After the last lesson, did you wonder what the crowd thought as Jesus taught on the 8 Christian character traits and the command that they were to be the salt and light of the earth? How did this lesson apply to the Christian law?
Those people must have wondered how Jesus’s teaching, His standard of righteousness, related to or fit in with what they had been taught all their lives. What about the Law of Moses and what the Prophets had taught about it? How did Jesus’s righteous law of living holy and pleasing lives in the sight of God compare or measure up to the OT Law, known as the Ten Commandments?
Did you possibly say to yourself, “I can never gain this kind of character or attain Jesus’s standard of righteousness”? Or did you ask yourself, “How can I live in this way?”
Well, the good news is that we are not left to our own resources!
God has supplied all we need in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in the heart of every believer at the moment of their conversion.
And so Jesus explained and illustrated the Christian’s relationship to the law in this next portion of His Sermon on the Mount. He aimed His message at the heart of the matter:
A life God approves is the result of a heart He has transformed.
In the next few lessons we will look at the Christian’s relationship with the law. We’ll see how Jesus explained the Christian’s relationship to the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). Then we’ll look at six illustrations of this relationship (Matthew 5:21-48).
The Christian’s relationship to the Law
In the Law of Moses, what we call the Ten Commandments, God revealed His standard of holiness. No one could uphold this standard on their own so God instituted His sacrificial system, the killing of an animal without spot or defect, and its body and blood was offered up to God as a sin sacrifice.
His purpose in both the moral and ceremonial law was to help people love God and recognize their sins against Him and offer a way out from the burden of these sins.
These laws had been given to the Israelites and throughout their history had been misinterpreted and misapplied. By the time Jesus arrived, the religious leaders had turned these laws into a confusing mass of man-made rules that only served to weigh the people down with a heavy load. They did not bring freedom as they were meant to.
And because of the failure of the religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus began, in verse 17, by explaining His own attitude toward the Law.
Jesus said that He did not come to abolish or do away with the Law or the Prophets as the people might be thinking. He had come to fulfill them. Jesus loved the Law, and He loved the people.
The Law was designed to help people live holy lives, to be holy as God is holy, though no one could fulfill this on their own. But the Law revealed to people their need for a Savior. Jesus Christ came to fulfill not only the moral law but the sacrificial law as well. Jesus had already been recognized by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world!
He was the once and for all sacrifice, holy and blameless and without sin!
And so Jesus wasn’t trying to do away with the Law, He was only trying to take the people back to His original purpose. You see, Jesus didn’t speak against the Law. No, He was speaking against those religious leaders who were supposed to uphold it.
Look at verses 19-20.
It was the religious leaders who were leading the people astray. So Jesus, in His teaching, was rebuking them and also teaching His disciples who would carry on His work after He was gone!
It was really the Pharisees who were destroying the Law by their rituals and traditions, traditions which heaped a heavy load upon the people instead of freeing them. They were heavy laden, burdened with guilt and condemnation, the exact opposite of what Jesus and His Word proclaimed. By their hypocritical lives, the religious leaders disobeyed the very Law that they claimed to protect.
Warren Wiersbe puts it like this,
The Pharisees thought they were ‘conserving’ God’s Word, when in reality they were ‘preserving’ God’s Word: embalming it so that it no longer had life! Their rejection of Christ when He came to earth proved the inner truth of the Law had not penetrated their hearts. And Jesus made it clear that He had come to honor God’s Law and to help God’s people learn it, love it and live it. And nothing else would do! For everything else served to mask or hide the true intent of their hearts and minds.
Wiersbe goes on to point out that the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ religion was a dead ritual, not a living relationship. It was artificial; it did not reproduce itself in others in a living way. And it made them proud, not humble; it led to bondage and not liberty.
What are you doing today to live life according to Christian law?