************ Sermon on Matthew 5:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 13, 2020
"Jesus and the Law"
I walked in the house. Our two-year old son was standing on the table crying. Ruth was standing by the table crying. They were mad at each other. Something like this never happened with Jesus.
My mother looked after one of our boys for a week. When we went to pick him up Ruth held out her arms for her boy. He turned and ran away and crushed her heart. Something like this never happened with Jesus.
One of the boys was three or four. And was mad at his mother. He was going to get even. He knew how much she loved growing flowers. So, he went to her flower bed, pulled out flowers and tore them to pieces. Something like this never happened with Jesus.
Jesus came, Jesus came at Christmas, to fulfill the Law. No way did He ever break the Law. No way did He ever disrespect His mother.
On this third Sunday of Advent we are looking at two points. First, Jesus did not come at Christmas to abolish the Law and the Prophets. Second, Jesus came at Christmas to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
I Definition of Law and Prophets
A Before we look at these two points we need to clearly define what is meant by "the Law and the Prophets."
For the Jews at the time of Jesus, Law means four different things. First, Law means the Ten Commandments. Second, Law sometimes refers to the five books of Moses. Third, Law can also refer to all of the Old Testament. Fourth, the most common use of Law at the time of Jesus is the teaching of the rabbis -- by this I mean the hundreds and thousands of rules and regulations they developed. To the orthodox Jews of Jesus' time, this was the Law.
For instance, the rabbis had all sorts of Sabbath rules. It started with the basic law: "You shall not do any work on the Sabbath." To obey this, they needed to define work. They decided to work is to carry a burden. Well, then, they needed to define burden. A burden, they decided, is food greater than the weight of a dried fig, more wine than can be mixed in a goblet, more milk than one swallow, more ink than can write two letters of the alphabet. Can a woman wear a necklace or bracelet or wig on the Sabbath? Not if it weighed more than a dried fig. Artificial teeth and artificial limbs cannot be worn on the Sabbath, because they went over the weight limit. A man could not lift his child on the Sabbath for the same reason.
Why were the rabbis so upset and offended when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath? Because their rules stated medical care could only be given on the Sabbath to keep a patient from getting worse; medical care could not be given to make a patient better because that was defined as work. So a wound could be wrapped with cloths but no medicated ointment was allowed.
Obviously, this is not the Law Jesus was talking about. If there is one Law Jesus wanted to abolish, it was this phony system of righteousness taught by the rabbis and practised by the Pharisees. It is accurate to say Jesus came at Christmas to abolish this nonsense.
So what does Jesus mean by Law? What is He talking about? The Law, as given to the children of Israel, consisted of three parts: the moral, the judicial, and the ceremonial. The moral Law was for all men; the judicial Law, just for Israel; the ceremonial Law, for Israel’s worship of God. The moral Law is the Ten Commandments and the great moral principles that were laid down once and for all. The judicial Law was the legislative Law given for the functioning of Israel as a nation. The ceremonial Law has to do with Temple worship and offering, the ritual and ceremony used to approach God.
B The second term we need to define is Prophet. The term means all that we have in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and much of what we have in the Psalms. The job of the Prophets was to teach, apply, and interpret the Law. They went to the people of Israel and told them or showed them how they broke that Law. Sometimes they talked about Israel's failure to keep the moral Law. When they pointed out unjust judges and kings, they showed Israel's failure to keep the judicial Law. And, Israel's failure to keep the ceremonial Law was pointed out when they condemned worship that was false. The prophets all said the same thing: keep the moral Law, keep the judicial Law, keep the ceremonial Law. "If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword" (Is 1:19-20).
C Let's join together the two terms: the Law and the Prophets. Twelve times we have this expression in the New Testament. When you see the two terms together, it generally refers to the whole Old Testament -- which was the entirety of the Bible at the time of Jesus.
II Jesus Did Not Come to Abolish
A In our text Jesus says He did not come at Christmas "to abolish the Law or the Prophets." Abolish. The Greek word is used for physically pulling down a wall, smashing a house to the ground, and destroying the Temple. Figuratively, the Greek word means to make useless, to nullify, to annul, to disallow, to bring to nothing.
Jesus did not come at Christmas to abolish anything in the Old Testament. Or, to expand on this, He did not come at Christmas to abolish anything in the Bible.
B "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets." There were people in Israel who believed that the Messiah would do that when He came. That the Messiah would abolish the Law and the Prophets. That the Messiah would overturn the Old Testament. We realize their problem was not with the Law or the Prophets or the Old Testament but with the rules of the scribes and the legalism of the Pharisees.
Some believed/hoped/wished Jesus would abolish the Law and the Prophets. Look at Jesus from their perspective. He was nothing like the religious leaders of Israel. He was meek and humble and loving and caring; not proud, boastful, hypocritical. He didn't sound like the Pharisees or the scribes. He called men to repent. He proclaimed grace. He announced the coming of the Kingdom. He was a friend of tax-collectors and sinners and reached out to prostitutes. He disregarded the Sabbath laws of the scribes and Pharisees. He violated many of their traditions. He mocked their constant washings and tithings. In all of this, it looked like Jesus abolished the Law and the Prophets. Jesus did not abolish the Law and the Prophets. What He abolished was the perverse system set up by the scribes and practiced by the Pharisees.
C "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets." We need to hear this today. We live in a world that views the Bible as being old-fashioned, out-of-touch, and out-of-date. Even some churches and some Christians don't hesitate to declare that times have changed and the Bible hasn't kept up. To make the Bible more relevant, more up-to-date, what do they do? They make a point not to read, study, or know the Old Testament. They reinterpret the Bible and deny its authority. Sections they don't like are dismissed as additions written by some rabbi or copyist. Or, they are brushed off as being part of the Ancient World's culture. What they are actually saying is this:
There are errors in the Bible. The Bible isn't really inspired. The Bible isn't authoritative for doctrine and life. You need to filter the Bible and can't accept everything it says.That's the approach of liberals. What they want to believe is that Jesus came at Christmas to abolish the Law and the Prophets.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets." The Law, the Prophets, the Old Testament, the entire Bible is important to Jesus. It all has absolute authority. It all is God's holy, inerrant, inspired Word. It all is relevant and binding on us today. 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.
Think of what this means. The Law, which the voice of God thundered forth from Mount Sinai, is as much for people today as it was for Israel. It wasn't only Israel but also people today who can have no other gods, who can't take God's name in vain, who must honor mom and dad, who must not commit adultery, who must not steal and kill and destroy.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets." Go through the Gospels sometime and notice Jesus' quotations from the Old Testament. You can come to only one conclusion: 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; His coming at Christmas does not mean it has been abolished.
III Jesus Came to Fulfill
A "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets." That's the negative. Now the positive: "I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Jesus came at Christmas to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Fulfill. Fulfill is a tricky word. If we don't understand it correctly we totally miss Jesus' point.
I received an email and a text from the Amazon Fulfilment Center this past week. They told me that my order has been completed, finished, delivered. This is not what Jesus means by fulfill. For if that were the case, then Jesus is saying the Law and the Prophets are completed, finished, delivered, and have no place in the life of the church and the Christian.
What does Jesus mean by "fulfill"? It means "to fill up, to complete something that is already there." Jesus came at Christmas to fill up, to complete, the Law and the Prophets. He did this in three ways.
B First, go back to my opening examples concerning my wife and our sons. Those kinds of incidents never happened with Jesus because Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law and the Prophets. Jesus came at Christmas to do God's will. In His life He kept every part of God Law -- God's moral Law, God's judicial Law, God's ceremonial Law. He never violated a rule God made. He was perfectly righteous. He was the absolutely Holy One. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets because He met its demands.
As sinners we are unable to keep the Law and the Prophets. As sinners we daily fall short of the glory of God. As sinners, we have a natural tendency to hate God and neighbor. But God considers us righteous, treats us as righteous, as if we have never sinned nor been a sinner, as if we have been perfectly obedient. How is this possible? Because Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in our place. He came at Christmas to do what we are unable to do and His perfect righteousness is transferred to us who believe.
C Second, the Law and the Prophets not only demand obedience but they also demand punishment for sinners. Jesus came at Christmas to take on God's judgment, God's punishment, God's justice for sinners. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in our place when He suffered and died and was buried. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in our place by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier.
D Third, Jesus is the whole point of the Law and the Prophets. Remember what Jesus told the Emmaus road travelers?
Luke 24:27 (NIV84) — 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."They point to Me," said Jesus. "They are about Me." Let me quote from part of a reading in our hymn book (TCH # 14) ... He fulfills the Law and the Prophets. They are about Him.
"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 is why Jesus came at Christmas!
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