Matthew 5: 17-20
By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Jesus fulfills the Law on our behalf
General Idea: The Law is a reflection of God's purity and holiness. He is perfect and calls us to be like Him and do as He does. But, in the history of humanity, because of our fallen nature, we are unable to be perfect and follow the Law. So, the only way we can do so is to have a perfect human follow it on our behalf, and a loving and merciful God to impute it (apply) on us. That is what Christ does. He takes our place in His perfection and gives us His purity. That is what propitiation and atonement mean. God withholds His wrath because of our sin, accepting Christ's offering and work on our behalf that deflects it. The Sermon on the Mount is not a weaker version of the Law of Moses, but a stronger one as our hearts and motives are "keyed" into it. Thus, Jesus did not abolish the Law; it is still in place. He points to it, gives it deeper meaning, and enforces it (Matt. 5: 21-26). The entire Sermon on the Mount is a reflection of purity and law! Christ fulfilled it! Through Him, we can be righteous, satisfying the Law, by what Christ has done on our behalf!
1. Christ came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it.
a. Many people believe that Jesus destroyed the Law. As you can see for yourself, this is not what Scripture teaches!
b. Many also believe that we do not need to be bothered by the Law or teach it. This belief causes many to miss the purpose of the Law, and waters down what Christ did.
c. "To destroy" literally means to remove from existence, utterly and completely, or to completely overthrow.
d. His purpose was to "fulfill" the Law and the prophets. This means:
i. Christ fulfilled over 330 prophecies concerning the Christ found in the Law and the Prophets, including the establishment of a new covenant (a few: Deut. 18:15,18-19; Isa 53:1-12; Jer 31:31-34; Dan 2:44: Mark 1:14-15; Heb. 8:6-13)!
ii. The Law is still permanent, as the heavens and the earth are (Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17).
iii. Jesus accomplished His purpose by giving us a new covenant (John 17:4; Heb. 7:11-14-22; 8:6-13)! If He had not, we would still have to observe and keep the Law in all the strictest points!
e. "Tittle" (NKJV) or smallest letter (NIV) refers to the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet "yod" which was a popular Jewish illustration at the time meaning the smallest thing of which one can conceive. There is also an ancient Hebrew myth that when God took the word yod from Sarai's name to make Sarah, the very letter cried out to God and complained, so He gave that letter to Joshua, which restored its significance. Jesus' name also has yod!
2. We have to know the serious nature of our lost state and need for Christ!
a. By breaking just one small, insignificant aspect of the Law is sin, and will separate us from God the Father, including a place in eternity with Him.
b. Perfection is called for; perfection is what we are not able to do!
c. This passage takes place before the cross but points to it. So, this passage may leave you hanging in "limbo," and thinking how you can do this. The Good News of the Gospel imputes Christ's righteousness to us, so we do not need to fear His wrath and punishment when we accept, by faith, His election!
d. God's law is an expression of His holiness.
3. The contrast of the outward Law of Moses to the inward law of Jesus.
a. Most Christians believe that the "OT" is only concerned with the outward actions, but the "NT" is concerned with the inner conditions, which leads to our outward actions. Yet, when you read the OT carefully, the primary concern was the inward (Duet 6: 1-9; Isa 29:13-14), which Jesus repeats in Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27! And, yes, our inward thoughts and attitudes influence our actions and behaviors, one of the main points of the Sermon of the Mount!
b. Jesus opposition was not the Law but its illegitimate interpretation and application by the Pharisees (they were not fair, you see). They freely added many regulations to it while nullifying its real meaning and purpose--to point to God and the development of our character.
i. Jesus warns us not to make any modification of the commandments and the Law, that Moses commanded. (Matt. 8:4) Jesus restates its significance with the phrase, "It is written." (Matt. 4:4,7,10)
ii. The Gospel both honors, and also establishes the Law.
iii. Jesus shows the Law can be followed in its beauty and perfection, which is real righteousness.
iv. Sin is shown as heinous and evil and will be eventually destroyed.
c. Thus we learn that it is impossible to adhere to the Sermon on the Mount or to God's standards without the cross!
4. Jesus challenges the traditional interpretation and application of the Law with an extreme warning: "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven"!
a. The Pharisees were the most honored and respected religious leaders of the day. Although the Pharisees expected a deeper devotion to the Law, they put the emphases on the wrong area. They knew better; they were not being sincerely wrong. Rather, their motives were not godly! They did have good and correct doctrine; they used it as a form of abuse and power. Good doctrine without its proper application is useless and can even be harmful, as it will turn into legalism!
b. Jesus does not criticize their devotion to the Law, rather their compounding of manmade regulations on top of God's already perfect Law. The people were overloaded with senseless regulations, causing them to miss the real purpose and reason for the Law.
i. The Pharisees were not concerned with what God was concerned with--the inward person and one's character. They were forcing behaviors without any reason, other than power and manipulation. Matt. 6:1; 6:24; 7:21; 23:1-7; 23-24; Luke 16:13-15
ii. Not all of the Pharisees were that way, such as Nicodemus (John 3:1; 7:45-52; 19:38-42).
Why must our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Because the righteousness of God demands more! Can we do this? NO! Thank God for the grace he gives us! Jesus requires deep obedience, not disregard for God's Law, as we will see in the rest of the Sermon of the Mount! Right being is much more important that right doing, as right being will make right doing, but having only right doing will lead to stress, confusion, and emptiness. Attaining purity without Christ is impossible!
We, as His disciples, must make every diligent effort to observe ALL that Jesus commanded-and more-- to the best of our ability, (Matt. 28:20; John 8:31-32; 2 John 9), as well as stay free from the temptation and lure of materialism (1 Tim. 6: 9-10; 1 John 2:15-17)! The good news, besides that of His grace, is that Christ gives us His mercy and strength, providing forgiveness and ability to those in Christ (1 John 1:9 Ph 4:13)! Our call is not just to do good things but have a good heart! That means we must be virtuous in our thoughts, motives, and aspirations, with the best intentions toward others, as Christ did with us.
Allow Christ's most amazing and wondrous gift to be imputed to you, so your most inward being is transformed and renewed! Without this, we cannot be or do any good!
- Are you a person who likes to break the rules? Why does that appeal to you?
- Before this study, what was your impression of the Law?
- How would you state the purpose of the Law?
- How do you feel, knowing that God calls you to be perfect?
- Why do so many Christians believe that the Law has been abolished?
- Christ points to the deeper meaning and enforces it. What is that deeper meaning?
- How does Jesus fulfill the Law and prophets?
- Why would teaching that we do not need to be bothered by the Law miss the purpose of the Law, and water down what Christ did?
- Would Christianity appeal to you if we had to keep the Law in all of its strictest points?
- When have you had, or what would it take for you to come to, a mindset of realization of the serious nature of your lost state and need for Christ?
- God calls us to Perfection. Why do you think we are we unable to do it?
- Does the Sermon on the Mount leave you hanging in limbo, wondering how you can possibly do this? What would it take to know and trust that you can do it?
- The good news of the Gospel imputes Christ's righteousness to us, so we do not need to fear His wrath and punishment when we accept, by faith, His election! How does this make you feel? Does that feeling and thinking translate into your daily life?
- How do your inward thoughts and attitudes influence your actions and behaviors?
- Why would a religious leader, including Christians today, freely add so many regulations on their people, while nullifying the real meaning and purpose of the Law or Gospel (consider the Talaban, and Christian legalism)?
- The Pharisees expected a deeper devotion to the Law; yet, they put the emphases on the wrong area. What can you do to make sure you and your church do not follow their example?
- Why would just having good and correct doctrine, without the proper application, be useless and even be harmful?
- How can "right-being" motivate you to "right-doing"?
- What do you need to do to stay free from the temptation and lure of materialism and wrong motives?
What do you need to do to apply Christ's mercy, strength, and forgiveness so you can be a person who is virtuous in your thoughts, motives, and aspirations, having the best intentions for others, as Christ did with you?