************ Sermon on Matthew 5:18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 30, 2018
"Jots and Tittles"
Difficult Passages #17
I challenged the guys I ride with to name all Ten Commandments. It took a while, but they managed to come up with all ten. I told them I was impressed because they were able to do what most Americans are not able to do. "See," they said, "we've been listening to you every Saturday morning."
Not only do most Americans have problems naming all ten commandments, they also don't believe in keeping them. And, they certainly don't believe they are sinners who deserve God's judgment. I'm afraid it is even that way in the church. Let me read from an article I saved a number of years ago, an article written by a young Reformed Christian lady:
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 Christian adult singles who sit in worship Sunday after Sunday. They hear the Law of God, but they tune it out. "It doesn't apply to me." Can you believe this?
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?
I Jesus and the Law
A This makes me ask a question: Is the Law still applicable today? Or, what about the whole of the Old Testament -- should we ever read or preach from it? Some have said that in fulfilling the Law and the prophets Jesus has abolished them. When Paul says we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14), isn't he 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." Some people believe the Old Testament does not apply to Christians.
B What about Jesus? Did Jesus believe there was a place for the Law and the Teachers of the Law? I ask this because, first, unlike all the other teachers in Israel, 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 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 teachings of 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 just explain the Law. He also 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.
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?
II Definition of Key Terms
A Jesus answers these questions in our Bible reading this evening. But to understand what Jesus is saying we have to make sure we understand the terms that He uses.
First, we need to look at Jesus' phrase, "the Law and the prophets."
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 only to the nation of Israel for that time and place. 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 and the Old Testament books in which they appear.
What is meant by "the prophets"? The term means all that we have in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and much of what we have in the Psalms.
When it comes right down to it, the law and the prophets refers to the whole of the Old Testament. So Jesus says in verse 17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Old Testament."
B This brings us to the words of our text: jots and tittles, or smallest letter and least stroke of a pen.
Most of us are unfamiliar with jots and tittles because most of us do not read the Hebrew language.
A jot is the tenth and smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Hebrew scholars call it "Yodh." It was written above the line and looks similar to our apostrophe. Turn to Psalm 119:73. The heading above the verse is a jot or Yodh. [Keep your Bibles open.]
Now, a tittle is even smaller than a jot. A tittle is a letter extension, a pen stroke, that distinguishes two different Hebrew letters. Look at the heading to Psalm 119:25 -- there we have the Hebrew letter Daleth. Keep you finger there and compare it to the heading to Psalm 119:153 -- the Hebrew letter Resh. Do you see the difference between the two letters? There is a small extension to the top of the Daleth. That small extension is a tittle.
III The Demands of God's Law are Permanent
A What is the point Jesus is making about jots and tittles? Listen again to our text:
(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.
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. 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. And, everything that has been said by the prophets will hold and stand until all has been entirely carried out.
Doubters will doubt and mockers will mock, but God's Word does not change. "Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (Ps 119:89). "The word of the Lord stands forever" (1 Pet 1:25). God is reliable and so is His Word -- every jot and tittle of it.
B Jesus is also telling 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.
Never once do we find Jesus disagreeing with Scripture. What He disagrees with is what the Pharisees have said about Scripture, their mistaken interpretations, their legalism. He does not disagree with the written word itself.
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 God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, 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.
C 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 old-fashioned 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, chase after things and pleasure, and see nothing wrong with divorce.
It is bad enough that unbelievers think this way. What is even worse is that many Christians also think and act this way.
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.
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.
What Jesus says about jots and tittles is bad news for sinners. What Jesus says about jots and tittles is bad news for everyone of us -- because none of us keep every jot and tittle of the Law. Further, this means all of us come under the judgment and curse of God and therefore deserve and earn the fires of hell.
I can't leave it here. I also need to pronounce good news for sinners by explaining another word in our Bible reading: the word "fulfill." Jesus says,
(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.
Jesus fulfills the Law and the prophets. And, this is good news for sinners. Let me explain this.
Jesus fulfills the prophets. There are so many prophecies in Scripture about Christ -- over four hundred of them. Prophecies about 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 is fulfilled in Jesus. 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). In fulfilment of the prophets, Jesus came to save us. Like I said, good news for sinners.
And, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. Meaning what? Meaning that Jesus fulfills the requirements of the Law. 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. By 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. 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.
Jesus fulfilled the Law in our place. An obedience we cannot possibly keep, Jesus keeps in our place. A judgment we cannot possibly suffer, Jesus suffers in our place. Like I said, good news for sinners.
Let me end with the same word as our text. The word "accomplished." By fulfilling the Law and the prophets, by paying attention to every jot and tittle, Jesus accomplished what God sent Him to do -- for our salvation and the glory of God.
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