Jesus vs The Law (Matthew 5:17-20)

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Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

A funny thing happens when you take certain verses of Holy Scripture and place them next to one another. Did you hear it in these two? It kind of sounded like they were contradicting each other didn’t it. The first says that Jesus doesn’t abolish the Law, but the second says that He is the end of the Law. They can’t both be true can they? So which one should we believe? Which one is it?

This very same confusion was at the heart of one of the first, debates in the Christian Church. There those who felt, on the basis of the verses from Matthew (among others) that for a person to be a good Christian they first had to subscribe to the Old Testament Laws regarding such things as cleanliness, eating, circumcision and the like. Others in the earliest church, particularly the non-Jewish Christians felt that faith in Christ would override the need to follow the Old Testament Laws. The debate still hasn’t really been solved for many even to this day.

Certain individuals, and some denominations still declare that to be a Christian is to live a life that fulfills the Law of God. Our obligation to behave in God-pleasing ways doesn’t end just because we are believers. But then again, on the other hand you have other individuals and denominations arguing that Jesus is the end of the Law. Having faith frees the believer from needing to live under the Law. We live instead under grace.

So which side should we believe? Which one is it? Well, dear friends, if you aren’t confused enough already, let me say that both sides are correct. And furthermore, the two Scripture passages in question don’t really contradict one another either!

Just as Jesus said in the Gospel, the Law has not been abolished. We Christians are indeed, supposed to keep the Law of God in all its demands. This is the way that we become the salt and light in this world that Jesus mentioned earlier in the text. Following the Laws of God given in the Ten Commandments really sets us apart from the rest of the world. It gives our lives their distinctive flavour. It provides a shining example to those around us. Refusing to go with the flow when we know its not right; playing by a higher set of rules even when no one else is watching – even when we appear to suffer for it; Helping out our neighbours both near and far; giving of our time, our money, our possessions, patience or prayers. Let’s face it, obeying God’s commands makes us different from the majority. So different it is easy to be dismissed, ridiculed, pitied, hated or worse. But as Jesus plainly teaches in the Gospel “but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

God’s will for us, laid out in the Commandments, remains the same now as then. Jesus’ coming to earth did not change that. If anything, Jesus made it even harder to fulfill the Law than before His coming. You will see over the coming weeks as we hear His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount just how He removes any question of how hard it is. And maybe that is why rather than keeping the Law, most of us are tempted to relax or loosen the Law instead. This very tenancy is what Jesus is arguing against in our Gospel reading and throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount. Time and again we will hear the refrain “You have heard it said that … but I tell you that …” And in each case Jesus will take one of those Old Testament Laws and rather than abolish it, make its full weight and meaning plain. He did this to show Not that the Law didn’t apply anymore, but that most people dimply don’t go far enough in living by God’s will.

With Jesus’ words every non-binding loop-hole of the Law is closed tight once and for all. “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” What the Law demands is iron-clad, and absolute. Not only was Jesus not abolishing the Law, He was intensifying it! He makes it painfully clear just what it takes to keep that Law of God. And it is something that not one of us has in himself.

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Jesus said. The pharisees are often portrayed as wicked and morally bankrupt men who went out of their way to break the Law of God. But you should know by now that things are never quite so black and white. In fact, the pharisees were extremely devout men who tried with all their hearts to live up to the Law of God. They were so zealous in their pursuit of this task that it guided every single aspect of their lives. Such devotion is very hard to find today. Their only problem was (and it was a big one!) that they were so busy focusing on keeping the letter of the Law that they completely missed the Spirit of the Law. They were so busy with the how’s that they simply forgot the why’s. They ended up being zealous for all the wrong reasons.

So what Jesus is saying here is that to fulfill the Law the way God demands we must be more zealous than even the pharisees, and do it all with pure hearts and motives too. Our lives must be a single-minded devotion to God in our every action, word, and thought! And this you and I both know, is frankly something beyond any of us. Jesus does not abolish the Law, but rather perfected the Law, reclaimed the Law, intensified the Law to a point where we can never hope to live up to its rightful demands.

Where, then, is the good news in all of this? Now we are finally ready “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” We can never justify ourselves under God’s Law. What He demands is simply more than what is humanly possible. But instead of just ignoring that problem or pretending like it didn’t exist (which would have left each of us destitute) God met the problem face on. And He took care of it once and for all. That’s what Jesus came here to do. That’s why He said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”

First He made it very clear that we couldn’t do it by ourselves. Then He up and fulfilled the whole of the Law for us! Every iota, every dot … Jesus kept it perfectly. His entire earthly life had not one single stain, not one little gray area in any thought word or deed. Nothing that He ever did, nothing that He ever said, not even one single thought that ran through His head was ever contrary to the Law and Will of God! Only God Himself could do such a thing. And that’s precisely what He did in Jesus.

But He didn’t do any of it for His own glory. He didn’t do it just to give us an example to shoot for. He didn’t do it to encourage us to try harder and eventually get there by ourselves. He did it to put an end to the Law once and for all. Living perfectly in our place was just the first step. After He had done all this Jesus took our place again. This time in death. Because He had first lived for us under the Law He could then also die for us under that Law. And in doing so He took way the power of the Law to accuse us and convict us of our sin ever again. That’s what Paul is talking about in Romans. The will of God for our lives will never be abolished, but the guilt and punishment for not living up to it has been abolished for good. It was stripped from our shoulders and nailed to the cross along with our Lord.

So in the end, what does this all mean for us? We dare never use that forgiveness in Jesus as an excuse to not be bothered to try and live up to the Commandments. However, when we do try and fail anyway we can turn in faith to our Saviour, receive that forgiveness and get up to try again. God’s good and perfect will for us, laid down in the Ten Commandments, will always remain our guide for living and witnessing the faith. Not one tiny little piece of it will every become invalid. But the guilt, the shame and the punishment that comes from not living up to those Laws, for being witnesses of our weakness instead of for our Lord … that is gone forever. Washed away in the blood of that one perfect man who died for all and now is a witness to God on our behalf.

AMEN.

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About kenmaher

When I'm not working I enjoy Astronomy, Camping, Comic Books, Epic Fantasy Novels, Games (both playing and designing), Hiking, Juggling, Sci-fi, and building strange things out of pvc pipe. I also enjoy being an honorary pre-schooler with my four great children ... much to their mother's dismay.
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2 Responses to Jesus vs The Law (Matthew 5:17-20)

  1. Phaedron says:

    He that teaches against any of it shall be called least, and Jesus will rebuke many for lawlessness and vain traditions and for not knowing him. The old testament is full of examples of Gods forgiveness, he even forgave a king for sacrificing his own children. Paul wasn’t perfect like Jesus, he was the chief of sinners. Even after his conversion Paul admits to being a liar “that my lie may abound onto truth” and one who delivers peoples flesh to satan, that is calls up the devil to kill them, so that on the day of judgment they will be seen as victims. Is this the example you want to follow? Paul too was a pharisee and we need to be wiser then that. The deepest thing I have learned about life is that all things are dual: man and woman, night and day, right down to our very dna chain. There are two sides of every argument, both true. The straight and narrow even handed judge is able to find the middle ground. In this case between the law keeping messianics who say Paul was a false Apostle, and the things which he said which were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Does having the Holy Spirit or the gifts therof guarantee that a person won’t sin or won’t teach something false along with true things in his ministry. If so then why do we have so many denominations that can’t agree on things. If we are going to do our very best then lets not kid ourselves. The day of the Lord shows that he will judge people for wearing strange clothes. Since this is seen in future prophecy it proves the laws of Moses were not abolished. People get angry and judge one another, but how many have the patience to listen to their brothers of all faiths, creeds, religions, and perspectives to see where everyone is coming from. Mathias replaced Judas and Paul receives no gate at the new Jerusalem, but is the false apostle Ephesus rejected. However Ephesus was ultimately condemned for renouncing their first love. Paul was a false Apostle, but don’t expect bad guys to say only lies or good guys to speak only the truth. Life is not so simple. The Pharisees rejected Jesus and then gave us another vain tradition to trap the people who followed him, and make him out to be someone who went against the laws of Moses so that in their eyes his murder would be justified. Christianity was further corrupted by Constantine and the Roman Empire. Protestant Christianity is only 500 years old, and far removed from early Christianity. It is a beast of many waters and denominations.

  2. kenmaher says:

    Phaedron
    My apologies for not replying to your comments sooner. Truth be told, I did not know what to make of your comments on my first (second and third) readings, so I left it to percolate for a while and then forgot about them in the crush of other duties. THis is not an excuse, merely an aplogy.

    That being said, I am still not entirely sure how to respond to your comments as I am having trouble following your line of reasoning. Further, I am not sure what they have to do with the points that I have raised in the sermon above. I can offer just a couple of comments to some of what you said above, and if you think I have missed the mark, or failed to understand the gist of your arguement please feel free to comment again and clarify your position for me.

    As to your comment that ‘I have learned about life is that all things are dual: man and woman, night and day, right down to our very dna chain. There are two sides of every argument, both true’ This is simply not true. God is not dualistic. God is one. And what God says is good and right, no matter what anyone else says. Evil is not the dualistic other half of good. It is the bending or breaking of that which is good. Evil is not a thing unto itself but simply the warping or the twisiting of the good thing that is. We people under God do live in a kind of dualistic state, both sinner and justified (wholely broken in our sin, and wholely saved in Jesus) but this has no bearing on the nature of God, or the will of God. God is without equal and God’s Word, and God’s Word alone is true and right.

    Secondly, as for your assertion that Paul is a (the?) false prophet. This again is simply not true. nor is it upheld by even a cursory reading of Holy Scripture. Indeed 13 of the books of the New Testament are attributed to Paul, the earliest church Council not only respecfully heard from Paul, but sided with Paul. (see Acts 15) He was in contact with many of the other apostles, and was never once publicly castigated for even one false viewpoint.

    Finally, your assertion that Christianity was ” further corrupted by Constantine and the Roman Empire’ is very grave one indeed. perhaps yo u could explain for me just how you came to that conclusion? What is your basis for such a statement?

    I thank you again for your comment and await your clarification.

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