When God Marries A Harlot
Sunday's Sermon on The Law & The Gospel is a message I need to hear everyday. I tend to default to thinking that God loves me on my good days and just tolerates me on my bad days. I try to use God's law as a ladder to climb up to Him and since I break God's law so often, I tumble down the ladder and end up wallowing at the bottom in depression for not being good enough. This is a completely wrong and so I want to argue to myself and to you that The Law & The Gospel are best understood in the context of covenantal love. Here Goes...
Have you ever been in love? Maybe you were so in love that you married that person and now have little children as a result! When two people are in love, something crazy happens: our hearts want this love to last forever, and so we say things like "I will always love you" or "you are mine until the end of time." We desire to make promises to bind us to our lover and thus we have the God-established ordinance of covenantal marriage.
In a marriage covenant, each person promises to love the other no matter what, through thick and thin, in sickness and in health and so on. The covenant itself is an expression of love. It is a pledge and promise to love one another even on the days we don't feel like it. Our covenant vows are an ongoing memorandum of the love we have sworn to keep.
One of the major themes in Scripture is God's covenantal love for His people. God is portrayed as the Bridegroom, the faithful husband, the strong protector and redeemer. Israel is portrayed as the Bride, and often is an unfaithful wife, whoring after other gods and committing idolatry.
...I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant...they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.
In the book of Hosea, Israel is likened to a harlot. She was "married" to God but had forsaken His ways. The Ten Commandments were the terms of the marriage covenant and Israel had not kept her promises. God is faithful, but every man is a liar. In Exodus 20, when the law is given at Mount Sinai, God promises to be Israel's God: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." He promises to protect, multiply and bless her. Israel promises to be a faithful, submissive and obedient "wife" to God.
But the history of Israel is one of covenant breaking, of infidelity, of adultery and whoredom. God on the other hand is completely faithful, He is merciful and slow to anger. But Israel goes from bad to worse and cheats on God with the idols of the pagan nations. This is a big problem since all idolaters and covenant breakers are sentenced to death. In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), the Pharisees picked up stones because God's law demanded that adulterers be put to death, "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 20:10). What the Pharisees didn't understand is that they themselves were under this same death penalty for breaking God's law. This is why we all need Jesus, from the scribe to the slut, from the pastor to the playboy.
Jesus came to inaugurate a New Covenant because the Law-Covenant at Mt. Sinai was "a ministry of death," it was a "ministry of condemnation" (rf. 2 Cor. 3:7-8). Imagine we started a new church and called ourselves The Ministry Of Death Church. If all we teach is The Law, then we may as well call ourselves that! We are literally destroying souls through this ministry. If a church does not preach the gospel of grace, of forgiveness of sin, of righteousness by faith apart from works of the law, then let that "church" be cursed! Anathema! Pastors who only preach law are merely filling hell with haughty souls. A Jewish Rabbi can teach Torah, but apart from the gospel, He is a death-dealer. They are selling rope and three-legged chairs to the congregation.
The Law-Covenant told Israel the right thing to do (don't have any other gods, don't murder, don't steal, etc), but since their hearts were not transformed by God's love, they couldn't keep God's Law-Covenant. And so the law is good and right and holy, but our hearts are evil and wrong and impure. We need to get new hearts...and this is exactly what God promises to do in the New Covenant!
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you...and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
When God saves us, He gives us this new heart with the law written on it. God actually causes us to obey his law (Ezk. 36:27)! And because there is no condemnation and no fear of death, we are actually free and liberated to be faithful to the most beautiful and glorious person in the world: God Himself. Now that we are in an everlasting, unbreakable Love-Covenant with God, through Jesus Christ, bound together by the Holy Spirit, the commands of God to love Him and love our neighbor are actually sweet beckonings, a siren song and call to endless pleasure. Jesus does what unfaithful Israel could never do and keeps God's Law-Covenant perfectly. This perfect obedience is then given to us through union with Christ and we are counted by God as having also kept His law perfectly. This is the insanity of grace and the scandal of the New Covenant.
In the beginning, there was a wedding: Adam and Eve.
In the second beginning, there is another wedding: Jesus and The Church.
God marries a harlot. And He says to us:
I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.“ And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord.
This is The Gospel.