, to which mad misconceptions about God may lead. Now God IS love and does not love the loveless heartlessness to the disabled, whom He is restoring, is not taken, as it were, with those who make people with broken legs walk on them, or with broken hearts become confused. True, it is not possible to confuse out of salvation, the elect (Matthew 24:24); but active steps toward it do not arouse indifference on the part of God.
At the very time of the Exodus, then, and well before Saul's leadership had so much as commenced, God had brought about a curse on Amalek, that nation - you read of it in Exodus 17:14-16... as follows:
I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.
They had heartlessly and needlessly opposed Israel's progress and transit, AFTER its Egyptian bondage, the ceaseless seeming labour in the sun, with fierce taskmasters, the slavery and the oppression. With great vulnerability, after much suffering, Israel at last was on its way to... a new land. And Amalek? NO! It would oppose this. Against this, God made a ruling, that just quoted from Exodus. In due time, the penalty was applied. It was at the time of King Saul, in the organised Israel.
The theocracy had then to perform a judicial act on that nation of Amalek, and upon its leader, its king. Saul, in failing, showed he was no executor and lost his position. Now SAUL did more that displeased God - but our present stress is rather HOW he could well receive THESE orders from THE GOD AND FATHER OF JESUS CHRIST... to DESTROY Amalek the nation, king included.
Granted the different structure - a godly nation being used as an executive for God, then such an order is merely an exhibition of the justice and judgment of God, which IS especially lethal and inevitable on those who interrupt His saving acts, and do not repent. We may indeed reflect on the woe to those who refuse, for their part, to condemn evil and instead condemn those who do condemn it at God's will (Ezekiel 33:8-9 with Isaiah 5:18-20). These should repent. Indeed, repentance is ALWAYS in order; and those who, unlike Judas, but with Peter, DO repent and DO come are NOT cast out (John 6:37). Indeed ponder Ezekiel 33:11, which follows. Further, in this case, it is nationhood, not individuals who are dealt with; and as to that, long was the time when those revolted by this action, could have departed! In due time, however, the judgment came to the nation. God knows the hearts and the history of all.
Now as to the case of Joshua, to which we also referred in considering the attack some might make on the Old Testament, in trying to divorce it from the NEW TESTAMENT in general and from Christ in particular, there is an equally instructive answer... to the question why GOD did this, OUR GOD, the unchanging God... or better, how it fits in with the revelation of Jesus Christ, how it is of one piece, of one character.
In Joshua's case, now, there is particular interest in the field of archeology (Ras Shamra tablets, found 1929). This has abundantly revealed in our generation, the gross immorality and perversity and corruption of the Canaanites who lived in Palestine, the land God had promised Abraham. Here again, in their destruction, was a judicial act by the author of history...
This is enlightening, for it impresses us with the fact that it is GOD who judges. It does not entirely matter whether the offence is, or is not, against Israel - although what is done to God's representative must exacerbate it (Luke 10:16). The offence is ultimately construable against God Himself, whoever was involved. Here one is reminded of Christ's New Testament principle of Matthew 25:36-43, where the acts of help are remembered for those who are saved by Christ's sacrifice, and the failures so to act, are recalled against those who are not.
Assuredly, I tell you, in as much as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.
In close relation to our current area, this occurs in the judgment of the nations, as outlined in Matthew.
Further, in the case of Joshua and Canaan, the evidence is that God waited until judgment called from the very earth to Him against the consolidated corruption of that polluted nation - Canaan, before He sent Joshua with that theocratic nation (at that point walking obediently with God-assisted armies - *2) - to defeat it ... cf. Deuteronomy 9:4-6, 7:7-9. Thus it was hundreds of years earlier - it is recorded in Genesis 15:16 - God had predicted the return of Israel to the land He gave them, after their oppression (then still to come). So much earlier, He had said: "The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." But in Joshua's time, hundreds of years later... it WAS brimming over. This teaches us our sins. Frequently He tries our iniquity. Christian!... even now forsake all known sin and every doubtful action: for by God, actions are weighed. Delay is not indifference on the part of God, but rather patience.
Thus when He was ready, judicially ready, God judged the inhabitants of Palestine of those days: for their sin was against Him, longstanding, perverse and reprobate. In Abraham's time their cup of iniquity was filling; in Joshua's it was gushing. THEN GOD acted. Let each man interpret this to his heart. God is patient; not gullible.
GOD was and is the judge. There is nothing new, nothing different, nothing novel, nor anything odd or divergent from Jesus Christ in this: and it was Christ who said that by His words will we be judged in that day; and that not everyone who called "Lord, Lord" would be received, but rather those who did the will of God (John 12:48-50, Matthew 7:21-23). In other words, it is impartial, it is not indulgent; no favourites of indulgence enter for that reason: the truth may hurt, but it cannot be ignored. Paul says: Judgment will be according to truth (Romans 2:2).
As we have noted before: we are saved without works, but not without faith... and faith works... Jesus said:
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 15:15), and
If anyone love Me, he will keep My word (John 15:23).
HE also said:
He who does not love Me, does not keep My words (John 15:24).
Christian... IF you love Him that is WHY you will want to keep His words; and IF your love is growing cold, turn again to the Lord in reality, draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
There is then no difference in the principle of judgment. There is however a difference of FORM between... this Old Testament case and the church today. The Christian Church is unlike Israel of old, in that it is no longer in the form of a theocracy, or God governed NATION. Nations no longer act as express agent for God, as obedient and redeemed servants for Him. Apart from all else, there is now no such nation. Secondly, the Church is not at all a political organisation, far less one with direct God-given jurisdiction over a particular nation.
The Church of the New Covenant, the New Testament that is, is the Church of the same God; but it is one with a new structure. Now the Church is no longer a NATIONALLY orientated form under God; it is INTERNATIONALLY formed as to its very composition. The realities of the everlasting Gospel are similar; the format is now more internationalised. Always of course the reality abides in the true believers whose faith is not masquerade or charade, but a transforming involvement with a God who gives orders... including the order to save His own, who have received Him as He is, and is revealed to be (John 10:9,27-28, 5:24, 4:14). Thus Christ died for us; but He will not deny His word.
The wheels of history turn no more smoothly now, than then. Indeed, there are many who hold that history was never so turbulent, vice so victorious, man so dire in hatred and hypocrisy - deceiving his own self. Torture, death, devastation - look at cases like little Biafra, with something like formally aided genocide, at Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, the boat people, Rwanda, Bosnia; look a little further back at the Jews themselves in the last World War, when perhaps 6 million died. These things continue to come; and the same God is over all, warning and reaping, till judgment sits; and sending forth preachers.
Just as He said in Amos:
Shall there be calamity in the city and the Lord has not done it ? (Amos 3:6);
so now we read this:
God works everything after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).
It is the same God and the same sovereign message is proclaimed.
The position is that His judgments - of which a great deal is written in the LAST book of the entire Bible, Revelation, on their severity and their fire, as the world grows old in CONSCIENTIOUSLY AUDACIOUS SIN - His judgments are internationally, pluralistically and precisely performed, as before. This is no longer, however, with the vehicle of a show-case nation, of which there are no examples, in the sense of an obedient servant, called to this office. It is the FORMAT, but not the FACE of judgment which has changed - look about you!!
Was it not Jesus who said: "Not a sparrow falls without the Father;" and again - "Weep not for Me, but for yourselves;" and, "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold". As Paul says: "Behold now, the goodness and the severity of God" (Romans 11:22).
So not merely does history itself teach that the God of Creation and providence - who is not an immoral idiot abdicating His moral and all-powerful presence from an inane world, but indeed a present President of all - that God indeed works dire judgments(*3), THEN AS NOW upon the earth: no, this is not all. Rather does that very JESUS Himself (to whom the New Testament secessionists, if I may call them that, the word of God aborters, are turning so confusedly), rather does Christ as living sovereign, choose whips of judgment against the hypocrite and the pretentious who pollute His ways. God is slow to wrath... but when it is stirred...
Weep rather for yourselves and your children. For behold the days come when they shall say, Blessed are the barren... Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us! (Luke 23:29-30).
It was THIS SAME JESUS who declared: "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18).
Jesus Himself thus rebukes the idea of a secessionist New Testament Church, divorcing itself from the concept - ANY of the concept of the character of God as found in the Old Testament; or from any of God's words indeed. As to the word of God, it may be FULFILLED ? Yes! but FORSAKEN ? no! The New Testament Church is not one of secession but of success in sequence. The rose does not forsake the bud; it blooms on its basis, developing what was there all the time, in greater and greater distinctness (cf. Romans Chapters 4,11).
ALL is fulfilled or enforced(*4). God said it. The heaven and the earth... yes, THEY shall pass. God's word will endure (Matthew 24:35).
The Lord and His word: You cannot divorce these. Those who tried to do so once before, crucified Him. He WOULD not change His word, not any of His words. And these include Matthew 5:17-19. Thus we readily recognise the force of the purgative prohibition of Paul in Romans l6:17-18:
Mark those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine you received and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own body, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
In depicting the divinely revealed, the Biblical doctrine of revelation, one finds here a fence not available for sitting. On a highway some years ago in the U.S., my wife and I saw a middle lane suddenly reduce, and then end with a flashing light and barricade. The middle way went. If one insisted on following it, there would be disaster. Reconstructions of scripture readily result in constructions, made by men, of the Creator; and for this, there is only one name available: idolatry.
If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples indeed (John 8:31).
It is HIS word which we have been studying. Apologetically, we first identified it and then proceeded to examine its actual teaching concerning its nature, as revelation.
We conclude, as before, that the whole Bible is available, is required and that the God who gave it is revealed as One who does not change; nor does He tolerate our finite intrusions into the word of His infinite wisdom.
This of course is precisely what one would expect.
God remains the same in revelation, though we learn more of Him; and revelation is a masterful matter of entire superintendence by whatever means, so that the result is a divine deliverance unspoiled by any of the autonomous 'fat' of carnal wills. God has caused to be said, what He will back to the jot and tittle.