Saturday, January 06, 2024

2024.01.06 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:17–20

Read Matthew 5:17–20

Questions from the Scripture text: What does Jesus tell His disciples not to think about His coming (Matthew 5:17)? Which two portions of Scripture (implying also the third) didn’t He come to destroy? What, rather, did He come to do? How does He emphasize what He is about to say in Matthew 5:18? What will pass away one day? But what two things won’t pass until then? From what part of what had been named in Matthew 5:17? Until Who (verse 17) has done what (Matthew 5:18)? What might one of these disciples, who has the King in heaven, break on earth (Matthew 5:19)? What else might he do? How will such commandment breakers/deniers compare to other disciples? But what will some disciples do and teach? How will such compare to other disciples? What must occur before they can enter the kingdom to which they belong (Matthew 5:20)? What must their righteousness exceed? 

How should believers respond to their own hearts’ desire to put off the commandments of the law? Matthew 5:17–20 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers, who belong to the kingdom of heaven, must do the commandments of the law by the grace of Christ, and teach others to do the same.

Jesus, the Fulfiller of the whole Old Testament, Matthew 5:17. The Hebrew Bible is arranged into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Sometimes, they would abbreviate the title to “Law and the Prophets.” Jesus is clearly teaching that what He has come to do is not some new and different thing, but the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. 

Whatever else they may think or claim, it is those who oppose Jesus that are against Moses, against Isaiah, etc. Have you ever seen a “New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs”? Psalms and Proverbs are from among the “writings” portion of the Hebrew Bible. Having or printing one is not wrong per se. But there are many who have little time or use for the Old Testament out of those books. Many have done just what the Lord Jesus warned against here!

But the Old Testament is full of truth about Jesus. The Law, which established a people of God through whom blessing would come to the nations, would be fulfilled in Jesus, the Seed of Abraham and the true Israel. The former and latter Prophets, which followed the nation’s unfaithfulness and God’s faithfulness, would be fulfilled in Jesus, Who would be faithful where Israel hasn’t and the One in Whom all blessedness would come. And the Writings, poetry that focuses especially upon the interaction between God and the souls of men, describe a relationship that could only ever be had in Christ. His obedient life, atoning death, and almighty resurrection fulfill much and secure all. His ongoing life and ministry of intercession will fulfill the rest that He has already secured.

Especially the law (and its commandments), Matthew 5:18. This heaven and earth will pass away (verse 18a). There will be a new heaven and earth, just as the Scripture had said (cf. Psalm 102:26; Isaiah 34:4Isaiah 51:6Isaiah 51:16Isaiah 65:17Isaiah 66:22). But the Word that was all about Jesus will not lose the slightest stroke of a pen (Matthew 5:18b). And that includes, especially, the law and its commandments (Matthew 5:19). Of all the Bible, this is what the Lord Jesus focuses upon here, insisting that it must not pass away. 

There are parts that are superseded in Christ, in Whom church and kingdom are now subsumed. With the change to His priesthood, the laws governing the worship have changed (cf. Hebrews 7:12). This does not mean that there are no laws for worship, but that the worship on earth is ONLY that which is lead by Christ from glory! Public worship must consist only in the reading, preaching, singing, praying that He leads; the sacraments that He instituted; and, the covenantal, congregational vows attested by and under His throne. Anything else is just as much strange fire under Jesus’s priesthood as what Nadab and Abihu had offered under Aaron’s. 

When a nation submits to Christ, it must bring all of its laws into a general accord with the civil law that He had given Israel—and absolute submission to the moral law of the decalogue. But it is this last that Christ especially focuses upon here, when He speaks of “commandments.” For, we will see Him showing His meaning by way of the moral law in Matthew 5:21–48. We may be sure that in every age of the church, there will be those who would renounce (refuse to obey) and denounce (teach against) one or more commandments of the decalogue. But the Lord here teaches us how to think about this.

Jesus continues fulfilling His commandments in us, now, as He makes us doers and teachers of His commandments, Matthew 5:19. So in some things, the Lord Jesus fulfills by being and doing what He was predicted to be or to do, or needed to be or to do. This is most clear in those actions by which He has accomplished our justification entirely in Himself. This is why justification is by faith apart from works. It is the nature of justifying faith that it does not “do” at all—in fact, justifying faith renounces all doing in order to rest entirely upon Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

But the Lord Jesus is not a partial Redeemer. And as Matthew 5:19 continues to teach, neither is He a partial Fulfiller of Scripture. In this world, His disciples already have the kingdom (cf. Matthew 5:3Matthew 5:10), but they have not yet entered the kingdom (Matthew 5:20). The Scriptures teach and require that those who belong to Him be like Him. “Be holy as the Lord your God is holy,” as we have heard many times, for instance, in our Leviticus studies. And now the Lord Jesus fills out that teaching in this section which will conclude “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Part of growing in grace is growing in this view of Christ, and therefore in this view of a Christian. He is a whole Redeemer. He not only justifies but sanctifies and glorifies. The believer loves God’s law, keeps God’s law, and teaches others to do the same. We rejoice to walk in its righteous requirements, as this glorifies Christ as the great Fulfiller (cf. Romans 8:1–4). 

The Lord’s disciples are not all equally worth imitating and listening to. Those who do not have this view of Christ, and this diligence and delight in the Christian life, are not the ones “in the kingdom” whom you should emulate and learn from. They are still the least. They have much growing and maturing to do. The desire to be “great” in the kingdom in Matthew 5:19 is not a desire to be praised by others, but to be useful to them—to serve others, to teach them, to be a good example to them (cf. Matthew 20:25–28, Matthew 23:1–12; Hebrews 13:7–17). This Jesus-trusting, Jesus-enjoying, Jesus-devoted keeping of Jesus’s undiminished commandments of the law is necessary for the one who wishes to be “great” as an elder, husband, father, mother, brother, sister, etc.

Jesus will complete this fulfilling in each and every one, whom He brings at last to enter the kingdom that is already theirs, Matthew 5:20. Finally, verse 20 is true both with respect to justification and with respect to sanctification/glorification. In justification, it is obvious. Those who are self-impressed with their knowledge of the law (scribes) or with their doing of the law (Pharisees) set themselves up for the greatest possible shock. If they come that way to the judgment, they will be horrified to discover that what they thought was commendable was actually damnable before God. We mustn’t come before God that way on that great day, and we certainly must not come to Him that way now.

And therefore, the righteousness of our character and conduct now must also exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Rather than minutely examining the letter of the law in order to approve our own conduct, we must bring ourselves under the minute examination of the law! Its “letter” communicates the application to our lives of the implications of God’s own holy character. It is both exceedingly broad (cf. Psalm 119:96) and internally exacting (cf. Hebrews 4:11–13). Although, by faith, believers already possess the King and the right to the kingdom (Matthew 5:3Matthew 5:10), they do not yet possess the holiness necessary for entry into that kingdom (Matthew 5:20). We must live, now, as those being sanctified unto that holiness that is required for entry when we depart this world (cf. Matthew 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 –14, Hebrews 12:14, 1 John 3:2–3). 

Those who have Jesus, the great Fulfiller of the Scripture, ought to be growing in the keeping of His commandments (including and especially the moral law!). A great part of His fulfilling the Law is His sanctifying work in those who are united to Him.

What parts of the Ten Commandments do you most need to grow in keeping from the heart? How is Jesus’s being the One Who works in you the reality that both demands this of you and promises it to you? How are you responding, in your heart and life, to His requirements? By what habits of life, and habits of thought, are you looking to Him to bring about the fulfillment of those requirements? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, truly Your Son is the great Fulfiller of all Your holy Word. We thank You and praise You that He has kept the law perfectly in His own life, and even subjected Himself to its righteous condemnation of us in our own law-breaking. Jesus, alone, is all of our right standing before You. Come now, by Your Spirit, we pray, and apply His life and righteousness to our character and our conduct. Conform us to Him, so that we might be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, we ask in His Name, AMEN! 

Suggested songs: ARP119L “Evermore, O LORD” or TPH174 “The Ten Commandments”

Suggested songs: ARP73C “Yet Constantly, I Am with You” or TPH2B “Why Do Heathen Nations Rage”

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