Kingdom of Law | Matthew 5:17-20 (Marysville)
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 5:17–5:20
Good Morning! We are continuing our series in the Book of Matthew looking at Jesus the promised Savior-King of God’s people. We’ve seen his royal birth, his baptism and commissioning for ministry. We’ve seen Jesus successfully endure temptation in the wilderness and then move to the offensive as he gathers disciples and sends them out to preach the gospel of turning from sin to the kingdom of God. Jesus has been healing sickness and healing souls and has started drawing large crowds. As more people gathered Jesus went up a mountain and began to preach. His sermon wasn’t a campaign speech because he already is the King, and it’s not an inauguration speech because the Kingdom hasn’t come to full fruition. It’s a sermon/speech about how the world is to be turned upside-down by God for His people so those who are poor in spirit, who morn, who are meek, and hunger for God’s righteousness, and identify themselves with God’s Son Jesus, will be answered and enter the kingdom of heaven. But before the kingdom comes in fullness things will be dark, those who faithfully love and serve the king will be persecuted but are to remain faithful preserving kingdom values in the world while shining light into the darkness. Last week closed with Jesus saying the good works of the citizens of the kingdom will be the light and give glory to the King. What are the good works? The Law, the commands of God, given to His people for their joy. So as we pick things up in Matthew 5:17-20 this week and unpack 21-48 in the weeks to come we will see, Jesus preached the kingdom of heaven is a revolution, not of radical rebellion, but of radical obedience.
Matt 5:17-20 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.
Being part of a kingdom means living under the King’s laws. This is an introduction to a lengthy section of Jesus’ sermon where he dives into the details of how Christians are to interact with specific commands of God. So the next 4 weeks where we will unpack Anger, Lust, Divorce/Oaths, and Loving Enemies.
V17 Law Fulfilled
Jesus is clear he came for a purpose, he is on a mission. But there is apparently a rumor that because Jesus has been preaching something that was new and different from the mainstream Jewish religious teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, that Jesus has come to abolish, completely destroy, set aside, nullify a few thousand years of God’s revelation and instruction to His people (Israel) given to them in the Law and the Prophets. It is what we know of as the Old Testament, the commands of God TO His people, and the promises of God FOR His people. Jesus wants to correct the falsehood that He seeks to lower standards of holiness for God’s people, His mission is not to destroy all that has been spoken by God, it is to fulfill it. He’s not tearing down an old way and establishing a new He is fulfilling the old with the new. What does that mean? It means everything in the Old Testament is a symbol of and a sign pointing towards Jesus Christ. Fulfill means He will do the things written in scripture, bring out the full meaning of the scriptures, and that he would bring the Old testament to completion, not bring the OT to destruction.
Jesus fulfills the Law of God through His perfect obedience to it, and he fulfills the promises of God through His saving work on the cross. Put simply, Jesus obeys, and Jesus saves. So how are we to interact with the OT? Pastor Doug Wilson says “God is revealed in three books, Book of Nature, Book of Law, Book of Gospel. God is over us, God is against us, God is with us.”
Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament doesn’t make it less significant, like a completed book we put on the shelf because the next installment of the trilogy is out. It makes it more significant because what has previously been seen, heard, or known about God can be understood more fully and completely. OT is part of God’s autobiography, inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it’s important. God reveals who He is, what He commands from His people and what are his plans are for His people. God reveals His character through His giving of the Law. It reveals what is pleasing to God. We have to remember before He is the author of the Law, He is the author of life so we cannot think God is an unrelenting tyrant giving rules to hold us down, rather He is a loving father giving us laws to restrain our sin and lead us to joy. If we are to dwell with the King in His kingdom we need to know His laws and understand their implications. What is the law?
The OT opens with man and women in the garden dwelling with God and there was ONE law given to show God’s authority and humanities dependence on and obedience to Him. It was positive and negative, eat and enjoy of every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, if you do you will lose life. Simple enough, yet immediately Adam and Eve become legalists and add to God’s Law and say “don’t eat OR touch”. The enemy comes in and tempts them with a lie that breaking God’s laws have no consequences. Law is broken, sin and death enters the world, humanity turns its back on God and sent out of the garden. Yet God is still loving and merciful and repeatedly promises there will be a savior to restore a right relationship. God’s people are later delivered from slavery in Egypt and God gives the 10 Commandments (Laws) in the desert. These are then expounded on in great detail. The whole law contains 613 ordinances (248+ /365-) broken into three categories moral, civil, and ceremonial. This seems like an overwhelming amount, but where there is more sin and brokenness more laws follow. When we actually take close look at the Laws of God we find obscure dietary laws and other things we determine as irrelevant and begin to look at the Law as overly restrictive and regard it with distain. Yet when we compare God’s OT law with our modern law we find even the 613 is exponentially simpler then what we have today. 1982 the Justice Dept. tried to determine the total number of criminal offences in just US law and came up with an estimated 3,000 that covered over 23,000 pages (compare to 300 for Gen-Deut). That doesn’t include state/local laws, executive orders, or agency regulations. The leader of the project to compile all the laws said “you will have died and been resurrected three times and still not have an answer to the question of how many laws our country has.” That was over 30 years ago. We LOVE laws!! Sampling of Frappuccino’s and Steak had 4 full time staff who made sure we had proper permits and met all regulations in each city. For FREE Frapps and Steak, against these there shall be no Law!
We are not to look to look at God’s law with distain we are to love and love and revere the Law.
Isaiah 42:21The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness' sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious. God Loves the Law we are to love the law. Romans 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, The law is weighty and detailed yet we are to have it sink deeply into our heart and soul so it also needs to be clear and simple. While Jesus fulfills the law through obedience, He also distills it down to its root.
Matt 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus is not contradicting Mosaic Law, but he is opposed to the legalistic type of religion the scribes and Pharisees built upon it. He doesn’t want to abolish the Law, but he does seek to destroy any false ideas they, or we, might have about the law. Verses 20-48 that we will look at the next 4 weeks is explicitly clarifying several of the Ten Commandments. Even by simplifying down the Law down to two commands he does not diminish the significance of the Ten Commandments, He magnified them. The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal law. We get our knowledge of sin from it, but we also get our rules and guides for holy living from it. The Law cannot save us, the Law is a mirror that shows us our sin and moves us to our need for Jesus. But the Law is so much more than a mirror so let us never despise it or be ignorant of it. Jesus makes the law clear(er) so it can more fully impact our lives as individuals and in community.
V18 Law Remains
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ not by our works of the Law, but we are given clear commands we need to know to walk in the new life Christ has purchased for us. The Laws of God cannot be separated from the promises of God and vice versa. You’ve got to take it all, so Jesus says all that the law is, says, and requires, to the smallest degree remains totally intact until it is totally completed and needed no more to guide hearts and action, expose sin, and point people to their need for Jesus as Savior. In how He declares this truth, Jesus is reminding everyone of his authority over the Law and over all creation as King. He says “Truly” it’s the same word we get “Amen” from. Prophets would say, “thus said the Lord” apostles say “It is written”. When Jesus speaks has authority and power and says “I say to you” “this is the truth, so be it!” Jesus preaches the fullness of the Law in God’s plan for the ultimate redemption of all things. The law will remain intact until such time as God’s plan for eternity comes to fruition. There is a continuous relationship between Christ and the Old Testament that cannot be ignored. It is an important connection that leaves a lot of room for error. The religion of the OT is the religion of the new. There is ONE Gospel in the Bible. For all the recorded history of God’s people the OT the Law has been the focus of God’s revelation, now the Gospel of Jesus is to be the center of attention for the remainder of History. The Law and prophets are just signs, pointing to Jesus. He is what matters most, yet the Law remains.
Luke 16:16-1716 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
This isn’t “heaven” where we spend eternity with God. Heaven and earth means the TOTALITY of all of creation. Jesus is saying the whole of all creation could be gone but God’s word will remain even to the Iota, the smallest marking of the Hebrew alphabet, none of it will be made void. God’s Laws of the past remain perfectly intact without one piece being removed and that is great news because it means the, promises of God for our future also remains perfectly intact. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
We are just created beings we are not the Creator. All that we are, what we think we accomplish on our own, and the laws we establish for ourselves and others fade and wither away like flowers and grass. We are not meant to be autonomous meaning we are not to be a law unto ourselves. We are under God’s Law yet all of us rebel against this. We are made to love and live by God’s word, yet we despise and reject it. We hate the law because we believe it restricts our happiness. We claim to know what will make us fulfilled, more than the one who made us. We hate the law because our ways are better than His. When we hate the law we are ultimately showing we hate the law giver. When we reject God the lawgiver we are rejecting God the life-giver, the source of all joy. We reject the law to purse a happier life when the law is there to point us to life. Sometimes we don’t reject the law outright we just try to change it subtly to accommodate our particular preferences. When we try to change the law we cheapen its value. We are telling God, our version of the law is better than yours. There are consequences for cheapening the law.
V19 Law Loosened
Those who try to change or cheapen the law will be called least while those who do them and teaches others will be called great. Both times Jesus says “Whoever” He is referring to people in the kingdom but there are yet there are some serious distinctions.
First group commits two errors: First they break the minor laws (Break is the same as the word for Destroy in V17) when you break one of the laws you are acting as if they do not exist. No commandment is to be taken lightly because they all come from the same God, violating one is violating all. James 2:10-11 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
Legalism assumes we can put God in our debt by following His commands. Legalism is people thinking they can get to heaven by merely obeying the law. It can be deadly because you can deceived yourself in believing you can be your own savior through works of the Law. That’s one side of the ditch but I don’t think most of our problems come from legalism. Rarely do we as elders meet with someone and say you are too obsessed loving God too much or loving people too well. For us most of the time our issues come from the other ditch; license or lawlessness. As Christians we say “It doesn’t matter what I do today or tomorrow because God’s mercies are new every morning and His grace covers all. I can discard God’s commands in any way I please because I am already forgiven.” It’s called Antinomianism, literally “anti-law-ism”. It is the belief that the Old Testament law has no bearing on the New Testament Christian because the greatness of the gospel overshadows the Law. The grace of God from the Cross of Christ is ABSOLUTLY is big enough to cover all our sin past, present, and future, but we are not to gleefully walk in persistent sin. We are saved by grace but then Rom 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Second is they are teaching others to do likewise. This one is for the teachers/preachers/ROAD Group leaders, parents, ANYONE who has people they are responsible for. Our failings, our immaturity will not be contained or limited to us. All that we do and are preached and teaches to those around us something about how we view the things of God. This should be sobering for all of us. We have a responsibility to take the commands of God as seriously as we take the promises of God. It is absurd to think actions God calls an abomination and repugnant in His sight are somehow now celebrated by God. Or that God’s desire for our holiness and purity have somehow changed to where He only loves us enough to meet us where we are at but not enough to call us to live as something more. “Yes I’ve saved you, now keep living the same life you needed to be saved from!” You can keep limping along and be least in the kingdom but still in the kingdom, but God has made His children for more. The Christian who has a low standard of holiness needs to grow. Verse 19 is a call for all in the kingdom to pursue to greater Christian maturity.
This is the second group of people are ACTUALLY keeping and teaching the Law the way it was intended and they will be called great. Your understanding of, and actions in response to, the commands of God directly affects your standing with in the kingdom.
Titus 2:11 13-14 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. You will grow, you will change.
The gospel doesn’t lower our standard of personal holiness. The sanctification of the New Testament saint ought to be higher than the saint that only had the OT to refer to. The more light we have of God’s revealed character the more we should worship Him. We know what our sin cost! Jesus holds up the law by showing how serious it is that He had to die for it! How do we do this? The power of the Holy Spirit, we are not good enough on our own. He gives the strengths and the power that enables us to be more obedient then we ever could on our own. (Randy and patience) (Can’t teach the law if you don’t know the law. Read your Bibles!)
So we hear Jesus call us to greater maturity, to more striving to follow the commands of God, to greatness in the kingdom and we can think the bar is closer than it is and begin to swing back to legalism that we can accomplish our own righteousness and enter the kingdom based on our own merits. Jesus blows that up!
V20 Law Exceeded
This was a shocking statement. The Scribes and Pharisees were universally held in high regard. They were the BEST lawkeepers on the planet. They did it all but yet they’ve missed the mark. If they can’t get in, who the heck can? Matt 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Righteousness cannot come from yourself because it will never be enough. Jesus is clear, you will NOT enter the kingdom because of what you do, you need another way. Standard is higher. Standard is Jesus. Jesus righteousness is more than the Pharisees, more than the best person you know, more than anyone the world says is good and right. The law is good, we are not, and because of that it is impossible to fulfill.
Romans 3:21-25 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed overformer sins.
His love is greater than His law, because His love came before the law, and His love fulfills the law on the Cross. Jesus couldn’t fully fulfill the obligations of the law until He went to the cross and gave the sacrifice for our sins. Those who rest not on their works, fulfilling their law, but rest on His work fulfilling His law enter the kingdom and are changed. Being changed by Jesus means you’ve been put into a new existence where keeping God’s commands becomes increasingly important and desired. Not so that we can become righteous but because we have been given righteousness as a gift. A servant of God does not achieve righteousness through our own strength. It is better to be the least in the kingdom then to be excluded. If you are relying on your own self-rightness hoping you’ve followed God’s Law and saved yourself or if you believe God’s laws do not matter and you are in no need a savoir the kingdom of heaven is not for you. Let’s be clear if you are not part of the kingdom of God there is only one alternative. This is the most offensive part of the Gospel the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
My Grandma Juyne Rich, pass away nearly a month ago at the age of 93. She was a huge blessing to many; I am a Rich man because she adopted my Dad. I thank God for her. She was kind, fun, generous, safe. By all worldly standards she was righteous, strong, and good. Yet she did not profess to know or follow Christ. Many times, particularly late in life my family and I shared the gospel but she was unresponsive. She said she hoped God would see she was a good person with a good heart on her own. Her life was defined by the word “independence”, yet my greatest hope for her was that she would be dependent on the work of Jesus, because we know our good, her good, is not good enough. So in her final moments as she left this earth and prepared to meet the judge of the Law I told her simply, Trust Jesus.
The Law and the kingdom have to be paired together. Jesus wants our hearts, not just our actions, but he also wants our actions, so we respond. We respond with singing joyfully praising God as the law giver and the life giver, We respond with giving our tithes and offerings recognizing all that we have is gift from Him and we give generously out of joyful obedience to His instruction. We respond with communion remembering He fulfilled our punishment for breaking His Law with His broken body and shed blood on the Cross. And we respond with lives of radical obedience to God’s commands not so God will love us but because He already has in Christ. Trust Jesus.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
May 11, 2014Jesus the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29 (Mville)
April 27, 2014Judging Like Jesus | Matthew 7:1-6;12 (Mville)
April 20, 2014Don't Worry, Trust Jesus | Matthew 6:25-34 (Mville)