Matthew 5:17-20 Part 1

17.  You must not think that I came to abrogate the Law or the prophets; I came not to abrogate but to fulfill.

18.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth passes away, one jot or one tittle may in no wise pass away from the Law until everything has been completed.

19.  Whoever then unbinds one of the least of these Commandments and teaches men in this way, he shall be called lesser in the Kingdom of the heavens; but whoever has kept and has taught, that one shall be called great in the Kingdom of the heavens.

20.  For I say to you that unless your righteousness should be in full measure greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you may in no wise enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.

I wanted to read that one more time – to let it set itself in our minds.  I know that, as I preach through these words, I’m preaching one of the greatest statements our Lord ever made.  And it’s one of the clearest and simplest statements of fact in the whole Bible.  It’s so clear that one would think that it would be difficult to misunderstand it!  Let’s take that one step further – one would have to hate it to make it say something else.

The Pharisees hated it.  Here is One, they said, coming out of Nazareth, a pagan, mixed-race area, with ridiculous claims of Davidic lineage, born out of wedlock, whose father was a carpenter; and who had never been to law school!  How could He possibly know anything unless He had been taught by the Pharisees?  And He had been making these ungodly statements about the Kingdom, and about fulfilling the Law!  He may even be a magi, and the barbarian religions know zero about God’s Law!  What do mystics need with Law?  And this Man isn’t speaking about returning Israel to its former splendor, He’s speaking about some other Kingdom!  And He’s even including Gentiles!  How can you believe in the Law and include them?

It was these same Pharisees who had long dispensed with the written Law-Word of God and had developed an extensive commentary – which became law.  And the Pharisees’ law-word (not God’s Law-Word) became Israel!  The law became whatever the Pharisees said it was, and Israel became whatever the Pharisees said it was!  They were one and the same.  Israel was no longer an entity or state in and of itself – so the pharisaical commentary on the law of God became the identifying point of contact for the people.  Israel’s identity was its lawyers and their law!

In their way of thinking, if this Jesus were King of Israel, then the nation of God would lose its identity.  And if it did that, then how would it ever regain its international prominence – as prophesied by the prophets?  (Misinterpreted, of course)

But what the Pharisees didn’t know was that the Law-Word of God was the foreshadowing of, and the veiled prophecy of, the coming Lord Jesus Christ!  The Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.  The Logos – the Real Thing – the Word – came!

And the Pharisees had made God’s Law-Word the Pharisee’s law-word, and they had identified the state of Israel with it, instead of seeing the Kingdom filling the whole earth; and they had misappropriated it and mishandled and misinterpreted it and added to it to such a degree that when the Word was made flesh they didn’t even recognize Him!  The very ones who had been entrusted with the oracles of God, which prefigured the Christ Himself, couldn’t even tell it was Him when He came! 

God had said that His King would rule with a rod of iron – and the angel prophesied that the Christ would have a two-edged sword coming from His mouth, but the Pharisees claimed that the Word of God didn’t even know the Law, and that He was a law-breaker!  The Pharisees hated it.

And even though this statement is so clear, the mystics hated it.  What could be so mundane, they said, and what could be so carnal, as to have burdensome law hanging over your head all day?  The way to true spirituality is to be in contact with the spirit world so as to be infused with them and become one with them.  Law is for the unenlightened – we’ve been freed from all of that.  We’re spiritual – not carnal!

And, thirdly, is it any wonder that the world-order hates it?  Isaiah the prophet says that the coming King is the Law-giver!  He is the One Who gave the Law to Moses, a Law which foreshadowed His Own incarnation!  He is the very embodiment of His Own Law-Word.  So if we already know that the world order hates Him, then why is it any wonder that His Law, which pre-figures His very person, is also so hated?  This statement here in these four verses is detested by the world order!

And, lastly, the Church, for the most part, hates it.  For it has lost the personage of Christ.  It has misappropriated Him and mishandled Him and misapplied Him and added to Him and detracted from Him – just as the Pharisees did with the Old Testament foreshadowing of Him – and even though He is here and ruling over His Kingdom, the Church doesn’t see Him and recognize Him and know Him; and the evidence for that is it hates His Holy Law-Word – and it hates this statement in all its clarity; and in all its brilliance, for it confirms that He is the consummation of His Own Older Testament Word!  And His very incarnation confirms the abiding, eternal validity of every Word of the Law and the prophets!

So it takes more than just a little difficult effort to make Jesus’ statement here mean something else – it takes hatred!  Just mention God’s Law to the pagan world-order – or even in most evangelical Churches (liberal churches, Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian), and watch the anger and rebellion flare up!  Just the words themselves is enough to get an immediate reaction most of the time – not to mention refusing to do something because it’s against His Law.

Now, other than the condition of the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day, the other contextual consideration is Jesus’ description of His Own people as having His Own character – the Beatitudes.  And we, as His people, must see that His teaching concerning the Law is rooted in His nature – and ours in Him!

You see, the Word became flesh and perfectly kept the Law.  The Law of God isn’t something separated from Him – you cannot separate His Law from His person – it is Him!  And it flows from Him!  It was His nature to keep the Law perfectly, because He is the Word, and the Word was made flesh!

That’s why His first statement in verse seventeen is so ironic sounding!  “You must not think that I came to abrogate the Law....”  To annul – to make void – to destroy.  How obviously foolish it would be that the Word of God made flesh would abrogate, or make void, the Word of God! 

It was His nature to be meek and lowly of heart.  It was His nature to mourn the corruption and perversity of the world which was so totally opposite His Own character.  It was His nature to be merciful – and to give – even though He received scorn and abuse in return.  It was His nature to be pure in heart in single-minded devotion to His Father.  It was His nature to give peace to men with whom He was well-please.  It was His nature to be the Light of the world.  That’s the nature also of His people!)

And it was His nature to keep the Law of God perfectly, for He was without sin!  And, people, this context is so important to our understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the Law, because those of us upon whom He pronounces all these blessings not only belong to Him, but we are in Him!  And living in Him – and He in us – through faith, we take on His nature – we actually participate in His Divine character – and we grow more and more like Him!

That’s why the Psalmist burst into joyous song and says – “O how I love Thy Law O Lord....”  Jesus said that the Law spoke of Him!  It was given to David to see the coming Messiah in His Law!  The spoken Word of God, enscripturated by Moses and the prophets, spoke of Jesus – and the Word was made flesh!

To love the Law of God is to love God’s incarnate Word!  Now, many say they believe on Jesus, but they more or less reject the eternal, binding validity of the Law.  Now, how can that be?  One’s attitude concerning the Law raises serious questions about one’s attitude toward Christ.  For how can one emulate the Word incarnate and reject the Word which was made incarnate?

Can one take on the very nature and character of the Lord Jesus and, at the same time, reject the very Law-Word which was spoken?  Or doubt the reality of Noah and the inundation of the world?  Or Jonah being swallowed by the great fish?  Or the fiat creation of the world?  Or the entire Red Sea parting?  Can one live in Christ and doubt the Word which was made flesh?

And how might one reject the plain and incomparable – but ironic – statement found here in verse seventeen?  “You must not think that I came to abrogate the Law and the Prophets....”  How can I abrogate that which prefigures Me?  And foreshadows Me?  How can I destroy that which I, Myself, said?  How can I abrogate My Own nature?  My Own Person?  For that which was prefigured now lives among You!  For God spoke.  And whatsoever is – came to be.  And “God spoke” is now “I AM!”

“I did not come to abrogate, but to fulfill.”  I hope you can see now, that this word “fulfill” has absolutely nothing to do with terminating the Law!  Again, one would have to hate this statement to reach a ridiculous conclusion like that!  But... that’s what is most often thought!  They say that fulfill means to terminate!

The Word which prefigured Him – the Law and the Prophets – is come!  That’s what it means.  He says – I Am the consummation, the completion, the fulfillment, of everything said in the Old Scriptures!

“The Law and the Prophets spoke of Me.  And now I’m here!  I came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  The reality of which they spoke is now here and among you.  And regardless of the teaching of the Pharisees and all other false teachers, I will show you and teach you the fullness of what those Scriptures say!  I Am that fullness!

“You must not think that I came to destroy them, I did not come to destroy them but to exhibit, in My Person, their fullness!  I Am their fullness.  And I came to speak of their fullness – and to live their fullness.  And you, blessed with My nature, will have them written in your hearts. For you will participate in My Divine character.  You are My sheep, and My sheep follow Me.  For they follow their Own. 

The Father is in Me and I in Him.  And you are one in Us.  I Am the reality of the Law and the Prophets.”

You see, Jesus didn’t come to annul; He didn’t come to add to – or detract from.  He came as the fullness of the spoken Word.  As the Word of God made flesh, how could He annul, or add to or detract from His Own person?  He is the consummation of everything that was spoken by God!

And to make the ungodly, unbiblical and heretical statement that Christ abolished the Law and introduced grace is a hate-denial of the plain words of Jesus Himself, and it is a hate-denial of the very person of Jesus!  And it is utter contradiction of the purpose and content of the Older Scriptures, which figure the coming Reality!

And Jesus condemns that kind of teaching with stunning negative language.  You can’t put more negatives into the Greek language than He uses here.  “You must not think that I came to abrogate – I did not come to abrogate.  One jot or tittle will in no wise pass away – you will in no wise enter the Kingdom....”

Jesus defends the eternal binding validity of every little mark in the spoken and enscripturated Law.  And He thereby defends His Own person!  For He is the Word of God incarnate and the very fullness of that Law!

As a father might remind his children of the glory and reputation of the family when he sends them out into the world order, the Heavenly Father sent His Son into the world to bring glory to His Father – to be the fullness of every Word that came out of His mouth.

And rather than, as some say, abolishing the Law and setting His people free from being obligated to it, He did just the opposite of that and verified every jot and tittle of it – demonstrating the fullness of it so that we might emulate Him!

Considering oneself as being free from the obligation of God’s Law is chaos and bondage – death!  But being in Christ is freedom to be holy Law-keepers!  He didn’t save us so that we could freely break His Law; He saved us so that we could then be Law-keepers.  He didn’t free us from obedience; He freed us from the crushing condemnation of the Law!  Being in Christ doesn’t make us lawless; it makes us Law-abiding!  How could we become lawless by living in Him?  Since He perfectly kept His Own Law-Word, would we be imitating Him by considering ourselves as being under no obligation to His Law?

“One jot or tittle may in no wise pass away from the Law until everything has been completed.”  The yod – the smallest Hebrew letter.  The tittle – the little upper part of one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet which distinguishes it from another.  The least significant example of the Law of God will abide as long as creation abides!  “Heaven and earth” is singular here in verse eighteen, indicating the view of creation as a whole.  The spoken Law-Word of God is here to stay – in exquisite detail; given in shadowy substance to Moses and the Prophets; revealed in all of its glorious fullness in Christ Jesus the Lord.

Is it abrogated, or destroyed?  No!  Rather it is confirmed by Christ in very plain words.

Is it changed?  Either to detract from it or to add to it?  No!  Rather it is established by the Person Himself, Who is the incarnate Word!

Has it been relegated to a lower position in favor of grace?  No!  Rather it has been brought into its radical fullness by the Word Incarnate.  Law is gracious – and grace is lawful.

Is there now a higher law?  Such as love?  No!  Rather every jot and tittle of His Law-Word has been brought to its highest consummation in the Person of Christ!  Remember when Jesus was asked what was the greatest of the Commandments?  Since each of the Commandments encompasses all the rest, Jesus wasn’t going to be put in a position of respecting one of the Commandments more than another.  He said, “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”  That was a synopsis of the entire ten.  Loving God covers the first four Commandments, and loving ones neighbor covers the last six.  This was a condensation, or a synopsis, or a summary, of the entire Law.  Just as the ten Commandments is a summary of the entirety of God’s Law, so love is a summary of the ten Commandments.  Don’t throw the book away when you summarize it!  Love is the fullness of the Law because it briefly comprehends the full nature of Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself that we might have life.

And lastly, there is another way in which our Lord is the fullness of His Law-Word.  The Law was weak in that it could not "perfect" man.  The Law does not justify.  That was never intended – it condemns.  “Moreover the Law entered, that the offense might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.  That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Rom. 5:20-21.

Our Lord does what the Law could not do.  He justifies us through faith.  He frees us from the condemnation of the Law, translating us into His glorious Kingdom, where we freely walk in the holiness and righteousness of His Law-Word.

And the confirmation of our salvation rests in whether we love God’s Holy Law and whether we’re walking in it.  It’s the nature of Jesus and the nature of His people.

Next Lord’s Day we’ll continue in this statement of our Lord, looking at the various kinds of Law in the Scripture; and examining the relationship between the Law and the Kingdom of Christ.  And also spending some time on antinomianism in its present-day forms.

But for this morning, we participate in a service that is wonderful in its simplicity, but packed full of God’s Law-Word!

Jesus said “not one jot or tittle of the Law will pass until everything is accomplished!”  The hundreds of commands with regard to the sacrificial system pointed to the One Sacrifice to be made in Him.  The passover, the temple rituals, the priest, the altar and all items surrounding it, the holy of holies, the blood, who could share in eating, the bulls the sheep the goats the birds... and their perfections.  The detail is startling.

And none of it passes away.

But the fullness of it all came.  And the “shadows” became Reality.  The Law of the Offerings reached its “fullness” in Him.  He “confirmed” it all and “filled” it all.  What was prophesied and shadowed in all those countless laws and rituals was fulfilled in His One sacrifice.  (Not abolished; not set aside; not made nothing.......... filled up!!!)

And He gave us, instead, such a simple thing to do; eat this bread and drink this wine.  Not a ritual to replace the old ritual....... but as a gift of remembrance.

Since we’re now in Him, we don’t need the shadows and rituals.  We now have what’s Real!  We don’t look forward to something coming..... we’re in Him, and we participate in Him.  And that’s what the sign and seal of the Lord’s Table is.