When I arrived at the University of Oklahoma in the summer of 1992 to begin my college education, I was excited to take every class on my schedule . . . except one. Attending college meant the end of the 8:30 AM – 3:00 PM school day and the advent of the three day a week lecture rotation. As an aspiring procrastinator, committed intramural athlete, and John Madden football playing (on the Sega Genesis mind you) enthusiast, I was looking forward to all that free time! All of my classes had that three day-a-week rhythm except one . . . Spanish 1. The five day-a-week mandate this class came with cramped my style. Further complicating this course for me was the fact that it was taught by a Chinese man who, when flustered by a group of college students, would speak incoherently in a combination of the three languages he had previously mastered, Chinese, English, and Spanish. No me gusto.
Now, truth be told, I did not have to take Spanish 1 at OU. My degree program only required me to take one 3 hour (read 3 day a week) foreign language course in the “2000” level. The reason I did not simply sign up to take that Spanish reading course first semester my freshman year was simple . . . I did not speak Spanish. I needed to learn the basics before I could read poetry and short stories. My five day-a-week year long Spanish marathon was a prerequisite necessary for me to understand the material I would read in the one required reading course my sophomore year.
I was thinking about this experience today as I reflected further on the Law that God gave to His people in the Old Testament through His servant Moses. Moses went up on the mountainside and God gave him 10 commandments that would form a contract (we know it now as the Old Covenant) for how people in that era would relate to God. This Law was given to the Jewish people and governed humanity’s relationship with God for roughly 1500 years until God would establish a New Covenant with His Church through the saving work of Jesus Christ. When Christ came, God tells us through the book of Hebrews that salvation had always been through the person and work of Christ for all people. In a sense, the required course for salvation for people has always been about what Jesus has done and become effective as people take Christ into our hearts by faith.
If Jesus Christ had always been humanity’s required course, then why did God establish a 1,500 year period governed by the Law? The answer from Galatians 3:24 is clear, the Law was the prerequisite to people understanding Christ. Galatians 3:24 says, “So then, the Law was our pedagogue to Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The idea of a pedagogue is one of a teacher who would come alongside a parent and help train a child, maturing them for adulthood. God gave the Law for 1,500 years to teach His people something in preparation for Christ. What does the world learn through the Law that prepares it for Christ?
In the Law we learn that God is holy and we are not. The Law shows us that the standards of God are lofty and perfect. Humanity’s problem is that we cannot perfectly live out God’s perfect standard. In a sense, the 10 Commandments are a document that condemns all of humanity. The Law says do not lie, yet even Abraham Lincoln told a lie at some point in his life. The Law says honor your father and mother, yet all parents (and children) know how impossible this is every moment of every day. Jesus goes so far as to apply the 10 commandments to our thought lives, effectively making virtually all murderers and adulterers! The Law shows us what Romans 3:23 famously states, “All have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s perfect standards.”
The Law also informs us that the result of sin is death. Think of all the bloody animal sacrifices the Old Testament demands as temporary coverings for the guilt of sin. Every lamb sacrificed on Passover, every sacrifice offered in the Temple was a reminder of what Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death.”
The period of the Law also shows us the power and character of God. For 1500 years God poured out miracles and messages on the earth through supernatural means and the pen of the prophets. These prophecies, signs, and wonders helped people understand just how powerful the God of the Bible really is.
All these works of the Law helped prepare people for the truth of Christ. Jesus came into the world to seek and save the lost . . . the people who understood that they were not self-righteous enough to perfectly adhere to the Law and save themselves. The Law prepared people for their NEED for a Savior. Further, the Law prepared people for the understanding that death was the result of sin, so when Jesus died on the cross to take the payment for humanity’s sins, we would know why that needed to happen. Finally, the supernatural demonstrations of God in the Old Testament help us to recognize the presence of God in the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament. The Law was given as a prerequisite to teach humanity so that they would understand Christ!
This Christmas, as you worship with your family, probably reading a lot from the first chapter or two of the first four books of the New Testament, allow yourself to skim back over the 39 books of the Old Testament. This prerequisite will help you understand the meaning of Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law.” The fullness of time came when the world had gone through the necessary prerequisite training under the Law to receive the new-born King.