Sermon on the Mount: Fulfilling the Law
““Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17-20 NASB1995
Jesus has told us in His sermon what His believers must do (the Beatitudes) and how they make themselves distinct (Salt and Light). Then He immediately cautions the listeners that He is not there to abolish the laws and commandments and prophecies that came before Him, but to fulfill them. Jesus is making a claim about Himself that rocks the entire world - He is the promised Messiah, finishing the thread of God’s Creation and the Old Testament laws and prophets and bringing a new covenant to all people that has its firm foundation in everything that has passed. He sees the legalism of the Pharisees that is not planted in their hearts but is superficial and external and promises us that He will lead us to the righteousness that surpasses them because that righteousness WILL be in our hearts through His grace. Jesus is perfectly obedient to the law and takes on our sinful selves and unrighteousness by carrying it Himself to the cross.
Here’s a commentary I found that helps with this passage. It is from a Sermon by Greg Allen, who is the senior pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Portland Oregon:
We live in a day and age in which the law of God is not loved or honored or regarded as it should be by man. That probably doesn't come as a great surprise though; because almost every age of human history has been an age in which the law of God was not loved or honored or regarded as it should have been. But what is, perhaps, unusual about our time is that there are so many today who profess a faith in Jesus Christ, and yet believe that the law of God is something that - for this present age - is to be set aside.
The formal name for this belief is "antinomianism". "Nomos" is the Greek word for "law"; and so, to be "antinomian" simply means to be "against law", and to hold that the believer is no longer under obligation to preach or obey God's Old Testament law. This very erroneous belief has made its way into the church at many points in its history. One notable occasion was through the early church heretic Marcion. His followers even went so far as to alter Jesus' words to say, "Do not think that I came to fulfill the law, but rather to destroy it."1 We even hear it today, when people say, "I'm sure glad that I live in the age of grace!" (which of course, is a true statement); but then go on to say, "And I'm glad that I have nothing further to do with the Old Testament law!" (which is an expression of an antinomian spirit). While it's true that we are indeed set free from the "curse" of the law for our having failed to keep it, we are not set free from its standard of holiness. As the apostle John has written, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3).
To love God is to keep His commandments. Jesus did not set us free from these standards of holiness, but He removed the curse of our disobedience and failure to keep those commandments by believing in Him.
Jesus fulfills and ends the ceremonial (sacrificial) laws of the Old Testament and the judicial laws of the nation of Israel are now bypassed by the new covenant in Christ for all people. The moral laws remain in Him as the foundation of righteousness as noted by this Commentary by David Guzik:
ii. The life of Paul shows what the righteousness of the Pharisees was like: Acts 23:6, 26:5; Philippians 3:5.
iii. We can exceed their righteousness because our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in kind, not degree. Paul describes the two kinds of righteousness in Philippians 3:6-9: Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [I was] blameless. But what things were gain to me, I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed, I count all things loss…that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.
iv. Though the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was impressive to human observation, it could not prevail before God (Isaiah 64:6).
v. So then, we are not made righteous by keeping the law. When we see what keeping the law really means, we are thankful that Jesus offers us a different kind of righteousness.
May we pray for a new life and new righteousness in our Lord and Savior and not discard the foundation of the Old Testament!
My next Sermon on the Mount devotional will examine Matthew 5:21-26, clarifying what is considered “murder” of our brethren.
Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash
Greg Allen sermon excerpt is copyrighted by Bethany Bible Church, 2004.
Commentary from David Guzik from Enduring Word is used by written permission.