The Greatest Sermon Ever 2. On Fulfilling the Law
We are in week 2 of our series through the sermon on the mount that I have called the greatest sermon ever. This is Jesus' core message, and the main point of all that he said is the topic called the Kingdom of God. The main topic of Jesus message is the Kingdom of God - God reclaiming His world from the abuse of people and human-based kingdoms, and in this claiming of the coming of the Kingdom Jesus goes about offering this Kingdom to all the wrong people.
The Kingdom comes, and it is not the religious, or rich, or brilliant who are welcomed in. It is the outcast, the sinners, the downtrodden. It is an upside-down kingdom. And this upside-down kingdom invites all of humanity to live in a new way that honours God. Now I say this, because before we dive into tonight's text you have to see, that what Jesus is advocating here is a new way to please God, but this new way in no way destroys or overrides the old way, in fact it fulfils it. You will see Jesus start do not think I have come to abolish the Law, which mean that some were obviously thinking that, and we need to get this, because if we miss the emphasis tonight we will be unable to even attempt the ethical teaching of Jesus that come after this passage.
So, with this in mind let's dive into the text.
Matthew 5:17-20 New International Version (NIV) The Fulfilment of the Law 17 "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. 18 For truly I tell you, 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. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now Jesus is obviously talking about the Jewish Law here, the Torah, or the first 5 books of the Bible, that contain the Law of God which include the 10commandments, but also the 613 other commandments of God. For the Jews, there was an incredibly high standard set to please God, in fact it was a perfect standard. Now to bring this back home, none of us have a guilt complex about not fulfilling the Torah in fact, I would be amazed if 50% of us here could even rattle off the 10 commandments verbatim.
But the Law still matters to us, deep down we know the Law matters in fact each of us live almost pathologically for personal justice and justification.
It is why our movies have the good guys always winning. Because we wouldn't watch a movie where evil triumphed, we, deep down, long for justice and we desperately try to live up to a standard, even if we don't fully understand what that standard is.
The great problem for us; is that we simply don't live up. Which is a problem, because let's be real, justice is important and we all know this inherently. Which is my first point tonight.
1. The importance of the Law
We cannot escape the idea that justice, and Law are important, it is an incredibly good thing that there is a good God who created the world with order and justice.
Jesus declares that;
17 "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. 18 For truly I tell you, 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.
This is so important, church, the Law will accomplish what it will accomplish. In other words, God's justice will prevail. Evil will be judged as evil and good will be reward.
It is clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson who recounts his interaction with his patients (these are people with deep phsycological problems), and shares how every single one of them have gone against, what he calls, "the fundamentals of reality", or in layman's terms they have gone against law - they have lied, they have abused etc.
And he shares how when people do this they twist reality and without exception reality snaps back into place, taking these people out when it does so.
I want you to get this tonight; we cannot think that we will get away with doing wrong; with sinning or doing evil. Now it looks like some people do, but it is only for a season, and it is always at the expense of their own souls. And when I say soul I mean their inner being is so corrupted that they become a shell of a person.
The reality is that justice and therefore doing good matters, because, God is a good God and he has created this world with justice and goodness as the foundation. So, there will be consequence for the wrong that we do.
This is a good thing, and in fact when we accept it helps us endure, the corruption and evil that we see in the world. Justice matters, evil will be judged, wrongs will be held to account. Every single one. Either with justice being meted out or through the destruction of that person's soul even in this life, or ultimately everyone will stand before the great judge of the earth and face ultimate and complete justice for every action done!
And let's be real this is a reflection of the very reality of creation itself. In fact, many of you at school will be stuck learning about the laws of physics and the laws on mathematics etc. These are constants, things that consistently exist and predictably exist for the function of universe, things such as the Law of gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces etc. These things always happen and happen consistently, why because they were put into place by a consistent lawmaker.
The law matters church even on a quantum level! This means church that every sin will be held to account, there will not be a single sin that anyone anywhere gets away with!
But in saying all this, the self-conscious and self-aware among us, will be secretly crying out this is not a good thing.
Why? Because, human beings are so terrible at following the Law and doing what is good. Which leads us to point two tonight;
2. The impossibility of the Law
Jesus says a peculiar thing here;
. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. We must see how shocking this statement was to the people who first hear it. We kind of have a caricature in our heads of who the Pharisees and teachers of the law where. In our minds, these are the archetypal hypocrite who would oose self-righteousness and yet live a completely compromised life.
But this is not who they were, these were the cream of the crop of society, these were the people that everyone else looked up to as the religious elites of the day. And Jesus tells the crowd to be better than them.
The question we must ask ourselves is, if the religious and moral cream of the crop are not living up to the standard, how could anyone?
Well to answer this; we have to ask how the religious and moral elite were not living up.
In Matthew 23 is one of the clearest and most devastating portions of Scripture Jesus confronts the Pharisees and calls them out for the hypocrisy.
He says; 16 "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.' 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
And again says; 23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
The problem is that even when we follow the rules we cannot change our heart! And because in our heart we are still crippled by our selfishness and therefore cannot follow the heart of the law of God.
When we do good we do it for selfish reasons. A contemporary example is the growth of this social justice movement in the world; and the main hypocrisy is that it drips with selfish self-preservation. We are most socially active about the things that only affect us.
Great thinkers and theologians and philosophers throughout every age have identified this selfishness and self-preservation as the core of our problems. And yet any attempt to fix it seems to dig it in even deeper.
Jonathan Edwards Book on the Nature of True Virtue identifies this he states that it is a good thing that we bring up children to be well behaved, and "proper" but we do this through two evil, pride and fear. We train our children to be good or they will end up like those bad children and they are better that that - pride. Or we say don't do such-and-such or you will be punished for it - fear.
However, through a brilliant argument he argues what is the cause of all our problems and evil in the world - human pride and fear.
In other words we are trying to fix our children of the evil they have by using another evil.
This is the unfortunate state of mankind! On our own we cannot escape our own evil! And So, if Jesus is saying that every sin matters, that there will not be a single sin that is not dealt with how can we ever find freedom and eternal life?
Essentially as Paul cries in Romans 7, "who will free [us] from this body of death?"
3. Jesus fulfils the Law
Jesus states that I have come not to abolish the Law but fulfil them.
Jesus did not come to do away with the Law, he came to ensure it is fulfilled, and not only that, but, He came to ensure that the Law was fulfilled in us; that we would love God's Law and delight in His ways!
This is the growing desire of the revelation of the Old Testament, in fact God says through the Prophet Jeremiah over 600 years before Christ came, stated that; in Jeremiah 31:33
This is the Covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
God's desire has always been that we follow Him and obey Him not because we have to (not out of fear or pride) but because we love to and we want to!
How does He do this? Jesus becomes the fulfilment of the Law for us. What do I mean here? Well because we are sinful we will only respond to obeying God in one of two ways; and I bet you relate to God in one of these two ways; either we obey God to get something from Him (pride - we use God for our own selfish desire) or we obey God to avoid bad things happening to us (fear).
An example of each would be, God I read my Bible and sought you today; you should bless me, or I read my Bible and prayed today now God won't send bad things my way.
Do you see how both ways we are simply selfishly using God! And I want to suggest there is no human way possible to escape doing that! With man it is impossible.
But in Christ; Jesus lives a perfect life (never once disobeying God), and then he dies voluntarily in the place of the guilty, those who have disobeyed, so that their sins could be counted upon Him!
It is this act and this act alone that frees us church, because it is this act that takes us (and therefore our evil) out of the picture and deals with it Jesus actually takes our sins upon His own name. We come to God with nothing, and can do nothing for Him and therefore for the first time in our lives we are free from fear - no longer do we obey to avoid punishment - Christ has taken our punishment we are free from it! there is therefore no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) and we are free from our pride because who are we to demand anything from God! All to Him I owe! I deserve death, and got life!
It is in the Gospel and only in the gospel that our righteousness surpasses the righteousness of the religious elites, because our righteousness is not our own it is Christ (the only one who ever fully obeyed God)! This brings incredible confident because how loved we are that God would die for us! And yet brings the sweetest humility because we are the wicked broken ones that needed saving! And there the Law is fulfilled and it is there that we start to delight in what God wants of us; it is no longer a chore it is an act of loving devotion to do what God desires!
And that is why Church we need to be reminded constantly of this; and that is why I believe that on the night Jesus was betrayed He gave His church symbols of the gospel to remind us as often as we meet to remember the gospel and that is why we do communion as we will do so now.