Have you ever gotten the wrong impression of someone? Maybe you had high hopes for a relationship and it just didn’t pan out. Maybe you thought someone was no fun and they turned out to be a blast. Maybe you thought someone was a good person and they turned out to be rotten. Maybe you missed judged someone’s potential like Michael Jordan’s High School basketball coach.
In High School I enrolled in a new school and I played soccer. Soccer workouts began at the end of the summer before school even started so they didn’t know me. Somehow a rumor spread throughout the team that a new kid was coming to join the team from Brazil. Someone must of heard that I grew up in Brazil and this fact turned into a legend that I was a soccer star from the soccer mecca of the world. They expected Ronaldinho to show up and be able to score every time it touched his golden toed foot. And then I showed up…and they quickly realized I was not their soccer savior.
Wrong impressions happen. We all have to deal with them. Even Jesus had to deal with it. Jesus didn’t let people down with his sports skills but some of the things he did and said sometimes gave people the wrong idea about him. Jesus healed and taught on the Sabbath and said things like, “Sabbath was made for man and not man for Sabbath.” At one point he declared all foods clean. A Jew of that time would see these actions and hear these words and he would assume that Jesus was a heretical teacher that came to get everyone to ignore the laws and possibly burn their O.T. scrolls. Some got really mad at him because he kept questioning the Holy Scriptures given to them by God.
This is what Jesus is addressing in Matthew 5:17. Rumors had been spread around that he came to get rid of the law. To answer these accusations Jesus said:
“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.” (Matthew 5:17)
Jesus said that he came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets. Put together the Law and the Prophets make up what we would call the Old Testament (O.T.). They are the Jewish Scriptures. He did not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. How does Jesus fulfill the O.T.?
Jesus fulfills the O.T. in 3 ways:
- …completing the story of salvation – He came to write God’s final chapter in his story with mankind. The O.T. points forward to Jesus. He is the climax of the story. Jesus is the ultimate meaning and point of God’s story in the world. He was saying that the story of man’s redemption has now been finished which began when sin entered the world in Genesis 3. “It is finished,” says Jesus at the crucifixion, meaning that he had completed the saving work of God in the world.
- …revealing its goal – All of it points to Jesus. One of the things that he explained is that the meaning of everything is found in Jesus’ life, teachings, his death, and his resurrection. All of the O.T. is now read in light of what Jesus is and what he is about to do. We cannot and we are not supposed to read the O.T. without Jesus glasses ever again.
- …explaining its true meaning – Jesus went beyond the law to a new standard. Jesus wants us to understand the meaning of the O.T. He came to bring out the full meaning of the law and prophets. He used the O.T. as a starting place to teach us how to live but he even went beyond it.
Jesus came to explain the meaning and complete its message. Jesus’ teachings and message go beyond the O.T. The answer to understanding the O.T. is…Jesus.
When I was a youth minister my youth group loved to poke fun at my brilliantly insightful questions by answering “Jesus” every time they didn’t know the answer. It got annoying after a while. But the answer to everything, including the O.T., is Jesus. They were on to something.
How are Christians today to see the O.T. today with all its story, laws, wisdom, and prophecy?
I see it like this: Imagine that Canada took over the U.S so that we now follow the rules of their land. And we no longer watch football and eat burgers but instead we all watch hockey and drink ginger ale. Would it make sense for us to follow the American laws and the constitution? No, because we would technically be under a new regime. It would only makes sense that we would now be under the Canadian government right?
Jesus came preaching that we are to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Jesus came to explain that we are no longer under the old constitution with its laws but under a new kingdom. A kingdom that is not of this world, but of Heaven. A kingdom that does not have an earthy king or president but a heavenly King. A kingdom where God rules. A kingdom without physical, ethnic, racial, material, or economic borders. A kingdom that prioritizes conduct according to who God is and shaped in the image of His son. A kingdom where its citizens image themselves after Jesus and build their house of the rock of his teachings.
If we no longer are under the old law imparted in the O.T. then how do we use it today if we are not to abolish it?
Paul said in 2 Tim 3:14-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Scriptures that Paul had in mind were for the most part the O.T. The goal of our use of the O.T. is to grow in righteousness which means doing what God would have us do, being who God would have us be, and living how God would have us live.
Jesus was getting at in Matthew 5:18-20:
“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. 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. 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.”
Jesus came not to abolish the O.T. law but actually to promote its obedience. He did not come to make is disappear. He says it will be around until the end. He wants his disciples to do it and to teach it. If they do, they will be great in the kingdom, if they don’t…they will be the least. So it’s important to obey it.
But how do we obey it? Jesus just said he was going to fulfill it. We don’t obey it as Israelites. We don’t follow the O.T. laws of Israel.
I believe verse 20 is key: “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 question now is how did the Pharisees and teachers of the law define their righteousness?
We know from innumerable passages in the Gospels that Jesus couldn’t stand the Pharisee’s focus on the external over the internal. He called them “white washed tombs.” Pretty on the outside, rotten on the inside.
Jesus wants his disciples to go beyond a focus on external observance to a proactive obedience focused on internal character. He wants his disciples to go beyond seeking righteousness through religious rituals to seeking a Christ-like character through faithful obedience.
Jesus did not come to give us new external laws to observe, he gave us life-changing, joy-giving ways of living that we are to internally become. We are to become like him. Jesus says, “The O.T. has been pointing to me and I am pointing you beyond this counterfeit righteousness focused on external observance.” We to go beyond external observance to internal obedience to Jesus. Jesus teaches the right kind of righteousness for the rest of the chapter. We get to see what he means by going beyond right away. Let’s look at the first example:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 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.” (Matt. 5:21-22)
The ways of the kingdom of God are about going beyond external observance of moral law. Yes, God doesn’t want murder. But that is only the symptom of the problem. The problem is anger. Anger is what causes murder. Anger is the heart issues behind what leads to murder. Jesus says that we must go beyond the external law about murder and examine the condition of the heart.
Anger in itself is not wrong. God gets angry. Jesus got angry and did not sin. But the kind of anger that cause you to want to harm someone either verbally or physically is sin. This is what leads to the real breaking of what God intended by this commandment. If you eliminate hatred from your heart you will not murder or slander.
Jesus cared about his disciples hearts. He cared about internal character not just external observance. Jesus is saying you can go your entire life without murdering someone and still violate the law that is behind this commandment. God intends us to love, to care, to sacrifice, and to forgive others. The kingdom of heaven is for people that strive to have the kind of character and hearts like him.
We need to make sure we have the right impression of what Jesus is all about.