Jesus Crossed Boundaries: The Old and the New

Jesus Crossed Boundaries: The Old and the New

Jesus Crossed Boundaries: The Old and the New.

God created many fixed boundaries in His creation of the universe. Some of these boundaries, separating male and female, light and dark, holy and unholy, the Sabbath Day, good and evil, love and hate, and many other examples, were not intended to ever be crossed. But there were some other separations that evolved and were waiting for the only Person who could cross the boundaries to reconcile the world as God intended. Jesus united what seemed like impossible differences, He broke many barriers, He joined together what seemed like inherent opposites, only to create something new, life-giving and fresh out of the new combination. There were curtains and veils all over creation, and some of those barriers seemed unbreakable. Examples might include the old and the new, heaven and earth, God and sin, life and death, Jew and Gentile, the spiritual and the physical, and even those people who were considered clean or unclean. This entire category about Jesus’ crossing boundaries in His ministry of reconciliation is largely a mystery. My meager thoughts don’t even remotely approach the final word on something this profound and large-scale. My thoughts are more of an exploration than a final discovery. I would like to explore in a preliminary what Jesus accomplished on earth by considering various boundaries He crossed. In this article, let’s explore how Jesus crossed the boundary between the old and the new.

“Therefore, every scholar of Scripture who is trained and instructed for the kingdom of heaven, every true scribe, is like a Master of the House who is able to bring treasure out of his storehouse, things new and old.” (Matthew 13:52).

SCRIBE. The Greek word used for scribe in this parable is the source of our word for “grammar,” so scribes were traditionally accepted as “men of letters.” A true scholar knows the Torah and is intimately familiar with these Sacred Writings. Not only does a scribe know Scripture, but he knows how to teach it to others and interpret its meaning. The capable scribe has been an ardent student of the Bible, a disciple, a learner. The well-trained scribe knows how to bring out the old, traditional Word as well as the new fresh application, shedding new light on the old truths. A scribe for the kingdom is equally adept at focusing on the words of Moses in the same breath as the teachings of Jesus. A worthy scribe, according to Jesus, brings out the Scripture that is familiar to those who know the Hebrew Bible, as well as the wisdom that is perhaps unfamiliar in the words of Christ. The wise scribe knows how to present the treasures of Scripture, whether new or old. The scribe knows that the new word in Jesus completes and fulfills the old word of OT Scripture. The old truths have already been established upon what has been revealed by God. The new truths are being founded upon the words of the Son of God. The scribe in the kingdom recognizes this and will combine these old and new truths to develop a deeper understanding of God. The wise scribe is focused on the full revelation of God, whether from Moses and the Prophets or from Jesus.

EZRA. The most famous and celebrated scribe in Biblical history is Ezra, who lived about 450 years before Christ. As soon as Jesus used the word scribe, many would have thought of the great Ezra. He was the ultimate scholar of God’s word, trained to read and interpret Scriptures for the people. Scribes like Ezra spent their lives studying the Sacred Writings and explaining it to the people so they could understand it. “Ezra had prepared his heart to study the Law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10). God-fearing Jews revered the memory of Ezra, and recognized that that day was gone, that the new scribes were more concerned about their own reputation, their new traditions which often replaced Scriptures in their teachings. So Jesus’ mention of a well-trained scribe would have brought many in the audience back to the golden days of Ezra as the trusted scribe.

HOUSEHOLDER. The Greek word for householder here literally means Master of the House. There is much authority given to the housemaster, and there is much given to a scribe. The wise master here has a storeroom of various valuables, whether food or ornaments or jewelry or other possessions. The wise master knows what is contained in the treasure-house. He knows the valuables that are antiques which are still beautiful and useful, and he knows his most recent possessions which are equally valuable. When a guest visits his house, he knows how to exhibit his prize possessions, and he knows which food to bring out at the right time. He is well-versed in both the new and the old. He knows which valuable will be most appreciated by his visitors, and which valuables will need a background story. The master of the house will know which valuables to bring out of the storehouse, whether food or possessions, that will best entertain his guests.

INEFFECTIVE SCRIBES. During the time of Jesus, scribes had the reputation of being scholars of the Bible, and were laymen not priests. They helped interpret questions of the Law, and were often called “lawyers.” Because of the importance of their prestige and history, they shared spiritual authority with other Temple leaders. Jesus usually criticized the Temple scribes during His day… they don’t teach as one “having authority” (Matt. 7:29); “they love to go around in long robes and be greeted in the marketplace,” (Mark 12:38); “they say, but they do not do.” (Matt. 23:3); there is a long list of complaints against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23. Since most scribes formed their own party within the Pharisaic party, the Temple scribes were usually associated with their Pharisee brethren. Jesus’ disciples must have been surprised to hear a positive reference to the scribe in Jesus’ parable, since He spent so much time condemning them in no uncertain terms. This parable is Jesus’ attempt to redefine the role of the scribe, what it takes to be an effective scribe in Jesus’ eyes. The scribe in that day tended to focus on the old and traditional, and then add their own traditions into the mix. Jesus felt they limited access to the Father, and He wasn’t happy about it. Scribes were trapped to the old and blinded by their own traditions. Jesus wanted to change all that. Jesus is saying here that this is what a good scribe looks like. You need both the old and the new, Jesus is saying. You need both to get the full picture of the kingdom of God, the very kingdom that I am inaugurating in a fresh way.

JESUS. Without directly saying so, Jesus seems to present Himself in this short parable as being an example of a well-trained scribe of Scripture, a modern version of Ezra, the Chief Scribe, well able to present and interpret the Holy Word and teach the people into the kingdom of God. It is abundantly clear from the gospels that the Hebrew Bible, and also the Greek version of Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint, were the consistent reference points for Jesus in His ministry. The most heavily emphasized version of the Bible during Jesus time was the Greek version, since that was the prevailing tongue at the time. But Jesus quotes directly from both the Tanak Hebrew version and the Greek version all through the gospels. In fact, Greek scholars of the New Testament report that Jesus quoted the Scriptures about 180 times! Indeed, Jesus was the wise Master of the House who could competently take out the old and the new from His storehouse of Scripture knowledge. The Hebrew Scriptures formed the entire context of His presence on earth… fulfilling it, embodying it, teaching it, obeying it. That is not a big surprise, since Jesus was drenched in Scripture His whole life, beginning with His parents, orthodox Jews who were called to have the Bible as the centerpiece of their home and the main teaching tool in in child-raising.  Joseph and Mary were filling up the storehouse of Jesus from day one in Jesus’ life. Let’s not forget that Jesus crossed the boundary from old to new in His incarnation, in which He was the New Adam transformed from the old Adam. Jesus was the first born of redeemed humanity, the New from the Old, the sacred restoration of the old sin-enslaved Adam.

Jesus was surrounded by Scripture even before He started His ministry, and there is no doubt that Jesus learned the Scripture by some sort of spiritual osmosis, that His Bible was second nature to His way of thinking. At His conception, the angel quotes Is. 7 and refers to father David and the house of Jacob. Then at Jesus’ birth, the angel quotes from Isaiah again (9:6), and the mind-boggling throng of angels in the sky start singing the Gloria, which is a paraphrase of Isaiah 6:3. The Old Testament continues to surround Jesus when as a baby at His dedication in the Temple, Simeon quotes passages from Genesis, a Psalm, and Isaiah. By the time Jesus trained in Bible memory and interpretation at twelve years old, His parents found him discussing the finer points of the Mosaic Law with learned rabbis in the Temple. Think of that… Jesus showed Himself to be a well-trained scribe at twelve! A highpoint, though, was at the official beginning of His ministry, when the wonderful Father’s voice boomed a weaving of Old Testament passages in His blessing on His Son Jesus: from Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 4:2, and Genesis 22:2. By this point in His life, the Hebrew Bible wasn’t mere head knowledge of course, it was fully alive in Him, it formed His identity, and Jesus was as fully enveloped in the Scripture as a fish in the water.

Jesus quoted authoritatively from the Hebrew Bible all though His ministry, an estimated one-tenth of what He had to say came directly from His Scripture! Jesus was pulling the old from His storehouse all the time, and from His Sermon on the Mount we can see how He was pulling out some of His new as well. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled… For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven.”  (read Matthew 5:17-20).

In His most famous sermon, Jesus wanted to enter a rabbinic debate about the Law of Moses and its implications for daily life. He wanted to reveal a fuller understanding of Torah. He wanted to explain the spirit of the Law and its original intent instead of being content with the superficial letter of the Law by the rabbinic authorities. He wanted to broaden the implications of certain Jewish laws, offering His own distinctive interpretation on specific verses. By sharing examples of how He interprets Scripture, Jesus wanted to provide an example of how other verses of the Law could be interpretated. Jesus wanted to show His disciples how to move from ritual obedience of the Law to an inner, heart-felt reverence and faith. Jesus wanted to raise the moral and ethical standards by revealing a righteousness of the heart and not the outward righteousness of mere observation of the commands. Jesus said that disciples must show a greater righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees. The greater righteousness involves a relationship with Christ instead with the dead letter of the Law, and allowing Him to change your heart and life.

When Jesus claimed that He wanted to “fulfill’ the Law, not “abolish” it, Jewish hearers would have understood His terms in a particular way. To “abolish” meant to cancel a law through misinterpretation or by sheer disobedience. To “fulfill” meant to preserve it, to sustain that law by properly interpreting it. So Jesus is engaging in a rabbinic debate about proper interpretation of the Law. Someone had evidently suggested that through His unique interpretation He is in effect canceling the Law, nullifying what has been accepted and in writing for centuries. Jesus disagreed. Hebrew scholar David Bivin paraphrased Jesus’ response this way… “Do not suppose that I have any intention of undermining Scripture by misinterpreting it. My purpose is to establish and maintain the knowledge and observance of God’s word. My intent is not weaken or negate God’s written instruction, but to sustain and establish it through correct interpretation. I would never invalidate the Torah by removing something from it through misinterpretation. Heaven and earth would sooner disappear than something from the Torah.” (Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus).

For Jesus loved Torah. He was an observant Jew who cherished the Law. He accepted the authority of God’s Word in what we now know as the Old Testament. He felt strongly about the importance and permanence of Torah. He basically said that the Law of Moses would never cease to exist. When Jesus said in M. 5:18, “Truly, assuredly, neither the smallest letter of the alphabet nor the tiniest little mark on one letter would ever be removed from Torah,” He started out with “Amen.” That word that has a root in the word for truth means truly, assuredly, so be it, this is the truth. This was unusual, because most times someone would say Amen at the end of a prayer or special teaching, affirming the truth about what’s been said. But Jesus used Amen before He even said anything. Jesus is revealing His authority to speak the truth, declaring His words to be truthful before He says it. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

When a reader of the gospels observes the defining moments in Jesus’ life, practically every time He saw the need to quote Scripture: at His Temptation (Matt. 4), He quoted from Deuteronomy three times; His “mission statement” in Luke 4 was taken directly from Isaiah 61; His triumphal entry in Matthrew 21; His clearing out the Temple moneychangers in Luke 19; His Last Supper in John 15; and of course on the Cross, Jesus quoted Psalms 22 and 31. Jesus was a well-trained scholar when He approached many of His most important topics, such as male and female in marriage (Mark 10 and Matt. 19); the two most important commandments (Matt. 22); mercy (Matt. 12); the purpose of parables (Matt. 13); the Suffering Servant (Luke 22); the Cornerstone (Matt. 21); the betrayal of Judas (Ps. 41). He pointedly threw in an Old Testament reference into many of His most important conversations, and He alluded to so many people and incidents in the Hebrew Bible that we can’t even them delve into them all… murder of Abel; Noah and the flood; Lot and the fire; Moses and the burning bush, the manna, and the bronze serpent, Jacob’s ladder, not to mention David and Solomon, Elijah and Zechariah, Daniel and Jonah. It’s true, the Hebrew Bible was the Lord’s reference point during His ministry, the Scripture was His context, and He intended to reveal just how He fulfilled all those “old” Bible passages.

The Old Testament is actually the Hebrew Bible. Why do Christians continue to call the Hebrew Bible the “Old” Testament? This is very offensive to Jewish believers who dislike the Old in Old Testament. Why call it old, which could easily mean outdated, hobbled by age, past its usage date? The Scriptures that have been believed in by faithful Jews through the centuries has been called the Hebrew Bible. If only Christians could respectfully call it that. And why are there so many Christian translations of the Hebrew Bible? Aren’t the Jewish translations good enough? Christians should be reading the Tanakh from the Jewish Publication Society as often as all the Christian translations. Jewish scholarship is beyond reproach, and since the Hebrew Bible was written by Jews to Jews who were laying the groundwork for a Jewish Messiah, it would seem it would be helpful to receive the Jewish perspective firsthand. By honoring the Hebrew Bible, we honor our spiritual roots.

DISCIPLES. Jesus made a special point of redefining the role of scribe with His disciples. Undoubtedly, He wanted the disciples to see this role as a special part of their calling in His absence. He wanted them each to be capable and effective scribes for the Kingdom. Judging from biblical and church history, Jesus’ goal was met. They all taught and preached and studied and interpreted and proclaimed the Kingdom of Christ. Jesus yearned for this to be true about whoever followed Him, to be adept at handling the word of truth, to be everyday scholars of Scripture. The disciples learned indeed to bring out the new and the old in their teaching and preaching. And they turned the world upside down. And may His followers today do the same.

The Ultimate Master of the House. Remember that momentous Emmaus walk after the resurrection. “Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, Jesus explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about Himself… Then He told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27, and 44-45). Could we get a better picture of a well-trained scribe?