Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 5:17. Here at Cornerstone we desire to be Bible people, and by Bible people I do not mean the four gospels, or the New Testament. I mean the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation and everything in between. Every single thread that weaves its way through God's redemptive story we want to read and embrace.
Too often this is not the case for Christians. Too often Christians only read portions of God's word. One reason that some people limit themselves is because they see the Old Testament as the law, and because of Jesus, we are not under the law, we are under Grace. Therefore, they believe the law is not important. First, this is an extremely shortsighted understanding of grace. Second, it is unfortunate because when we do this we are cheating ourselves out of understanding the fullness of God's glory as displayed in Jesus Christ, and therefore we cheat ourselves out of the joy of deeply knowing Him and what Christ has done for us.
Our text today helps explain why we, at Cornerstone Church, are entire Bible people, namely because Jesus was an entire Bible person. Let us begin today with reading our scripture, we will pray and then we will see what God had to say for us this morning.
- Matthew 5:17-20 - “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. 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. 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. “
Now that we know what Jesus means by the law and prophets, let us ask the question why does he make that statement about not abolishing the law and prophets, the Old Testament? Perhaps this seems odd to you. One possible reason is because there were a fair number of people who desired for Jesus to do just that. At this point in Jesus' ministry he was becoming extremely popular. Very large crowds were following him, and the religious leaders, the Pharisees, were starting to take notice and were concerned about his popularity. One reason He was so popular was that the Jews were tired of the burden, or the yoke, that was placed upon them by the Pharisees. Many of the Jews may have desired a complete reset of the Jewish system. The believed the bathwater was dirty, so they were ready to pitch it, baby included. Jesus kills these dreams by stating clearly that this is not why he came. He had not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill.
What does Jesus mean when he says that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets? This statement means several things, all of which are the basis to why we worship Jesus. His fulfillment of the Old Testament is what makes Him worthy to be praised. This is why we sing songs about Jesus and study about Jesus and pray to Jesus and testify about Jesus. It is because He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Or to put it another way, Jesus is the fulfillment of all redemptive history.
The first way that Christ fulfills the Old Testament is that it testifies about Him. The Old Testament is the shadow and Christ is the substance. The Old Testament is just one long story that points to Jesus. Listen to what Jesus says in John 5:39.
- John 5:39 – “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,”
Jesus is saying that when you read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Isaiah, Psalms, Malachi, etc. they all point to one reality, Him. Think of each book of the Old Testament as the brush strokes of God in the creation of His singular masterpiece paining, His Son. Each Book provides more and more and more detail, color, and clarity of who the painting is about. This is not the only place that Jesus says something like this. Listen to His Words on the road to Emmaus:
- Luke 24:25 – “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.“
Jesus is telling his followers that when you read the Old Testament something in your heart cries out Jesus. You should see the Gospel of Christ dripping from every page.
Here is just a sample of what I mean. Jesus is the Seed of Eve in Genesis 3, He is the Passover Lamb in Exodus, He is the High Priest in Leviticus, He is the bronze serpent in Numbers, He is the Prophet in Deuteronomy, He is the Army Commander in Joshua, He is the lawgiver in Judges, He is the kinsman redeemer in Ruth, He is the Temple, He is the peace offering, He is the show bread, He is the lamp, He is the sacrifice, He is the King, He is Israel, He is the suffering servant, and so on and so on. Every single book testifies, points to, Jesus Christ, sometimes generally and sometimes specifically, but make no mistake, He is the substance of the shadow that is cast in the law and the prophets. This is one way by which Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. However, this is not the only way that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Let us look at Matthew 5:18
- Matthew 5:18 - “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.”
Why is the Old Testament called “the law?” The answer to that is quite simple. The Old Testament is primarily about God interacting with His people by means of law. We see this right out of the gates in the Garden of Eden.
- Genesis 3:3 – “God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"
Of course, we know how that went. Adam and Eve disobeyed the law. Next, in the book of Exodus we have God delivering the Israelites out of Egypt in Exodus. What is the first thing God did? He established the law.
- Exodus 19:4-6 – “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.5 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; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. “
With that said, what does Jesus mean in verse 18 when he says, “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.” This is a pretty significant statement, for one dot of the law is pretty small. Yet Jesus says that all of it must be accomplished. What is he talking about? How does Jesus fulfill or accomplish the demands of the law?
Jesus accomplishes the law by giving it what it demands, specifically obedience and payment. The purpose of laws is to require a certain type of behavior. Take a moment to think about some of our local laws, speeding, seat belts, driving while intoxicated, possession of illegal drugs, etc. Each law is an attempt to make people live in a certain way that the State believes is good, or right. The law demands obedience. Alongside those laws is punishment. Speeding for example, if you exceed the speed limit and are caught, the fine is, let’s say $100. If there was no punishment, there are no teeth in the law. People will not obey. Punishment goes hand in hand with law. If there is a law, without teeth, then it is pointless. The law of God is no different. The first law that was given to man occurred in the Garden of Eden. God said you shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the law. Alongside that law was the punishment. God said if they disobey His law, they will die. Once again we know how the story goes. They ate from the tree and Adam and Even were instantly spiritually dead, and eventually they physically died. Due to their disobedience death entered into the world through sin.
Once again, as stated above, the Law as given to Israel was similar. Listen to what God says to Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15.
- Deuteronomy 28:15 – “"But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
So once again, this law of God came with demands. It demanded obedience and it demanded punishment, and we are no different. All humanity sits under the law of God.
- Romans 1:18 - “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
The law for all mankind is to live Godly lives. Everyone of us. We are all called to love Him, to trust him, to give thanks to Him, to honor him. You, me and every single person on this planet. If we do, we are His treasured possession, and if we don't we are going to feel His wrath.
And just like the Israelites, we can't fulfill the demands of the law. No matter how hard we try, we fall short. We have all lied, lusted, coveted, cursed, gossiped, you name it. We are sinners. WE are rebels just like Adam and Eve and just like the Israelites. We want to live according to our own law, not Gods. Two famous verses that all of us should have memorized are Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23.
- Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
- Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death.”
We have all rejected our God and transgressed His law. This is what sin is. It is rejecting his authority in our lives. It is rejecting his sovereignty over us. Instead of loving Him, we want to love ourselves. Instead of living for Him, we want to live for ourselves. Instead of listening to him, we listen to ourselves. This is sin, this is law breaking. And the punishment for this, the wage, is death. And no matter how hard we try we cannot abide by the law. We cannot end our rebellion. We do not have the capacity to do it.
- Romans 8:7-8 – “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
We cannot please God; However for justice to be upheld there must a price that must be paid, and Jesus does just that. Jesus fulfills the legal demand of the law. Jesus accomplishes the law by absorbing its punishment. He takes upon himself the wrath that we deserve. He stands in our place.
- 1 Peter 2:24 – “ He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law and paid the price required. Our sins required our life, yet Jesus gave us His life instead. This is Grace, and it is amazing.
Second, not only did Jesus pay the price that the law demands, but he lived the life that the law demands. Listen to Galatians 4:4-5.
- Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. “
Jesus submitted himself to the same law that you and I, and all of us are accountable to. This was part of the plan. In order for Jesus to redeem us, to bring us to God, he had to live a perfectly obedient life, a righteous life, under the law. If he would have sinned, than they entire rescue operation would have been over. Jesus Christ fulfilled all requirements of the law, to the dot. Everything His Father asked him to do, he did. The compass of Jesus’ life was His Father’s will. No matter what, Jesus drank from the cup that His Father gave Him. Jesus was on mission to do exactly what God asked of him. You can see this in a few chapters before this at the time of Jesus’ baptism.
- Matthew 3:14-15 – “John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.”
Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. He is the only one every to walk on this planet that is without sin. No other religion, no other philosophy, no other academic can say this. It is an exclusive reality of Christ. He is the only one who is righteous. He fulfills every dot every iota of the law. He lived the life we couldn't. Jesus has what we lack. Which leads us to the last point.
- Matthew 5:20 – “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “
Turn with me to Philippians 3:4-10. The writer of this passage is Paul. Paul was on the fast track of becoming the best Pharisee of his day, but Jesus interfered with his plans. Listen to what Paul says.
- Philippians 3:8-10 – “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- “
- Isaiah 64:6 – “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. “
- Romans 8:1-4 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
How can our righteousness exceed those of the Pharisees and scribes? Only through what is called the great exchange. Jesus takes our punishment and we take his righteousness. It is at the cross that the law and grace collide. And they way by which we receive this amazing grace is by faith. Just like Paul says, we do not have a righteousness of our own. None of you are good enough to avoid God's wrath, we must receive Christ righteousness by faith alone. Thanks be to Jesus.