Summary: God wants obedience that flows out of a heart that is fully devoted to Him.
The Heart of the Matter
Matthew 5:17 – 26
I have a confession to make. About a month ago I had to go to the airport to pick up my daughter from her trip to California. Her trip had encountered several problems with planes which resulted in her arriving in Philly airport at around 2:00am. It was a miserable, cold and foggy night and I was tired and frustrated. So I was in a hurry to get home. The roads were absolutely deserted that night. I drove for miles without seeing another car. So I was cruising. We were driving north on 202 headed towards West Chester at around 3:15am when I saw the familiar flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. I was ticked.
I stayed calm on the outside. I wanted to show respect to the police officer and I wanted to set a good example of what to do when you are pulled over for my daughter. I explained to the officer what had happened, hoping for little sympathy. But he returned a few minutes later with my first ticket in about 12 years.
As we pulled away from the police officer, my daughter commented that I had handled myself calmly and she was impressed. But inside I was stewing and angry. You see I thought I was justified in breaking the law. I thought that my extenuating circumstances gave me a reason to break the written law of the land and do my own thing. I was mad, because someone else held me accountable.
We don’t like to be told what to do. There is a rebellious and self-centered streak in all of us that says: I want things my way. And so we try to squirm and wiggle around the rules and regulations of our families, our church, our country, and most importantly, our Lord. When reading the Bible we may be tempted to say things like: “Well that was for a different time and place, and that doesn’t apply to me anymore. Things are different now.”
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most beautiful passages ever written. In it, Jesus helps us to see that God is concerned for character, for holiness, and for the heart of a person. It’s the heart of the matter that really matters to God. Jesus was saying some pretty radical things in this sermon, and the natural conclusion of the disciples may have been that Jesus was opposed to the laws of Israel, that He was in some way anti- Moses, or anti-law. And so he responds to this criticism that He believes is rising in the minds of His disciples. Let’s begin reading at Matthew 5:17
“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. 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. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
1. Jesus looks beyond external obedience to include matters of the heart.
What is Jesus saying? Let’s break it apart.
First, he says that dropping the law of God is not His mission on earth. He is not anti-law. He is not some revolutionary seeking to put away with the writings of the Old Testament, and establish something completely new and disconnected to the story and purpose of God with the nation of Israel.
The word for abolish can also be translated as ‘to tear down’ or to ‘destroy’ or ‘to make null in void.” Jesus emphatically is stating that he has no interest in the removal of the law (which was direct revelation of God’s will for the people in regard to their daily life) and the prophets (which was the indirect revelation of God’s will and plan for the people both present and future).
He didn’t come to end it, but to fulfill it! This word for fulfill carries the idea of absolute fulfillment.
And then he gets real serious. He says in effect: “Listen up! You have my word on this. Truly the law will remain until heaven and earth pass away and all is accomplished by God. And He gets real specific. He says there isn’t one iota (which was the smallest Greek letter or in the Hebrews ‘yod” or jot) or one dot which in the Hebrews is ‘tittle’ (which was just a little hook on the end of a letter) that will pass away until everything of God’s will and plan is accomplished.