JESUS CAME TO FULFILL THE LAW
(Sermon on the Mount Part 2)
Matthew 5:17-48 (K. V.: 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.’”
Thank God for blessing the ISBC 2018 abundantly! Thank God also for blessing our children’s program at the ISBC! Now that we have tasted the glimpse of God’s kingdom through the ISBC, it is the time for us to return to our daily life and do our best to be God’s kingdom people again. For that, we may have to pick up what we have left, that is, to study Matthew’s Gospel. Last time we studied on Matthew’s gospel, it was Sermon on the Mount Part 1 where we learned the ethics and the constitution of the kingdom of heaven, namely, how to build the holy characters in us. Pastor Kevin aptly summarized those in three simple words: “roots, shoots and fruits” (coincidently his message was on this passage). And we were reminded that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As such, we are to influence the world instead of being influenced by our good deeds. In today’s passage, Jesus reveals the purpose of his coming with regard to the Law and shows the true intent and will of God on the Law. In doing so, he also shares with us God’s magnificent vision for us. May God strengthen us to be His kingdom people in all aspects!
1. The Fulfillment of the Law (5:17-20)
Verse 17 reads again. “‘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.’” Jesus’ teaching was so revolutionary at that time that some people might have thought that he came to abolish the Law and establish the new one. You might as well think similarly when you hear Jesus say “new wine must be poured into new wineskins (Mt 9:17; Mk 2:22; Lk 5:38)” But Jesus came to fulfill the Law instead of abolishing it. Here “fulfilling” refers to revealing the true meaning of the Law beyond the letters of the Law. Through his teaching and his obedient life to the Law, Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. In fact, the Law or the Prophets, that is, the entire Old Testament, points to Jesus.
To better understand the Law, let us have the dictionary definition of “a law.” A law is defined as “the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people.” Every good thing is in the definition of a law! In modern days, the lawmakers (or the legislators) make the law and pass the law. Back then, God made the Law all alone and gave it to Moses. People say that when you see a law, you can see the lawmaker’s intent and will in that law. Likewise, when you see God’s Law, you can see God’s intent and will in it. What are God’s intent and will in the making of the Law? For that, we may need to trace how God started His Law-making. Actually, it all started with His promise to Abraham, when He said to him, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him (Ge 18:19).” Surely, this was well before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.
So God’s intent and will on the Law were that we as Abraham’s descendants may keep the way of the Lord by doing what right and just so that we become His kingdom people. What wonderful intent and will from God for us!
In verse 18, Jesus talks more about the Law. “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” (a stroke might be “iota,” a tiny extension on certain letters in the Hebrew alphabet). Jesus puts great emphasis on the withstanding of the Law because it is perfect and that it is meant to last until everything is accomplished. When is that time? That is the time when God’s kingdom comes and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:10). In view of this, we can know for sure that those who practice and teach God’s Law will be called great in the kingdom of heaven while those who set aside some portions of the Law will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (19).
One step further, Jesus mentions about another aspect of the Law: that we should obtain the righteousness through the Law. Verse 20 reads. “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.” The Pharisees were known to have meticulously observed the Law. As their name indicates, “separatists,” they completely separated themselves from the worldly influence but dedicated their life to the Law (rituals such as memorizing Pentateuch and bathing before entering the Temple show their dedication). Apostle Paul once described himself as a faultless observer of the law in terms of his Pharisee life (“as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Phil 3:6b)”). Jesus says that our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees to enter the kingdom of heaven. Who then can enter the kingdom of heaven? In Jesus’ time, there were about 6,000 Pharisees. So, only 6,000 people could enter the kingdom of heaven?
Here, the righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees is something that we cannot obtain by our own efforts only. As Apostle Paul well explained, it is through the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. “… and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3:9).”
Perhaps, Jesus wants to reveal the hidden aspect of the gospel through teaching about the righteousness that is related to the Law.
What can we learn about the fulfillment of the Law? First, the good intent and will of God on the Law is that we keep the way of the Lord. Second, we are to teach the Law in its entirety without missing any. Third, the eventual goal of the fulfillment of the Law is to obtain righteousness. And that leads us to faith in Jesus, which enables us to be saved and participate in the kingdom of heaven.
2. The Examples of the Fulfillment of the Law (5:21-42)
After explaining about the righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees, Jesus gives us some examples so as for us to better understand the meaning of the specifics of the Law. There are examples from the Old Testaments (like Ten Commandments) and they are applicable to our day-to-day life. The very first example is about murder. What does the Law say about murder? Verse 21b reads. “… You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” If you observe the Ten Commandments, you can see there are eight negative predicates and two positive predicates. And “You shall not murder” is the first to appear in the negative forms out of six human relationships. Probably, it was the most important part of human relationships. It was established to protect the human life.
With the Old Testament viewpoint, murder would be only based on consequence: whether or not you have actually killed someone. This excludes accidental manslaughter, however, because God wanted to protect those who accidentally commit a manslaughter through the cities of refuge. What does Jesus teach about murder, then? Verse 22 reads. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Jesus wants us to know that murder is not a matter of a just outward result but also starts from within. To best keep the commandment regarding murder, we need to first regulate what causes murder, so-called anger.
Why are we angry with our brothers and sisters? Possibly, we are angry when we have too much expectations toward our brothers and sisters. And when those expectations are not met, we may become agitated and eventually become angry. According to Apostle Paul, anger shows our lack of love (1Co 13:5 … love is not easily angered). Jesus points out that anger toward others is a serious matter before God just as murder is. We will be subject to judgment. Remember the first murder in the Bible? What was the cause? Cain was angry with God and with his brother Abel because of what his sacrifice was not accepted by God while his brother’s was. And that anger led him to murder. In addition, Jesus shows that any verbal abuse is a serious offense for both physical and spiritual world. Probably, “Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt, which was sanctioned by the Jewish court. Maybe it is nowadays a racial slur. And when you say, “You fool!” you think it’s nothing but Jesus says it is as dangerous as you are in the fire of hell. Both “Raca” and “fool” show the worthlessness of human being. So when we say such insulting words to someone else, we sit down at God’s judgment seat and deny his dignity as the one made after God’s own image. That is not a small matter before God.
What do we have to do with anger? Anger is the starting point of broken relationships. We may feel anger, but the right way to handle anger is try to resolve conflicts, not to push the person away with insults or slander. Jesus says restoring a broken relationship between you and your brother or sister is more important than religious practices (23,24).
In this harsh world where lawsuits are rampant (and they can ruin one’s life), Jesus recommends a reconciliation and a resolution first. In doing so, you may feel unfair and even humbled at your adversary, but reaching a resolution by yielding a little bit is better than being thrown into prison. And that is the way what the kingdom people could do and that is the blessing of the peacemakers.
Look at verse 27. What does the Law say about adultery? “You shall not commit adultery.” Just like the case of murder, people think the outward result matters the most. So as long as you have not committed adultery, you are okay. But, adultery starts even from a glance. Verse 28 reads. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” If you are not convinced about why looking lustfully is so serious, then refer to what happened to David. David was the warrior of warriors, the great king, the wonderful musician, the tender shepherd and the blessed promise-carrier, but, with a lustful glance at a woman, everything around him crumbled down. David conquered Goliath but not a glance.
Look at verses 29, 30. Jesus teaches us how seriously we should deal with what causes us to stumble. The radical treatment of parts of body means we must deal radically with sin. Jesus does not encourage us to be maimed or blind. Rather, just as the author of the Hebrews says, he wants us to resist against sin to the point of shedding our blood (Heb 12:4).
Look at verses 31,32. What does Jesus teach about divorce? According to Dt 24:1-4, if a man divorces his wife he must give her a certificate. It was intended to prevent hasty divorces and protect marriages. Jesus put a new meaning onto divorce: it is not good and simply wrong because it generates another adultery.
Verses 33 through 36 deal with making an oath. Under the Old Testament view, we are truly bound by oaths and vows. One extreme case of not breaking oaths or vows is what happened to Jephthah. He vowed to make sacrifice to God whatever comes out of the door of his house after winning the victory against the Ammonites and it happened to be his daughter. So not to break his oath, he sacrificed his daughter to God. When do we make oaths or vows? It is usually we are not sure about what we are about to do. We want something sure to prove our honesty and truthfulness. However, that might be from our wrong motive. Jesus says that we should not swear an oath at all. What we need to do is to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ as if we are already under an oath.
Verses 38-42 talk about the original intent of the Old Testament law about “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth (Ex 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Dt 19:21)” and what Jesus wants to add onto it. “Eye for eye” was originally designed to limit retaliation and to have fair punishment equitable and fit for the wrongdoings. Once Lamech boasted exacting a greater vengeance and mocked God’s great mercy and protection upon Cain and that was the reason why God instituted this regulation (Ge 4:23). Yet Jesus asks us not to resist an evil person at the time of insult, lawsuit and forced labor. Slapping by the back of the hand is considered more insulting than a slap by the open palm. Jesus asks us not only to endure such an insult but also to be ready for another blow. Jesus says if someone sues us and tries to take our shirt, Jesus asks us to hand over the coat as well. Your coat is more valuable than your shirt (or inner garment), and according to Moses, it is something you cannot take as a pledge and must return to the owner by the sunset (Ex 22:26). Going for double amount of work for someone is not easy but that is the attitude that Jesus wants us to have.
Why such a drastic measure? It is because non-violent and patient response to the evil person eventually prevails. And it also leads to the teaching about loving our enemies and about being perfect like our heavenly Father in the next passage.
3. The Vision of the Fulfillment of the Law (5:43-48)
“Loving your neighbor can be found in Lev 19:18, but not hating your enemies. Still, this would be an implicit and narrow understanding and interpretation of the Old Testament passage. Surely, that is very natural: love our neighbors and hate our enemies. However, Jesus asks us to go beyond our natural tendency but love our enemies. It is so that we may be children of God. To compare why we should do that, Jesus includes the tax collectors and pagans who do the exactly the same: loving the neighbors and hating the enemies. We are not going to be different from them if we do the same. But as the children of God, Jesus wants us to be different. He wants us to be the disciples of love and true children of the God of love. The entire law is summed up in the command to love (Mt 22:37-40). So if we keep the command of love (by even loving our enemies), we can fulfill the entire Law and become as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. That is the vision of our heavenly Father for us as His kingdom people.
In conclusion, what does Jesus’ teaching about the fulfillment of the Law lead us today? It leads us to understanding that no one can completely fulfill them, but instead guides us to true repentance. Eventually, it enables us to depend on the grace and mercy of God. That makes us have the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. And loving our enemies is the part of the great vision of God for us to be perfect like our heavenly Father so as to be the kingdom people.