Harvest Family Fellowship Sermons 2020 January & February
Life According to Jesus pt 5
What to do with the Old Testament - Matthew 5:17-20
Today we are in the fourth message of a series called Life According to Jesus
In this message series we are taking a look at what Jesus says about how to live our lives
We are doing this by taking a look at the fundamental teaching of Jesus found in what we know as the Sermon on the Mount
We find the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew in chapters 5, 6, & 7
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said if we put His words into practice, when we get hit by the storms of life we will stand firm like a house built on the rock
However, if we do not put His words into practice, then when the storms of life came along we would crash like a house built on sand
Since Jesus was pretty clear on this fact we are going take a look at the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount
Today we are continuing in Matthew chapter 5 verse 17
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 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. 19 Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 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.
This is a very interesting passage of Scripture that I could quite literally preach for weeks on
There is so much meaning packed into these verses that I don’t think it’s possible to fully understand what’s going on in the time we have today
I’m going to give it my best shot, however, to give us a basic overview
So, what is Jesus saying?
The gist of what Jesus is trying to say is found in two verses in this passage
The first is verse 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.
Before I explain what I think is going on here I want to be totally upfront with you
This is a very contentious passage with several different interpretations
One of the things I love about the Bible is how different some things can be interpreted
There are some passages that most theologians and scholars agree on, but this is certainly not one of them!
Passages like this are one of the reasons we have so many different Christian denominations in the world today - over 40,000!
I’m going to briefly talk about 2 interpretations that I think are wrong and then I am going to give you what I believe is the correct interpretation
However, this is simply my opinion. I very well could be wrong
I don’t think I am, but I am openly admitting the possibility of error
If you disagree with me that’s okay.
If you’re not sure, I encourage you to pray about it and see what God has to say
SO, anyway - on with our message!
What is Jesus saying here?
“Don’t think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets”
In 1st century Israel when someone was talking about “the law and the prophets” they were referring to what we would call the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament
Jesus is saying that He did not come to abolish the Old Testament and its laws
Why would Jesus feel the need to say that?
All throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him saying things like “you heard it was said … but I say to you”
The problem was that although the religious leaders of the day did a good job teaching the letter of the law, they were lousy at teaching the spirit of the law - more on this later
Jesus was going back to the heart of the law in His teaching, and in the process was going against the common teaching of the day
Many could have accused Jesus of teaching something opposite of the law
Jesus is clarifying that He was not coming to abolish the law, but to fulfill it
To put this in a more modern form - what do we, as followers of Jesus, do with the OT law?
Are we obligated to follow all 613 laws given to Moses?
There are some that would say yes - as followers of Jesus we are obligated to follow the law because Jesus said in this passage that He didn’t come to abolish the law, and in the next verse He said that not the least stroke of a pen would disappear from the law until all was accomplished
So, is this true? Are we obligated to follow the law?
This was a discussion that took place in the early church
In fact, it was an early crisis of the church
Initially, it was taught that before someone could become a follower of Jesus they first needed to undergo circumcision
Again, I could speak for a couple of hours on the significance of this, but let me just summarize it that circumcision was the sign for Jewish men that they were part of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants
That for a man to be circumcised he was saying that he was entering in to the same covenant and would be obligated to follow the laws of the covenant
In Acts 15 we read about the first church council in Jerusalem where the question of whether non-jewish people were required to be circumcised and follow the law
The council decided that no, non-jewish people were not obligated to do this
However in Acts 15:20 they were told -
Acts 15:20 … to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
So, it could be argued that Jewish followers of Jesus are obligated to follow the Old Testament law, however I do not believe that is the case - I will explain why in a couple minutes
There are also those who divide the Old Testament law into the moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law
They state that as followers of Jesus we are obligated to follow the moral law of the Old Testament, but not the civil law and ceremonial law
The problem I have with this statement is that there is a lot of disagreement about what is moral, what is civil, and what is ceremonial!
This often leads to people picking and choosing what OT laws they want to follow and what laws they do not
So, what is the proper interpretation of this passage?
I’m glad you asked!
To interpret a passage of Scripture there are a few things that we need to remember
First - we are dealing with an ancient document written to an ancient eastern culture
This passage of Scripture is as close to us today as the year 4,000
How different do you think the world will be in the year 4,000?
We must remember that the world that Jesus lived in and taught in was significantly different than the world we live in today
Without understanding the world that Jesus lived in we cannot understand Scripture
The first thing we need to do is to define a word - Covenant
This is not a word that we really use today, but it was incredibly common back in Bible times
In its most basic form, a covenant was like a business contract
It was a binding agreement that was entered into by two or more parties
There was a very specific ceremony that was performed to enter a covenant, and a covenant was held in high regard
Breaking a covenant could very easily result in death
In fact, part of the covenant ceremony involved taking some animals, cutting them in half, and walking between the halves
While walking between the halves of the animal the person entering the covenant would say something along the lines of “may I become like one of these animals if I fail to uphold my part of the covenant”
Imagine how much different business contracts would be today if you could be put to death by breaking them!
So, why am I talking about covenant?
In the book of Genesis God appeared to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, and entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants
This covenant was renewed with Moses and the nation of Israel after the left Egypt
One of the provisions of the covenant was the law and the prophets
So, when Jesus is saying that He has not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, He was saying that He wasn’t there to break the covenant between God and the nation of Israel, but to fulfill the covenant
I know some of you are probably thinking “Okay, but what exactly does that mean?”
First, we need to look at two words in this passage of Scripture
Abolish and fulfill
The Greek word used here for abolish is “kat-a-loo-o” which can mean:
Destroy, throw down, come to nothing, overthrow, or dissolve
The dictionary defines abolish as:
to do away with; put an end to; annul; make void:
So, to abolish the law means making it null and void
Making it like it was never there
Jesus said very clearly that was not what He was here to do
Jesus said He was here not to abolish, but to fulfill
What does it mean to fulfill the law and prophets?
The Greek word used here for fulfill is “play-ro -o”, which can mean:
Fulfill, be full, complete, or end
According to dictionary.com “fulfill” means
to carry out, or bring to realization, obey or follow, to satisfy (requirements, obligations, etc.):
Let me give you a couple analogies to help explain the difference between abolish and fulfill
When we bought my wife’s last car we got an extended warranty
Don’t honor - abolish
Honor - fulfill
Divorce - abolish
Till death do us part - fulfill
Jesus came to fulfill the Covenant God made with Israel and establish a new covenant
This doesn’t mean that the old covenant is dissolved and of no use
Far from it!
It’s like someone whose husband or wife died
Their covenant is fulfilled, but that doesn’t make it of no use
Far from it!
It’s a covenant that’s honored, full of precious memories
The love will always be there, even when the covenant is fulfilled
The old covenant is one that we honor - it has tremendous value!
We sometimes forget that Jesus and the apostles were Jewish
To understand early Christianity you must understand the law and the prophets!
They are not binding, but they are incredibly useful and should be honored
Jeremiah 31:31 - prophecy of a new covenant
Hebrews 7:22 - Jesus brought a better covenant
Earlier I said that there are two verses in this passage that sum up the gist of Jesus’ message
We’ve discussed the first verse at length, the second one goes along with the first verse quite well - verse 20
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.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were very good at living out the letter of the law, but totally failed at living out the spirit of the law
What do I mean?
Matthew 23:23-28 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
[Bring to close]