We’ve spent these last few weeks looking at the greatest instance of “the law” in the Old Testament. In light of that, I thought it would be useful for us to look at some of Jesus’ teaching on the Law. In the next few days, we will look at the worlds of the text of Matthew 5: 17-20. Today we’ll look at the world of the text:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever 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 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.
Jesus begins this passage by telling us that He has not come to destroy the law but instead comes to fulfill it. One of the false dynamics we have is that we pit Jesus against the law, and that simply is not the case. Jesus did not come to contradict or destroy the law in any way, shape, or form. What He came to do was actually illuminate and point out what the Law was actually about. You have seen if you walked with us through the Ten Commandments that so much of that is predicated upon the notion of Love of God and Love of Neighbor. That is the point of the law, we that the law is trying to show us what it looks like to love God completely (through worship) and love neighbor completely (though moral action). Jesus’ life and teaching does not contradict that but instead adds to it.
So, what is up with Him and the Pharisees? The Pharisees emerged during the Babylonian exile, and what they intended to do was to teach the people exactly what it meant to follow the law. So, if you were to rest on the Sabbath, what does that look like? What would it look like to work or not to work? They helped come up with “laws” that would explain and teach what it meant to keep the law. This was a teaching and explanation, but it wasn’t the law itself. What happens was the people began to mistake these teachings for the law. Jesus never, not once, broke the Old Testament law, what he did was show that the law was not these man-made teachings that the people and the teachers themselves had begun to mistake for the law. Jesus says, no, this is not the law. He has high regard for the law. It will not pass away. It will not change one iota. Do not teach people to disobey it. Follow it. It is life.
But, here’s the difference and the key to verse 20. For our righteousness to surpass the Pharisees, this is what that is talking about. They were focused on the outward action, Jesus was focused on the heart. They said don’t murder, He said don’t hate. For Jesus, it wasn’t just about “doing” the right thing, it was about “being” the right person. The Pharisees did what was right, but their hearts were far from God. Jesus says, get your heart right and your actions will follow. His righteous starts with the heart. For Him, it is more than just keeping the law. It is about a heart set on God that wants to love God and love neighbor. That is how our righteousness surpasses. Not just right actions. RIght heart.
May that right heart be exactly what it is that we are seeking after.
If you’d like to get each day’s daily scripture reading sent to your phone along with this reading guide, text @39110 to 81010 to sign up!