Biblical Reference: Matthew 5:17-26
A question has been posed to me in the past: Do the Commandments of the Old Testament still apply for the Christian? Is the Old Testament still legitimate for the follower of Jesus? Some people might say no. What do you think?
Jesus answers that question in today’s passage as He talks about righteousness in the life of a follower of Christ. He said, “Do you think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets? I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.”
First, we need to look at what are the Law and Prophets Jesus is speaking about. He is talking about the entire Old Testament – the Commandments, the first five books, the prophetic writings like Jeremiah and Malachi, and the wisdom writings.
When He says, “Do you think . . . “, He is answering the Jewish religious authorities’ accusations that He was repealing the Old Testament teachings. They didn’t like His attitudes toward Old Testament laws on issues such as Sabbath-keeping. He trampled all over the rules and traditions they had set up around this commandment, and it irritated them to no end. Who does he think he is trying to repeal our commandments?
People also noticed that Jesus taught as One with great authority. He didn’t quote other rabbis or experts. He just spoke His Word based upon Himself. People would comment about this new teaching with such authority. The religious authorities wondered if Jesus was abandoning the Old Testament and setting aside Moses’ laws from God.
Well, Jesus emphatically says in this passage, Anyone who thinks the Commandments in the Old Testament aren’t important to me, you’ve got me all wrong. “I have come not to set them aside but to fulfill them,” which means to fill them.
How does Jesus fulfill the Old Testament?
First of all, we have the doctrinal teachings in the Old Testament where we learn about God and man, and God’s plan to rescue this broken world. But it is only a partial revelation. Jesus is the One who completes God’s plans in the New Testament.
Then we have the prophecies that look forward to the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Jesus comes in and announces the time is fulfilled with His ministry. The climax was His death on the cross in which the perfect fulfillment of sacrifice for sin was made.
Now the ceremonial, sacrificial system is no longer needed. It is abolished in that way. But its significance is much more meaningful as we look at the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, once and for all, for humankind’s sin.
The Old Testament also contains the moral laws of God, the ethical precepts which were often misunderstood and disobeyed. Jesus is here to explain their intentions, why God gave them to the people. He fulfilled them by His perfect obedience. He followed them to the max.
He rejects the crazy interpretation of God’s Commandments the Pharisees and scribes had placed upon the Laws with all their cumbersome, man-made rules, regulations, and traditions that were burdening people. He came to give us the straight scoop on God’s intentions for His Commandments. He came, not to annul God’s Law, but to reveal the full depth of its meaning.
The Law still applies to Christ’s followers, according to Jesus, for living a responsive, righteous life before our God of grace whom we love. Jesus expects His followers to live by them. These laws will not pass away. And He wants His followers to teach them to others. In fact, He wants our righteousness and obedience to exceed that of the Pharisees and scribes, which must have seemed shocking for people to hear then and makes us uncomfortable as well.
But Jesus was talking about a different kind of righteousness. The Pharisees and scribes had an external righteousness and obedience. They were living by the rules in order to get right with God. Jesus was saying this is way off base from God’s intentions. It’s not why He gave the law. With all their traditions and special rules, they had built a fence around the Commandments and were doing nothing but leading people to a dead end. This legalism was just burdening people, and God never intended for it to be that way when He gave the Commandments.
In fact, that’s why later on Jesus said to those who were struggling under this legalistic interpretation of God’s Law, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden (who are under this legalistic system), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke (my yoke), is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Jesus is telling us that God is interested in loyalty to Him and love for Him, not the legalism people were being taught. For those of us who trust Him and follow Him, Jesus is describing a call to a deeper righteousness than the rule keeping of the Pharisees and scribes. It is more than external. It is an internal thing, a heart thing. It is a righteousness of the heart, an inward righteousness of our mind and our motives. It is a wholehearted obedience that stems from a grateful heart, which just can’t say I love you, Lord enough.
The Prophets of the Old Testament actually talked of the promised day when God would write the Law upon His people’s hearts, and He would put His Spirit within them and cause them to walk in His ways. Well, that day has come in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to save us from our sins and bring us into His kingdom. This deeper righteousness and obedience He is calling us to as His followers is now made possible through the working of God’s Spirit, which dwells within those of us who have been born again in Christ.
We have to remember, now, who Jesus is addressing in this passage. He is speaking to His followers who have received Him and will soon receive the Holy Spirit. It is also addressed to those of us who will receive Him and receive His Holy Spirit later on.
So Jesus is telling us, Yes! The Commandments really do matter. They matter to Him, and He wants them to matter to us, His followers, as well. Follow them not to save yourself, but to express your love for the God who loves you.
Jesus then moves on to give us a concrete example of what He means when He talks about a righteousness that exceeds, a deeper righteousness. He uses the fifth commandment, Thou shalt not murder. “You have heard it said to those of old (meaning the scribes and Pharisees), ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment . . .’”
By the way, the scribes and Pharisees added on the last part of that Commandment. It’s not even in the Ten Commandments.
For most of us though, we might think this is an easy command to follow. I’ve never murdered anyone. I don’t think I would ever do that. But listen to this: Jesus takes it deeper, right to the heart of the matter and traces murder to a dark hiding place in the human heart – hatred. With authority like God, He says, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you that everybody who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable . . . ; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell.”
Anger. The word used here means to harbor and nurture hatred in the heart toward someone else, to nurture resentment, to want revenge. Jesus says It has no place in My kingdom among My followers, and it will face the judgment of God in the end. He gets to the root of murder as He points to anger and talks about words and the power of words to kill. We know the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Jesus takes that one away from us. He says,
• Whoever insults his brother . . . The word used here is “Raca” which means calling him stupid, challenging him or looking with contempt upon his intellect.
• Whoever says You fool . . . , which means moron. The Old Testament meaning is one who is looked upon as having very poor or questionable character and doesn’t respect God.
• Whoever insults his brother . . . One who casts contempt on a person’s intellect and character has committed murder, which has consequences.
If you are a member of Christ’s kingdom, if you’ve tasted His grace in your life and you love Him for all He has done for you, then you are to avoid these things like the plague! As people of the new birth in Christ, we can avoid these things and instead act in love toward our brothers and sisters because we are powered by the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us! We can move toward love as we have been loved by Christ.
Jesus continues. Now let’s say you have gotten into a conflict with someone. You’ve committed an offense like what I just described against someone and are wondering what to do next. To put this in our modern-day terms: If you are in church in the middle of a service of worship, and you suddenly remember your brother has a grievance against you, leave church at once and put it right. Ask for forgiveness from that person, and then come and offer your worship to God. First things first. Reconcile with that person. We are to be reconciling in our relationships with one another.
Reconciliation is a favorite word for the Christian. It’s a grace word for us. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. God was taking steps to fix the broken relationship between Himself and humankind. It was a gracious act on God’s part because we’re the ones who offended Him with our sin. Yet, He took the step of reconciliation toward us through His Son Jesus Christ while we were still His enemies by offering us forgiveness.
So Jesus is telling us we are to be reconcilers. If you have done something that has offended, you’ve gotten into a conflict with someone or maybe someone has even hurt you, hurtful words have been spoken or actions taken that have wounded, Jesus tells us to go – and go right away – and say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Do it even before you worship God. Don’t hide behind your piety. Make things right.
As I read this passage, I’m reminded of the ninth step in the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step program, which says that after you have made a list of the people you’ve hurt along the way (step eight), go and make amends with them (step nine).
Well, there you have it! That is Christ’s plan for people like you and me who trust and follow Him. We are to be stand outs in this unrighteous world with a distinct, deeper righteousness and obedience as we live out our relationships with God and other people. We are to be people committed to doing things God’s way out of gratitude and devotion for all He has done for us. And with the Spirit’s help, we are to be people who are aware of the anger and the junk residing within us – the hatred, ego, pride – and deal with it in the name of Christ.
Finally, we are to be reconciling people who go and ask for forgiveness right away when we are failing at love.
Are there any relationships in your life that need your attention? Is there someone you have wounded along the way and need to reconcile with? Turn off this service now, and go! Or pick up the phone, put it right in Christ’s name. Do it out of love for Jesus Christ who first loved you at His cross. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer