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The Bible Is About Jesus

February 14, 2021 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Jesus and Human Flourishing

Passage: Matthew 5:17–5:30

            Matthew 5:17–20

 

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

 

[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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [19] Therefore whoever relaxes 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. (ESV)

 

            This sermon series is entitled, “Jesus and Human Flourishing.”  Right now, more than ever, our nation needs flourishing Christians.  Christians who are laser focused on Jesus, and flourishing in him.

            These verses before us today are some of the most important verses in the entire Bible when it comes to the question – “Who is Jesus?” 

            We are going to tackle some of life’s biggest questions:

If Jesus is who he really says he is – what does that mean about your life?  About who you are?  And how does that change your not just your actions, but your motivations behind your actions? 

These questions are big – and they are ones that humanity is always in desperate need of hearing, and we are going to dive in deep this morning.  So let’s get started:

[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.

            Due to the boldness of his teachings, Jesus starts off this section by answering a question that apparently people were asking, that is: “Jesus, the way you are preaching makes it sound like the Law and the Prophets (a summary statement of what we now somewhat unfortunately call the ‘old’ Testament”) don’t matter anymore.  Are you saying we should get rid of them and rather listen to you?

            To such a question He says – no.  No, I have not come to abolish the Law (Torah – the first five books of our Bible) or the Prophets (really, the remainder of the Old Testament was meant here).  I am not here to abolish… I am here to fulfill.

            …fulfill?  Well, what does he mean to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets?  Endless amounts of ink have been spilt over what exactly Jesus meant.  Without getting lost on a tangent – Jesus is telling us that, ultimately, the Law and the Prophets, the Bible, is about Him and find their ultimate meaning in him.  We can also say this in a different way:     

            At the very beginning of our Bibles, Moses received laws from God to give to his redeemed people whom he rescued out of Egypt.  There are 613 laws that can be found in Torah, or the Law.  Imagine that all of these Laws and their stipulations took on flesh and perfectly lived it out. There is Jesus.    

            But the idea of Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets can be defined in another way as well: Jesus is placing himself in a position that it could be said, to properly understand what we now call the Old Testament today, you must begin with Jesus.  You cannot understand your Bible without understanding Jesus.  You cannot understand Christianity without understanding Jesus. 

            This is what it means that Jesus fulfills the Law.  He anticipates another question next:  Well Jesus, if you fulfill it, does that mean the Law of Moses and the Bible still really stand in any way if you are here? 

Jesus goes further:

 [18] For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

            Until heaven and earth pass away is a refence to the End of Days.  The apocalypse.  The moment when God returns to this Earth to make all things new, to actually join heaven to earth.  It stands even until that day.

            Let’s talk about the very practical and human need we have for laws.  Imagine for a moment that the roads had no rules.  No lines, no speed limits, no stop signs or traffic lights.  Imagine the chaos initially – until, aside from the handful of people who wouldn’t care, there would probably arise a natural order to driving that makes sense.  To avoid driving head on into one another, maybe those going this way should drive on this side of the road, and vice versa.  Hey, roads intersect.  You guys should give a minute or two for those cars on that road to pass, and then you’ll have a turn.

            Law is a very natural result of humanity’s need for ORDER.  We need law, and we need rules because we need restraint.  Humans cannot truly be free, and that is the most unpopular message in our culture today. Because there are attempts out there in our culture to live as if we do not need restraint – perhaps we can say that, as long as no major crime is committed, we are more and more willing as a society to cast off order for the sake of happiness, and cast off laws and restraint only if it means you are happy.

Some years back, there was a famous song by Pharrel Williams called “happy,” and one line sums it up perfectly as the melody is now stuck in your head if you know tune:

“Clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth.”  That happiness is the truth.

            The truth?  That in happiness is found all meaning, and we thus need to pursue it at all costs?  That because you are not happy gives you permission to break promises, break covenants, betray friendships, and even try to push off the boundaries of sexuality and nature – some of the most basic institutions of order in our human existence - because of how you feel?

            This is ultimately a question of authority.  Do you actually have authority over your life or not, to really do as you please?  Are you free to break these institutions of order if you feel like it – as long as you are happy?  You see, our current society imagines that we are almost gods over our own existence.

            Jesus’s words here really go deep into what it means to be human, and he continually places himself, HIMSELF, as the answer.  Not just any Christian leader or Bible teacher – HE is the answer to humanity’s weaknesses.  Jesus continues,

           

[19] Therefore whoever relaxes 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. (ESV)

 

            Now we enter into some interesting territory.  Don’t lax a single one of these commandments – that is what the least in my Kingdom find ways to do.  Rather, do them and teach them – and that is where true greatness lies.  In fact, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the best and most famous Bible teachers in the land, you will never enter my Kingdom.

            Let me try and get this in modern day terms, and I’ll use someone that we all know: Billy Graham.  He was a pretty famous Christian leader right? Well the Scribes and the Pharisees were the most famous Christian leaders of Jesus’ day.  So sub “scribes and Pharisees” with “Billy Graham” and you come up with: “Unless your righteousness exceeds Billy Grahams, you can never enter or be a part of Jesus’ Kingdom.”

            Wait Jesus!  Are you saying I must be more righteous than him?  Well how do I know how righteous he was?  Is it a manner of having to out perform Billy Graham in good deeds?  What is Jesus saying?

Most Bible commentators agree that Jesus is saying this:  we need to find the right person to follow.  To understand Jesus’ words, we need to say it like this: 

The Bible is not about Rick Warren, even though he teaches it and has spent decades of his life teaching it.  If I aim to live out Christianity in the likeness of Rick Warren, the question would be – is the Bible about Rick Warren?  Did Billy Graham come and fulfill the Law and the Prophets?  You see what Jesus is doing here?  You need to go past them, past them to the person who is actually  fulfilling the Bible: It is Jesus himself.

            Imagine the boldness, and the craziness that this would have sounded to this audience: the Pharisees were the best Bible teachers in the land of that day and Jesus is saying, The Bible is about me, and their teaching is only valid if it points you to me. 

Therefore, you need to make sure that you are ultimately following Jesus, reading the Bible according to Jesus’ teaching, and ensure that the Bible teachers you listen to are doing just that with their own teaching. 

Be weary of pastors and teachers who write long lengthy books and preach long lengthy sermons about all kinds of stuff – about nations and political leaders and biblical patterns and numerology and so forth – but if you squint hard and look for Jesus in their teachings, often times you wont find him, if he’s present at all – be WEARY of those teachers, church.  Especially right now.  Let’s move on:

             

            So a little recap this far:

1)     We’ve established that the Bible is about Him, also implying that our lives are to be about Jesus too

2)     We’ve established the illusion of modern society that says you and I are little gods over our lives, that we are free to do as we please as long as we are happy, casting off all restraint of order in our life as we attempt to make life about US

3)     And Jesus says no – everything is about me, and if any leader out there says otherwise, you are being deceived. 

            Jesus is really speaking with great authority.  This is tremendous authority!  In fact, his claims are so huge that it appears he is placing himself as authority over you and I – as if he is God.  That is what he is doing.  Jesus is confronting us, here, with how we approach God, how we approach his Bible, how we approach his word – really, how we approach understand who we are as humans. 

            You cannot understand who you are apart from Jesus.  Your life will struggle to find fulfillment and meaning apart from Jesus.  You are not your own person.  You do not have authority over yourself.  You do not have complete freedom over yourself.  Do you understand? 

            To accept the kind of authority Jesus is teaching here is to begin relinquishing all of your life to him, every thought, every emotion, every feeling, every motivation – everything – every hour, every day, every minute – you lose all your privileges over your own life.  And every time you pick up your Bible, we can now ask “Jesus, how can you show me more of yourself?” rather than “Jesus, how can you show me more of myself?”

            So now let’s get practical, as most of this has been theoretical so far.  How, then, are we to live?  Maybe you are thinking, “I feel like I need a new me.  I really live for myself much more than I want.  I really live as if my happiness is more important than even Jesus himself, and often times I even try to treat Jesus as if here is here to cater to my own happiness, rather than me to align my life after his.  I almost feel like I need a new me.”

            You know God promised all of the way back in Ezekiel that he would give his people a new heart – a heart of flesh, not of stone – a new you?  That he would offer forgiveness of our sins and newness of life through his Spirit?  And that in this process he would take the LAW, his laws that restrain us in our sin and guide us to flourishing in Him as he desires – he would take it, and write it on our hearts?  The implication being, that he would even renew our conscience?  Renew our hearts? 

            The Law of Moses, says Jesus, is not abolished in him.  Rather, he is going to fulfill it.  And now, as we see in the next sections, as he fulfills it he is going to take the Law of Moses and apply it and write it into the very depths of your heart, in the deepest, perhaps darkest, and even the most secret of places.

The Prophets foretold the day that the Law of Moses would be applied in such a way.  Jeremiah said it like this some five hundred years prior:

 

Jeremiah 31:31–34

[31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (ESV)

            God is going to reach down inside his people and put his law there.  Literally, he is going to get his spiritual pen out and begin writing down his law on their hearts.  Is not this amazing news? 

Jesus now tells is what this new covenant will look like when its placed inside of us – and here we go:

Matthew 5:21–26

[21] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

            This of course comes from the Ten Commandments – do not murder.  But how can you define anger?  Or can you see anger?  Have you ever shaken someone’s hand, you know, back in the vintage years of handshaking, even while you are fuming mad at them, but you have on a smile, and no one knows around you just how mad you are, and you stuffed down your anger and hid it, and not a soul knows anything about it?  Or vice versa – maybe you had a conversation with someone, only to learn some time later that they are incredibly angry at you – internally - but they never told you to their face and never actually acted out on it?

            As Jesus quotes one of the ten commandments  - “you shall not murder” – and he says now, as he is beginning to now place the Law of Moses into the heart of his people ­– murder begins in the heart when that kind of anger rises.  This is the message of Christianity: WE NEED A NEW HEART is not just about doing the right thing.  You can fake doing the right thing.  Your heart and its motivations and intentions need to be renewed in him.

            Do you see how difficult this teaching of Jesus is?  He is claiming authority over your internal feelings that no one sees – and quite often only you know about.  For to be a Jesus follower means that your insides are changing into the likeness of Christ, leading to outside changes

He continues on by offering to us the ultimate need for us as Jesus followers when we feel that anger, and we begin to accept this internalization of the Law of Moses – it gets even harder!  It is not enough say, “don’t be angry!”, but with the one whom you are angry at – you need to go and reconcile with them.  In fact, even if you know that someone else is angry with you – you need to do something about it.  You must RID yourself of anger and pursue reconciliation so no trace of anger may be found in your heart because blessed are the PURE in heart:

 

 [23] So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [25] Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. [26] Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (ESV)

            He shows how important this is by referring to a sacred gift that one gave at the altar of the ancient Jewish Temple – like a sacrifice of worship.  That is a sacred moment, not to be interrupted – unless, that is, someone is mad at you for something.  That is more important to resolve.  You take the initiative – and go after them and be reconciled. 

            And Jesus goes even a step further!  He mentions that those who feel such anger inside are liable to the judgment of HELL.  Yes, there are eternal consequences for this, says Jesus.

Don’t feel the need to begin trying to soften Jesus words here.  I do believe that once you are a Christian, you are always a Christian – I fully embrace that doctrine and believe it to be true.  But Jesus doesn’t feel the need to soften his words with that doctrine, so let’s take these words for what they say in the context of this sermon: with emotional internal anger can have eternal consequences.  And perhaps your refusal to deal with them and any lack of guilt in your refusal may be an indication that your heart does not truly belong to Jesus.

So how do you reverse it? Be reconciled to that person.  Be reconciled.  I’m going to let the Holy Spirit right now do his work – if you are sitting on anger right now, there is no need for me to say much.  The Spirit is right now speaking to you.  Are you listening?  Are you letting him speak to you?  Are you trying to busy up your mind right now, and not listen to him, and make excuses as to why you cannot go and be reconciled to that person?  Or at least try and be – even if they are unwilling?  Are you letting Jesus have the authority right now over your heart, or are you resisting him and fighting him as he is speaking through his Spirit? 

He then moves on to Lust:

 

Matthew 5:27–30

[27] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (ESV)

            Once again, we see Jesus writing the Law of Moses on our heart, and the effect is this:  Jesus is claiming authority over your intentions.

            You may find excuses to interact with this guy or that woman, and when you do they seem innocent enough on the outside to any onlooker.  But on the inside, lust is raging.  Jesus is putting the law of “do not commit adultery” and placing it in that deep area of intentions.  He is asking to be Lord even over your motivations.  

The seriousness of the situation lies in his words to cut off the hand that makes you sin or gouge out the eye that makes you lust – OK, don’t go cutting off your hand.  Don’t go gouging out your eye.  Literally.  This is hyperbole – just what are you going to do to allow the Law of Christ to permeate your heart and fill it, and write itself on it?  Not by way of another moral check list, but taking such serious steps with a genuine attention of love of God and love of neighbor, reflected in a changed heart?  And remember, once again says Jesus – there are eternal consequences for these things.

            As we close, I want to ask a few questions to help end our time:

 

1)     The Bible is not about you.  It is about Jesus.  Do you read the Bible to only get something from it for yourself?  Or do you read the Bible get more of Jesus?  To align yourself to Jesus?  To learn more of the heart of Jesus?  Or do you read it like you read the Hallmark cards – for some nice pithy words that give you the inside warm butterfly feelings?  The Bible is not about you.  You don’t need more of you.  You need more of Jesus.

2)     How much do you live as if you have complete and total authority over your own heart?  The New City Catechism begins with the words: “What is our only hope in life or death?  That we are not our own but belong to God.”  Do you live as if you are your own?

 

3)     Do you listen to Bible teachers who use the Bible to talk about lots of things that are not Jesus?  There are lots of people now who use it to try and predict the future, who try and find America in it and think the Bible somehow has at its center America, or that the Bible can be used for basic motivational moral living – they are innumerable.  How much do the Bible teachers you read, listen and watch talk about Jesus?  If Jesus is not the primary topic of conversation – you need red flags to appear.
 

4)     This whole passage is a message to us of turning the entirety of our orientation in life – our motivations, our hearts and thoughts and feelings and actions – all of it to Jesus, and to be healed from selfish living.  To be healed from making life about us, to making even the Bible about us, to heal us from constantly trying to cast off whatever restraints that lie in the way for us to be happy and free – putting all of that aside, and rather following Jesus Christ, and in faith letting the Spirit of God write his Law on our hearts, and daily, even every hour, saying “Jesus, give me more of you.  I need more of you, and less of me” because often times, even when we try and do this, we still make it about us.  And that is the lifelong battle. 

Let us pray. 

 

           

 

 

 

           

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