Advent Week #4 Not this, but that: “For I came not to abolish the law but fulfill it”
Opponents of Jesus would consistently complain that he was going against “the Law”. They did not think Jesus was breaking civil law or government rules like going too fast on his donkey; they were angered because in their opinion he did not respect the commandments of God in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) commonly referred to as “the Law” or “the Law of Moses”. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day did not like how he practiced the Sabbath, or how his disciples ignored oral tradition around things like ceremonial washing and when Jesus taught on the Law he did not appeal to the authority of others before him but to scripture itself and his own authority. This led many to question if Jesus was starting a new movement, relaxing the law or if he fully cared about what the Hebrew scriptures taught.
So far this Advent seasons we’ve seen Jesus tell us that the will of God is for anyone who look to the son and believes to be saved, he came to be a friend of sinners calling the least and the unlikely to be his disciples, and we saw that following him would come with a cost — the full surrender of our lives. We could then wonder “what is God’s goal in our ongoing redemption and relationship with him?” His goal is to shape us into new people who are holy and reflect Jesus. Jesus does this by fulfilling God’s righteous requirements of holiness and obedience, and he does this by fulfilling his law in us as he leads us into righteousness.
Matthew 5:17 would have been both a reassuring and a shocking statement to those who heard it. Jesus says “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” It would have reassured those who were the religious leaders that he did not come to tear up the law; but the idea of someone fulfilling it would have been shocking. For no human being would have been able to keep the entirety of the Law in their actions or hearts. But Jesus came, fully God and fully man, to fulfill the righteous requirements of God in our place (Romans 8:4).
The Law shows us God’s desire for his people to be distinct, holy and pure, likewise there are commands around proper worship in the temple and how God’s people were to live in their cities and relationships. The Law would spell out things like not having idols before God, when to bring a sacrificial offering to the temple and then a few pages later tell you what to do when you accidentally killed your neighbors ox, what you could or couldn’t eat and the consequence for encroaching on your neighbors land.
Jesus kept the Law in its entirety both in the spirit of the Law and to the letter of the Law. He fulfilled it in his perfect obedience to it. But Jesus did not just obey the Law, he lived a fully God-ward life in his heart as well as his actions. Jesus also fulfilled the sacrificial system of the Law in laying down his life as a spotless sacrifice. Sin required a substitute sacrifice as a means of covering. The scripture teaches that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins; so Jesus shed his blood for our sin (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus was the true and better sacrifice that atoned for sin once and for all so his followers could be fully forgiven and set free from slavery to sin.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus addressees a problem we all have, our righteousness needs to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees! How are you doing with that? What Jesus is telling us here is not that we need to be bigger and better than the Pharisees, but we need a new kind of righteousness, we need to be made new from the inside out and not from the outside in. If you follow Jesus today, God is at work in leading you towards righteousness first in your inner person and that will shape your outward actions. Romans 8:1-11 is really helpful to us here. We’re told that Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh to set us free from slavery to our flesh. Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law and as we set our minds on the Spirit we are formed and shaped more and more in holiness and God has even given the “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” to us to give life to our mortal bodies and help us to walk in freedom from sin.
Jesus did all this by taking on human form in order to not abolish the law but fulfill it.
At your community group:
Spend 15-20 minutes sharing prayer requests and praying for one another.
How did the Spirit speak to you through the sermon and the scripture passage?
As a fun opening question for your group talk about: would you rather have a snowy Christmas or Christmas on the beach?
Read Matthew 5:17-20. Based on the sermon and this study guide, what is the Law and how did Jesus fulfill it?
What does it mean to have righteousness that “exceeds” that of the scribes and pharisees? Look at the rest of Matthew 5 to get an idea of what Jesus is pointing to in this statement.
Read Romans 8:1-4, how does this passage address the incarnation? What is God’s goal in Jesus fulfilling the Law where we were unable? How does it free you from being trapped to sin and from a life where you’re “performing” to be approved of and loved by God?
What would be some of the issues we’d face if Christ did not come and fulfill the Law?