I will eventually get to some other topics, but there are certain passages of scripture related to the law/old covenant and the new covenant that I want to work through before moving on. Just trying to get them into one place so they can be referred back to in the future.
Another passage that often stirs discussion is Matthew 5:17-18, although for this blog entry we will work through verse 20. This passage, known as the Sermon on the Mount, is the longest piece of Jesus' teaching in the whole New Testament and includes the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer and extends clear into chapter 7.
Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience so the law (which includes the whole law and prophets, and certainly the 10 commandments, or covenant made with Israel) is something Matthew records since the listener(s) (Jews) would be especially attuned to what he had to say, and most certainly the religious leaders/Pharisees, the best law-keepers on the planet. Here is what Jesus taught:
I Came to Fulfill
"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 5:17
Clearly, Jesus said he did NOT come to abolish the law (Law & Prophets). Rather, he came to fulfill them. This begs the question: Did Jesus do what he said he came to do, to fulfill the law? It is one or the other, either he did, or he did not.
"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." Matthew 5:18
Some make an argument that goes something like this: "Heaven and earth have not disappeared, so the law has not disappeared." But this presents a big problem. If that was the point Jesus was trying to make, that heaven and earth would have to disappear first, the next part says that not even the smallest pen stroke (dot or iota) would have disappeared or changed. None of it! Which means that all of it would still be binding to those under the law. It is here that we must begin doing "scriptural gymnastics" to attempt to get around this fact, if we take such a position, because nothing in the Law or the Prophets would have changed. Many attempt to divide the law into different categories, which gets really subjective, and then argue that certain categories were fulfilled, but others weren't. But Jesus' words, in the context of the whole Law and Prophets are that not even the smallest stroke would by any means disappear.
The last four words are the key to understanding what Jesus was saying: "...until everything is accomplished." Jesus had just stated he hadn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In that context he is saying that nothing would disappear from the law UNTIL he accomplished what he said he came to do, to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
Did Jesus do what he said he came to do?
"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." Matthew 5:19
In Matthew 5-7 Jesus is teaching and giving his commands. If we attempt to look at the word "commands" through the lens of the 10 C's (old covenant) this passage cannot be reconciled, since Jesus already made the point that he came to fulfill the law. Don't miss Jesus' commands (i.e. "You have heard that it was said...'You shall not murder...' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother...will be subject to judgment." vs. 21-22). He is teaching a righteousness that is beyond the scope of the law, which is why he fulfilled it. We've all been angry at someone, and even though we did not murder them (letter of the law) we were guilty of murder!
So, "the least of these commands" are contextually in reference to the "sermon" Jesus was teaching, Matthew 5-7. We don't have to guess what he was referring to because it's right there in the text. Setting aside "these commands" means you're called least in the kingdom of heaven. Practicing them means you're called great in the kingdom of heaven. The rest of the "sermon" is about teaching and commands regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, seeking revenge, loving our enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, storing up treasure in heaven, not worrying, judging others, seeking the Father, true and false prophets/disciples, and the wise and foolish builders. There is no gymnastic required when it is taken in context.
"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." Matthew 5:20
If Jesus didn't do what he said he came to do, fulfill the Law and the Prophets, this would be a seriously disheartening text to those who consider themselves "under the law!" The Pharisees were the best law-keepers in the world. They knew every "smallest pen stroke" and kept it. I've heard people attempt to rationalize this away by saying it is a reference to the additions to the law Jesus is referring to. But Paul, a former Pharisee, shows that he/they really were good law keepers:
Depends on Faith
"For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh - though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 and 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 -" Philippians 3:3-9
That is from the "mouth" of an actual Pharisee who turned everything over to Christ. Jesus was teaching about a righteousness that is apart from the law he came to fulfill, a righteousness that only he could provide. Paul said he was "blameless" as far as the law was concerned, but that he counted it as "rubbish" in order to gain Christ, his Source of righteousness that comes through faith.
And so the question remains: Did Jesus do what he said he came to do, fulfill the law? I believe he did. What do you believe? Fulfilled or not fulfilled?