Thursday this week, while reading Matthew, I came across a familiar passage, which grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go. Friday I went back to those verses and couldn’t escape them! I am working on a post about Rick Warren and the contemplative prayer movement, but I had to set it aside because there is something in Jesus words that demands my attention!
How often have we heard preachers begin sermons with these words?
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 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. Matthew 5:17-18
Most preachers focus on these two verses from the sermon on the mount, and point out that Jesus is the fulfilment of the law. This is correct, but it is not the only thing this passage is saying.
It is also reaffirming the unchanging nature of God. God didn’t give laws to Moses that contradict His nature. Neither is Jesus saying that we need to keep parts of the law. He didn’t single out the ten commandments, and let the rest of it slide.
As you read the statements of Jesus, and compare them with the Old Testament, you will find He never contradicts it…ever! As you study the Old Testament law you are actually studying the character of God. God as He is today!
The law was given with the purpose of convicting us of our sin, for the purpose of bringing us to Christ. This is true even for those of Old Testament times. The law cannot save, and never could.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24
Some of us were convicted of only a few sins, but many of us became great sinners before the Holy Spirit was able to use our sin to bring us to Christ. There is a dichotomy in our churches, where the preaching of the law leads some to expect their law-keeping will save them. For others, the preaching of the law leads them to realize their need for a Savior!
Most pastors use these first two verses as the basis of their sermon, but lets look at the next. I think you will see something amazing;
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.
The “therefore” is connecting this verse with the preceding. Look at these two teachers. One of them breaks a commandment of God, and teaches others to do so. This man is called the “least” in the kingdom of … Hell? The kingdom of Satan? No! He is the least IN the kingdom of Heaven! The kingdom of God!
The next person has a lot in common with the Pharisees. He obeys the commandments, and teaches others to obey them as well. He is called “great” in the kingdom of Heaven! Unlike the Pharisees, however, he is saved!
Notice that both of these teachers are IN the kingdom of Heaven! Now read the next 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 is Jesus saying here? Isn’t He saying that both of the teachers of verse 19 are IN the kingdom of Heaven, and yet the scribes and Pharisees are OUT?
The teacher who did not obey the law, and taught others to disobey it, has a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees! Amazing!
When Jesus came, the Scribes and Pharisees were the most devout teachers of the bible in the world! They were sticklers for every jot and tittle of the law! Here is Paul’s testimony concerning himself, before he was saved;
Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Philippians 3:6
Paul, the Pharisee, had been trusting his own righteousness to get him into Heaven. It took a miracle to get him to change his mind! He ended up trusting, and receiving, the righteousness of Jesus. In the end he calls his own righteousness “dung” (verse 8).
Is Jesus contradicting Himself here? No! He is saying that the righteousness that gets you into Heaven is not earned by keeping the law! It is not earned at all! The erroneous teacher in verse 19, has the righteousness of someone else. He does not get into Heaven with his own righteousness, but with the righteousness of Jesus Christ! He will lose rewards for his errors, but he will NOT lose his salvation!
God is so good!
It is better to be like the second person rather than the first, of verse 19, but it is still better to be like the first, than to be a Pharisee! So long as we are trusting our own righteousness, and good deeds, we are lost!
The only difference between those IN, and those OUT is, one has Christ as Savior, and one does not!