Jesus’ View of the Law - Matthew 5:17–20

As we make our way through Matthew, we’re going to learn more about these people called “the scribes and Pharisees.” The “scribes” were those who professionally studied and taught God’s law. They were the lawyers. The “Pharisees” were members of a movement devoted to observing the law but also the traditions that were constantly developing from it. By traditions, I mean things that weren’t actually stated and commanded in the law, but had been adopted and were practiced as if they were written in the law.

Matthew 5:17-20 - Jesus' View of the Law

These two groups were the dominant voice on how to please God and be accepted by him. Teaching the law was a legitimate office in their society and they had great influence, which is why Jesus addresses what they teach and promote. Jesus’ message is that despite their knowledge and influence, they don’t know the one thing that they claim to know, which is how to be received by God as a righteous person.

They had powerful sway over others. In fact, I wonder if the internet had existed in the first century, if they would have been some of the loudest people on social media and if 24-hour cable news channels had existed, would they have been among the most-prominent talking heads? Jesus says they were enamored with others seeing them as righteous. They wanted a certain image and reputation. They were creating a code of righteousness – a morality – and keeping it well enough so that others would observe them and be impressed. Others would revere them, honor them, admire them. But they are out of touch with the purpose of God’s law, which is why they accuse Jesus of having a low view of it. However, Jesus teaches his followers that the scribes and Pharisees are lying to themselves. And in that way, we can all relate to them.

Because we all struggle to be completely honest with ourselves. I’m sure you’ve discovered something about yourself or someone else pointed it out, and you thought, “Wow, how did I go so long without recognizing that? How could I have been that blind? I thought I knew myself better than that.” King David realized this. In Psalm 139 he wrote, [23] Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! [24] And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! The truth about yourself can elude you. Often we don’t even want to take a hard look at it.

But Jesus makes it possible for us to look honestly at ourselves, so that we can know and be accepted by God. Here in Matthew 5, Jesus addresses the accusation that he has a low view of God’s law. But Jesus loves the law of God – in fact, more than the scribes and Pharisees ever could, because he understands it in a way they never have.

Jesus has a high view of the law, and he wants us to see it as he sees it. But what does it mean to view the law highly, as Jesus does? Well, it means recognizing two things:

1. all Jesus has done so He could fulfill the law, (v.17-18)

2. and all he has done so we could obey the law. (v.19-20)

Notice Verse [17] “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. Matthew has been showing in these first chapters how Jesus fulfills the words of the prophets. We’ve seen many Old Testament quotes from the prophets that pointed forward to the Messiah. Now the concern is with the misunderstanding of how Jesus views the law of God, which here refers specifically to the commandments given by God through Moses. Jesus accomplished or will accomplish everything the prophets foretold, and evidently he has accomplished or will accomplish everything in the law. Verse [18] 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. “Iota” and “dot” refer to the smallest marks in the Greek and Hebrew alphabet. They had Hebrew manuscripts of the Law; they also had a Greek translation called the Septuagint. Greek was the common language of the times, similar to how English is today. Even the smallest points of the law were of great importance. In other words, all of it was and is important to Jesus,

so important that he was born to fulfill it.

Now we can understand how Jesus would fulfill the Messiah’s role as the prophets said, but how does he fulfill the commandments of God? Well, multiple ways, actually. One way is through his ability to explain the true meaning of God’s commands. That’s what he does in verses 21-48. For instance, we’ll look next Sunday at his treatment of the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill.” Most people could check this one off their lists as something they’ve never done. But Jesus says that having unrighteous anger toward others and spouting insults at people makes you and I just as liable to judgment and hell as murdering someone. Obviously, the consequences in life are different, but regarding eternal salvation – entering the kingdom of heaven – the consequences are the same. By clarifying these things for the people, Jesus is fulfilling the law of God. He’s getting to the heart of the law – the spirit of the law. The scribes and Pharisees did not do this. Another way Jesus fulfills the law is through his own life.

Jesus perfectly obeyed the law of God. Sinclair Ferguson points out that for Jesus, keeping the law was not a burden, because it was written on his heart. He enjoyed it. It satisfied him. And so he was fit to serve as our Savior, living a righteous life in our place. This would not be effective if Jesus were not fully man. And he would not have the ability to live perfectly if he were not fully God. A third way Jesus fulfills the law – through his death on the cross. This is related to two of the three types of laws we see in the Old Testament law of God. There are moral laws, but also civil laws and ceremonial laws. Civil laws were relevant to Israel as a nation. Any nations must have laws. Until the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, “nation of Israel” and “people of God” were two ways of saying the same thing. But the coming of Jesus fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham that from the nation of Israel would come members of the people of God, but not only from that nation. Rather, as the covenant with Abraham said, the people of God would come from all nations. All nations would be blessed.

Jesus’ death and resurrection, and then the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, would inaugurate or begin this new era. So with the people of God being citizens of every nation on earth, the civil laws are no longer relevant.

They are still valuable – still God’s Word – because they teach us about his character. But they are no longer enforced. Jesus has permanently fulfilled them. Also, through his death, Jesus would fulfill all the ceremonial laws which included ways to be made clean before God and ways to atone for sins. There were various sacrifices, and washings, and rituals, and certain foods were prohibited.

However, with one sacrifice – his own life – Jesus would once and for all make his people clean and atone for all their sins. The ceremonial laws are still God’s Word – still profitable to teach us about the holiness of God and the need for atonement – but no longer practiced. So, through his teaching, his life, and his death Jesus fulfilled the law of God. Ironically, he’s being accused by people who think they are fulfilling it. But Jesus points out in later in Matthew’s gospel that they are only putting heavy burdens on people because they’ve missed the heart of God for a holy people – pure in heart – who are set apart to bring God glory, people who love righteousness, who hunger and thirst to be righteous within, through and through, for the glory of God.

Do you have a certain way that you like things to be? In your home, at work, at school. It’s not “the law” but it feels like law to you. You have no problem loving it and keeping it. Why can’t everyone do the same? I’m not talking about an actual moral issue, but one that is so big to you that it feels like one. You keep it well, and you feel great about it. Do you think you keep God’s moral law well? Do you have a sense today of the greatness of God’s grace toward you in Jesus Christ? If not, you have some other code of morality that you’re resting upon. Because you may do some honorable things, but you can’t fulfill God’s moral law to perfection. Only Jesus could do that.

If you don’t look at your own heart, your own sin, your own shortcomings, and see how you violate God’s law, you can’t see and have Jesus as your Savior. We shouldn’t be walking around patting ourselves on the back, patting each other on the back, comforting in other for own righteousness. We should be going around, patting ourselves on the back, patting each other on the back, with the comfort and encouragement that Jesus is our righteousness. Be soothed, be calmed, be comforted by recognizing all he has done so he could fulfill the law of God.

Also, recognize all He has done so we could obey the law.

There’s one more way that Jesus fulfills the law. He does so through his people. He frees us from the power of sin and enables us to love God from the heart and obey him with joy.

Look at verse [19] 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. [20] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The scribes and Pharisees were viewed as the professionally righteous. But to enter the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom of God – you would have to be more righteous than them. How could anyone do that? Well, they would have to be declared righteous by God himself, which you are when born again and saved by faith in Jesus. However, it doesn’t stop there with what we call “justification,” being justified before God.

Those who are truly saved are increasingly transformed by the power of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes us more and more righteous in how we think and live and how we desire and how we dream and how we work and play and love and create and serve. He doesn’t just transform our outward behavior. He transforms our hearts at the deepest level. This is why he continually points out sin at the heart level. And this transformation is essential for his work in the world. Because while it is true that the civil and ceremonial laws now serve to help us understand Christ, the moral laws still tell us how to live. The moral law of God is still entirely applicable and necessary. The moral law shows us our need for a Savior, and it serves to restrain the evil in the world, and it shows us how we should live because in the law we see the holiness of God. What do you need, above all else, in your relationships? Holiness. What do you need in your home and at work and at school and on the playground and the ball field?

You need the holiness of God – holiness that springs forth from your heart, from a true love of what is right and good and unselfish and pure. Nothing will transform the world around you like righteousness. Not vain self-righteousness, not the mere appearance of righteousness, but authentic, God-centered righteousness. The scribes and Pharisees did not possess that.

Historically, Florence is a railroad town, and I thought about that when I read an illustration by Sinclair Ferguson about the life of a Christian. Dr. Ferguson points out that the life of a follower of Jesus is like a great train. The train needs fuel for power. But also, the train needs tracks to direct its energy. He says, “Love for Christ, in the power of the Spirit, is the energy of the Christian life. But that love needs tracks on which to run if it is ever to get to its intended destination. God’s law provides us with those tracks…Rather than restrict us, these tracks give us freedom to move in a Godward direction.”

Should we be all about God’s grace in sending Jesus to fulfill the law for us? Yes. Should we be all about turning from sin and obeying God? Absolutely. Without obedience, his community falls apart.

Jesus calls us to look honestly at ourselves. Are you willing to take this kind of look at yourself? It goes beyond simply filling your life with all the things that are supposed to make you content, beyond building an image that reflects success and happiness, beyond living to achieve. It involves bracing yourself for the revelation of the true you. Christians generally understand that we should interact with God daily

through his Word and prayer. This is one of the most important reasons why – to submit to God’s searching and knowing and trying us and revealing these things to us about us.

[23] Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! [24] And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Let’s pray.