Matthew 5:17-20 NIV “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. For truly I tell you, 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. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. 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.
In His statement that nothing in the law of God would disappear and that anybody that taught differently would be considered least in the kingdom of God, Christ was saying quite forcefully that the law is a reliable guide for successful living.
When Jesus spoke of the law as a reliable guide for successful living, he was not referring to the burdensome additions the scribes had added. Rather, he was speaking of the spirit of the law, the heart and essence of the law itself.
The “spirit of the law” is often contrasted to the “letter of the law.” In that context, the spirit of the law has to do with the deeper meaning or reason for the law, whereas the letter of the law refers to exact wording, applied, without regard for any deeper meaning.
In talking about the righteousness of the Pharisees, the religious leaders, and scribes, who were the teachers of the law He was talking about people who were looking at good eternally and mechanically. Their view of the law hacked the inner dynamic of a religion of heart and soul. Their view was that righteousness consisted of keeping the mechanics of the law.
Jesus specifically said that He was not here just to destroy the law. No one was ever sent by God to just destroy. To destroy requires little intelligence or compassion. The most destructive person can destroy more in an hour than a leading artist can create in years. Jesus was the one who would fulfill rather than destroy the law.
He clearly did not take a position that would cause anyone to say, “Christ is the end of the law; now I can do whatever I please.” All duties, all responsibilities, and all demands of the law remain.
To be clear we are not talking about the food or clothing laws we are talking about the Ten Commandments and the moral laws that deal with our relationship with God and people.
Romans 7:7, 12 NIV What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
In the Old Testament we find great and universal principles by which we are to live, but very few rules and regulations. For instance, the Ten Commandments provide us with great principles so the scribes and Pharisees developed the rules and regulations. Many of those rules and regulations circumvented the letter and Spirit of God’s recorded words.
That maze of rules and regulations is illustrated by an eight-hundred-page book called the Mishnah that the scribes had written interpreting the Ten Commandments. As though this volume were not enough, later Jewish scholars developed commentaries explaining the Mishnah. Today we know these commentaries as the Talmud. They consist of twelve printed volumes! And this all started with ten simple guidelines for successful living!
The reality is all the Ten Commandments have been broken by all people in all cultures for all times. Where do these sinful behaviors come from? Jesus makes it clear: They come from inside, in our heart.
Matthew 15:8-9 NIV “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ”
Mark 7:21-23 NIV For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
We need to guard our hearts and stubbornly resist the temptation either to make our own rules or to start bending the rules of others to our own advantage.
When all is said and done:
Matthew 22:36-40 NIV “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This passage is often called “the Great Commandment” because with it, Jesus succinctly sums up the entire Old Testament Law. And Jesus perfectly demonstrated this commandment when He gave up His life for us.
In so doing, Jesus reduced the 613 laws of the scribes to the law of love for God and your neighbor. He kept the real meaning of the law, which was reverence for God and respect for others. In this sense Jesus offered the law as a reliable guide for successful living. Jesus simplified what others had complicated when he made love central to the law.