“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 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So is Jesus telling us that He still expects us to go to the Temple and sacrifice bulls and lambs, pour our drink offerings and offer peace offerings? No, he is not. He said, not an iota of the Law would pass until all is accomplished. While He walked during His ministry and before His crucifixion, it had not yet been accomplished. But Jesus, the Word of God, God’s will manifested, did accomplish what the Law and Prophets said would be. Isaiah 55:10-13 told us that God’s Word would accomplish His purpose.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 “For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
And Jesus told us when it was done as He gave up His life on the cross. John 19:28-30 says,
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
But before He died to pay the price for sin, people were still subject to the Law. Jesus told them their righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a sect of Jewish men who devoted themselves to Moses’ Law. They memorized the Torah, the entire law. They took every stroke, every iota and dot of the law very seriously and made rules so that the Laws would not be broken. For instance, imagine a law that says, “Do not walk on the grass on Tuesdays,” A Pharisee would ensure that law was kept by adding rules such as on Tuesday’s keep a mile between your feet and the grass, do not plant grass within the city where you live and do not build a house on any grass.” They took the Law very seriously and they took the rules they made to protect the law very seriously. They kept the law as well as any human could. People who were not Pharisees, who couldn’t afford to devote themselves so wholly to that sort of study had no hope of knowing the law the way the Pharisees did and so no hope of following it perfectly. When Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The people listening must have been shell-shocked. They were ordinary people who were not half as righteous as The Pharisees who flaunted their piety. (Matthew 6:1-18).
But Jesus didn’t think the Pharisees were all that. He called them hypocrites, liars and serpents. (Matthew 23). He told them they were headed straight to Hell. Even perfectly keeping the Law couldn’t guarantee the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pharisees and most of the people who tied so ardently to follow the law, exalted the rules and rituals and lost the essence of the Law. They lost the relationship with God the Law was meant to give them. God didn’t want empty offerings and robotic sacrifice, He wanted people to understand the meaning and follow them with their hearts and souls as well as their brains and actions. The Law was meant to give people a way to faith and relationship with God, to show them their sin and a God who loved them beyond their sin to make a way to Him. The Law is God’s word, His will made plain. It reveals our cores. Hebrews 4:12-13 puts it this way,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
After Jesus dropped everyone’s jaws with that statement, He went on to talk about how keeping the law in word was not keeping the law in the heart. He gave us examples regarding anger, lust, divorce, oaths, and revenge in Matthew 5:21-44.
Verse 21-22 read,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
The majority of us can say, “I’ve never murdered anyone! I’ve got that one down pat!” but I am not sure there is even one of us who could say, “I’ve never gotten angry with nor insulted my loved one.” Jesus was saying the law is not about mere outward appearance, the law goes to the heart and soul. Again and again Jesus compared following the letter of the law with the truth of the law.
Verses 27-28 reads,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”
Verses 31-36 says,
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.”
Verses 38-39 read,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
And verses 43-44 say,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
A lot of us can say, “Yep, I’m not too bad. I haven’t broken the “big” laws. But Jesus said if you even insulted your brother, you killed him, if you even had a lustful thought, you committed adultery, and if you retaliated injury for injury, you hated.
In Matthew 19:16-22, we read the narrative of a rich young man who asked Jesus what was necessary for him to go to Heaven. Jesus said, “You can’t be good enough to go to Heaven. Keep the ten commandments.” He didn’t say, the entire law, just the Ten Commandments. And the young man said, I have kept them all. So Jesus replied, if you want to be perfect, go sell all your earthly treasures, give the money to the poor, put your treasures (your heart and hopes) in Heaven and follow me. The young man had no problem following rules, but when asked to put his heart behind them and give up earthly glory for Jesus’ glory, he couldn’t do it.
What about you? Are you following the rules with your mind and actions but not with your heart and soul? Are you trying to be good enough to go to Heaven? Jesus said, you can’t be good enough. There is only one way to Heaven and that is by Jesus. The law followed down to the last stroke cannot make you righteous enough to go to Heaven. But Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. He died on the cross to forgive your sins. He rose from dead to give you eternal life. All you have to do is say it and know it and you will become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus gives you His perfection and that’s it. Romans 10:9-13 reads,
“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”