************ Sermon on Matthew 5:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 4, 2001
"Jots and Tittles"
Topic: Ten Commandments
Title: No, The Commandments Aren't Out--Ted Is Out!
A couple of years ago Ted Turner proclaimed the Ten Commandments obsolete.
Turner, creator of CNN, told members of the National Newspaper Association in Atlanta that the biblical Ten Commandments do not relate to current global problems, such as overpopulation and the arms race.
"We're living with outmoded rules," Turner said. "The rules we're living under is the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to 'em, because they are too old.
"When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Today, the commandments wouldn't go over. Nobody around likes to be commanded. Commandments are out."
Is Ted Turner right? When Paul says we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14), isn't he also saying there no longer is any place for the law? When John the Baptist said the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus (Jn 1:17), wasn't he also saying the same thing? Someone once said to me, "We are a New Testament not an Old Testament church. It is the New Testament we should spend time with." This sounds like more of the same.
All of this leads me to ask: Is the law still applicable today? Or, what about the whole of the Old Testament – should we ever read or preach from it?
Many people, like Ted Turner, would say, "No. No, we can do without the Old Testament. No, we can do without the law and the prophets."
In today's Scripture reading Jesus speaks to this. He says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets ..."
I Jesus: A Threat to the Law and Prophets?
A As a teacher in Israel Jesus was unusual. Why do I say that? First, at that time all teachers in Israel were Pharisees; but Jesus was not a Pharisee. He had not been trained as a Pharisee. He did not go to the Teacher's College for Pharisees. So the people looked at Him and said, "Who is this guy, this man without any formal training or education, who teaches and makes all these pronouncements?"
Second, in word and deed Jesus deliberately criticized the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Don't forget, they were the leaders and teachers of Israel; most everyone obeyed them and believed their every word. Jesus, Who did not belong to their schools, dared to denounce what they taught.
As an aside, we notice in our Scripture reading that our Lord was not content with making only positive statements. He was not content with just stating His doctrine; He also criticized other doctrines. I point this out because many today don't want criticism from the pulpit. "Let us have positive preaching," they say. "You don't need to criticize other views," they say. But our Lord was not hesitant to condemn wrong doctrine and we shouldn't be hesitant either.
Third, in contrast to the Pharisees, Jesus did not spend all His time expounding the law. Rather, He often preached grace and the love of God.
Fourth, again in contrast to the Pharisees, Jesus mixed with tax-collectors and sinners. He sat down with them and even ate with them. He not only broke all the Pharisees' rules and regulations, He actually seemed to be breaking them deliberately.
B All of this caused questions to arise. People wondered, in condemning the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees was Jesus perhaps condemning the law and the prophets too? Did Jesus believe the Holy Writings? Or did He want to do away with the Scriptures?
Pointing to our text, some have said that Jesus abolished the law and the prophets. Quoting the texts from Paul and John the Baptist that I mentioned earlier, they say the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians today.
Is this actually the case? What is it that Jesus is teaching us today?
II Definitions: Law, Prophets, Fulfill
A To understand clearly what Jesus was saying we have to make sure we understand the terms that He used. First, what did Jesus mean by "the Law"? The law, as given to the children of Israel, consisted of three parts: the moral, the judicial, and the ceremonial. The moral law is the Ten Commandments and the great moral principles that were laid down once and for all. The judicial law is those rules given to Israel for that time and place telling them how to treat others. The ceremonial law has to do with worship and offering, the ritual and ceremony used to approach God. By "the Law" Jesus has all of this in mind.
Second, what is meant by "the prophets"? The term clearly means all that we have in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and much of what we have in the Psalms. Prophets, remember, did little foretelling of the future; their main job was to "forth-tell." They taught the law, they applied it, they interpreted it. They went to the people of Israel and told them or showed them how they broke that law.
When it comes right down to it, the law and the prophets refers to the whole of the Old Testament. So Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Old Testament."
B Jesus adds to this: "but to fulfill them." "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." This brings us to our third term: what does the word "fulfill" mean? Fulfill here does NOT mean to complete, to finish. That is not what Jesus had in mind. For if that was the case, then we can take the Old Testament out of our Bibles. The real meaning of the word "fulfill" here is "to carry out, to obey, to do, to give obedience to."
What Jesus says to us can be summed up in two principles. We find the first principle in verse 17 and the second principle in verse 18. I want to look at them in reverse order.
III The Demands of God's Law are Permanent
A The second principle stated by Jesus is that God's law is absolute; it can never be changed, not even modified just a wee bit. It is absolute and external. Its demands are permanent and can never be put to the side. Says Jesus,
(Mt 5:18) I tell you the truth, 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.
Another translation uses the phrase I have in my sermon title: jots and tittles. In the Hebrew language there is nothing smaller than these on the written page. Jesus refers here to the smallest consonant in the Hebrew alphabet – it looks a bit like an apostrophe; and, He refers to the smallest vowel in the Hebrew alphabet – a single dot.
Jesus says that heaven and earth shall not pass away until every minute detail and requirement of the law and prophets has been absolutely and completely fulfilled. The law that God has laid down, and which you can read in the Old Testament is going to be fulfilled down to the smallest detail. And, everything that has been said by the prophets will hold and stand until all has been entirely carried out.
B Think of what this means. The law which the voice of God thundered forth from Mount Sinai is as much for you and me as it was for Israel. It wasn't only Israel but also you and me who can have no other gods, who can't take God's name in vain, who must not steal, who must not commit adultery. It wasn't only Israel but also you and me who must worship God alone, who must use God's holy name only with reverence and awe, who must work to share with those in need, who must keep thoughts pure and holy.
People need to hear this today. So many today view the Ten Commandments as a bunch of antiquated rules pushed by an out-of-touch church. So many view the Ten Commandments as not applying to life today. So young people and adult singles do drugs, engage in pre-marital sex, and get drunk. The married engage in extra-marital sex, get drunk, and chase after things and pleasure.
It is bad enough that an unbeliever like Ted Turner talks and acts this way. What is even worse is that many Christians also think and act this way. And, to make matter ever worse, there are places today where the church, through her pastors and elders, actually encourages this kind of behavior.
A number of years ago The Banner had an article written by a student at Dordt College. She wrote:
In my last reunion with Christian friends from high school, five of them were pregnant and single. Two were pregnant a second time and still unmarried.She's not talking about the world. She's talking about the church, about young people and adult singles who sit in church Sunday after Sunday. They hear the Law of God, but they tune it out. "It doesn't apply to me." Or, "That is for Sunday in church, but not for Monday at work or at school." What a travesty!
I have been at a church's youth night where I found an infant sobbing unattended while his young, unwed mother laughed with friends in a nearby room. When I told her that her son was crying, she looked annoyed. "Could you please try to put him to sleep?" she asked. "I'm having fun."
Premarital sex is common. It's common not only on TV and in the world, but among our Christian friends. We have been told that such sex is OK -- "If it feels good, do it." It's easy to remember these words after a fun evening with the one you're sure you love. Parents and roommates aren't home, candles are lit, you're in love ... why not?
C The law and the prophets, the whole of the Old Testament, says Jesus, is still applicable, relevant, and appropriate to us today. We can't do away with Old Testament preaching and teaching and reading. We can't forget, ignore, or neglect the law of God. It is as much in effect today as it was 3400 years ago when God spoke it from Mt. Sinai. We must never believe that the New makes the Old unnecessary. We must never fall into the serious error of thinking that, because we are Christians, we do not need the Old Testament. So I want to urge you, my brothers and sisters, to spend time with all and not just part of the Bible, to demand that the full counsel of God be preached from this pulpit.
Jesus tells His critics that He accepts and confirms the whole of the Old Testament. Go through the Gospels sometime and notice His quotations from the Old Testament. You can come to only one conclusion: that He believed it all and not only certain parts of it! He quoted from almost every part of it. To the Lord Jesus the Old Testament is the Word of God; it is Scripture; it has authority.
Many people today think they can believe in the Lord Jesus and yet more or less reject the Old Testament. But this is a basic contradiction. If we say we do not believe in the creation account, if we say we do not believe in a historical Adam and Eve, if we say we do not believe Noah or Abraham were real persons, if we say we do not believe the law was given by God to Moses – then we are saying Jesus was mistaken in believing it. The point is, if we don't believe the Old Testament we cannot really believe Jesus either. The moment you question the authority and relevance of the Old Testament, you are questioning the authority and relevance of Jesus Himself.
If we understand what Jesus said then we realize that the law and the prophets should have a place in our devotions, our Bible study, and my preaching. Those Christians and churches who reject or neglect the Old Testament are only one step away from rejecting or neglecting the New Testament and even Christ.
IV Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law
A The first principle stated by Jesus is that He has not come to destroy, to abolish, or even to modify, the teaching of the law or the prophets. Rather, He has come to fulfill them, to carry them out, to give them perfect obedience:
(Mt 5:17) "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."
We need to ask: in what way exactly does Jesus fulfill the law and the prophets?
Jesus is the fulfillment, in and of Himself, of what was taught by the Old Testament prophets. Peter can say that in Jesus "we have the word of the prophets made more certain" (2 Pet 1:19). Paul can say the promises God has made are "Yes" in Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
There are so many prophecies in Scripture about Christ. Someone once said that in the Old Testament there are over one thousand promises about Christ: His birth, the place of His birth, His ministry, His miracles, His teaching, His suffering and death, His resurrection, His inclusion of the Gentiles – every one of them fulfilled in Jesus.
B Jesus is the fulfillment not just of the prophets but also of the law. First, Jesus is the fulfillment, in and of Himself, of the ceremonial laws and rules about worship. The earthly tabernacle and temple, for instance, are but pale imitations of what God, in Christ, has established for us in heaven (Heb 8:5). And, the law's sacrifices are but a shadow of Christ's sacrifice upon the cross (Heb 10:1).
Second, Christ is also the fulfillment or the fulfiller of the Law's moral requirements. As the Son of God Jesus is eternally above the law; yet, He came as one under obedience to the law. I'm reminded of what Paul wrote to the church of Galatia:
(Gal 4:4) But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law ...As we read the Gospels we can't help but notice how very careful our Lord was to observe the law; He obeyed it down to the smallest detail. Not only that, but He also taught others to love and obey the law. At the end of His life there was nothing of the law, not a jot or a tittle, that He had broken or disobeyed or violated. So Christ fulfilled the law by His perfect and unwavering obedience to it.
It was especially on the cross, however, that Christ fulfilled the law. Because of the Fall in the Garden God had pronounced judgment on all sin. Punishment of sin must be carried out. The law must be fulfilled. And it was, at Golgotha, when Christ suffered the punishment demanded by the law.
C We can and must go a step further than this yet. Did you know, Christ also fulfills the law in us and through us by means of the Spirit? Jesus fulfills the righteousness demanded by the law when He, with His Spirit, works that righteousness within us.
Topic: ObedienceThat is good advice for all of us. If we truly believe that Christ has fulfilled the law, then we will let Him work the law's righteousness in us and through us.
Subtopic: To God
Title: Stay Here And Keep Them
A church member went to his pastor, Phillips Brooks, to tell him he was going to the Holy Land. He said that it was his intention to visit Mount Sinai. "In fact," the man told the minister, "I plan to climb to the top of that mountain and when I get there read aloud the Ten Commandments."
Thinking this would please Dr. Brooks, the church member was surprised to hear his pastor say, "You know, I can think of something even better than that." The man responded, "You can, Pastor? And what might that be?"
Brooks replied rather bluntly, "Just this. Instead of traveling thousands of miles to read the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, why not stay right here at home and keep them?"
(Mt 5:17) "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."
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