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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2017-09-03

Text: Matthew 5:17-20

We continue with our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Over the last two weeks we had seen Jesus describing Christians as being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is a very powerful way of teaching us about the important role that we play in this world, a role that requires us to conduct ourselves differently from the rest of the world, with a godly conduct that glorifies God.

However, whenever we speak of godly or righteous conduct, we need to define exactly what it is. Many codes of conduct have been developed throughout history to define this. In fact most religions of the world provide their own definition of righteous or godly conduct.

One of the earliest was from ancient Babylon. In 1754 BC a king named Hammurabi enacted a code of 282 laws to bring a rule of righteousness in his kingdom. But his kingdom broke up within a few years of his death, as war and rebellion reigned instead of righteousness. In China, the most prominent name as far as moral standards are concerned is Confucius (551-479 BC). But his concept of righteousness was based on filial piety and unquestioning respect for authority, and this has led unfortunately to instances of abuse of authority.

All these man-made concepts and definitions of godly and righteous conduct could never succeed in instructing man in the way he ought to live and conduct himself in this world. This is because they came from the minds of imperfect men. There is only One who can teach us what really constitutes godly and righteous conduct, and He is God Himself. And God’s code of conduct is known as ‘the Law of God.’ This is the subject of our passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17-20. There are three points about the Law of God that we need to understand from this passage.

  1. The Law of God is Fulfilled in Christ (vv.17,18)

Jesus uses two points to bring this out: Firstly, His mission for coming to earth was to fulfill the Law. (v.17 – “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil) And secondly, Jesus brought out the truth that every little detail of the Law will ultimately be fulfilled. (v.18 – “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”) The key word here is ‘fulfil.’ What does this word mean? 

It means that the Law of God was designed to point to someone or to something. And in this context, that someone that the Law was designed to point to finally is Jesus Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law of God. All that is found in the Law of God even to the smallest detail is fulfilled in the person of Christ, in the works of Christ, in the mission of Christ and finally in the kingdom of Christ.

Christ’s own disciples recognized this, as seen in John 1:45 – “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And this was how Jesus Himself interpreted not only the Law, but also the rest of God’s written Word. Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection: “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me.” (Luke 24:44)

You may ask: How is the Old Testament Law fulfilled in Christ? There are at least two ways: Through prophecies, and through types. Prophecies are direct predictions about the person and work of Christ. For example, God gave Abraham a prophecy in Genesis 22:18 – “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice.”  So the Jews who read this thought that this would be fulfilled through them since they were his descendants. But according to Galatians 3:16, the word ‘seed’ here is singular, and therefore it points to an individual, and not to a multitude of people. That individual is Jesus Christ!

The other way in which the Old Testament Law pointed to Christ is in the form of types. A type can be a person, event or institution which teaches something about Christ. E.g. In the Law that God gave to Israel, there were instructions about three kinds of offices: The prophet (Deuteronomy 18), the priest (Leviticus), and the king (Deuteronomy 17). Now that Christ has come, we see that all these offices actually point to Christ who is our perfect Prophet, Priest and King.

The Ceremonial laws of Israel were also meant to provide types of Christ. For instance, all the laws concerning animal blood sacrifices point to His death on the cross for our sins. The laws concerning the various feasts of Israel point to Him as well, e.g. the Passover and the Day of Atonement. Even each piece of furniture in the Tabernacle (the Ark of the Covenant, the seven-branched golden lampstand, the altar of sacrifice and the altar of incense) all reflect various aspects of Christ’s ministry to His people. The study of types of Christ found in the Law of God is a very fascinating subject.

The most important part of the Law of God is the Moral Law. This consists of eternal moral principles that are encapsulated in the Ten Commandments. Here in Matthew chapters 5-7 which is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching the multitudes the correct understanding of these Commandments. God had given them through Moses on two stone tablets at Mount Sinai. Here on another mountain we see One who is greater than Moses expounding on these commandments.

The Moral law was given through Moses, but he could not keep them since he was a sinner like any of us. Christ not only gave the Moral Law, he also kept it faultlessly. Throughout His entire life on earth as a man, Christ subjected Himself to the Moral Law. No man has ever kept it perfectly, but Christ did. For forty days Satan tried to tempt Him in the wilderness to transgress the Law, but he did not succeed. We are told in Hebrews 4:15 – “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” And 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us – “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Let us look again at v.18 of our text. You will observe that Jesus said that all that the Law teaches will be fulfilled even to the very last jot and tittle. The jot and tittle are the tiniest parts of Hebrew writing! In fact, at this very moment, Christ is fulfilling what the Law taught about the intercessory ministry of the high priest, since Christ is now interceding for us in heaven.

Every little detail of everything that has to be fulfilled will ultimately be fulfilled, when the present heaven and earth have passed away, and the new heaven and the new earth take their place. The description of this eternal state of creation in Revelation 21-22 show us that Christ will be the very centre of it! The Book of Genesis begins with the creation of Light on the first day of creation. The Book of Revelation ends with Christ being the Light of the new heaven and the new earth. I believe that one of the things that we will all take great delight in when we are in heaven is to learn from God Himself how every detail of the Law has been fulfilled by Christ right down to the last jot and tittle!

As a point of application, this truth should affect the way that we read and study our Bibles now. There is so much for us to learn, and we must pay close attention to every little detail of it. So let us not be satisfied to have a merely superficial knowledge of the Bible, but dig deeply into it! And since every detail of the Law will be fulfilled by Christ, v.19 now tells us that every commandment that God has given must be taken seriously as well.

  1. The Law of God Must be Taught and Obeyed (v.19)

This follows what our Lord said in verse 19– “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” This verse must be understood correctly. It does not mean that we must obey the Law of God in a purely legalistic manner. Romans 3:20 tells us– “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight…” Keeping the Law will can never bring justification because of sin. The Law of God is very useful to convict us of all our sins, and so convince us that we are sinners, but it cannot save us. The only way that we can ever be saved is by the grace of God. As Romans 6:14 says, ““...for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”

And after we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, that grace will be evidenced in our life by a willing obedience to God’s commandments. Therefore, while we must stay clear of legalism, we should not swing to the other extreme which is lawlessness. This is the erroneous teaching that Christians do not have to bother about keeping the Ten Commandments anymore. And those who teach this will tell you: “If it feels good, do it!”

In 1553, the French Reformer, John Calvin, faced opposition from the Swiss Libertines at Geneva and he had to stop them from taking the Lord’s Supper, because they were living in open sexual sin and were even boasting to everyone about their freedom from keeping the Moral Law. Despite all their threats Calvin rightly stood his ground and refused to let them partake of the Lord’s Supper until they repent.

We see a similar trend happening today. In some churches there is a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the Grace of God to the exclusion of the Law of God. Hence this new teaching is called ‘Hyper-grace.’ Preachers of hyper-grace claim that when God looks at us He sees only holy and righteous people, and so there is no need at all for us to obey His commandments, or to deal with any sin in our lives. Anyone who disagrees with what they teach are branded as legalists.

But what does God’s Word say about the grace of God in Titus 2:11,12? – “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” This means that the only valid response we should give to God’s marvelous grace is a willing obedience to God’s commandments. And we should therefore have a very high regard for the Law of God, because it shows us precisely what it means to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.

But in obeying God’s commandments, our main concern should not be about trying very hard to fulfill every minute requirement of the Law. Doing this will only turn the Law of God into a great burden to God’s people. The Scribes and Pharisees of Israel were guilty of doing this. They kept the Law very diligently, but only in an outward manner. They determined that the Law contained 613 commandments, 248 positive, 365 negative. Then they ‘made a hedge’ about them, which consists of additional man-made regulations they would keep, in order to prevent any possibility of breaking any Law of God by accident or by ignorance.

The worst thing is that these Scribes and Pharisees used their diligent Law-keeping as a pretext to take pride in themselves and to become extremely judgmental toward others – even toward the Lord Jesus. And Jesus rebuked them for doing this when He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”  (Matthew 23:23)

Here is one example of how the Scribes and Pharisees abused God’s Law for their own selfish ends: They absolved themselves totally of the responsibility to support their own parents with a sum of money, simply by calling it ‘Corban’ which means that it is dedicated to God and cannot be used for anything else (Matthew 15:3-6). Anyone who scrutinises the letter of the Law like this to find legal loopholes to sin against God are actually going against the very purpose of the Law, which is to keep men from sin. This kind of Law-keeping certainly does not glorify God at all! Let us find out then what kind of Law-keeping glorifies God.

  1. We Must Be in Christ to Obey the Law of God Acceptably (v.20)

Listen to what Jesus said in verse 20 – “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” What the Lord really wants to see in us is not an obedience to the Law just for its own sake, or for the sake of glorifying ourselves. This is what the Scribes and the Pharisees were doing. Their righteousness was the wrong kind of righteousness because it was legalistic and utterly self-glorifying. What the Lord wants to see in us is a selfless obedience to His Law out of a sincere love for Him in our hearts.

But this kind of obedience is impossible for anyone who is outside Christ. The heart of the matter is really a matter of the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies…” (Matthew 15:19) It is only when our sinful heart is regenerated by Christ that we are able to obey the Law of God as we should – with a sincere love for Him in our hearts.

If anyone here is still unsaved, you need to understand this well: All your righteous works are just like filthy rags in God’s sight. Every work you do cannot please God and enable you to enter heaven, because it comes from a heart that does not love Him. The only works of righteousness that God accepts are those that are done by Christ. Only Christ can give you the righteousness that He mentioned in verse 20 – “…except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Earlier on we had seen how Christ has fulfilled the Moral Law perfectly. The only way for you to be saved now is to have His perfect righteousness imputed to you. This good news of salvation for all sinners is declared in Romans 5:18,19 – “Therefore as by the offence of one (who is Adam) judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one (who is Jesus) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

Therefore if you are still unsaved, your greatest need right now is to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and ask Him to save you from your sins. Only then will His perfect obedienceto the Law become yours, and only then will your obedience to the Law become the result of His work in your heart and in your life. Christ alone can change you from inside out, enabling you to have a righteousness that far superior to the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees.

Our primary concern then should always be on the heart attitude that motivates our obedience to the Law of God. As Jesus Himself has taught, all the laws of God are fulfilled in the two greatest commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”(Matthew 22:37-39) Let us ensure that whenever we obey God’s commandments, it is always for these two reasons – love for God, and love for our neighbour. Christ Himself has said, in John 14:15“If ye love Me, keep My commandments.”

Another passage that shows the relationship between love and keeping God’s commandments is 1 John 5:2-3 – “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we loveGod, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” Love makes obeying His commandments a joy! If you know Jesus Christ personally as your Saviour and Lord, you will gladly obey all His commandments. You will want to keep even the very least of them, because you love Him. You will say with the Psalmist, “And I will delight myself in Thy commandments, which I have loved.” (Psalm 119:47)

For this reason, we do make it a point to teach God’s commandments here. Those of you who have gone through our catechism course will know that we spend three lessons going through all the Ten Commandments. Do you know that the Ten Commandments form the whole basis of biblical ethics? It defines all the moral values and duties which have to do with ideal Christian character and conduct.

Learning the Law of God well will certainly help all who love Him to live in a manner that glorifies Him. Listen to what John Calvin wrote in His Institutes: “The Law may be compared to orders that a willing servant receives from his master, to which the servant gladly conforms… By frequent meditation on it, he will be excited to obedience, and restrained from the slippery path of transgression.” (Calvin’s Institutes 2.7.12) May the Lord enable us to apply this biblical understanding of the Law of God: How it is fulfilled in Christ, How it must be taught and obeyed, and How we must be in Christ to obey it acceptably.

 
 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25