Exodus 25:8. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.
Usually when we think about Moses on Mount Sinai we have one picture in mind – him receiving the Ten Commandments. This is literally the picture that we see in the movies of Moses coming down off of the mountain holding the tablets of stone stoically in one arm while being ready to shoot lightening bolts from his finger tips at the people.
What we may fail to realize is that Moses didn’t just receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. He also received the detailed instructions for the Tabernacle. In other words he didn’t just receive Law on the mountain. He also received Gospel.
Martin Luther said that God speaks to humanity with two words: Law and Gospel. And understanding and distinguishing between these two words is one of the most important tasks that lies before the Christian. The Law is NOT Gospel, and the Gospel is NOT law. When we confuse or mix the two we lessen or even destroy the good news of God. The Law and the Gospel are both good, and perfect, and righteous, but they are not both good news. In fact, they serve two totally different functions in our lives.
The Law gives us knowledge of sin, the Gospel gives us knowledge of forgiveness of sin. The Law imprisons, the Gospel redeems. The Law offers only condemnation and death, the Gospel offers pardon and new life. The Law diagnoses our condition but can never deliver us from it, the Gospel offers that deliverance. The Law buries the dead, the Gospel resurrects the dead.
The Ten Commandments are a blueprint for a new humanity, but they offered absolutely no power for accomplishing that blueprint. All they could really do is reveal the deep sins of the heart as Jesus would point out 1500 years later on a mountain. The Commandments didn’t bring about a utopian theocracy at all. In fact, Paul will argue that the Law not only revealed sin but actually made sin increase.
Romans 5:20. Now the law came in to increase the trespass…
So did the Law fail?
No, it did exactly what it was intended to do. It revealed God’s perfection and our imperfection to us. It showed us our inability to please God with our actions apart from grace and faith. It revealed our need for a new heart. A new set of desires. When we truly understand Law it will always make us ready to receive grace. But when we merge Law and Gospel it will always just be more law, never grace, never the true good news.
When Moses read the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Law to the people they said “all that the Lord has commanded we will do.” And then the very next thing God spoke to Moses was the Gospel of the Tabernacle. Why? Because God knows that the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Law will only condemn the people. It is powerless to save them from themselves. From their own sin nature. And so God also spoke the good news of his presence, his mercy, his forgiveness, his acceptance of them through the blood of the lamb offered at the Tabernacle of God. The place where God meets us as we are and offers life and love.
Jesus Christ is God’s final Word of good news. The Law can never do what only your union with Christ can do. Only your union with Christ can cleanse you of guilt. Only your union with Christ can perfect you. Only your union with Christ can transform your heart. Only your union with Christ can cause you to love God and love neighbor as yourself. Only your union with Christ can bring you fully into the presence of God forever.
These are things the Law could never do.
So why the law? Do we even need it today?
Yes. The law still serves its same important purpose. It is still God’s first word to us. The Law reveals and diagnoses us. It shows us our need for grace. A need, that as long as we still battle the flesh and indwelling sin, we will have until the day we are with Christ. The Law reveals that need still but only the Gospel meets that need. Only Jesus. Only the indwelling Spirit of Christ. So praise God for his first word, the Law. And praise God for his final word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Savior.
“To live is Christ” allows us to hear God’s two words, Law and Gospel, as words of grace. By grace the Law now reveals sin without condemnation. By grace the Gospel speaks God’s final Word of his complete forgiveness and acceptance of us. Now we can boldly approach the throne of Grace and find help in time of need.