"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.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)
Last time I was with you, we talked about how we are to be salt and light. As salt, we are preservers of the Gospel truth specifically and morality in general as Kingdom People living in the kingdom of this world. As light, we are the presenters of the Gospel and are not to be ashamed by covering our light and wasting the oil of opportunity in presenting the Gospel to those around us. We are also pointers whose good works we do bring glory to our Father in heaven because it is the Spirit of Christ living in us.
So now we come to this passage in Matthew 5:17-20. Since this is the same sermon, we have to ask ourselves: "How does this connect to what we just read about being salt and light?"
Simply this: everything that we do must point to Christ. Everything we do must bring glory and honor to the One who brought honor and glory to His Father. The "good works" must bring glory not to ourselves but to our Father who is in Heaven.
Jesus Christ is the Center and must be the Center of who we are. Why? Because He is the Center of all that is. And if Jesus is the Center of all that is, He must be the center of who we are as well.
When looking at this wonderful passage of Scripture, we see that it is divided up into two sections: Christ and the Law; and the Christian and the Law. Let's look first at Christ and His relationship to the Law, or the Old Testament. What do we notice?
1. Christ is the center of all Scripture.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, "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 makes it clear that He was on a mission: to fulfill God's redemptive plan. And all that happened in the Old Testament was brought to one focal point: Jesus Christ. Christ did not come merely to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies about Himself --- His very person is that fulfillment.
The "Law and Prophets" include all the authoritative Old Testament. And since Jesus was speaking to a mainly Jewish audience, when Jesus spoke of the "Law," it was clear to them what He mean. It was the very law of Yahweh. In the Jewish mind, this 'Law' could have been the Ten Commandments, or in a broader since the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), or even broader since the entire Old Testament Scripture. Yet, in Jesus' day, this law (in the Jewish mindset) included all the extra rabbinical teachings added to the Old Testament commands. At first, they were written to interpret God's laws, but soon became just as binding as God's laws to the religious leaders. But even with this, it was generally understood as being the entire Old Testament Scriptures.
Now, the foundation for the entire Old Testament is found in the Pentateuch, the first five books written by Moses. Everything that is written beyond these books is based on what is laid down in the Pentateuch.
The law of God can be categorized into three parts: the moral, the judicial, and the ceremonial. The moral law was to detail men's behavior with His commandments. The judicial was how God uniquely established the governmental theocracy of Israel with His statues and decrees. The ceremonial were guidelines for worship with the ritual and sacrificial systems and the judgments therein.
Now, you may be saying, "What does any of this have to do with anything about Christ coming to fulfill all that?"
Looking at the moral law, we see that Christ became worthy to pay for our sins because "he knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The law is perfect (Psalm 19:7), but humanity is sinful. But Christ the spotless lamb of God came and fulfilled all the Law so that He would be worthy to pay for the Law we couldn't keep. He fulfilled the moral Law.
Looking at the judicial Law, we see that through Christ God judged our sinfulness righteously. Romans 3:21-26 shows how a righteousness of God has been revealed from heaven and that through God's grace we have been justified --- declared innocent of all the statues and decrees of God's Law that we have broken. In Christ, God judged it perfectly.
Looking at the ceremonial law, we go to Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 refer to how the Old Testament rituals and ceremonies were "copies of the true things" (9:24) and that "the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities." The blood that was shed from the sacrifices which were offered were but a copy and a shadow of the great sacrifice to be offered in Christ. Hebrews 9:26 says, "He has appeared once and for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." No more sacrifices of animals need to be made because Jesus is that once and for all sacrifice which is truly able to pay for sin.
So Christ fulfills the Law to such an extent that He illustrates it by saying, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." The "iota" is the Greek word for the Hebrew letter 'yod' which is the approximate size of our comma. The 'dot' is the tiniest of marks in Hebrew writing that is the size of our period. He is making it oh so clear that all of the Law has been and will be fulfilled in Him.
2. Christ must be the center of our everything.
Verse 19 is very telling: "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Christ's mission on this earth was to fulfill the law of God and to fulfill God's redemptive work through His chosen. Fulfilling God's law is tantamount. It is not just one law of many different 'laws' out there --- God is the Sovereign King of the Universe and what He decrees is the only measure we are to live by. This speaks to us loudly in our day and age, doesn't it? We live in an age of relativism --- meaning that there are no absolutes, especially when it comes to truth. There is no religious authority nor Almighty God that most hold to, so truth is relative to the individual --- not absolute for everyone.
He fulfills the last little jot and tittle, iota and dot --- so if we fail to keep and to teach others to relax God's commands will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
This is easy to let happen, isn't it? When some brother or sister in Christ comes up to us and confesses to having an affair because their own spouse was not attentive to their needs, we often say that we understand and let them go on their way - even though God's commandment is clear: "Do not commit adultery." When some brother or sister in Christ gives an excuse for not coming to church, we say we understand that that you don't need to go to church to worship God --- even though God's command is clear: "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25).
Yet, often our silence speaks louder than what we say. In our little church, in our families, we know of some who say they are Christians and are yet tampering with sinful behaviors or attitudes. (And even if we don't know about them, God certainly does, for all is as light before Him --- even the sins we commit in the darkness.) Yet, we often don't say anything --- maybe because we fear our own shortcomings and feel we cannot judge anyone else because we too are sinners. Or maybe because we fear their reaction when we confront them. Yet, does not God's Word say, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness" (Galatians 6:1)?
What I am prayerfully trying to say is that God's law must be taken seriously --- all of it. Old Testament or New. And it must be taken seriously in our hearts. Look at verse 20: "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
We must have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? The religious leaders of the day? The ones who prayed so piously on the street corners and gave such large sums of money as their tithe for all to see? The ones who knew the entire Old Testament Scripture by memory? The ones who had the power to through you out of the Temple and cut you off from the people of Abraham? If these leaders were not righteous, who were?
The Pharisees and scribes kept an external righteousness, but their hearts were cold. They had forgotten 1 Samuel 16:7 when Samuel came to anoint the next king. God reminded him, "Do not look on the appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." The Pharisees were all about externals. They would keep the external commands of "Do not murder," "Do not commit adultery" - at least they kept them with their flesh. But Jesus spends the rest of chapter 5 in Matthew showing that it's about a heart relationship with Christ, not merely abiding by the letter of the law. It's both the letter and the Spirit which inspires that letter.
That was Cain's problem, wasn't it?
God's people of the New Covenant are people who, as Jeremiah 31:33 says, have God's laws written on their hearts. They have, as Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, hearts of flesh which are sensitive to the leading of God's Spirit rather than hearts of stone which are cold and callous and not able to absorb any light from God.
My question to you this morning is: how much does God's law matter to you? When you break even the least of His commands, is your heart broken also? Do you realize how much God's Spirit is grieved over our sin --- over our breaking His Law? Is our righteousness merely external, or has it penetrated to the very core of your being to where it permeates all that you are?
Is Christ your all in all? Christ is the center of all Scripture, the focal point of all time and eternity, and must be the center of all that we are as well. Christ is the fulfillment of God's laws and lives in His children to empower us to keep them. May Christ be our center!