Sermon Notes on Luther's, "How Christians Should Regard Moses"
Martin Luther once preached a sermon series through Exodus. To introduce the series he preached a now famous sermon entitled, "How Christians Should Regard Moses." I recommend it to you all. You can read it for free at this link.
I thought I’d share my sermon notes with you for this article. I hope you find them helpful.
Luther’s main point is that the law of Moses binds only the Jews and not the Gentiles. It certainly doesn’t bind Christians today.
Luther highlights the importance of the proper interpretation and application of God's Word. We must take note when a word or command of God is addressed to a particular person or nation, like Israel, and when a word or command is addressed to all people and to all nations. Not recognizing this distinction is the source of much trouble.
For instance, consider Exodus 20:1-2: And God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Luther: "This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews."
Luther: "Thus what God said to Moses by way of commandment is for the Jews only. But the gospel goes through the whole world in its entirety; it is offered to all creatures without exception."
However, the Ten Commandments also contain natural law, which has been given to all people, written upon our hearts by God (Rom. 2:15). We don't uphold the Ten Commandments because God gave them to Moses and the Jews. Instead we uphold them because they conform with natural law and are restated in the New Testament. The exception is the Third Commandment, regarding the Sabbath, which, like the other feasts in the OT, is no longer binding upon us today.
(See Col. 2:16-17: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” See also Rom. 14:5-6 & Heb. 4.)
Thus, Luther writes, "We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver—unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law."
Question: Why then do you preach about Moses if he does not pertain to us?
Answer: Three things are to be noted in Moses.
1) Where the law of Moses agrees with natural law and the New Testament, we listen.
2) We find many of God's promises about Christ in the writings of Moses. This is the best thing we find there. Luther writes, "We read Moses for the sake of the promises about Christ, who belongs not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles; for through Christ all the Gentiles should have the blessing, as was promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:3)."
3) "We read Moses for the beautiful examples of faith, of love, and of the cross, as shown in the fathers, Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the rest. From them we should learn to trust in God and love him. In turn there are also examples of the godless, how God does not pardon the unfaith of the unbelieving; how he can punish Cain, Ishmael, Esau, the whole world in the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Examples like these are necessary. For although I am not Cain, yet if I should act like Cain, I will receive the same punishment as Cain. Nowhere else do we find such fine examples of both faith and unfaith."
That's the end of my sermon notes. I encourage you to read Luther’s whole sermon.
Luther's sermon agrees with the teaching of the New Testament. For instance, in Hebrews 8, after quoting God’s promise of the new covenant from Jeremiah 31, the author concludes with this statement: "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).
In the New Testament, God still calls his people to live holy and righteous lives. Many of the New Testament commands overlap with what we find in the law of Moses, but that is not why we keep them. The law of Moses was for a particular people and only for a particular time, that is, “until Christ came” (Gal. 3:24). The promises of the Gospel, however, apply to all people from every age.
P.S. Luther’s sermon is kind of long. That’s why I gave you my sermon notes. If you want to learn more, Tim Keller has written an excellent and brief article on the same subject. Search for: “Tim Keller, Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency’” or simply click here.