Summary: Grace or Law? What did Jesus do with the Law and what, if any, obligation do we have to it today?
Good Morning! Today we will be looking at Matthew 5:17-20 as we continue our series RED: Teachings From the Words of Jesus.
If you do not have a Bible you can look inside the Sunday Bulletin for the Scriptures.
Shirt tags...mixed fabric...broke the law!
“The biggest cop out for spiritual failure and the most common excuse for deliberate sinfulness are these words "I’m not under law but under grace!" and with those seven words we seek to absolve ourselves of any spiritual responsibility we might have for our behaviour. And when we are confronted about our actions we get all huffy and tell people to mind their own business. Actually it’s more like “Don’t judge me, you know what the bible says about judging.” - (Dennis Guptill, “24:6 The Why of Rules,” July 2007 from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/246-the-why-of-rules-denn-guptill-sermon-on-sermon-on-the-mount-109633.asp)
So is that reality? Does grace give us an eternal get out of jail free card? Does grace really trump the law? Somehow we have gotten the notion that Jesus stamped the Old Testament with big red letters that say “Null and Void”. We have drawn the faulty conclusion that the OT no longer matters, that it really doesn’t apply to us, it just a collection of historical books. Except for maybe the 10 Commandments and most people are now working on an abbreviated version of them, they’ve kind of narrowed it down to ‘thou shalt not kill.’”
As New Testament believers in Christ we do live in a time of grace. It is by the grace of God that we are born again and empowered for service. But if we are under grace does that mean that we can then become “lawless?” Do we have to live under “The Law?” What does Jesus mean when he says that He DID NOT COME TO DESTROY THE LAW - BUT TO FULFILL IT?
Well, the first thing we need to understand is what Jesus means when He talks about “The Law and the Prophets.”
When Jesus uses this phrase it has more than one meaning...
It refers to the 10 Commandments
It also refers to the commands given in the first 5 books of the Bible (Torah)
When Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets” He is speaking of the whole OT
But there was also a fourth meaning that referred to the ORAL or SCRIBAL LAW
The ORAL or SCRIBAL law is also called the MISHNAH. Now basically the Mishnah is a collection of writings ABOUT “The Law” (800 pages in the English translation). For many Rabbi’s it wasn’t enough to say, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” They had to create rules about how to obey the rules.
In the context of our passage today Jesus is probably referring to the whole OT in general. Jesus says,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the OT]: I have not come to abolish them BUT to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (vv. 17-18 emphasis mine)
Jesus uses two contrasting words in this passage: 1) abolish & 2) fulfill
First he says that His teaching and His presence on the earth DOES NOT mean that The Law (10 Commandments or the commands of the prophets) has gone away. Insead, He came to be the only human who could actually fulfill The Law & the Prophets.
Notice also that He does not say that He has come to OPPOSE The Law either. Jesus is not telling us that we can, because of grace, become LAWLESS
People were accusing Jesus of breaking the law - but in actuality Jesus was following the law the way God had intended - from the heart. He wasn’t following the law the way the Scribes and Pharisees had interpreted it.
Jesus is telling us that the OT (The Law & the Prophets) - is necessary even for those who have placed their faith in Christ. Not one of the tiniest commands (jot/title) will be removed from the Law even after His death, burial and resurrection.
Now how can that be? Does that mean I have to bring a bull or a goat to church to be sacrificed? Before you parade your finest Jersey cow into the sanctuary let me explain a couple of things.
The Law can be broken down into 3 types:
Ceremonial Law: these were the laws pertaining to how Israel was to worship God through sacrifice and ritual. We are, because of Christ’s sacrifice, no longer bound to offer animal sacrifices.
Civil Law: these were the laws pertaining to normal daily living in Israel (like making loans or borrowing something from a neighbor or handling human waste). These laws were specific to the time they were written and have little do with us today except in principle - and in conduct.