Episode 5 - Fulfilling the Law - Part 3
November 4, 2022
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In Matthew 5:17, Jesus claims that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but rather to fulfill them. If people were not worried about His ministry, that it seemed to subvert or abolish the Law and Prophets, Jesus probably wouldn’t have had to tell them otherwise. It kind of does sound like He is getting rid of it or replacing it. Remember the image Matthew evokes with Jesus going up a mountain and teaching the people who had come to Him from all over the place, people escaping the oppression of a cruel master (disease, pain, demons, and other health problems).
One could say all these afflictions were outward manifestations of our ultimate wound and spiritual sickness at the core of every human, our sinful nature, and just as Israel escaped from Egypt to Sinai and God, these people were escaping from oppression. Only, like Israel before them, they didn’t understand their ultimate need. Jesus is the new Moses in this picture and He starts with 8 Beatitudes that seem to echo the 10 commandments that preceded the rest of the Law.
Is the Law just about our behavior though? Is it to curb our impulse to sin? What does it mean that Jesus fulfills the Law and Prophets and what, if anything, does that have to do with us today? Has the Law and Prophets been fulfilled already or is Jesus still at work fulfilling it? That’s what we want to debate presently. Again, it’s something people don’t see eye to eye on. Some people say the covenant passed down to Israel at Sinai is eternal because God’s word is eternal. Others believe it fulfilled a purpose at a time and place and continues to serve a purpose, although differently now. Still others believe the old covenant is null and void, just as torn asunder as the temple curtain.
Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes, connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the sermon on the mount and discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
This has been a very fruitful discussion, digging into what Jesus means by fulfilling the law.
It led us to question our very existence in space and time to what the role of the law may be and how those who lived in Jesus' day interpreted and misinterpreted the heart of it.
Jesus calls us to a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees.
The law was not intended to be a job description by which we merit God's favor,
and thankfully Jesus opened a new way for us to not be under law anymore or burdened in that kind of mindset.
The law was, however, intended to teach us the way of love, and nothing about that purpose has changed at all.
We just have a greater revelation of what it means in Jesus' teaching, both his life and words.
Last time we read Romans 13:10, which says,
Love is the fulfillment of the law. Likewise, in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:12, Jesus gives us the golden rule.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.
For this is the law and the prophets.
Loving others in a way that not only does no harm, but is also proactively doing acts of love is what is intended.
However, we have to be careful when we say love is the fulfillment of the law,
that we don't adopt a worldly view of what love really is.
I think I want to pick up there again as we continue to talk about how love fulfills the law.
Because where we left off last time was that we were just getting to how hard it is to actually love,
like Jesus teaches, turn the other cheek, be wronged financially.
It's something the world thinks is crazy and really pushes against.
There's a natural revulsion against what seems to many like too much or going too far.
Jesus' definition of love causes many to either disregard as an impossible ideal, a fairy tale, or nonsense,
or just something we don't really like.
If we're really honest, we don't want to love like Jesus teaches.
It is radical. It is uncomfortable. It inconveniences us.
All of these aspects of love are totally against the values of our society.
But it's not just have it your way, right? Away.
First 21st century United States that squirms at Jesus' words.
How we feel and respond to Jesus isn't new at all.
It reminds me of a famous story Jesus once told when he faced the same dynamic in his time.
You know, when you had the scribe or teacher of the law come up and, hey, what's the greatest commandment, Jesus?
And he gives them the greatest, love the Lord your God, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.
But what does he do? He says he wants to be justified and say, well, who is my neighbor?
Kind of slip out of that one. And then we get the parable of the Good Samaritan.
And I think that that is the typical reaction of somebody who lives under law.
Because he wants, what's he looking for? He's looking for a loophole.
Who is my neighbor? Define that word neighbor, Jesus, for me so that I can justify the fact that I don't really love Matt.
Because somehow Matt doesn't fit in my definition of neighbor.
It's the difference. And it is love. And Jesus spends a lot of time talking about it, both directly and indirectly.
I think it's a big, big topic. And I think you see in the story of the Good Samaritan, he highlights a difference between the Jews and the Samaritans.
The Samaritans were looked down upon. Oh, this defiled, they had battles where Jews went and stormed Samaria and destroyed their temple.
And no love loss there. And he uses this Samaritan as the one, and what does he say at the end? The one who showed mercy.
Getting back to one of the Beatitudes. For someone who was totally different than him.
Someone that would look down on him. But he's in need. Let me help him.
And when, you know, it's funny because you got like the equivalent of like a preacher and a song leader go right past him.
Could I read the rest of this kind of section in Matthew five and ask a question based off of that?
So we've been talking all about verse 17 and then just barely started to talk about verse 18.
I'll read all verse 17 through 20.
It says, Do not think I've come to abolish the law of the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.
For truly, I tell you until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.
Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
So I think we kind of touched on this a couple episodes back of like surpassing the righteousness of the Pharisees, but I don't think we talked about it too much.
And I think it's important for us to discuss it like in this conversation, we're talking about fulfilling the law.
I guess the question I have in the short term, Van, is like, how can I have my righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and not feel under law?
Right? Like that part of part of me feels like that's just that feels burdensome, right? To have that high of a bar.
And so can you talk some more about how you think that that's that's a command of Jesus that we if we don't have that, we will not.
And you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven, right?
So how can we have how can we have a righteousness surpass that of like the Pharisees and not feel totally burdened?
Like actually embrace the fact that Jesus says like my yoke is easy.
My burden is light.
Well, so I'll answer that question like I answer almost every single question that anybody ever asked me about the Bible.
I'm not sure.
And I will dig deeper into it in my personal study.
But I can tell you what I think based on what I know right now is that.
Well, so first of all, when you think of Pharisees, it's very important.
Or it was very important for me to understand who the Pharisees actually were because I just had a very simplistic picture of them as the bad guys in the New Testament.
They're the bad guys.
Pharisees are the bad guys.
Disciples are the good guys.
Black hats and white hats.
And and obviously that's a that's a severe oversimplification.
There's really no such thing as black hats and white hats anywhere in the world.
All of our hats are variations of gray.
So that's part of it.
And I think that the key there is when he says in verse 19, but whoever practices and teaches these things that it's that again, it goes back to the it goes back to the practice.
It goes back to the doing.
And part of where the Pharisees started to fail is they became they became too self congratulatory.
They became too full of the fact that we're the ones who are actually doing it to the point that they stopped doing it.
They became, you know, it's the parable of the the the Pharisee and the tax collector.
Thank you, God, that I'm not like all of the evil people who don't pay attention to your law.
And I give a tenth of everything that I have and I and they they just lost track because they had gotten so well at obeying the.
The the the hedges, they got so they got so good at maintaining the hedges that they put around the law that they never paid any attention to the law.
And so they would they would they would say, I can't give money to my parents because I've promised it to the temple.
I can't support my parents.
And therefore, and what they were doing was they were ignoring the law that said, you know, honor your father and mother by honoring a law that they created themselves.
So they lost track.
And I think that that is that's what the Pharisees did.
And I think it's a human tendency.
We always need something to put us back on track.
And that is that is that is when you think of it that way, you're more fulfilling the law instead of being under the law.
I hope that kind of answered your question a little bit.
But I think it's a really good question.
And I think it's really worth contemplating because that's one of those verses that when you read it, it takes you back, right?
You're like, so I have to be more righteous than a Pharisee.
Can't do it.
And I think you, you're right.
The Pharisees, Jesus described them as whitewashed tombs.
And it really is something that God sees on the inside.
He sees our hearts, right?
And I think there is a quality of relationship and trust on God instead of trusting yourself because that's what the Pharisees were ended up doing.
And that's why Jesus called them hypocrites, literally actors.
And, you know, they were putting on a good show, but they didn't, they didn't really mean it from their heart.
It wasn't like an expression of overflowing love and gratitude to their creator.
It was, I've done this job.
Now I deserve my wages and Paul turns it on its head.
You're a sinner
So you deserve death.
That's the only thing you can earn in that system.
Unless you are viewing it differently through a lens of relationship with God, your father, who loves you and you're trusting in him.
And then the righteous will live by faith in a sense that way.
And I think to me, it conjures up other verses that Paul writes, you know, when he talks about love tying it back to does love fulfill the law?
You know, he said, you know, in 1 Corinthians 13, before he gets into describing all of how wonderful the law of love is and beautiful, you know, people recite these at weddings all the time, right?
But before that, he says, Hey, if I do all this religious activity and even offer my body up to the flames, but have not love, it's meaningless.
I have nothing.
And you got to think like, Oh, wow, you could do all that and not have love.
Yeah, it's true.
And there's when I was studying for this, there's a early Christian called Lactantius and he just says, like, what you say has no power unless you actually do it.
That sounds like that's kind of what you guys are saying with the Pharisees.
Like they, they were professing, they were actors, right?
They professed, they became actors at some point along the way.
I mean, I don't think they were always that.
But they're professing one thing to follow the law to follow God's commands in his heart, but they had, they had lost sight of it.
That is when we come back to the Sermon on the Mount, it's, it's hard to actually think about what Jesus is saying without talking about.
You can't, it's harder to be an actor.
I think it's still possible.
But it's, it's hard to look at a scripture that says to, to not be angry and to settle, like leave your gift at the altar.
So you can go be reconciled to your brother and, and feel like, oh yeah, I'm totally doing great.
If, if I'm, if my life is full of strife and chaos.
But yeah, I just, I think I'm going to need to keep on wrestling with this because it's, it's really hard for me personally to, to get this, to get that.
That walking with Christ in like a relationship means living out all of these teachings and for that to be just an absolute joy.
Like that, that sense of seeking after righteousness and like just being pure at heart for they will see God.
I think it's, it's so easy for me personally to like get lost in the weeds and I don't actually see God and there's something in my heart that's not pure then.
So I know that as we're continuing to talk about the Sermon on the Mount, that's one of the things that's in the back of my head.
How, how do I embrace living a life that is fulfilling everything that Jesus wants me to fulfill.
And to experience the abundance that he promises with that because I, I can get bound up and thinking that all I just need to do the things.
But then I'm not experiencing abundance and so I'm like, I know there's something off there.
So, yeah, I, and I feel you on that.
I think that if once you've been a Christian for any amount of time, you start to run up against this thing where is my faith is my religion performative.
Am I just, am I just out of habit doing all of this stuff that makes me look like a man of faith?
Or am I really a man of faith?
I asked myself that question every day, sometimes, and a lot of times multiple times during the day.
So much so that I thought I need to find out what the opposite of performative is so I can know what that is.
And I couldn't really find anything.
If I couldn't really, the best one I found said behavioral and I thought, but isn't my behavior how I perform?
Or doesn't my behavior somehow affect the how I-
Aren't they the same thing?
And I think in some ways they are.
And I, this is, this is something that I tell, that I tell every young Christian who asked me, how do you stay a Christian for all those years like you've been?
And I said, it's a, it's such a thin line.
It's that, you know, it's that straight and narrow path.
And it's impossible to stay on unless you're wrestling almost the whole time.
You have to be, you have to be constantly engaged in that tension of, am I just, am I just talking a good game?
Am I just performing?
Is this just become my habit?
Or is it real?
And the only way to really know is to be deeply and individually and constantly connected to God through the Holy Spirit.
Yeah, I think that's it.
I think for me, it's surrender, which then sets me free.
You know, when I surrender my, I'm trying to do it on my own power because that's my natural inclination.
And then I surrender, what a weight off, you know, and I'm trusting God's word again.
I'm trusting him and that he'll take care of me.
And then suddenly the way I act after that is a lot different than when I'm, oh, rigid.
And I think the other thing I was thinking is you guys are talking, I mean, the Pharisees are, I think a warning to all of us that we, it's so easy because it's natural human nature to try to do this on your own and fail every time.
But I was thinking about how there is a sense that you do labor, right?
Labor of love for 1 Thessalonians, Paul's grateful for their labor of love, right?
So, but love, I think is foundational to that, to that labor.
It energizes and I think the faith is the thing that connects it.
And I think for me, there's a scripture I want to read from Galatians.
For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
And then further on, he talks about how the fruit of the spirit is love, right?
And I think I get the sense that there is this, the Holy Spirit working through us.
Again, I loved one of the earlier discussions we had about the Holy Spirit being so integral, even though he's not explicitly referenced in the Sermon on the Mount, you get the sense you need God to do this.
So, what does it mean to live more righteously than the Pharisees?
It's to live a life where it's faith working through love.
That sounds like, yeah, I think that's a lot of it.
That's it for me.
Like, your faith is energizing into love.
Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:5, the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.
I mean, that's helpful for me.
And I see so many parallels there with what Jesus says in the Beatitudes when he starts this whole thing about being poor in spirit and recognizing our need for God.
And that is...
But then also knowing that if I'm poor in spirit, Jesus promised not to let me hurt the kingdom of heaven.
So, like, I can have a sincere faith recognizing my weakness, but also that God is working with me in this process.
So, we're running short on time here, but I do want to wrap this up a little bit in it.
And I think there's a scripture that does it for me when we're talking about the Old Testament and the New Testament, the two covenants.
And in Romans 9, because I want to connect these two.
I think that they're on the same foundation of faith working through love.
And Paul says in Romans 9:30, what shall we say then that Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it?
That is a righteousness that is by faith, but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.
And you hear that big as if the law was intended from the beginning to be obeyed through faith in the God of the Exodus or the God of the resurrection.
I've actually never noticed that, those two words, in quite that clarity, Matt.
I just appreciate you sharing that.
Yeah, it's to think that in a way, I mean, just as there were faithful people in the Old Testament who walked faithfully with God and did pursue obedience to the Mosaic covenant as faith.
We got a Hebrews 11 full of them.
That's their lotted for their faith, all Old Covenant and all faith.
I mean, that does, it helps me to see the continuity here of what Jesus said
I'm not abolishing the law.
I'm not blowing it up here.
This is a fulfillment of what came before.
He's just, I don't know if it's, we say he's just making it clearer or he's right.
He's fulfilling, he's climaxing and he's culminating it, but that this has been, this has been God's way of working with those people for forever.
It's pretty cool.
Thank you for this discussion on what it means to fulfill the law.
Next time we dive into the topic of anger, which is such an important topic for us to listen to Jesus' teaching on in our day and age.