Jesus saves us FROM and TO the Law | Matthew 5.17-20 (Snoh)
February 23, 2014 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 5:17–5:20
Introduction: Jesus & the O.T.
When Jesus saves someone, he adopts them into His family, declares them a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven, and changes them at a heart level. Jesus’ sermon begins by describing what this change looks and, in essence, calls his disciples to be WHO they are in Christ so that they can be WHERE they are for Christ. The cross saves us from an old life and saves us to a new one. We are reborn with a new identity, a new loyalty, and a new trajectory. I am in Jesus. I am led by Jesus. I am going home to be with Jesus. Controlled by this new love of Jesus, through the power of His Spirit, I live to honor Jesus by letting my good works shine on a dark world in order that others might also come to know and honor Him.
Now, when Jesus says “good works” in verse 16, He means obedience to the Law. But clear, there is some confusion in the crowds about Jesus’ view of the law. Jesus is different than the typical “rabbi”. They have never encountered a teacher like Jesus. He is not a Pharisee, a Priest, or a Scribe. Jesus did not attend at the rabbinical schools—he had not training at all. For most of this life, Jesus lived in relative obscurity making furniture with His Dad in an unpopular town. Now, at age 30, this young man begins to teach and gather crowds. He teaches with authority, criticizing the religious leaders and their traditions. He hangs out with sinners, lives among pagans, and calls sinful tax-collectors to be his disciples. As his ministry grows, Jesus does not follow the cultural traditions, even going so far as to break some of their rules deliberately. He is radically different than both the irreligious AND the religious world. And people are left to wonder if he intends to abandon Jew law all together? What does Jesus wants us to do with the Law?
Today, there are many who believe that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament is cold, angry, and full of wrath. His laws are strange, cruel, and irrelevant for today’s world. It’s likely you’ve heard someone complain about the inconsistency of upholding laws against “homosexuality” as you indulge in an unclean food like bacon? The world resolves these kinds of inconsistencies by pitting Jesus against the Old Testament. They want to believe that Jesus came to destroy such archaic laws, and show us a different more tolerant, inclusive, and loving God. This could not be more wrong. Jesus is not against the Old Testament. On the contrary, we see that Jesus here elevates the Old Testament Law as the key to understanding who He is and why He came. The problem with the religious Jews is that they had begun to look past the Bible to their own ideas. We don’t learn about God by trusting in our own ‘new and improved ideas’—we read the Bible. Jesus did not come to destroy an indestructible law; rather, he came to fulfill every crossed T and dotted I it includes.
Unless we understand what Jesus’ relationship to the law WAS, it’s unlikely we’ll understand our relationship to the law IS. Jesus saves us from the law and he saves us to the law.
What is the Law and the prophets?
What is the law that Jesus is referring to? The first 5 books of the Old Testament are called the books of the Law. God began with one law in the garden—“Don’t eat from that tree.” Once that law was broken, sin entered into the world, and more laws were given from a mountain to help mankind understand what was right and what was wrong. During the Exodus, after rescuing His people from slavery, God begins by giving his people 10 commandments. Eventually, God delivers more than 600 different commandments to Moses. These various laws governed all religious and social life for the people of God. There were:
- Ceremonial Laws: specified the rules of worship including the temple, sacrifices, priests, etc.
- Dietary/Hygienic Laws: specified which foods were considered clean and unclean both for general health and to distinguish them from other nations.
- Civil Laws: specified how people were to live and relate to one another as a theocracy.
- Moral Law (10 Commandments): specified how we should live in relationship with God and all men. Jesus summarized: 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22.36-39
Some of these were commands of what you must never do; others were commands of what you must always do. All of them were a means of grace—a way in which an unholy people who have relationship with a Holy God. And the Prophets were the divinely-appointed representatives of God whose primary job, among others things, was to call people to obey the law and to warn them when if they didn’t.
What was the purpose of the Law?
Jesus says that the law will not cease until heaven and earth pass away and ALL is accomplished. The question then is what is the law supposed to accomplish? To begin, the purpose was NOT to save people—the law does not possess that power and, even if it did, men are unable to obey it perfectly. Furthermore, the original promise to save men was given to a man named Abraham, over 400 years before the law was even given. And Abraham was declared right with God, not because he later circumcised himself, but because he trusted and put faith in God’s Word. The law was not instituted by God to save, though Jews were forgiven through the sacrificial system it instituted; but they were not forgiven because there was something inherently magical about lambs and goats. On the contrary, they were forgiven because they put their faith in God who declared I will accept you if you do this. The law didn’t change something in us as much as it revealed something about us…and God.
- The law revealed the heart of God—what he loves, how he loves, and even how he loves
- The law revealed the will of God—what is righteousness
- The law revealed the sin of men—what is unrighteousness
- That law revealed the only hope for men (savior)—how to become righteous through a substitute
The law says you are unrighteous (do what you should not and don’t do what you should), and Paul says in 1Corinthians 6.9 that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. The Law didn’t come to make us righteous; it came to condemn us in our unrighteousness and in order to lead us to Jesus. Again, Paul says in Romans 5.20-21. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus criticizes anyone who tries to play games. To relax our respect for the law, or to teach others to do the same, is to minimize our unrighteousness and to deny our need for Jesus. Any individual that believes they are not that bad are not “poor in the Spirit”, and it is unlikely they will hunger for righteousness!
How did the religious try to fulfill the law?
There are least in the Kingdom because their disposition toward their own sin and a lukewarm love for Jesus is the worst example of a child of the King—even if they looked obedient like the Pharisees. The Pharisees’ job was to live and teach God’s Law. Though they appeared “great” in the Kingdom, Jesus reveals them as the “least” because they wrongly believed that the law of God was a tool to obtain righteousness. Unlike the religious who try to avoid God by being bad, the Pharisees tried to avoid God by being good. The Pharisees were the most moral, bible thumping, people the nation. They gave their whole lives to the law. They studied it, copied it, lived it, taught it, memorized it AND even added additional laws to protect them from getting close to breaking it. The Sabbath law alone had over 1,500 rules added to it. The Pharisees were admired for their righteousness. If anyone was going to get into heaven, it was these guys. That is why it is so shocking to hear Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness must exceed the Pharisees” or you won’t’ get in. That was impossible to fathom for the Israelite.
And for every Pharisee that yelled an “Amen” upon hearing that, Jesus preached the rest of his sermon. The “righteousness” that Pharisees had was merely external, religious, and ceremonial—it wasn’t true righteousness. They became so devoted to the letter of the law, they missed the point entirely. The law was given to show men that they could NEVER justify themselves, even if they appeared to be law-abiding. Irreligious sin is easy to spot. Religious sin is much more difficult. Jesus’ intends to completely rock our understanding of sin and true righteousness. Sin is something much more horrible thank we think. Sin is more comprehensive than we imagine. And true righteousness is way beyond the external, beyond ceremonial, beyond the appearance, and way beyond the self—an impossibly high standard.
How does Jesus fulfill the law for us?
Jesus saves us FROM the law by fulfilling the law completely and perfectly. The gospel is not that we develop a righteousness apart from God so that we’re deemed “good” and then he owes and accepts us, rather, the gospel is that God develops a righteousness through Jesus Christ and gives it to us (Keller). By fulfilling the law, Jesus both removes my unrighteousness that the law reveals, and gives me a righteousness that my imperfect law-abiding efforts could not produce. How does Jesus do this?
First, Jesus fulfills the ceremony of the law. All of the burnt offerings, the sacrifices, the priests, the temples, the tabernacles, and the altars are fulfilled in Christ. He is the perfect priest who offers the perfect sacrifice to satisfying the perfect God and atone for the sins of imperfect men. Everything in the Law and the prophets were shadows of him. Luke 24.25-27 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (See Hebrews 10)
Second, Jesus fulfills the penalty of the law. Jesus receives the penalty that all lawbreakers deserved. He willingly serves as the substitute and absorbs the wrath of God. By His sacrifice, Jesus declares sin to be really bad and God (and his law) to be really good. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3.13
Third, Jesus perfectly fulfills the righteousness of the law by the power of the Spirit of God. Jesus becomes the curse so I can become a blessing. Jesus fulfills the law by loving his God perfectly, and loving his neighbor perfectly. More than that, Jesus gives his life out of His love for God, and for the love of His people. He fulfills the law IN himself that it might be fulfilled in those who believe in his life, death, and resurrection. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom.8.1-4
How does Jesus change my relationship to the law?
But what does this mean for us? If the law has been fulfilled, does that mean that the law has no bearing in our lives? Jesus does not only save us FROM the law, he saves us TO the law. In Galatians 3, the Bible declares that the Christian is no longer under law, but under grace. Grace does not remove the law; grace changes our relationship to the law. Romans 7.13-20 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
The cross changes our relationship with the law of God. In Christ, the law no longer has legal authority to condemn us, but it still possesses moral power to guide us. The Bible says the law was like a guardian or a tutor to lead us to Jesus. What was once a tyrant, has become an authority we respect, love, and trust. “The effect of this glorious, redeeming work is not only to give forgiveness to us miserable, law-breaking rebels against God, but to make us sons of God—those who delight in the law of God, those indeed who hunger and thirst for righteousness and who long to be holy, not in the sense of having a wonderful feeling or experience, but who long to live like Christ and to be like Him in every respect” Martin Lloyd Jones
1. In Christ, the Law goes from something feared to something treasured.
2. In Christ, the Law goes form something external to something internal.
3. In Christ, the Law goes from something that can only punish to something that can only bless.
4. In Christ, the Law goes from something that enslaves us something that frees us to enjoy life
5. In Christ, the Law goes from something burdensome to something revitalizing
One of the purposes of grace is to enable to us to fulfill the moral law of God. Better said, God’s loving grace enables us to LOVE God and LOVE people through obedience. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1John 5.2-5 The Love of Christ casts out all fear of punishment by the law. By grace, you have been delivered form the curse of the Law and delivered to the Joy of the Law. In Christ, the law goes from being the maximum we must do in order to not be hated by God, to the minimum we can do in order to display our love for Him and others. The enemy tries to use the law to produce in us all kinds of sin. In Christ, the Lord uses the law to produce in us all kinds of love. Jesus saves us from and to the law.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
May 11, 2014Jesus the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29 (Mville)
May 11, 2014Jesus is (Scary) Gracious | Matthew 7.15-23 (Snoh)
May 4, 2014Kingdom Admission | Matthew 7:13-23 (Mville)