Legalism and Justice [Part 1]   Leave a comment


Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Mat. 12:9-12

During the 3 years of ministry of Jesus, the people who considered themselves as teachers of God’s law challenged Jesus with many tricky questions in order to bring charges against Him. Even if the arguments brought by these Pharisees/teachers of the law were not held in court, they were sufficient to set a trap Jesus.

At many instances Jesus warned the people and his disciples against the fake righteousness of the Pharisees and drew a line between legalism and justice. Love was the chalk Jesus used to draw this line.  The spirit behind the law was to love people and love God until Jesus came. The first 4 commandments concerned our love, respect and devotion towards God and the remaining 6 had to do with respect and love of our family and neighbor. Paul described the law as:

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. …. If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. .. Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed….Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.” Gal. 3:24-29

To put it imply, Paul said:

For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” Rom. 13:9-10

It is true that the Mosaic law required that the Israelites shall consider the seventh day a special day and not work on it (Ex. 33:2). That command was so important that if one disobeyed it, death was the penalty. The Pharisees considered that Jesus was working when He healed people so they asked whether it was right to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus is the one who inspired the prophets to write the law and He explained the intent behind the law. Being also a divine Advocate, Jesus replied the Pharisees brilliantly.  It was common sense that a Jew would save his sheep if one fell into a well. What if that incident happened on the Sabbath day? Would you be so hard hearted that you would just watch that sheep drown without moving a finger for fear of doing work? In the book of Deuteronomy we read:

If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility.Take it back to its owner. If its owner does not live nearby or you don’t know who the owner is, take it to your place and keep it until the owner comes looking for it. Then you must return it. ” Deut. 22

What if the neighbor’s ox erred on a Sabbath day? That would put the legalist in a great dilemma! Would that be a conflict in the law? For love sake and pity, be careful of never allowing yourself reasoning like a legalist. For those who understand that the spirit behind the law of keeping your neighbor’s goat from wandering is love, it will not be difficult for him to make the right decision if the neighbor’s goat erred on the Sabbath. David’s companions were hungry and for love sake and compassion David broke the law when they entered the house of God and ate the reserved sacred bread (Mat. 12:4). In the worldly court, David would have been condemned but in the divine court, David was not found guilty.

In Numbers 28:9, the priests did not feel guilty of breaking the fourth commandment when they had to work on the Sabbath. If it ever happens that you find a conflict in God’s word, think about the love spirit behind God’s word. There will always be some Pharisees throwing some bible verses to condemn you or others but think about this: “What would Jesus do?”

Here is an example: Jesus’ disciples were hungry and the Pharisees brought charges against them saying they were harvesting/working on the Sabbath. Jesus did not rebuke His disciples but rather justified them through scripture.

But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.

Posted March 9, 2019 by Cedric in My writings (English)

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