“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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
(Matthew 5:17-18 ESV)
As we’ve learned since we started reading the Sermon on the Mount, which was Jesus’ first public sermon, His teachings went against what was the primary thought process of the day. He espoused difficult concepts like repentance and meekness and warned of persecution to anyone who lived this way.
By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the Jewish leaders had accumulated hundreds of piddling laws that, they claimed, had to be observed for a person to be right with God. The problem was none of these were actually from God. They were created by human beings. Jesus refused to obey them.
There were many who thought that since Jesus disregarded these rules He preached a message contrary to God. But that was not the case. His message was actually an undiluted version of God’s message. It removed all the “junk” that man had added to it. In today’s passage Jesus wants His listeners to understand this. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (e.g. the Old Testament). Rather He came to fulfill them.
There are three categories of law detailed in the Old Testament: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial laws included animal sacrifices that symbolically removed people’s sins. Jesus fulfilled these laws when He became a sacrifice on the cross. Dead animals could not really pay for man’s sins. They were simply a reminder that man was sinful and was unable to pay for his own sins. Jesus’ death actually did pay for the sins of mankind. Once Jesus died the animal sacrificial system was no longer needed as Jesus Himself became our sacrifice.
The judicial law regulated lifestyle issues including diet and dress of the Jewish people. They were meant to give the Jews a unique identity to demonstrate that they did not belong to the world but to God. These laws were also fulfilled with Jesus’ death as once sin was paid for (i.e. the ceremonial laws were fulfilled) anyone and everyone – Jew and Gentile – could come into a relationship with God. The Jews were no longer the only path to God.
Finally, Jesus fulfilled the moral law by keeping every single one of God’s rules for righteous living. This included not only external behavior but internal thoughts. Jesus never sinned with His body or His mind. He is the one and only person ever to do so. He did not obey the man-made laws created by the Jewish religious leaders – but He did not need to as these were not created by God. Jesus did, however, keep every commandment given by God, which are the ones that count.
While the ceremonial law and the judicial law are no longer applicable to our lives, the moral law lives on. Just because Jesus “fulfilled” it does not mean that those of us living today should ignore it. These rules were given to us by God for our benefit. They still have value. First, if we followed them life on this planet would be immeasurably better. Second, they show us just how sinful we really are [Romans 5:20].
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