Preaching the Law

How does the concept of law reception help us preach through commands and other legal portions of Scripture?

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Answer

Well, God commands his people to abide by the covenant, and there are stipulations to the covenant. And just as we see in certain covenantal treaties — the suzerainty treaty being one of many as we see in Genesis 15 — that God expects his people to abide by the stipulations, being the servants of this suzerain king. But he clearly knows that we're not covenant-keepers and we're covenant-breakers. That is why he went between the pieces, as opposed to Abraham going between the pieces in Genesis 15. And so, the question is, if the requirement is there, if we're called to obey the high standards of the law of God, but we're unable to do it, then what are we going to do with the covenant curses? What are we going to do with the breaking of the stipulations of the covenant? And ultimately, God puts his life on the line as we see in Genesis 15.

And we also see this in Genesis 18, where Abraham is functioning like an intercessor or priest, praying for the city of Sodom by saying, God, are you going to to sweep away &mdahs; or wipe away — the righteous along with the wicked? You can't do such a thing. You're a righteous and just God, you can't do such a thing. And he asks him, would you be willing to spare the city of Sodom for fifty righteous people? And God's answer is, "Yes." And then he says forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, ten? And for every single question, God says, I will spare the city of Sodom for ten righteous people. And the story of Genesis 18 just kind of ends there. Again, that story is incomplete, because Abraham knew that there was no one who was righteous enough; he couldn't even find ten righteous people. But if Abraham had asked, What about for five righteous people, would you do that? God's answer would have been yes. What about for three? Yes. What about for one righteous person, would you spare the city? God would have said, yes. And so, again, even in that situation, the story the impulse of the story is looking for somebody who is that one righteous person who's going to be able to meet the holy, perfect demands of God's covenant and his law, and for that individual not to be crushed by the weight of the law for us as covenant-breakers, but somebody who's actually going to be a covenant-keeper, that one righteous person who will be able to do that.

We also see this in Exodus 24 when there is the ratification of the covenant, where he brings the book of the covenant to the Israelites and he says, Hey, here is the book of the law. Are you going to obey this? What are you going to do? And the Israelites at that point — this is after Exodus 17, this is after going through the wilderness, of all of the rebellion — they say, We will follow, we will obey. All of it we will obey. And does Moses say, Wow, I've got a righteous group of people here? This is going to be one the most easy pastorates that humanity has ever seen. No. What does he do? He sprinkles the blood on the people, without hesitation. Why? Because he knew that even though they are proclaiming that, they did not have the ability to obey the law of God perfectly. So, we need somebody who is going to come, that one righteous person who will receive the law, who will fulfill the law, who will obey the law perfectly, and his active obedience would be, then, communicated or imputed into our accounts, even though we are covenant-breakers, that, legally, we can become covenant-keepers because of that covenant-keeping obedience of that one righteous person who has come.

Answer by Dr. Stephen Um

Dr. Stephen Um is Senior Minister of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, MA. He also teaches New Testament studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary