17 “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 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. 19 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. 20 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.”
Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT)
DRINK IT IN:
Do you ever get confused when you read the Bible? You don’t have to answer that, because we all know the answer is, “Of Course I do.”
This passage can be deeply confusing if we do not understand timing. In fact, timing is everything when it comes to understanding the Bible. If you understand WHEN Jesus said this teaching, then it really becomes easier to understand.
The timing of Jesus’ speaking this statement is still in the Old Testament Law’s timeframe. Remember that Jesus doesn’t initiate the New Testament “law” until he dies on the cross and raises from the dead. Just before He dies on the cross, He says to His mother, “Look, I make all things new.”
So…while Jesus is alive and is teaching this passage, early on in His ministry, He is obviously right in saying that His purpose is not to get rid of the Old Testament Law. We know, because of 20/20 hindsight, that Jesus’ purpose for coming was to pay the price for all of mankind’s sins. Period.
So…when Jesus says that He didn’t come to abolish the Law, He meant it literally. That is the Father’s job, not Jesus’. Jesus is comforting the Jew’s in this teaching because they truly rely on the Law. I’m sure, as Jesus shows up on the scene with such a different kind of teaching, that He caused them to fear that He might be trying to erase the Old Testament Law, which is everything their lives had been based on up to this point. When Jesus says to them, “I assure you that not ever the smallest stroke of a pen will be abolished from the Law until everything is accomplished”….Did you notice that He sneaks in an “UNTIL.” (Don’t forget that Jesus is the one who taught that we all should be “sly as a snake and innocent as a dove.” I think He is practicing that philosophy in this teaching! I love that.
He basically is saying in this teaching, “Nothing changes until everything is accomplished.” So…nearly 3 years after Jesus says this…He is on the Crucifixion Cross and He says, “IT IS FINISHED!” Finished is another word for accomplished. Accomplished/Finished/Complete does not mean annihilated/erased/forgotten. It means COMPLETE. When runners cross the finish line, it doesn’t erase the race. It simply means the race is finished. The history of that race will never be forgotten. The winner of the race has a trophy that has his/her name engraved in it. Nobody can take that race away from the runners. The race was real, it existed, it had a serious purpose, but it is finished, not erased.
So when Jesus says this teaching, the race is still being run. The race hasn’t finished yet and in three short years, the race will have been finished and Jesus is the one who crossed the finish line first and is the Champion of “the race.” Then…3 days later, as He conquers death through His resurrection, He creates a new law. Again…what a champ! This new law is what we will be talking about through the rest of this Hydrate series, so I don’t want to spend any more time on it during this devotion. I want to finish out what Jesus was specifically saying to the people who physically heard Him teach this.
As the Old Testament “race” was still on when Jesus said this, he was telling the crowd that the 613 current Israelite laws were still in affect. He was saying that they should follow the laws and do their very best to obey every detail.
He then said something that would have scared them deeply. He said…”if you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven you are going to have to BE MORE RIGHTEOUS than the pharisees. Please understand that what the listeners would have heard when Jesus said this is very different than what He meant. Righteousness to a Jewish person in this timeframe means OBEY THE LAW. DO MORE. DON’T BREAK A SINGLE LAW. And, to top it all off, Jesus said they had to do it better than the Pharisees. A Pharisee was a teacher of the religious law back in Jesus’ day. A pharisee is someone who basically went to school to memorize all 613 Laws of the Old Testament and then strive to live them perfectly everyday. Can you imagine the fear it would have caused you to hear Jesus say, “if you want to go to Heaven, you have to be more righteous than the Pharisees?’ I’m sure Jesus really caught their attention and had them sitting on the edge of their seats.
But really…if they understood what Jesus was really saying…and many may have understood…then they would have taken a deep sigh of relief and been encouraged, instead of scared. You see the Pharisees were excellent at obeying all the laws of the Old Testament. They were so good at obeying every law that they didn’t worry about themselves, as much as, they focused on pointing out where other people were failing in obeying every 613 laws. So…Jesus did to them what they were doing to others. He pointed out where they were failing. Jesus was good at giving the righteous bullies of the world, a taste of their own medicine. In fact, here is one of Jesus’ “medicine moments.” Its found in Matthew 23:27-28…
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Ouch! Nailed them, didn’t He?
So what did Jesus mean, as He taught the crowd by saying to them, ‘Your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees or you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?” He was saying that the Pharisees were good but they were lacking the one thing that would make them great. LOVE. (I am a firm believer that the enemy of the great is just the good.)
The Pharisees walked around demanding and pointing out where everybody was failing in obeying the law…and we all know that nobody can follow every law perfectly all day every day…so the Pharisees were failing in areas too. But they took it upon themselves to point out other peoples failures and were ignoring their own. They lacked humility and love. They were true hypocrites. Before you start shaking your finger at the Pharisees maybe you should think of this example. Have you ever noticed that when people drive slower than you, they are “idiots,” and when they drive faster than you, they are “maniacs.” If you are like this…then you might be like a Pharisee.
In my opinion, Jesus was saying to His listeners, “keep following the law, there is a good purpose in every law that the Father has given us, but what is more important than following every detail of the law, is being a person who obeys the law AND….IS LOVE.”
SWEAT IT OUT:
Do you have areas in your life where you are adamant about telling others to do what you say, but you don’t do very well at it yourself? A fun example from me about this would be how I tend to let my bedroom be messy, but I continually ‘ride’ my kids about cleaning up their rooms.
Can you and I think of other areas in our lives, more important than cleaning rooms, where we get upset at how “laws” are broken but we ourselves tend to break them too? I was at my daughters soccer game recently and after our team scored, we as the parents went crazy, hooping and hollering and I admit that I did a little extra to try to get “under the skin” of the parents on the other team. In a sick way, it made me feel powerful. (Don’t look down on me, at least I am confessing it! LOL) Then, a little later in the game, the opposing team scored on us and I noticed that the parents of this team returned some ‘extra’ hooping and hollering to give us a taste of our own medicine. I confess, again, that I was upset at them for their immature behavior…but I am the one who did it first! (How silly and stupid of me.) I caught my behavior and I began to cheer at the great plays and goals of both teams. It felt good to do what was right.
Can you think of bigger or smaller examples in your own life where you are causing darkness to prevail and yet you get angry at others for doing the same thing?
Do you have a “secret-tendency” to celebrate internally or out loud when other people fail at something. (If you do, surely you are not proud of this are you?)
Are you demanding of things from others and at the same time not willing to do as you demand?
Are there areas in your life where you come across judgmental or hypocritical? (Its very hard to be “self-aware” about this. Maybe you would have the courage to ask a trusted person in your life this question. Yes? ) Who are you going to ask? Do it soon.
Today, live your life being an encourager. When you see people fail be the one to forgive first and show them grace.
I think, in this one teaching, that Jesus is simply saying, “Focus on your own mistakes, not on the mistakes of others.”
Its very easy to get judgmental when all you do is focus on other people’s sins. Next time somebody sins against you and you find yourself struggling to let it go…just ask yourself if you have ever sinned against anybody. It will put things in perspective very quickly.
So…again…be an encourager today. Give some extra grace to others.
When you and I do this very thing. It helps us be people of kindness and understanding.
It helps us to be people of love.
I hope that you and I will live this way from now on.
Work on honoring the things Christ asks of us AND being a person of love.
You’ll look a lot like Jesus if you do.