Jesus Christ in his Incarnation was a Jew. His appointed ambassador to the Gentiles (non-Jews) was St Paul, formerly called Saul, a Jew who made appeal to his lineage and to his devotion to the religion he had been born into, before and after his sea-change into the disciple of Christ on the Damascus road.
Jesus Christ came as he said himself ‘not to destroy the law (of Moses) but to complete it’. And this he did. Long before the time of Christ a Jewish prophet, Jeremiah, had predicted that his (and my) God shall at a future time ‘write His law (the law which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai) on the hearts of men and women’.
St Paul in his Letter to the Romans says that there are persons who never hear the word of Jesus Christ but whose hearts by their nature carry this law; and who have dispositions, and do actions in accordance with God’s word because of this their natural piety.
So what we have here are:
- Without the Jews and their history and their law, the Incarnation, had it come at all, would have come into history in a radically different manner; one which to us today would be wholly strange and unfamiliar.
- That Jesus Christ completed this Jewish law by providing to all people a possibility for this law to be written onto their hearts. This means in brief that instead of outward observances like animal sacrifice and other ritual by which the old Jewish priests sought cleansing from the faults of their people’s transgressions en bloc; instead of this Jesus’ Incarnation enabled cleansing for his people as individuals. It is also possible now to be cleansed internally by way of prayer and penance – that is by Him cleaning hearts, and external factors for cleansing, things like animal sacrifice, no longer need apply
- That their was no longer a set of rules (The Law) which were to be externally observed by the Jews; now there is a Person who when on earth embodied and who continues afterwards to exemplify the completed law; and to demonstrate how it is to be observed in any and every individual’s heart and actions.
- That there has always been, and there continues to be, a natural state in which men and women are aware of a need for this observance of a holy law, at the least to a partly-conscious level, in their hearts; regardless whether they have seen or heard of Jesus Christ
So, as history stands, without the Jews we should not have Jesus Christ nor yet salvation through him. Without Jesus Christ we should have no universal individual access in our hearts to a perfect teaching of behaviour and outlook which is holy and complete. By holy I mean not mere pie in the sky, I mean having the highest utility value and an infinite practical benefit of application to us all for living our lives and managing our own behaviours
The Jewish law, as received by Moses, St Paul tells us was an interim solution, a holding reply from God, until the world was ready for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ who would complete that law. The Jewish law was inaugurated by God so as to keep God’s Word alive and kept-up in practice by His divine command; which was a benevolent coercion of the Jews as the Jews understood the necessity of the law and of upholding it.
The Jews, I assume, God considered a people ready to receive his law because they would attempt to uphold it, amongst peoples of the world who otherwise were not ready to receive it nor would uphold it. Thus, and also looking forward to Jesus Christ again, salvation is of the Jews. The Jews then, St Paul tells us, were the custodians of the law. They were a people chosen to preserve and to observe the law until the world was ready and in some way fit to receive further, the full and final revelation of this Jesus Christ.
The proof that there is a natural revelation of the law is here in this circumstance. A person or a people, in the first place, and in order for it to be wiling to submit itself wholly and absolutely to such Mosaic law, has to recognise something that is holy and good and divine in that law; e.g. in God’s law given to Moses. Without a power of being able to make this recognition, the Jewish people probably would have rejected God’s law; for there would be no good reason for The Jews to have adopted it, and chosen it before any other and more expedient set of laws.
The story so far in this article has been a brief and potted exposition of the genealogy of the law of God. From a barely conscious natural awareness of it, to custodianship of the imposed Mosaic law by a coerced Jewish nation (I realise ‘coerced’ is not the best word; I use it to make a distinction from the personal decision each person is invited to make to allow Jesus Christ into her/his life) – and finally the law becomes the individual voluntary response to the message and mission of Jesus Christ. This last is that final and full revelation of God by God to man.
And so Christians are aware of their great debt to the Jewish nation and thankful to the Jews for them taking up the torch and carrying it alight through the ages to the point when God lights up the blazing bright beacon of Jesus Christ across the whole world.
Furthermore, Jesus Christ, a Jew by birth, is recorded as having been a frequent visitor to synagogues where he worshipped and preached. Further, there is documentary evidence that Jesus Christ in the first place considered himself ‘come to save the Lost Sheep of Israel’ only; and that as his mission went forward he then came to a larger understanding that his disciples should ‘go out into all nations and make disciples of all’.
So that from the law being given to Moses at first as a corral, a restrainer, and imposed; it grew so as eventually to become ‘an easy yoke and a burden light’ which was volunteered. From being an external pressure for the ordering and right-conduct of peoples, it became an internal governor, whose terms are imposed by the individual subject themselves, as a result of her/him having accepted The Lord’s invitation to enter their lives. The Lord Jesus tells how this internal governor works: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’, he says; which is rather better stated as; ‘Because you love me you will willingly and gladly and eagerly do what is required of you by my teaching.’
The love into which Jesus’ invitation when you accept it will lead you is expansive; and a liberation. There is no more necessary self-conflict within one. The contradictions and conundrums of existential consciousness are able to be accommodated and left in suspension; because a greater thing is now here; one in which a person is able to place such a trust that these perplexities are able to be surrendered up to him and be rested at his door whereabouts our conviction owns that they shall be solved and resolved; that they shall melt away from owning any importance or impact. ‘Behold, I show you a mystery’ writes Christ’s Apostle to the Gentiles.
Love is the Great Liberator; and Jesus is 100% love and 100% for love. Not a soppy milk and water love; on the contrary a fibrous and vigorous love required from us ‘at a cost of not less than everything’ from our allegiance. In this is the heart of the secret carried in the paradox; ‘He who shall lose his life shall find it’. This saying of Jesus Christ’s is seen as a knotty contradiction by persons without His fold; it is one of those numerous conundrums which Jesus and his presence solves and resolves ‘into a dew’.
At the ultimate level, when the last ditch has been lost, and the last ship has sailed, most, I would say all, of us come to a pass in which the ‘overwhelming question’ the life decision of life decisions has to be faced and is confronting us – and we cannot advance nor go back without first tackling it. Thomas Carlyle called its moment ‘The Everlasting Yea’; or else ‘The Everlasting No’ for our lives and for our purpose for our lives. Speaking personally now:
‘I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’