Matthew 5:17-20 Part 2

In our examination last Lord’s Day of Matthew five, verses seventeen through eighteen, we saw that Jesus Christ’s relationship to the Law and the prophets was one of fulfillment.  And we must make absolutely sure that we all understand what that means; because the Church in general, although there are some notable exceptions, has reinterpreted this Word and taken it out of the clarity of its context, and has used it in an unacceptable and even unlawful way to justify lawlessness.

Somehow, the general interpretation of the word “fulfill” has come to be equated with “accomplished.”  And the idea is that – since man could not keep the Law, Jesus “accomplished” that task for us once and for all.  And now we’re not obligated to it any longer.  Dispensationalism even says that now we’re not obligated to it any longer.  Dispensationalism even says that when Jesus returns to set up an earthly kingdom in Israel, He’ll bring back the entire sacrificial, ceremonial and moral Law of God!  But, for the church age it’s abolished. 

Now, many churches don’t go that far, but the general idea about the Law being once and for all accomplished by Christ, thereby relieving us of that terrible burden, has permeated the entire Christian Church to its extreme detriment.  To the vast majority of Churches – Roman and protestant alike – the Law has been accomplished.  In essence it’s been abrogated.  And, in its place, we now have this very general idea of what Christians ought to be like – a smorgasbord approach to ethics.

And this relativistic idea has been a major contributing factor in many of today’s Theological and ecclesiastical heresies!  Look at the social gospel for example.  Men stopped preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of promoting movements for world peace, the brotherhood of all men, the redistribution of all wealth, the elimination of poverty, environmental issues and population control – just to name a few.  You see, these issues they say, reflect man’s love and concern for all men.  And, therefore, they meet the new general requirement in the New Testament.

One other example, quickly, and we’ll go on.  Some say that since the Law and the prophets have been accomplished – and no longer a burden on us – there’s no longer a need for the Old Testament Covenantal structure for society and for the Church!  Each believer is an individual under God, and an autonomous, free-moral-agent.  And, when free-moral-agents agree to meet together, that’s a Church!  And each Church is independent and autonomous of all other ecclesiastical bodies!

You see, with the Law of God abolished, each person stands himself up before God in an individualistic manner, and determines what is right in his own eyes!  Church history doesn’t matter.  What God has said in the Old Testament doesn’t matter!  What matters is what each individual sees as best for him, given his personal relationship with God.  And without going into more examples, you can see that this incipient heresy has, in the least, contributed greatly to the destructive direction of today’s Church.

And all of this damage has come forth because the Word of God has been de-fleshed.  As all heresy is ultimately an attack on the Trinity in one or more of His aspects, this one, this “abolishment of the Law” heresy, happens to be an attack on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Since the “Word was made flesh,” how could He have come in order to abolish the Word?  Since the Word was God, and without Him nothing was made that was made, to abolish the Law and the prophets would be tantamount to the disintegration of creation!  And since the very One Who spoke the Law is the One Who has been given as the perfect sacrifice, to abrogate the Law would be to make void our salvation.

The very same thing is true concerning Jesus’ Words in Matthew three, verse fifteen, where He said, concerning His baptism by John the Baptist:  “Suffer it now, for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus came as the embodiment of righteousness Himself!  Not to abolish it – or make it empty – or to replace it with something else!  Paul said that Jesus was the righteousness of God!  If He came to abolish righteousness, then we have not hope!  Our Lord came to fulfill righteousness!  To be the righteousness spoken by God in the Law and the Prophets!  He was its fullness!

Of a similar nature are Paul’s words to the Church at Colossae, in verse seventeen of chapter four:  “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfill it.”  There’s no way that Paul could be saying that the ministry should be abolished by doing the ministry!

And Jesus says, “I did not come to abrogate the Law or the Prophets.  I came to fulfill!”

Jesus says He came to establish and restore, in Himself, the full measure, intent and purpose of the Word of God!  He sees the whole process of the Revelation of God deposited in the Older Testament, as finding its fullness in Him!

And Paul sees this very thing fulfilled in us!  Listen to Romans chapter eight, verse four:  “That the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not under the flesh, but under the Spirit.”  By our living in Him, Who is the very fullness of the Law, and He living in us, He actually worlds in us the actual living of the Law; and gives us the power of New Covenant obedience – i.e. the Law and the Prophets become a delight and a love to us because we live in The One Who is the embodiment of the Speech of God!  How could it be otherwise?  How could we not love every jot and tittle of the Law if we are living in the body of the Word?

And that’s exactly what Jeremiah the prophet means when He writes God’s prophecy of His New Covenant people!


 “But this shall be the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel:  After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people.”


And when this happens (verses one through twelve), they mourn their own sin, they’re meek, they hunger for the righteousness of God, they’re merciful, they’re pure in heart, they’re peacemakers, and they suffer persecution for the sake of Christ!

And they love the righteousness of the Law, because living in Him, it becomes a part of their nature – as it is His nature!

And that’s why, after Jesus proclaims the eternal, binding validity of the entire Law and prophets – every jot and tittle – He then, in verse nineteen, says, “whoever, then...” - in other words, based on the fact that the most insignificant part of the Speech of God is eternally binding on all men, “whoever, then, unbinds” – looses, abrogates, proclaims null and void – “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.”  

Now, as it is plain for you to see in the text, there are varying degrees of honor in Christ’s Kingdom which incorporates the entire creation!  And it is based on the honor and glory we give to the body of the incarnate Word of God.  If one of God’s elect – and adopted heir – unbinds, or pronounces void, or sets at naught – any of God’s holy Law, and teaches others to do the same, he has done violence to the Word of God and has negatively affected his standing in the Kingdom of Christ!  But if one should do God’s Law and teach others to do the same, then he has protected the integrity of the body of the Word Incarnate, and he has enhanced his standing in the Kingdom!

As you look at the verse, you can see that I’ve translated the word which appears as “least” in the King James Version and others, as “lesser.”  The world can mean either, according to the context.  Jesus, here, is giving two opposites.  But “least” and “great” aren’t opposites.  “Least” and “greatest” are opposites.  But Jesus didn’t use “greatest,” He used “great.”  And the opposite of “great” isn’t “least,” it’s closer to “lesser.”  And besides, not only is it grammatically more correct that way, but it’s better theologically and reasonably!  There can only be one least; and there can be only one greatest!  And that wouldn’t leave any room at the bottom for the many who unbind the least of God's Holy, Incarnate Word!  And it wouldn't leave any room for more than one who kept and taught the eternal, binding validity of all of God's holy Word.

But the point of this verse nineteen is that all of us in the Kingdom – that is, living in, and in submission to, the Word – are to delight in the whole Law, and to give love and honor and glory to God by keeping and teaching the fullness of His Holy Law!  It certainly doesn’t sound as if it’s been set aside, does it?

But, those of us whose righteousness, verse twenty, doesn’t exceed, in full measure, the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, then we will not enter the Kingdom!  If our righteousness doesn’t exceed theirs, then, not only would we be just lesser in the Kingdom, but we wouldn’t be there at all!

Now, before anyone jumps to any conclusions about what Jesus says, here, let me just say to you that the Pharisees did not have the righteousness of God!  And, having said that, we need to take all that we’ve heard about them up until now and examine their religion; because, inherent in that religion are many of the errors present in today’s Church.

And the first thing that must always be said about Pharisaism is that it was, and is, a religion of works-righteousness justification.  And justification to Pharisees was all wrapped up in the existence of, and the return to splendor of national Israel.  The Meshiach – the Messiah – would come one day, and the Pharisees would have held Israel together for him.  And he would be the savior of the nation; and he would eschatalogically subject all world rule to his own.  And nations would flow up to Jerusalem to give him honor.

And right up until the last day in 70AD they believed it – to their ultimate destruction.  Their hope was in the nation of Israel and its perpetuity.  Justification was defined in the existence of Israel – i.e. works righteousness!  And when the Word with which they had been entrusted was made flesh, they didn’t know Him.

Now, there are a lot of things to be said about this, as it relates to today’s Church.  But two things are very obvious.  The first is very simple.  Instead of God’s Law, the fullness of which is the Word Incarnate, instead of God’s Law being the rule of faith and practice, much of the Church has placed its faith in the government, or state!  So many church people look to more and more government control and tax-financed social programs, and government schools, because they think that this is the way to build a utopian society!  More law, more taxes, more education, more social action, more control over families and individuals!  But looking to an autonomous state for a better society, rather than to God’s Holy Law, is a pharisaical heresy!  And the more that church people lead the nation in that direction the worse society will become!

The second obvious application to today’s Church is similar to the first – but its geographical location is different.  It is the state of Israel instead of each country.  And the exact hope that the Pharisees had is still present in many of our churches.  And that is the coming Messiah who brings back the glory and splendor of Israel, and carnally rules from that place!  And doesn’t it sound strange to our ears that the exact same error of the Pharisees is still in the religious community today, in its same form?  Judaic Pharisaism and Evangelical Christianity are the same theology.

The second thing about Pharisaism that we must see is their perverse exegetical distortions of God’s Law.  Now, what we find in the remainder of the sermon on the Mount are just a few of those distortions.  And Jesus gives specific examples of the original intent of the Law in each case.  We’ll take those, from Sunday to Sunday, as they come up.  But suffice it to say that the Pharisees twisted and distorted and added to the Law of God.  They took it out of context and made it say something they wanted it to say.  They gave each other special dispensations of freedom from certain laws when it was politically necessary.  For example, they changed the Laws of divorce to make it easier for themselves to change wives.  And, of course, all this does terrible violence to the body of the Word Incarnate and His Church in Him.

And we must see that the confrontation between Christ and the Pharisees is the most prominent confrontation in Scripture with antinomianism.  You see, antinomianism isn’t just the idea of dispensing with, or abolishing the Law of God.  Antinomianism means “in place of God’s Law.”  It’s replacing God’s Law with another ethic!  God’s Word is taken out of context, and twisted, because something else is seen, at the moment, as better!  People rip and tear at the very fabric of the Personage of Christ because they don’t like what He is – something else is better!  The rest of the chapter is Jesus’ terrible condemnation of the Pharisees’ changing and twisting. 

Which leads me to the third thing that we must see in pharisaical religion, which is also prominent in today’s Church.  And that is an external observance of an already distorted law!  This is Judaistic, Pharisaical legalism.  And Jesus openly criticized it, judged it and condemned it on many occasions.

Luke records one such occasion in chapter sixteen, where Jesus said:


“You are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.


The Pharisees loved to esteem themselves.  And they loved for others to esteem them – public acclaim.  They bragged about fasting twice a week, where the Law of God never commands that.  They went to public places to humble themselves and to pray.  They relied on Rabbinical tradition, and even further re-interpretation when necessary, to please men – and to hold the nation together for the coming Meshiach.

Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”, promoting the appearance of being clean and pure on the outside, but corrupt and rotting on the inside.  But the Pharisees were self-satisfied with their external and public observance of the ceremonies and rituals of religion.  And that makes me think of today’s Church more than anything else does!  Ones who appear to be religious, receiving public acceptance, but the Law of God isn’t written on their hearts.  The Church needs to read First Chronicles chapter twenty-eight where God says that the Lord searches the heart and knows its every intent; therefore, to please God they must serve Him with a willing mind and with the whole heart.  This doesn’t bring public acclaim!  It should bring glory to God!

The Pharisees missed the whole intent of the book of the Law, Deuteronomos, which has, as its primary theme:  “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart.”

Deuteronomy chapter five, verse twenty-nine says:


“O that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and keep all My Commandments always.”


As you can see, the Lord Jesus didn’t bring in a change from Law to Spirit; He brought the fullness of the Law.  He was the fullness of the Law.  And yet the Churches all over the country meet constantly – all the while affirming that this Law has been abolished!  And something better has replaced it!  That’s antinomianism.  And they’re following the tradition of their forefathers – the Pharisees.  They were antinomians.  Their focus was on the state of Israel rather than on the Kingdom of the Incarnate Word; they distorted the Law-Word of God purposely for their own ends; and they participated in religious ceremony to please men – for public acclaim.  But the Law of God wasn’t written in their hearts.  Does that sound like today’s Church?

I heard one who is great in the Kingdom say once – what do you do with the Law of God when you’re in solitude?  David meditated on it, and loved it, and delighted in it – for it prefigured the coming Incarnated Son.  What a person thinks and does when he’s alone indicates what he is inside.  Not the hypocritical show of religion in public – there’s no need for show when in solitude.  So what does one do?

What comes out of you when you’re alone?  Lust?  Anger?  Revenge?  A scheme, maybe, to detour around the full intent of God’s Law in order to get something done?

But what is it to receive, as a gift, the grace of God in Christ?  It not only means that my sins are covered because of His death for me on the cross, but also that I have been given a new nature!  It means that Christ is in me, and I am in Him.  That I have become a partaker of the divine character – the character of the Word Incarnate!  And that old things have passed away and all things have become new.  It means that Christ is dwelling in me by His Spirit.

The one who has been born anew, and who has the Divine nature in him, is one who is righteous and his righteousness does, indeed, exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  He is no longer living for self.  He’s no longer self-righteous and self-satisfied.  There is no need for a carnal Kingdom – no need to twist and change God’s Law.  There is no need for hypocritical public esteem. 

His desire is to glorify God and His Son by honoring and fulfilling the Law.  The Commandments of God to such a person as this are not grievous.  He wants to keep the Law, because he loves it.  He sees the holiness of the Law.  And nothing so appeals to him as the living of the Word and the exemplifying of it in his daily life.  This is the righteousness that far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

I didn’t get to the types of Law in Scripture and the uses of the Law.  We’ll save that until next Lord’s Day.

But, as we close for this morning, let it be known that the world needs to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He is King of all creation; and all creation must acknowledge Him!  Earthly kings and governors and churches and institutions and families ... all must acknowledge Him.

If you don’t acknowledge Him and live under His rule, then – what’s your alternative?  Well, the alternative is to live seditiously and disobediently – and accept the consequences!!!

Go ahead and install some other (alternative) law – which seems better than His Word.  Go ahead and live – day to day – making up your own ethics as you go along... claiming (by some outrageous heresy) that God will love you no matter what you do!

Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My Commandments!”  In other words, live under the rule of the King!

If you’ve been freed from your old, cursed, Adam existence by the atonement of Christ; if you’ve been freed from the judgement and condemnation of God’s Law, then repent of your lawlessness and love Him enough to obey Him.  We’ve not been “freed,” or “delivered,” or “saved” in order to turn around and go back into the slavery of rebellion against God!!!  We’ve been freed to loving obedience!!!