Jesus did not come to make it OK to sin. He came to make us holy from the inside out. He came to defeat sin. Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to change us.
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Matthew #14. Matthew 5:17-20
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17-20, HCSB)
Christians commonly forget that Jesus said this. It is important for the rest of the sermon on the mount, so let’s unpack it a bit.
First, let us understand that Jesus talking about the Old Testament in its entirety, not just certain “laws” or “rules.” The New Testament is written in Greek, but it is safe to assume that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew. The word “law” in Hebrew is “Torah” and it refers not just to specific commands, but to all of the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called “The book of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). “Prophets” is the way Jews referred to all the rest of the Old Testament. In other words, when a Jewish person said “The Law and the Prophets” he meant “the entire Old Testament.” In short, Jesus is affirming that the entire Old Testament remains valid, even for those who follow him.
Jesus got even more specific than that. He said not one “iota or least stroke of a letter” can be removed from the law (and by implication, the rest of the Old Testament. This is an extreme statement. Look at this word in Hebrewיֹּ֗יֹּ֗אמֶרַ This is the Hebrew word “said.” The smallest letter in Hebrew is “yodh” which is the first on the right on this word, the one that looks like a comma up in the air. The equivalent letter in Greek is “iota” which is like an i without the dot. The second letter in from the left is “Mem.” On the right hand side at the top of the Mem is a little stroke that looks a bit like a horn. The expression “least stroke of a letter” refers to little marks like this. Jesus said, not even an iota/yodh, not even the little horn on a Mem will be undone. In other words, Jesus is very serious about this. We can’t “fudge” on God’s word. Right here, Jesus says that it will remain until “heaven and earth pass away.” In addition, he says that he himself fulfills its purpose. Christians typically don’t think this way. How can this be?
First, and I’ve mentioned this in other sermons, yes, the whole law applies to Christians. For example, even the koshers laws still apply to Christian. Now, before you click away, read this paragraph. The New Testament clearly teaches that we don’t have to eat kosher any more. Have some pork chops, bacon or fried shrimp, and feel no guilt. But in the life of a Christian, there are still applications for the kosher laws of the Old Testament. The main reason for those laws was to keep God’s people from worshipping pagan deities (which were sometimes demonic powers – Paul associated idol worship with demons in 1 Corinthians 10:20). A second reason was to help God’s people trust him more: pigs were some of the easiest animals to raise for meat, and by forbidding pork, the people had to rely upon God that much more for their food. Finally, the kosher laws showed everyone that God’s people were different.
Now, should we still refrain from worshipping pagan deities and demons? Of course! Should we still trust God to provide for us? Absolutely! Should we still be noticeably different from those who don’t follow God? You betcha. So the kosher laws still apply. Not in an exact, literal sense, but we don’t eliminate them from God’s word to us. There is something about those laws which still brings benefit to Christians, and should still have force in our lives.
In terms of Jesus fulfilling the laws let us consider the following:
In the first place, the promises of the Old Testament are about Jesus Christ, and are fulfilled in him:
Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27, HCSB)
Then [Jesus] told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45, HCSB)
For [Paul] vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 18:28, HCSB)
To remove part of the law or prophets is to remove part of the revelation of Jesus Christ; to weaken the promises that are fulfilled in him.
Second, Jesus fulfilled the law by obeying it perfectly himself.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15, HCSB)
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (2Cor 5:21, NET)
Jesus not only affirmed the law and fulfilled its promises: he himself personally obeyed every part of it.
Third, Jesus reconciles us to the standards of the law.
There is no problem with the law. The problem is with us. Put simply, the Law is God’s holiness translated into human terms. It shows us what holiness looks like in a human being. The Law is not wrong. It is not evil. It accurately shows us the standard required for holiness.
The standard is what it is, because holiness is what it is. It is a law of God’s nature. And what the law shows us, is that we cannot reach the standard. It makes it clear that the standard is impossible for us. That is all that the law can accomplish. It shows us that we are not holy, that we are sinners. And every time you try and reach that standard, the law will show you the same thing again. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we were born without a chance. We were born with a congenital illness called sin, and the law shows us that we simply cannot overcome that. The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God.
Jesus did not come to get rid of the law. He did not come to change the standard. He says the law will remain. Instead, he came to fulfill the law Himself, to meet the standard on our behalf, to fill us up with His own holiness.
If we try to set aside the moral requirements of the law, we are saying “anything goes.” There is a tremendous difference between “anything goes” and “anything can be forgiven.” If we try to set aside the law, we are saying “anything goes.” That doesn’t mean sin is forgiven, it means there is no wrong – but it also means there is no right. That doesn’t mean God loves us, it means God doesn’t care. It means he doesn’t care if you lie to your boss or sleep with someone outside of marriage. But it also means he doesn’t care if someone rapes you or murders you, or steals your job or your spouse. If there is no sin, there can be no justice. If nothing is wrong, if there is no standard, then the powerful can do whatever they please, and it is just bad luck for everyone else. The concept of: “there is no sin” would be very bad news for the human race.
So, we cannot set aside God’s standard. It is absolutely wrong to say: “You don’t have to be holy anymore,” or “the law isn’t valid anymore.” Jesus repudiates that idea in the verses. Jesus did not come to make it OK to sin. He came to make us holy from the inside out. He came to defeat sin.
Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to change us. And that is terrific news! The standard remains. It is just that now, if we will trust him to do it, Jesus meets that standard on our behalf.
That is another way in Jesus came to fulfill the law. The law is good and right. But before Jesus, it was incomplete. It gave us the standard, but no way to meet the standard. Jesus completes it, because through him, the standards of law can be satisfied for us.
This is also the key to understanding what Jesus means when he says “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees had turned God’s Holy standard into a set of rules. For instance, where the Old Testament said “remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy” they had created a set of rules to define what that meant. The defined righteousness as “following the external rules of our religion.” You could hate God, but if you followed the rules, the Jewish religion would still say you were right with him. But Jesus knew two things:
· The man-made rules defined by the Jewish religion were not the same thing as God’s holy standard, defined by the Old Testament.
· The focus of the scribes and Pharisees was all external. The evil and depravity of their hearts was left unaffected by the fact that they outwardly followed rules.
So when Jesus tells us his followers must be even more righteous, he is telling us that we need him to fulfill the law on our behalf, and to make us truly holy – especially within our hearts. The way to be even more righteous than the Pharisees and scribes is to trust Jesus to make us holy from the inside out, and keep saying “yes” to him as he works that holiness into our everyday lives.
There is no point in pretending that we are capable of doing what the law requires. But to set aside the law is to invite chaos, brutality and injustice. The answer, is to trust Jesus to fulfill the law. We still seek to apply in ways that are relevant to our daily lives. We still try to follow it, because Jesus, living inside us, wants to follow it. But, in Jesus, we are free from the condemnation that comes when we fail.
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