Your Kingdome Come Part 2
"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. 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. 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 vin the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)
I wonder if we can really appreciate the shock that must have gone through the crowd as Jesus makes the statement about the scribes and Pharisees. These guys are the elite. They are the ones who know about the Law. They are the ones that seem to know what it means to be the people of God. For many in this crowd they probably represent an unreachable goal. I know they are our favorite villains of the Gospels, but to this crowd that Jesus addresses here, they are people of great worth, people who seem to have it all together. If our righteousness has to exceed theirs, is there any hope?
As shocked as that crowd was by the final statement in this passage, the first one may equally shock many of us. Didn't Jesus come to do away with the Law and all of its requirements? Aren't we living in the age of grace and not the Law? We may think of Paul from places like Romans 3:20.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Or, what he writes in Galatians 2:15-16.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
We look at passages like this and think, "See, Paul knows we don't need to keep the Law. It is grace through faith, not by law keeping." Then we listen to Jesus say he didn't come to do away with the Law. Which one is it? If we will stay close and listen, Jesus will tell us. He said that he came to fulfill, not destroy. He came to show us the purpose of the Law and what that purpose looks like as it is lived. The purpose of the Law is what we need to find. For this we need to take a look at when the Law is given to Israel.
After their release from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and following God's lead Israel comes to Sinai. In Exodus 19 God reminds them of his deliverance, then says, "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:5-6) Then God proceeds to give them the Law. The Law is meant to form Israel into the people of God. By keeping these commandments, they would be markedly different from the nations around them. They would be formed into humanity as God intended in the beginning.
This is what Jesus will show us. It is not that the Law is irrelevant. It is not that the Law was something that needed to be followed once but not any more. It is that the purpose of the Law was to change us, not just our outward behavior, but our entire character. The Law is not just about what we physically do or do not do (i.e. murder). It is about what kind of people we become (living without anger and hate).
What we see in the life of Jesus, what we see in what he will continue to teach throughout this sermon is the ideal balance. It is not just obedience to the letter of the Law as the scribes and Pharisees (and sometimes we) think it is. It is not just that the grace of God extended to humanity so that we can follow our own way of thinking. It is a balance. God's grace has been extended so we can be reconciled to him, and we submit to what he asks us so that we can be transformed into the people he wants us to be. Over the next few weeks we will explore further as we listen to Jesus in the rest of this sermon.