A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this afternoon and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 5:17-20
[Read Matthew 5:17-20]
Jesus’ declaration on the hillside, “I have come to fulfill the Scriptures,” were stunning to his audience. His disciples believed he had come to overthrow their oppressors, and it wasn’t only Roman rule that burdened them. They believed he came to relieve the crushing burdens placed on them by the scribes and Pharisees. Abolishing the law and prophets (Scriptures) would be life changing! This is what his disciples and others hoped for.
But the scribes and Pharisees thought just the opposite. The scribes were the teachers and official expositors of the law. They sought to preserve the law from any mistakes and over time they created certain traditions from the law that became equal to the law. The Pharisees were a religious sect in Judaism—separated ones. They took the teachings of the scribes and rigorously sought to apply them to their own lives and the lives of others. They dressed in a particular way to prove their righteousness.
Who does Jesus think he is to abolish God’s law?
In contrast to the man-made legalistic traditions of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus presents the true spiritual beauty of the law.
Here in Matthew 5:17-20, Matthew makes a significant shift in his use of the word “fulfills.” He doesn’t use the word to describe the fulfillment of Jesus’ coming, but who he already is. Only God could fulfill “the law and the prophets,” the very words spoken by God.
The first thing we notice is Jesus’s astonishing claim.
[Read Matthew 5:17-19]
Jesus is the word of God—unchanging, eternal, perfect, and the judge who protects his people through his Word.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus is not contradicting the law, but fulfilling it in himself. He brings completion to the meaning of the law of God. The Old Testament cannot be rightly interpreted until we understand how it has been fulfilled in Christ. Every Old Testament text must be viewed in light of Jesus’ person and ministry.
He is the inerrant expositor of the Word and now tells everyone what the law really teaches. The astonishing claim he makes is that he is the absolute fulfillment and embodiment of God’s greatest promises, which to the scribes and Pharisees is blasphemous.
Just like on Mt. Sinai when God spoke his word through Moses, Jesus on this Galilean hillside speaks God’s word through himself because he is God. What an astonishing claim!
He is saying, “It is my role to bring into being that to which the law and prophets have pointed forward, and to carry them into a new era of fulfillment.” The law and prophets are not abolished. They are still the authoritative word of God, but their role will no longer be the same now that I have come.
He explains what that obedience will involve for his disciples. He rejects the demands of the scribes and Pharisees for only external obedience. His purpose wasn’t to change or annul the law, but to reveal the full depth of its meaning.
Jesus is the culmination and ultimate fulfillment of the law—his life, his death, his resurrection, his suffering, his shed blood, and his death for our sins satisfied the law of God once and for all. He was and is the perfect lamb whose blood covered all our sins, and now unites us eternally to himself by his Spirit. It is the best fulfillment of the law we could ever imagine.
In verse 18, Jesus continues to astonish them. “Truly I say to you . . .” Jesus is saying, “My word will endure for all time until I bring all things to completion. Not one iota of the law will pass away until all of my plans have all been fulfilled. Then, I will create a new heaven and new earth! One day the old will pass away in an amazing and mighty rebirth of the universe. Then time as you know it will cease, and the written words of God’s law will be no longer needed, for all things in me will have been fulfilled. The first day following ten thousand years will only be the beginning of eternity with God. Until then the law is as enduring as the universe.”
The phrase “least of these commandments” in Matthew 5:19 then reflects a typical Jewish view of a ranking of God’s priorities in the Torah—some laws were considered greater than others. The scribes and Pharisees taught the law and kept it externally, but they treated them differently, and applied them differently, teaching others to do the same. They kept the easy parts of the law outwardly, but lost sight of the heart of the law.
Treating the law wrongly means a lowly position in God’s kingdom. The opposite is true for those who obey and teach others to obey God’s word. Although both are still in his kingdom their rewards are not the same. This passage applies to everyone because we are all teachers of God’s word. We teach in our homes, and we teach each other. We must be vigilant to accurately teach and share God’s word.
A second thing we see in this text is Jesus’s appalling claim.
[Read Matthew 5:20]
The scribes and Pharisees are devasted by what Jesus says about the law which they thought they had perfected. He tells them, and us, that the righteousness he demands far surpasses anything they are capable of achieving. Christ’s way is far more challenging and more demanding as well as more rewarding than any man-made legalistic system can ever be.
Here Jesus introduces a group of individuals who are not in the kingdom at all. He speaks directly to the scribes and Pharisees because they were a model of the greatest righteousness imaginable in Judaism. He challenges their entire approach to God’s law. They are the antithesis of righteousness (see Matthew 23:23).
What did the ordinary Jewish person think of the scribes and Pharisees? They were like “gods” to them. They were considered the holiest of men, and the embodiment of what religion should be. They were the spiritual leaders who were supposed to help them draw near to God, but Jesus exposes who they really are: hypocrites! His main point here is that Christian discipleship requires a greater righteousness than they see in these men.
Jesus is going after their hearts. They needed to go outside the realm of external obedience to the law and into a life of grace, but they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. They were more interested in having a reputation of being spiritual than actually having true spirituality through the saving grace and work of Christ.
They totally missed the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” They put their trust in their own righteousness (self-righteousness) rather than the righteousness of Christ. So, what are you trusting in to get into heaven? Being a good person? Your service? Your giving? Your attendance on Sundays? Your Bible reading?
As a believer the spiritual life we pursue must never be to ease our conscience by just doing something we hope pleases God. Reading the bible, praying, going to church, fellowshipping with one another, serving, and being generous are things we should do, but not because of guilt or any attempt to merit God’s favor, but instead we do these things to know God, to meet with God, and to grow in our love for God.
That is a life of grace, and it is a life of grace that Jesus is explaining and interpreting in this passage. As the old hymns wonderfully say:
“Nothing in my hands I bring simply to thy cross I cling.”
“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Song of Response
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