Throughout their history, the Scriptures tell us that the Israelites were careless in their observance of the Law. They viewed God’s Law as a list of the ritual requirements of their religion – nothing more. Most of the time, they ignored those requirements altogether. (Judges 17:6 and 21:25) When they bothered to go through the motions of observing the Law, it didn’t have any meaning for them. They weren’t deriving any spiritual benefit from their observance of it.
That is why Isaiah was able to write: “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.” (Isaiah 1:13-14) Likewise, Amos wrote: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.” (Amos 5:21-22) Thus, even when they were attempting to follow the requirements of the Law, their efforts had become so mechanical that they were odious to God.
Indeed, Isaiah described God’s people as being blind in this regard. (Isaiah 42:18-20) Then he goes on to predict: “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” (Isaiah 42:21) How did God intend to magnify the law and make it more honorable?
Many Christians forget that Jesus Christ was a Jew. (Matthew 1 and Luke 3) His earthly ministry was conducted among his own people, though they rejected him in the end. (John 1:11) Now all of this did not happen by chance. God sent Jesus to live and die among the Jews for a reason.
The Israelites had failed to abide by the terms of God’s covenant with them. It was a covenant that had promised to make them an example to the rest of the world and provide spiritual blessings for all of mankind. They, however, failed to perform their part in the deal – obedience to God’s law. In short, they had broken God’s law, incurred the death penalty as a consequence and failed to show the rest of the world the way to God. Christ came among them to rectify their failure.
The Jews and their religious leaders looked at the law as a series of dos and don’ts. They were blind to the spiritual principles behind the commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgments. They were just going through the motions – acting like trained chimps in a circus show.
Christ came to them to demonstrate that the law had a deeper meaning – that there were profound spiritual principles at work within it. He said: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (the elite of the Jewish religion of that day), ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Christ wanted them to see the purpose behind the law. He wanted them to understand the spiritual intent behind the do’s and don’ts. Hence, he went on to show them that keeping the commandment against murder involved much more than not plunging a knife into someone’s heart. (Matthew 5:20-26). He explained that not being unfaithful to one’s spouse was much more involved than participating in the physical act of intercourse with someone other than your spouse. (Matthew 5:27-30) In short, Christ rejected the legalism of the Jews.
In this same vein, Christ taught that the Sabbath was originally intended for man’s enjoyment and benefit – not as a list of acceptable/unacceptable activities or behaviors for that time period. (Mark 2:27) The Pharisees concentrated on the prohibition against any type of work being performed on the Sabbath. Christ attempted to show them that the performance of a good work (like a healing) did not violate the spirit of this law in any way. (Mark 3:1-5) Nevertheless, like many people today, the Jews of Christ’s day could not get past their legalistic notions regarding the Law. They sought to destroy Christ for working