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Holding Out Hope

The Law Mediator

Rev. Philip Miller | December 13, 2020
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Scripture Reference: Exodus 19, Exodus 20, Leviticus 18:1—5, Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 30:15—20, Ezekiel 36:26—27, Matthew 5:17—20, Matthew 5:48, Matthew 7:17—18, Matthew 22:37, Matthew 23:25—26, John 1:18, John 13:34—35, Romans 8:3—4, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 5:22—23, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3

Selected highlights from this sermon

Of all the prophets in all the Old Testament, Moses held the particular distinction of being the Mediator of the Law and held in highest esteem for his role in bringing down from Mount Sinai the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Moses held the role of Law Mediator until the coming of the One who could truly and perfectly uphold the law—Jesus. In this message, Pastor Miller will show us how Moses, in his writings, was in fact, pointing forward to Jesus, the coming Messiah.

The Law Mediator

This Advent we are looking at five ways that Moses was holding out hope for the coming of Jesus. Moses, of course, wrote the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and together we know these books as the Pentateuch. And according to Jesus, at the end of John, chapter 5, “Moses wrote of me,” Jesus said, “in these books.” And while Jesus does not show up by name in these writings, they are full of threads of themes that are all pointing ahead to the person and work of Jesus.

And so we’ve seen here in this series how Jesus is The Curse Breaker. He’s the new Adam who has come to free us from the curse of sin and death. We have seen how Jesus is The Covenant Keeper, how He’s the new Abraham who is faithful where all of us have failed. And today we come to the truth that Jesus is The Law Mediator, that He is the new Moses who stands in the gap for us.

The Old Testament character of Moses is famous for a number of things. He’s famous because God chose him to lead the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. He’s the one who miraculously led the people through the parting of the Red Sea to safety. He’s the one who provided water and manna and quail in the wilderness, the provision for the people of God. But above all else, Moses is famous for his role in bringing the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, Mount Sinai, bringing the Law of God. Of all the prophets in all of the Old Testament, Moses had the particular distinction of being the mediator of the Law. He was the only one until, that is, Jesus came. And all along, as we are going to see today, Moses was pointing the way to Jesus.

And you say, “Well, Philip, you know I don’t quite follow you. How exactly does Moses and the Law of God point the way to Jesus? I don’t quite see it.” Well, great question. I’m glad you asked. That’s what we’re going to do together this morning. So let’s start here this morning by looking at Moses, the mediator of the Law. Please open your Bibles wherever you are to Exodus, chapter 20. And just to set it up for us here, God appears on Mount Sinai in a great glory cloud with thunder and lightning and smoke and fire, this huge eruption of glory, and then God gives these Ten Commandments or what we know as the Decalogue. We’re going to look at that here in just a second.

Would you bow your heads and pray with me as we open God’s Word this morning?

Father, we ask now as we turn to your holy Word that tou would speak, that tou would show us more of Jesus, how He is faithful and true, and help us walk in obedience to tou today as we await this Advent season, the coming, the celebration of the presence of Christ for us on Earth. We pray this in His beautiful name, Amen. Amen.

So the Ten Commandments are roughly divided, if you will, into two buckets. The first four focus on love of God. So the first four are:

  • You shall have no other gods before me,
  • You shall make no idols,
  • You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, and
  • Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

These are about our relationship with God. The next six commandments relate to our love for others, our relationships with others, so five through ten are:

  • Honor your father and mother,
  • You shall not commit murder,
  • You shall not commit adultery,
  • You shall not steal,
  • You shall not bear false testimony, and
  • You shall not covet.

Now, immediately after God gave these Ten Commandments in  Exodus 20:18–19, if you look down there you will see, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’”

So the people of Israel, in confronting this massive display of the holiness of God, they chicken out a little bit. They say, “Listen, Moses, why don’t you go to God. You find out what He wants, and then you come back and tell us. We’ll listen to what you say. Moses, please, would you be the go-between? Would you be the mediator between God and us?”

And so that’s exactly what Moses does. He goes up on the mountain and God lays out for him His Law, not just the Ten Commandments He has spoken here, which are sort of the centerpiece of this Mosaic Law that is given, but also an additional six hundred or so commandments governing all the ins and outs of ancient Near-Eastern life. Someone has counted up these commandments and has found there are 613 in total. I have no idea if that’s accurate. I have never felt the need to double-check the math. Okay? (chuckles) But there you go–613.

Now, these commands range from moral standards, to legal practices, to case law and jurisprudence. There are dietary and health standards. There are social customs, and even national holidays. This was all of it, and when you add it up, it was basically to make Israel unique, to stand out from her neighbors, to live differently than her surroundings because she belonged to God and was, therefore, to be holy.

For example, here (It’s just a summary passage), Leviticus 18:1–5 says this: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.’”

God says, “You are my people. You obey my statutes. You follow my way, and if you do what I say, you will live. You will flourish. By them you will find life in doing things my way, for I am the Lord.” So the Law here sets apart the people of Israel for their sanctity before the Lord, and it sets them up for success in life.

Now, a famous summary passage at the end, here, of the Pentateuch is in Deuteronomy 30:15–20. And this really captures the essence of what God is doing in the Law.

Verse 15: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

It says here, “You have two alternatives: On the one hand, if you obey, there is life and goodness, a land, and promise, and blessing to come. And if you disobey, death, evil, loss, perishing, and curses. Everything hinges on how you respond. The ball is in your court, Israel. What will you do?” And of course, historically they enthusiastically agree, and then epically fail time and time again.

Now, because of Israel’s repeated failures before the Law, the Law often gets a bad rap. But there’s much goodness in the Law if you think about it. There are five contributions that the Law makes. Let me just highlight them quickly for us here this morning.

Number one: the Law discloses God’s character. The Law discloses God’s character. Before the Law was given, Israel knew relatively little about God. Oh, they knew the promises of Abraham, you know, Isaac, and Jacob. They knew the preservation, that God had brought His people through Joseph in Egypt, and the twelve tribes who lived because of that. They knew the name of God that had been revealed to Moses: “I AM that I AM.” But now in the Law, they begin to understand just how holy, just how majestic and righteous and pure and awesome God is. And through the Law there’s this refrain over and over again. It’s in Exodus 19, and Leviticus 11 and 19 and 20 and 26 and 21, this refrain: “Be holy as I am holy.” Be holy as I am holy. The holiness of God. The Law was God’s self-disclosure. This is a good thing, to see God as He really is.

The second thing the Law contributes is the Law clarifies the standard. The Law clarifies the standard. Before the coming of the Law, people really didn’t know what it was that God wanted. Oh, they knew they owed Him something, but the lines were a bit fuzzy. They were unclear. And all of a sudden the Law comes down and it draws the lines very clearly. And even though the standards were extremely high, even impossible, at least you knew where the lines were. At least you know where you stood, and there is grace in that, friends. Every teacher will tell you that in the beginning of the semester, at the onset of the year, the most important thing you could do is establish firm standards for your classrooms because if the students know where the lines are, there’s peace and rest and consistency in this. Students thrive when they know where the lines are. And God, in the Law, friends, was establishing those lines, giving us clarity around the standard.

The third thing the Law did is the Law revealed our sinfulness. The Law revealed our sinfulness. No matter how hard people tried to obey the Law, to remain clean, to toe the line, it was impossible to do it all the time. Everyone sinned. Everyone eventually became unclean. Everyone fell short. It’s as if God was using the Law as a giant object lesson to teach His people. Listen–God is holy, and you are not. There is no one righteous. Not even one. All we like sheep have gone astray. Each of us have turned to his own way. As Paul will write, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

And it’s hard news to hear that we’re sinners, friends, but there’s grace in being told what is true, what is real, because the fourth thing the Law gave us is the Law provides for atonement. The Law provides for atonement. Not only does the Law reveal our sinfulness, it also drives us to grace.

Within the Law, there’s a whole system of sacrifices that God lays out here. When you sin in this way, here is a corresponding sacrifice. If you want to be forgiven and atoned and made right with God, the sacrifice is the way to deal with your sin. In other words, God anticipated that His Law would be broken, and so He made provision for a means of grace, that there could be forgiveness on the basis of a (listen, listen) a substitutionary sacrifice, that we could be atoned for our sins, forgiven, set free, and made right with God on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice.

The fifth thing that the Law gave us is the Law guides us in righteousness. The Law guides us in righteousness. Despite the fact that no one could keep the law one hundred percent of the time, the Law was, in fact, a reliable guide to life. When people did keep it, they found that life was full of beauty and goodness and human flourishing. That’s why David, in the Psalms, describes the Law of God in such glowing terms. He says. “It’s full of life. It’s sweeter than honey, than honey dripping from the comb. It is a lamp to my feet. It is a light unto my path. I rejoice in the Law of God.”

Friends, there is goodness and grace in the Law that God mediated through Moses. And so throughout all of Israel’s history, they looked to Moses as the greatest prophet they’d ever known. And Moses himself prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen.” And so they waited for a prophet like Moses to come along. And prophets came and went, but none of them was a great mediator in the way that Moses was until one day when a young Jewish rabbi arrived on the scene and stood up on another mountain and presented Himself as Jesus, the new mediator of the Law. Jesus, the new mediator of the Law.

Now, if you flip over in your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 5, in the New Testament, what we find here is what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Okay? And in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew is very intentional in telling us this takes place on the Mount, on the mountainside. Now, why would he highlight that? Well, he’s trying to remind us, show us that Jesus is on the mountain just as Moses was on the mountain. He’s the go-between. He’s the mediator between God and man. And this is what Jesus says in some of the early verses in the Sermon on the Mount.

This is Matthew 5:17–20: “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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Now Jesus shows up and He says, “Look, I’m not here to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I’m not getting rid of what came before. I’m actually here to fulfill them.” The word fulfill is plēroō (play-ro'-o) in Greek. It means to fill up, or fulfill, or bring to its true meaning. Jesus helps to flesh it out here in the context, down in verse 18 when He says, “Not one iota (That’s a character), or dot (It’s a pen stroke) will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.” So you have the idea of accomplishment that is here parallel to the word fulfill. So, fulfill and accomplish, these are parallel concepts.

Down in verse 20 we get another clue. He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So He’s saying that the righteousness that is needed is one that is exceeding, overflowing, overabundant. It is beyond what is there in the scribes and Pharisees. So the idea of fulfill here runs parallel to the idea of exceeds. Okay?

So Jesus is saying, “Listen, I’m not here to abolish what came before. I’m here to fulfill it. I’m here to accomplish it. I’m here to exceed it, and outstrip it. I’m here to fill it up, fill it out, and fill it to overflowing.”

Now let’s look at how this actually works in each of the five ways that the Law makes contributions here. Let’s see how Jesus fulfills them.

Number one: Jesus fully discloses God’s character. Jesus fully discloses God’s character. In the Law of Moses, we got a sketch of who God is. Now Jesus comes along and fills out that picture with crystal clarity.

For example, in John 1:18, this is what John writes: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus has come to reveal the Father; Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God;” Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

See, Jesus has come as the full revelation of the character of God. He is Immanuel. He is “God with us.” In Him all the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell. As Jesus will say, to see Him is to see the Father. So the Law revealed the character of God. Now Jesus comes and fully discloses the character of God in Himself.

Secondly, Jesus fully clarifies the standard. Jesus fully clarifies the standard. If we thought the bar couldn’t be raised any higher than what was given in the Law, we would be very wrong. Jesus fills up the standard to a whole new level. In the Sermon on the Mount, He repeatedly says this phrase: “You have heard it said, but I say to you...” He says, “You know, you heard, do not murder; I tell you, don’t even be angry.” He said, “You’ve heard, don’t commit adultery; I’m telling you, don’t even lust in your heart.” He says, “You know, they used to say, don’t break your oaths,” and He says, “I’m telling you to let your yes be yes, your no be no. Let every word come from the integrity of your heart.” He is showing us that, listen, God wants a righteousness that goes beyond the outside to the inside. He wants a righteousness that is not surface-level but goes to the very depths of who we are. He wants something that goes beyond behavior to the very heart of ourselves. He says, “Look, the Pharisees have been teaching you, that righteousness basically comes down to good behavior, but I’m here to tell you that righteousness is having a good heart–goodness on the inside.”

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says this, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” You want to go into the kingdom of God? You need a deeper, a fuller, a higher, a better righteousness than theirs. You need an inner righteousness, and inner goodness that flows out into every part of your life. You want to know what the standard is. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). After all, this is what the Law and the prophets have been after all along.

In Matthew 22, this is what Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do you want to know what God wants?” Jesus says. He wants love, a heart of love, that loves God with all that you are, and loves people as if they were you.

In John 13:34–35, Jesus goes on to say this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And so Jesus comes here, friends, and He’s laying down a new commandment, not 613, not ten, but one. “Love one another, just as I have loved you, so you are also to love one another.” How has Jesus loved, friends? Well, He’s just washed His disciples’ feet, becoming the servant of all, and He is about to lay down His life in exchange for theirs. So Jesus, what is the standard? What does God require? “He requires a love just like mine.” He requires that we become self-sacrificing servants of all.

And don’t you see, number three, that Jesus fully reveals our sinfulness. Jesus fully reveals our sinfulness. Listen, if it was impossible to keep the Law of Moses, it’s even more impossible to keep the Law of Christ. No one loves the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. No one loves our neighbor as ourselves. No one loves “just as I have loved you.” No, our hearts are full of sin. That’s why our lives are full of sin, too. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:17–18, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” In other words, our behavior is the fruits. Our hearts are the roots. And the problem lies not in the sin in our behavior so much as the sin that is in our hearts. And no amount of sin management, no amount of behavior modification, no amount of religious striving will solve the heart problem that we have.

In Matthew 23:25 and 26 Jesus goes after the Pharisees again. He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” He says, “Look, you’re spending a whole lot of time trying to clean up and tidy up the outside of your life, get your behavior in line. And you can put a good face on it, and you can fake it till you make it, but you’re only fooling yourselves. The heart is desperately wicked. Who can know it?” And Jesus reveals the depths of our sinfulness fully.

The fourth thing here is that Jesus fully provides atonement. Jesus fullyprovides atonement. Not only does Jesus fully reveal our sinfulness, He also drives us to grace, because He Himself is our sacrifice. Jesus anticipates that His Law will be broken. That’s why He provides a means of grace in Himself, forgiveness on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice, to make atonement for our sins, to make us right with God, forgiven and set free in Him.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So Jesus, fully righteous though He is, He’s the fully righteous one who fully kept the Law of Moses, who fully embodies the Law of Christ, who fully exchanged His life for us, dies in our place, and for our sake, taking our sin upon Him so that in exchange He might gift to us by grace His own perfect righteousness, so that we might be fully atoned, by His substitutionary sacrifice.

And so, friends, don’t you see the righteous requirements of the Law were fully met in Jesus who offered Himself on our behalf to make us right with God. Aren’t you glad? But not only that, number five: Jesus fully guides us in righteousness. Jesus fully guides us in righteousness. And not only does Jesus gift us His own righteousness by grace, through faith for all who will believe, He also gives us a new heart, and fills us with His Holy Spirit so that we might actually begin to walk in true righteousness. This is amazing, friends, but in Romans 8:3 and 4, this is what Paul writes: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

So Jesus, friends, fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law when He died in our place and for our sake, when He offered His perfect life of righteousness for us on our behalf. But now, by His Spirit, Paul says, “The righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled (There’s our word), fulfilled in us as we walk according to the Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit enables a righteousness in us that could never have otherwise come from us.

Galatians 5:22–23, says this: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” and then he adds, “against such things there is no law.” Why does he add this? As we walk by the Spirit, friends, we walk in the very righteousness that the Law required all along, but we could never accomplish because we were trying to do it in our flesh, and by ourselves. But now with the Spirit, we are able to walk out the righteousness that God has required all along. In other words, Jesus is making us into a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come. The New Covenant promises are coming true. This is promised in Ezekiel 36:26 and 27. He writes, “And I will give you a new heart (God speaking), and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

In other words, through Jesus’ atoning life, friends, and through His Spirit’s enabling presence, our Father is making us like Himself. He is growing us, growing in us a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He is teaching us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is teaching us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He is conforming us to the image of Christ, that we might love one another just as He has first loved us. He is transforming us from the inside out. It’s a new tree with new roots and new fruits.

So what’s the takeaway for us? Friends, I want to, for our takeaway today I just want to read a quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. This is the line. “The command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.”

Let me just read that again. “The command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.”

That’s why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He is the Law Mediator, friends. He has given you by grace, by His Spirit, by His atoning death all that we need for life and godliness, and He calls us to be holy as He Himself is holy. Like Father, like Son, conformed to the image of Christ, walking by the power of the Spirit.

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank you for Jesus, who fulfills the Law we could never keep because righteousness satisfies all that you desire, who fills us with your Holy Spirit to enable us to become what we cannot become on our own, that we might be like you, sons, daughters of the Most High God, a holy people, pure, righteous, undefiled, glorious in Christ. This is what Christmas is all about. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.

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