Matthew 5:17-20 Part 3

Our Lord makes it very plain in these verses, seventeen through twenty, that He didn’t come to abrogate the Law.  But He, Himself, is the very consummation, or the embodiment, or the fullness of the Word of God.  He says that the Law stands, as written, as long as God’s creation is here!  And anyone who loosens the requirements of even the least demand of the Law has done violence to the Word of God Incarnate.  And then He condemns pharisaical religion, which carries in itself the seeds of all antinomianism.

The clarity of all these words from Jesus makes all of this unmistakable. And I trust that the Holy Spirit has put all these words into your minds and written this Law in your hearts, as was promised by the prophet Jeremiah.

Now, this morning we have to go back into the text, and, using the regulative principle in Scripture, deal with some of the underlying issues which arise from these remarkable statements.  I stand in awe of this passage. 

But remember – the regulative principle in Scripture is that Scripture is its own interpreter.  And, since God is perfect and doesn’t change, then His Word doesn’t change.  It isn’t contradictory.  In other words, what is holy and true in Exodus doesn’t become unholy and false and abrogated in the Gospel of Matthew!  What is good for man to avoid in First Samuel is still good for man to avoid in the Corinthian Church in 50AD, and in the Churches of 1990.  What the proper role of the state was in Solomon’s kingdom is still the proper role of the state in the twentieth century; for God’s Law is the reflection of His perfections, and His perfections don’t change with dispensations of time and circumstances!  The Law doesn’t change!  The essential content of God’s morality doesn’t change.

And in our text we have the teaching of Jesus in clear and explicit terms – that every jot and tittle of God’s Holy Law stands, as is, and that’s axiomatic!  It is a fundamental principle.  And, in the person of Jesus, that became more clear than it ever had been, for He is the fullness of the Law and the prophets – the very Word of God made flesh.  In His Person is the express image of God and all His perfections, the confirmation and establishing of the Speech of God, and the consummate Law Keeper!

And He - Jahwey, King of Kings – says, “If you love Me, keep My Commandments!” – thereby dispelling any notion that the “law of love” is distinct from the “Law of God.”  It isn’t.  They are inseparably interrelated!  The very test of genuine love for Christ is obedience to the Commandments.  And that was the same test in the Old Testament!  Deuteronomy six, verses four through six says that because the Lord is our God, we must love and obey Him.  So love and Law sustain the same relationship to each other in both the Older and Newer revelation!

Now, the antinomian – the one who wants to replace the Law – comes to this passage and denies what it clearly says.  And part of the reason he does that is because he comes to the passage with presuppositions against it.  He’s been taught from some other passages that the Law has, indeed, been abrogated or replaced.  And, therefore, when he reads what Jesus says, here, “I did not come to abrogate (destroy, replace) the Law,” he doesn’t believe Him!

But, you see, all the other passages of Scripture which he’s been taught abrogate the Law, don’t do so at all!  In fact, every single one of them agree perfectly with the words of Jesus.  They must!  For there is one God – and one Word!  The God-Man spoke it – and revealed it! 

And I want to deal with a few of the major ones just to make sure that everyone sees the unity and consistency of God’s Holy Law-Word.  Most of these are from the Pauline letters, which, seemingly, are appealed to the most by antinomians (those who want to replace it).  But let’s just remember that Paul was neither a legalist nor an antinomian!  He condemned the use of the Law as a way of justification, or legalism, and he magnified it as the perfect pattern of sanctification!  He affirmed the Law’s holiness and goodness in Romans seven, twelve.  He echoed Jesus’ words by saying that we Christians establish the Law, in Romans three, verse thirty-one.  He appealed to the Law as authoritative, in First Corinthians chapter nine, verse eight.  And he exhorted all Christians to keep the Law in Galatians five, thirteen.

So when we come to any words from Paul which sound like they may be negative to God’s Law, we have to remember those things.  And we have to remember the context in which those words, which sound negative, were written.  Remember – the Jews boasted in the Law, they used it to lay up merit in heaven, they secured the carnal kingdom with it, and they used it to segregate themselves from those brutish Gentiles in the surrounding nations!  The Law was given to them!  And, even though they twisted it and added to it and had no idea of its fullness, they still trusted in it for their justification!  Pharisaism was an antinomian – works - religion!  And Paul’s concern, in much of the corpus of his letters, is to protect the Churches from this Pharisaical, Judaistic religion!  It denied Christ being the Word Incarnate, and it was, therefore, deadly to the Church!

So, first, it seems that every time we speak of the Law of God to an antinomian, he uses the most sloganized verse in his Biblical vocabulary!  “You’re not under Law, but under grace.”  Romans six, fourteen.  And that’s a perfect example of pulling a verse out of its textual and theological context, and forcing it to say what it doesn’t say! 

But it’s really such a simple verse that no one should ever be foolish enough to think that Paul would be releasing believers from the obligations of God’s morality!

Just before he says that, Paul said, “Sin shall not have dominion over you ... for, you are not under Law....”  Paul equates being “under the Law” with the “dominion of sin” – unregeneracy!  In other words, if you aren’t in the body of Christ – saved by grace – then you’re under the crushing condemnation of God’s Holy Law-Word!

Of course Paul would tell the Roman Christians that they weren’t under condemnation!  They were believers and under grace!  Therefore lawlessness shall not reign in the believer’s life!

And then he goes on, in the very next verse, to safeguard against any antinomian interpretation of what he had just said!  “Shall we transgress the Law that grace might abound?  May it never be!”  In other words, lawlessness ought to be the very antithesis of the Christian life!

So, it’s just Scriptural illiteracy to use this verse to condemn ones love for, and his delight in, the Law of God.  It tears at the Body of our Lord to lift a few words out of their context and use them unlawfully.  As the apostle Peter says, the unlearned and unstable wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction.

But, then, what does the antinomian do when he’s pinned down on Romans six?  He quickly moves over to Romans seven!  And he picks out eight words from verses four through six, and he says, “See!!?”  “Died to the Law,” and “discharged from the Law!”

But again, he shows his unlearned and distorted view of Scripture by wresting these few words from their context!  Paul says that the believer has died to the Law in order that he might bear fruit to God, and he has been discharged from the Law with the result that he serves in the newness of the Holy Spirit!

The believer has died to death!  Paul says he has died to condemnation!  And he has been resurrected unto newness of life!  He is no longer condemned by the Holy Law-Word of God.  But freed to keep it!  How simple can that be?  Paul, again, does the same thing he did back in chapter six.  He safeguards against the very thing antinomians do with his plain words.  He declares, in the very next verse, verse seven, that his reader must not conclude that the Law is sinful!  The Law isn’t sinful, man is!!  He, himself, was released from the condemnation of the Law; he says, and he found the grace of God and “died to the law,” and was “release from its bondage!”  He was freed from sin and the Law’s condemnation, and the Law’s impotence to justify; and he became enslaved to God and lawful sanctification!  In other words, Paul was enabled, by the Spirit and grace, to keep the Law as a reflection of the righteousness of God! - Not in order to be justified, but as a result of newness of life!  Another passage that is used often to justify an antinomian lifestyle is Hebrews seven, twelve, which says, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the Law.”

Of course, the first assumption an antinomian makes, upon reading that, is that Christ changed the entire Law!  But one must realize that the entire letter to the Hebrews speaks of the sacrificial system, or the ceremonial system, anticipating and then culminating in Jesus Christ!  And when He became the High Priest of the Church, levitical descent was no longer necessary.  Jesus was after the tribe of Judah, rather than of Levi, and Scripture plainly states that the excellent priestly order of Levites was only anticipatory of Christ and temporal; and when He came, all believers became priests in Him!  And so the reality, which was anticipated by the Levitical priesthood, was so far greater than its fleshly old covenant counterpart, that the old shadows now seem weak and insufficient and ineffective!  So the “change of the Law” in Hebrews chapter seven is simply the change from the fleshly Levite priesthood to the real Priest Who is Christ!  The essence and content of the Law didn’t change, the fleshly foreshadowing went away when the real thing showed up!  Now, is it even imaginable that anyone would reason from this passage that the coming of Christ would change the whole Law of God?  It didn’t change!  The Law was established by Christ!

Now, there’s only one more that we’ll look at.  There are several more worth mentioning, but only one more which antinomians really use to challenge us.  And that’s Paul’s letter to the Church at Galatia.  Paul says, “Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, in order that we might be justified through faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”  The unregenerate – the unjustified, the dead in sin – are under the schoolmaster.  The justified are not under the schoolmaster.

You know how those two verses are used as well as I do.  “The Law was just a schoolmaster until Christ came!  We’re no longer under the Law!  We don’t need a schoolmaster!”

If only this book was read in its context.  The whole letter. 

Judaizers were busy in the young Christian Churches – stirring up strife and discord concerning  the ceremonial law.  Circumcision was an issue – and the celebration of the festival days as holy days was an issue.  Judaizers were demanding that Gentiles observe all these ceremonial aspects of the law in order to be saved, and in order to be members of the new Church!

And, as Paul writes to the Churches, his fundamental concern is the Gospel of justification through faith alone!  It was the Gospel which Paul was maintaining against the influence and teaching of those who followed the Pharisees.  And they required that faith be put on an equal footing with meritorious law-works – especially circumcision!

You see, it was the ceremonial aspects of the Older Testament that were the whole topic of dispute!  And Paul says that these ceremonies were teachers – they led us to Christ!  Before, we were all dead in sin, or condemned by the Law, but the prefiguring ceremonies were given by God to lead us all to Christ!  They did not justify us – Christ did!  And after we are justified by faith, then there’s no longer a need for the teacher or schoolmaster!

The schoolmaster was there, and it was holy and good.  But when we are given the real thing – that thing that the schoolmaster anticipated and taught – then we graduate!  To put it another way – The ceremonial Law taught us, Paul said, to be justified through faith in Christ.  Now that He has come, now that we are justified through faith in Christ, the ceremonial Law has faded away in the comparison!

And Paul berates the Galatian Christians something terrible!  He tells them that they don’t even know the rudimentary things about Christianity if they’re still requiring circumcision and observing the Old Testament holy days!  Doing these things is tantamount to denying that the reality of these things has come! – And that the shadows of the real thing are better!  And that something other than faith is needed in order to enter the Kingdom!

Isn’t it sad that the content of an entire letter of the New Testament could be so distorted by those who essentially hate God’s Own perfections?!

Now, just to recap for a minute, today’s modern Pharisees use two categories of Scripture concerning the Law in order to deny the plain words of our Lord here in Matthew five.  They falsely use those passages which truly renounce the Law as a means of justification; and they falsely use those which have to do with the ceremonial Law.  And they are used unlawfully to teach the abrogation of the Law of God!

            Now, let us just touch on the two kinds of Law that God has given His people; and then we will say something about the uses of the Law in Scripture.

            There are good theologians who say that there are three or four kinds of Law in the Bible.  But there are really, as I said before, only two.  And they are that body of Law which reveals the moral perfections of God, and which demand compliance of all men for all time; and that system of Law having to do with the anticipation of the coming Messiah, commonly called ceremonial Law.  Let us look at the ceremonial Law first.  (And we will do only broad categories here.)

            The ceremonial Law includes that huge, and very detailed, book of laws concerning the sacrifices – all of which have their consummation in the sacrifice of Christ for the sin of the world, which are not abrogated, but perfectly kept!  And it includes the description of the temple and everything in it – down to the exact measurements and design of the building, the columns, the furniture, and the artifacts to be made for it.  And this, of course, anticipates the coming Savior, Whose body is the Church in all its perfections!

            It also includes the laws setting aside a specific tribe for the priesthood, and their anointings, and their duties, and what they were to wear – all this in infinite detail – and all anticipating the coming High Priest of God and High Priest of the Church.

            It also includes the system of holy festival days.  And even the Sabbath Day had anticipatory ceremonial aspects.  All consummated in the joy and rest brought by the salvation of Christ Jesus.

            And Passover, and circumcision, and dietary laws and laws regarding clothing – all ceremonial and anticipatory.  But all having some degree of moral content!  For example, we as believers are obligated to receive the grace of God in the Lord’s Table, which is no longer anticipatory, as was Passover, but is in memorial – we now look back to the coming of Christ until He returns.  That is a moral obligation, and a fullness of the Law regarding Passover!

            Another example:  The Laws pertaining to the Old Levitical Priesthood haven’t been abrogated – and they do have some moral content – for we are all priests in the Body of our High Priest Jesus Christ; and the essential content of those Laws is still kept by us as priests under Him and in Him!

            And the dietary laws and the clothing laws and the other laws of separation from pagan nations, although anticipatory foreshadowings of the coming Reality, find their full content in Him as His Church remains separate from the world order and clean from idolatry and free from marriages outside the faith and free from pagan philosophy.  And on and on.

            And all the laws of the ceremonial system are still in effect.  They are being kept perfectly by the reality of their foreshadowings.  The Real Prophet, Priest and King is here, and He is still Prophet, Priest and King!  And we are in Him – and, therefore, to some degree, and in some manner – we are obligated to the entire corpus of the Law!  As Jesus said, “Not one jot or one tittle shall pass away from the Law until everything is complete.”  All is being kept in all its glory by Jesus and by us in Him.

            So, since the full content of the Law has been revealed in Christ Jesus, and since He is the revelation of those foreshadowings, and since we live in His body, to a degree, according to the Apostle Paul, we fulfill the ceremonial Law of God!  It is not abrogated – It is fulfilled!  In exhaustive detail!

            That is the anticipatory ceremonial Law.  Now let us deal with the moral Law.  And, remember, that there are some moral aspects to the ancient ceremonies; and there are ceremonial aspects to some of God’s moral Law.  But the Scriptures, themselves, make these distinctions, so we must. 

            Now, the great body of God’s holy Law reflects, or reveals, His Own character!  That is why the Theological term – “moral Law” – is used.  God’s morality is commanded among men!

            The Ten Commandments is a summary of the whole body of Law.  And most of the last four books of Moses give some detail about every sin of man.  And the prophets preached the application of those laws to Israel and the surrounding nations.  And the New Testament writers took it as completely authoritative and made application to their times!  And our Lord Jesus Christ, here in our text, confirms and establishes it in its minutest detail, and then exegetes the full content of some of it for us, and then, in another place, makes it mandatory for all of us in order to love Him!

            As I said before, God’s moral Law speaks to every sin of mankind, and it applies to every situation in which man finds himself.  Many become confused, though, abut the application of some of the laws.  And, as I have said before, we don’t have all the answers!  But all aspects of man's life are covered – even his civil government!

            As God’s moral Law was applied to Israel’s civil government, we sometimes find it difficult to find the essence of the Law in order to make application to us – three thousand, five hundred years later!  But most of it is rather easy, if only we heeded it!

            Well, it is getting late, and we have to stop here.  We will pick up next Lord’s Day with some examples of God’s moral law and make application of them to us in the twentieth century.  And then we will say some things about the uses of the Law, as given to us by Christ and the apostles.  But, let us remember that Christ Jesus was the perfect Lawkeeper.  And He causes us, through faith, to live in Him.  And He empowers us to live as righteous Lawkeepers.  We are no longer under the Law’s condemnation.  But, in Him, we are truly free to be holy as He is holy.

            The Lord Jesus did not free us, by His Grace, to be lawless!  He freed us from that which condemns us!  The Law isn’t evil – men are!  But upon receiving that which God freely gives us – justification – then we are to be reflections of His perfections! – pleasing Him and loving Him by  being like Him.