Today we often see lawyers and judges, whether in real life or in depictions in books, TV or movies, who are seeking the truth. However we also see those same people twist the law to suit their own ends and to seek a result that was not really what the law was saying. They look at loopholes and ways to wrangle an outcome that benefits a client rather than seeking the truth. Jesus often sat with Pharisees and lawyers and showed them that the truth is not about the law, and in this section of scripture we see that there is a more important set of principles than those embodied in the law.
The Standard of the Law
The law defines the difference between what is right and wrong. It is meant to define standards of living so that the members of a society understand the boundaries of what is or is not acceptable.
Biblical law does the same and has the added advantage that the standard set is that set by God rather than men. There is great wisdom in the law and there is much that we can learn, not just about right and wrong, but how to live a life that is abundant in many ways.
But the law for all its good facets was corrupted by men. It is men who seek “wriggle room” to manipulate situations by using the law to their own advantage. They have made it inflexible and harsh using it to control rather than instruct people.
The Essence of the Law
In truth though the essence of the law is that it represents the love and nature of God. The law should not be inflexible but compassionate. The law should teach and instruct so that the hearers learn wisdom. The law should provide a moral standard rather than a measure by which lawbreakers are punished.
In this section of scripture we see Jesus basically saying these same things. He asks the Pharisees and the lawyers this question. “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?” (verse 3) It was the sabbath day and those he spoke to did not answer him but sat silent. In another version of this teaching (Mark 3:1-5) we see the Lord looked at those around him in anger for their hardness of heart.
Those who were there believed it was against the law to do any work on the sabbath. They believed that to heal the man on the sabbath was work and therefore would be unlawful. But Jesus shows that it was more “lawful” to show compassion” He says of the Pharisees elsewhere that they were great at following the letter of the law in terms of the works of the law, but they neglected the truth and the “weightier matters” of the law; justice, mercy and faith. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Mathew 23:23)
So it is in the morality of the law that we find the truth rather than the letter of the law. This is the message Jesus was showing those people and us too. The truth is based in love, which is where we find compassion, mercy, justice and faith.
But the way the Pharisees and lawyers approached the law and healing on the sabbath was from the perspective of works, not love. They saw the law as something to be “done” rather than a guide to what is good. Thus they failed to keep the truth of the law.
Its Not About the Law
The New Covenant emphasises this issue even further for we see that it is not the law that is the focus, but faith in the words of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we have died to the law and now live to God separated from the law. The law has great knowledge and wisdom, but we do not need to be under the law and in fact the law will get in the way of our walk.
There is much more that can be said about this matter and I have put together a lot of information on this in two places. Firstly in a free eBook on the Foundations of Christianity. And also you can learn more about this in a free eCourse on How to Become a Christian.
The law is good, but for a Christian it can be quite a problem, as Paul discovered. It is only by being separated from the law that we can find the truth of freedom in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to set us free from the law and from sin. But if we continue to put ourselves under the law and call ourselves sinners when Jesus has clearly removed us from that place, then we fall down and cannot find the path to the truth.