Summary: Part 7 of Sermon on Mount Series, looks at how our requirement is above the law
Matthew 5:17 (NIV) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.
I am convinced that Christ stated this specifically for all those well intentioned people who are forever saying, "I’m not under law, I’m under grace." Somehow we seem to have gotten the idea that Christ stamped the Old Testament with big red letters that say "null & void." We have drawn the faulty conclusion that the Old Testament no longer matters, that it no longer applies, that it’s just a collection of historical books. Well except for the ten Commandments, most of us would let those stand at least the two biggies, murder and adultery. And yet Christ plainly said I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. Can these words really be coming from the mouth of Christ? The same Christ that Paul wrote of in Romans 10:4 (NIV) Christ is the end of the law
I mean after all Christ was executed for breaking the law, He didn’t follow the prescribed hand washing, he healed the sick and picked grain on the Sabbath. And yet here He speaks about the law with as much reverence as any Scribe or Pharisee. Christ tells us Matthew 5:18 (NIV) 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. Now the King James Version is a little more poetic because it says, not a jot or a tittle will pass away, it’s not as clear but it’s prettier. The jot was the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the Iodah, it looked like an apostrophe. The tittle was a serif and it was a projection from an individual letter that changed the emphasis. And Christ said that not even something as small and insignificant as those two marks would disappear from the law.
Now there are those who have said that this sounds so unlike Christ that he could not have possibly have said it. Maybe Matthew simply invented this saying himself and attributed it to Christ. Well in order to properly understand what Christ said, it would help if we knew what Christ was saying. Firstly what was or what is the law. 1) The Ten Commandments 2) The first five books of the Bible, or as some call it the Pentateuch which means the five scrolls. 3) The Law and the Prophets refers to what we now call the Old Testament. That is what Christ said wouldn’t pass away, but there was also a fourth meaning of the law which was the oral law or the scribal law.
This last one is what Christ and Paul attacked. In the Old Testament there are very few rules and regulations but a many great principles. Well to the Rabbis that wasn’t enough, they would say that if it wasn’t there explicitly then it must be there implicitly. And so out of the law the Rabbi’s said it must be possible to deduce a rule for everything.
For example: A great Old Testament principle is "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" That is a principle not a detailed commandment. So the religious teachers asked "OK, Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, how do we keep the Sabbath holy? Well by not working. But what is work? To carry a burden. Well then what is a burden? I’m glad you asked." Here is a Rabbinical definition of a burden, "Less then a burden is food equal to a dried fig, enough wine to fill a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put on a wound and enough oil to anoint a small member." Now what doesn’t fall into that category and so is against the Scribal Law to carry on the Sabbath, an artificial limb, a broach, a wig or false teeth.
The scribal law, or Mishnah is eight hundred pages long in it’s English translation. The Talmud or book of the law encompasses seventy two volumes. That is not the law that Jesus was referring to. The Ten Commandments are a summation of the law in the Old Testament and those ten can be summed up by saying that they command us to respect and show reverence toward God and our fellow man. Christ said that he came not to destroy that law but to fulfil it. The Greek word used here means to level up to the top or to finish something. Christ did not come to destroy the law, God had been speaking to His people for four thousand years He wasn’t about to say "Opps, I’ve changed my mind" now. And that is why Christ said in, Matthew 5:19 (NIV) Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Christ wants us to know that he’s not changing the rules in the middle of the game.