The ageing prophet trembled as he slowly ascended the smoking mountain. He had come to love and trust the God who had first revealed Himself in the burning bush. He had also come to know Him well enough never to take their friendship for granted. He had seen with his own eyes Yahweh’s dealings with Pharaoh, and he feared lest his people might underestimate the gravity of the covenant they had entered into with their God. As he approached the fiery cloud, he again recalled that other mountain where he had first heard the Voice of Yahweh, and how he had hidden his face in fear. “Go”, He had said “bring My people out of Egypt”. How could he have known then what amazing events lay ahead: the miraculous signs, the plagues, and the sign of the blood on the doorposts? Would he ever forget the miracle at the Sea of Reeds when the great waves had rolled back clearing a pathway for Israel to cross? And now here on this desert mountain he had been summoned alone by Yahweh into the very heart of this terrifying black cloud to speak with Him face to face. He stopped momentarily and sighed heavily, then resolutely moved further into the thick darkness. Regardless of his fate once he entered the cloud, and despite the trembling of his body, his heart was undivided and his mind settled. There would be no turning back, even if he should die. He would trust in the goodness of Yahweh to the very end of this journey they had begun together. As he entered the cloud, deep within his heart, Moses knew he would not leave it unchanged.
….but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16,17)
The disciple was lost in thought as he once again climbed the worn stairs leading to the upper room. Below, the streets of Jerusalem were bustling and overflowing with Jews from all over the world. The law required that all Jewish men should assemble at the temple in Jerusalem on this festival of Shavuot, and the sounds reminded him of the noisy crowds who had followed Yeshua not so long ago through the same streets. Fleetingly he recalled having heard that it was on this very day that Moses had received the stone tablets from Yahweh on Mt. Sinai. As he entered the familiar room and greeted those already gathered, he wondered within himself if this might be the day they would see the promise Yeshua had told them to expect. In the days since He had left them, they had been gathering regularly for prayer in this place just as He had directed, and they would do no differently this day. By law the men at least should be participating in the festival offerings at the temple, but their lives had been turned upside down by the events of recent days. Their thoughts, prayers and conversations had but one focus – they must wait for the Father’s gift that Yeshua had promised to send, and, beyond that, they must find a way to follow Yeshua’s command to take the message of the Kingdom beyond Jerusalem into the entire world.
And then, as they always did at such times, his thoughts turned to Yeshua and the amazing years they had spent together. He missed his Friend’s daily fellowship – His smile, His Voice, and that steadying Hand on his shoulder. He recalled again that day on the lake’s edge with Andrew, when he had looked up from his net into those penetrating eyes for the first time. There had been just a hint of playfulness in them. “Follow Me”, He’d said as He walked on, and then, turning back, “I’ll make you fishers of men!” And, to his own amazement, Peter had followed! He found himself remembering also the day not long after when Yeshua had summoned twelve of them aside and called them His apostles. How could he have known that day the enormity of what Yeshua had called him to? He smiled with embarrassment as he recalled again the glory of the Master on the mountain and his own foolish rush of words. The thundering Voice had reverberated right through his body as he lay trembling on the ground that night. And, of course, there were other memories, too fresh and too painful to dwell on at this moment. How could he have imagined there on that mountain-top how quickly and how violently his journey with Yeshua was to come to an end? How could he have foreseen his own crushing failure at the very hour when his Friend needed him? But then that glorious morning had dawned – just fifty days ago now. Some of the women had come running, breathless, with news he at first dared not believe. But soon he had found himself looking once again into those familiar Eyes – eyes he knew could see right through him. There was no hint of accusation in them. And then he had known that no matter where the journey led or what the outcome should be, there would be no turning back. He would love and follow Yeshua to the very end, even if it cost him his life. As he raised his hands in worship, Peter knew in the depths of his heart he would not finish this day unchanged.
THE LETTER OF THE LAW:
The Commandments given fifty days after the crossing of the Red Sea (Lev. 23:15,16)
Law written in stone (Ex. 31:18)
Three thousand die (Ex. 32:28)
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW:
The Holy Spirit given fifty days after the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:1-4)
Law written on hearts (Heb. 8:10)
Three thousand live (Acts 2:41)
There is a well-known parable told by Jesus about a son who asks his father for his inheritance, and having received it leaves home only to squander it. Coming to his senses he realises the foolishness of his mistake and returns home, hoping his father will at least allow him to live with the servants. Most of us know this parable as the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Let’s focus momentarily, however, not on the prodigal, but on his older brother, for in this story he represents those who attempt to live by law, while the prodigal represents those whose lives are lived under grace.
We find that the older brother is greatly offended to discover that not only has his father received the prodigal home with celebrations and feasting, he has also restored him to sonship. The scripture tells us that the younger brother is given “the best robe”, symbolic of the robe of righteousness (Is. 61:10) He is also given a ring, most likely a signet ring signifying authority, and sandals (which were only given to sons, as servants wore no shoes.) To add insult to injury, the young man’s father also arranges for the “fattened calf”, the best blood sacrifice available, to be killed in his honour.
What was the older brother’s problem? Many of us find it hard to understand why he could not rejoice with his father and the rest of the household at the safe return of his brother. Perhaps he would have been better pleased if his younger brother had been made to suffer more for the grief he’d caused. Possibly he would have preferred that his father reject his brother’s apology for his sinful behaviour outright, or at the very least demote him to the lesser status of a servant.
What lies at the heart of the older brother’s deep offence is revealed in his bitter words to his father: “these many years I have been serving you, I never transgressed your commandment at any time……” Hiding within every one of us there is an “older brother” who stubbornly clings to law and rejects the illogical concept of grace. Under pressure, the older brother will always revert to emphasising his own efforts as proof that he is worthy of reward.
So many born-again believers remain bound by the same error that the older brother made concerning the nature of the Father’s love. I would go so far as to say that very few of us are entirely free of this attitude – yet. However, if we are to mature into the overcoming Bride that Jesus is desiring us to become, we must allow Him to teach us what it means to be “under grace” and how to walk in the full freedom of this life of grace in which we stand (Romans 5:1-2).
In upcoming articles I intend to explore this subject of law and grace. I hope you’ll join me!
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012