Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Law: The Old Becomes New

We are exploring the Kingdom of God, inaugurated on a hillside by the Author and Perfector of our faith. 

Like Moses, Jesus stands with the "stone tablets"--the Beatitudes--in His hands and tells the people of a new way of thinking, believing and acting. Not that Jesus is inventing a whole new faith but taking what the Jewish people already know and distilling it to its essence. 

Forgive the analogy, but consider that can't distill liquor if you don't have a pre-existing liquid. By condensing out the water, you take that liquid and move it into a more pure and potent state. 

Jesus is taking the Law and the Prophets and distilling the teachings down to their essence. If the Law and the Prophets are, at their core, a display of God's redemptive plan, then Jesus as Messiah is the very apex of that plan.  

So, let's listen in to what Jesus is saying at this point.  Remember, His last bit of teaching was Matthew 5:16: "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven."

Imagine for a moment, what some of the people might be thinking:

Rabbi Yeshua: Are you doing the Pharisees' thing?  Are you saying that I must I follow the Law even more?  I feel already burden by it, because not only do we have our sacred Torah, the Pharisees have added additional rules and regulations for us to follow and frankly, we are overwhelmed. They seem to revel in their power to control and chastise us when we fall short of their standards. Is our Father really demanding all of this? Are You now adding to it? At the beginning of all of this, you saw us as poor in spirit and mournful.  Please Rabbi Yeshua, don't add to our poverty and woe of spirit.

Jesus is answering an unasked question:  In this new Kingdom, are we absolved from following the Law?  Are we to follow a new one? (Heaven forbid!  The Law and the Prophets are the cornerstone of our identity!) 

Jesus goes on to say:  

“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 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. 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. 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 5:17-19) 

Wow. That is an astonishing teaching. Let's unpack a few of the key words first. 

  • Abolish: "to deprive of force, annul, abrogate, discard" (Strong's)
  • Fulfill: "universally and absolutely, to fulfil, i.e. 'to cause God's will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God's promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment'" (Strong's) 
  • Accomplished: To become equivalent to to come to pass, happen, of events; universally" (Strong's)
So, the Kingdom of Heaven is not throwing the Law and the Prophets under the theological bus. Jesus is not advocating a departure from the very foundation that the Torah has provided and will continue to provide.  The Torah is still in full force, so much so that not setting aside any of its commandments will secure respect ("great") in the Kingdom; setting aside any of it will secure a less respected place.


Oh no, Rabbi Yeshua!  Please don't tell us to just keep doing what we've been doing.  Are you some kind of moderate or liberal kind of Pharisee--do this, do that, but hopefully, you won't feel too burdened. But as burden is a burden, Rabbi. 

But then Jesus delivers the theological punchline, if you will: 

"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 5:20) 

Again, let's look at the meaning of "fulfill": "to cause God's will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God's promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment." [my emphasis]

Jesus is saying that He has come to reassert the proper way to obey the Torah and what was promised through the Prophets, He will bring to pass. He will elucidate how to honor the Law with its original intention, and He will live out the promises of the Prophets in His life, death and resurrection.  

He will contrast how the Law has been interpreted by the Pharisees and how His Father wants it interpreted. You will hear Him say, in essence: This is what you have been taught and now I will now interpreted it in the spirit in which it was given.  He will begin each clarification with "You have heard it said..."

What about the Prophets?  

Well consider these:

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ez. 36:26)

"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." (Jer. 31:33)

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you [Abraham];
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
(Ge. 12:2-3) [emphasis mine]

His ultimate interpretation is to take on the role of Isaiah's Suffering Servant, and do so willingly and lovingly for His Jewish brethren, His non-Jewish brethren, and us.   

"Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of dry ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we would look at Him,
Nor an appearance that we would take pleasure in Him.

He was despised and abandoned by men,
A man of great pain and familiar with sickness;
And like one from whom people hide their faces,
He was despised, and we had no regard for Him.

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore,
And our pains that He carried;
Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted,
Struck down by God, and humiliated.

But He was pierced for our offenses,
He was crushed for our wrongdoings;
The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him,
And by His wounds we are healed.
All of us, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off from the land of the living
For the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due?

And His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the Lord desired
To crush Him, causing Him grief;
If He renders Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
For He will bear their wrongdoings.

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the plunder with the strong,
Because He poured out His life unto death,
And was counted with wrongdoers;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the wrongdoers."  (Isaiah 53)


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