DUNCAN/Jesus and the law
Turn in your Bible to Matthew 5:17-20. We’ve been studying the Sermon on the Mount for the past few weeks and we have said so far that the Sermon on the Mount is our Lord’s word to us about what it means to be a Christian in the world in which He has placed us. This week we turn to Jesus’ famous statement about the law. In this passage Jesus tells us His view of the law in the Christian life. Specifically, there are four great truths that Jesus teaches here about the law. First, Jesus says that the Old Testament’s commands and prophecies and promises are fulfilled in His Kingdom. Secondly, the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures is joyfully acknowledged in Christ’s Kingdom. Thirdly, the Old Testament moral law is the standard of righteousness in Christ’s Kingdom. And fourthly and finally, Jesus’ Kingdom requires a standard of righteousness higher than anyone might ever expect.
I. The Old Testament’s Commands and Prophecies and Promises Are Fulfilled in Christ’s Kingdom.
In verse 17 Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law of the prophets, I did not come to abolish but to fulfill them.” Notice in this verse the two things that He teaches us. First, Jesus teaches us that He has not come to abolish the law. The law continues to be the perfect rule of righteousness for Christian living. It’s only through the grace of God that we can begin to be who God intended us to be and to do the things God intended us to do. So Jesus makes it clear that when the law is rightly understood it is not opposed to the gospel; it goes hand in hand with the gospel. The gospel purpose is that we will be conformed to God’s image.
Notice the second half of that sentence in verse 17 where Jesus says that He has not come to abolish the law, but He has come to fulfill it. His relationship to the law is one of fulfillment. What does it mean that Jesus has come to fulfill the law? It means several things. Specifically, the Lord Jesus fulfilled the law in His life. He perfectly obeyed the law. The Lord Jesus also fulfilled His law in His death. In the death of Christ, we see what we deserve but which He took upon Himself. The Lord Jesus fulfills the law in us too by His grace. By the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus writes again God’s law on our hearts so that we delight in the law of the Lord.
II. The Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures Is Joyfully Acknowledged in Christ’s Kingdom.
In verse 18 Jesus says, “For truly I say to you until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Jesus is telling us that He upholds the authority of the Old Testament Scripture without qualification. Our Lord says in verse 18 that until heaven and earth pass away not the cross of a “t” or a dot of an “i” of the Lord’s inspired word will fail. It will all come to pass, it will all be effectual, and it will all go forth and not return void, every single bit of it. Our Lord Jesus here lends His character and His position and His status to the affirmation of the authority of the Word. Christians believe in the authority of the Scriptures precisely because our Lord believed in the authority of Scripture.
III. The Old Testament Moral Law Is the Standard of Righteousness in Christ’s Kingdom.
Jesus says in verse 19, “Whoever then annuls one of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord Jesus says of those who will undercut His law and speak as authoritative spokesmen that they will be counted least in His kingdom, because His kingdom is a kingdom in which the moral principles of God are upheld. In other words, Jesus says that His followers keep the law.
My friends, that is not legalism. It is not legalism to keep the law of God. What then is legalism? Legalism comes in many shapes and forms. However, there are at least four forms in which we still see legalism raising its ugly head today. First of all, legalism is when someone teaches that salvation is by works. Secondly, legalism occurs when people attempt to add their own man-made human rules and traditions to the authoritative Word of God. A third form of legalism is grudging obedience. These are the ones relating to God as if they can trap Him into being loving and kind towards them if they’ll only do certain things. And finally, legalism occurs when people confuse the weightier and lesser matters of the law and give great attention to the lesser matters of the law while ignoring the weightier matters of the law.
IV. Jesus’ Kingdom Requires a Standard of Righteousness Higher Than Anyone Might Ever Expect.
In verse 20 Jesus says, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying that his standards for His kingdom are higher than anyone’s. Jesus’ diagnosis of the Pharisee’s problem is not that they care too much about God’s law, but that they don’t care about it at all.
Jesus’ call to obedience is utterly different from that type of law keeping. Jesus calls us to a universal love for the law, not to be selective, but to recognize that the whole of the law must be kept. The whole of God’s moral law is for us. He calls for an internal obedience, a willing obedience, and a delight in doing the law of God. He calls us to be God pleasers, not man pleasers, and to desire the approval of God and not of men. He calls us to be humble in our law keeping, not to be prideful. And He calls us in our obedience never to trust that obedience as what makes us right with Him, but to trust in Jesus in His righteousness and have our obedience flow from that relationship which is established in union with Him.
My friends, let me ask you a question. Where is your heart? Is your heart with the Pharisees, grudgingly obeying God or is your heart delighting in His law and wanting more than anything else to be conformed to His image and to be exalted not in yourself but in His righteousness and in His sanctifying work in us that we might become like him? May God cause us to be followers of Christ and enable us to accept His Word in our hearts and in our living.