Jesus and the Law, Part 3

If Jesus walked among us today would He be carrying a Bible?  There are many today who would hesitate to answer yes. They do not view Christianity as dependent upon a belief in the Bible.  Can one claim to follow Jesus (call themselves “ Christian”) and not believe in the absolute authority of the scriptures.  In our study this month of Matthew 5:17-19 we will consider Jesus’ statement in vs. 19.

  • Matthew 5:17-1917 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. NKJV

After assuring his listeners that He did not come to destroy or nullify the law, and affirming the permanence and absolute undiminishing authority of God’s law, Jesus states a conclusion.  It is necessary to obey every command of God, and teach others to obey it as well.

I.   Analyzing Jesus’ View of the O.T. Scriptures. How did Jesus view and react to the O.T. Scriptures? First consider some related facts:

A.  Historical Context: When Jesus lived here He did read the “Bible”. His Bible, of course, was not exactly like ours. The N.T. had not been revealed or written yet.

  • The O.T. scriptures (“law and the prophets”) were written up to 1500 years before Jesus was born, by 28 different men. By Jesus’ day the books had been collected and translated from the Hebrew into the Greek language (Septuagint).  Yet Jesus never questioned their authenticity or authority as translated.
  • Jesus understood the scriptures were written by men, but he also believed they were inspired of God. In Mark 12:36 Jesus credits the Holy Spirit with moving David to write the prophecy in Psalm 110. Jesus cited many examples of scriptures which were either being fulfilled or would be fulfilled.

1.  Jesus grew as a Jew under the law, under law-abiding parents. At the age of 12, Jesus was busy reading and understanding the O.T. scriptures. He amazed the experts of the Law in the Temple with “his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). We read later that it was Jesus’ “custom” to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day to read the scripture.

2.  In Matthew’s gospel Jesus quotes Scripture from twelve (12) Old Testament books. He constantly appealed to the O.T. and relied upon them in His own teaching. Even as He was dying on the cross He was quoting scripture.

3.  Jesus’ view of the O.T. scriptures was center stage throughout His ministry. It was the reason the Pharisees criticized Him (they thought He did not keep it) and the reason the common disciple marveled (He taught them from the scriptures as one having authority and not as the scribes). It is ludicrous to conclude that a Christian can hold a different view the scriptures than Jesus held. The authority of the O.T. lives or dies with Jesus.

II. What Did Jesus Believe about Scripture? Jesus believed and taught that …

A.  The Scriptures Are Historically Accurate: In His ministry Jesus often referred to actual, literal O.T. events. He recounted those events as they are recorded in scripture. He always treated these historical references as being true. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus makes eight (8) literal references to people or events written of in Genesis.

1.   In Matthew 19 Jesus referenced the creation of Adam and Eve in teaching about the pattern of marriage. In chapter 23 He mentioned the murder of Abel. He spoke about Abraham, Isaac & Jacob as true historical characters. He accounted the story of Jonah and the great fish as well accepted historical fact with which He would reference the certainty of His own resurrection. (Matthew 12:40)

2.  Jesus spoke about the flood of Noah, an O.T. event that many today reject as authentic.  Luke 17:26-27 –  26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man:  27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. In this same text He also mentioned Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 29), along with the fate of Lot’s wife. (v. 32) as a warning against God’s coming judgment

3.  In Luke 4 Jesus referenced the widow of Zarephath  who provided for Elijah the prophet; as well as Elisha and the story of Naaman the Leper. (Luke 4:24-27) Read carefully Jesus words and conclude if you think Jesus thought these stories were just fables.

4.  Two important considerations here:

  • All of these events involved miraculous intervention. Jesus did not dismiss them or explain away the miraculous element as false.
  • Jesus used the events as the foundation of His own teaching. He would not have done that if these events were fictitious. His enemies would have quickly pointed out that inconsistency.   If Jesus believed the O.T. scriptures to be accurate what is to be my attitude toward them?

B.  The Scriptures are the Foundation for Faith: Jesus believed the scriptures were given to produce faith. It was the “why” to the question, why do you believe this or practice that.

1.  In John 5 Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their unwillingness to believe in Him.  He presented 3 witnesses who were testifying of His identity.

  • John the Baptist, whom they had rejected;
  • The miraculous works that Jesus had performed before their very eyes (They ascribed them to the devil)
  • The testimony of the Father in O.T. scriptures. John 5:38-40 – But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. Later  He said, For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

2.  After his resurrection Jesus rebuked two disciples for their failure to believe. Luke 24:25-26 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” He called them foolish because they had not developed proper faith through God’s Word. He expected O.T. scripture to be enough.

3. Jesus constantly used O.T. scripture to make His point. In this way He indicated the foundational position of scripture in determining conviction.

a. When the Pharisees accused His disciples of breaking the Sabbath by plucking grain in the field, Jesus applied scriptureMatt 12:3-8 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

b. Jesus even expressed truth on the basis of the tense of a verb in the O.T. scriptures. (This certainly indicated that He believed they were verbally inspired). In Matthew 22 Jesus asked the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, to tell him how God could say to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus’ conclusion about God was, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32) Jesus’ argument hinged on nothing more than the tense of a verb! What is the foundation of your faith? Is it enough if God says it? Romans 10:17 –  17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

c.  Jesus exhorted others to study the scriptures. In Matthew 9 Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 (“I desire mercy and not sacrifice”), and then told the Pharisees to “Go and learn what this means” (Matthew 9:13). If I can understand what is revealed in scripture I can know how to please God. It is the foundation of faith and the call to true obedience.

C. The Scriptures Must be Obeyed: Our text in Matthew 5 certainly confirms that Jesus preached the necessity of obedience.  We certainly recognize that Jesus Himself never broke the Law of Moses. His perfect obedience not only encourages us to the possibility of doing God’s will ourselves, but calls us to that very standard. Neither the weakness of human flesh nor the appearance of divine grace diminishes the standard of God’s perfection or our responsibility to obey Him in all things.

1.  When Satan tempted Jesus to disobey, Jesus called upon the authority of scripture to answer him. Three times Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and three times he responded with Scripture.  Each response was prefaced with the words that are need to elicit obedience.. “It is written!” Again Jesus impresses us with the authority and sufficiency of God’s voice in scripture.  Matt 4:4“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”

2.  Jesus taught others to keep the Law. After cleansing a leper Jesus warned him and said “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Even in the face of supernatural events, the law was to obeyed to the detail.

3.  Jesus was always ready to apply scripture to the moral behavior of men. When asked about divorce, Jesus went to the record of creation in Genesis to provide an answer. He asked, Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’  5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

4. In contrast, Jesus consistently rebuked those who elevated human tradition to the authoritative plane of God’s word. When answering the charge that he didn’t follow the tradition of the elders, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13: “in vain do they worship me; teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:5-7).

Conclusion: Jesus affirmed a unique place for scripture that is not much accepted today. He believed scripture was the only pathway to eternal life. Luke 10:25-28And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27 So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.'” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

a.   In the familiar and paradoxical words of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) Jesus described the heart of the citizen of God’s kingdom. He is poor in spirit (humble), meek, mournful, merciful, pure in heart, etc.  But the renewed heart is not exclusive of an obedient hand.  Jesus makes it clear that greatness in the kingdom of God is dependent on obeying God’s law, even the least commandment.  Listen again to Jesus’ words: Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:19)

b. In commissioning the apostles to usher in His kingdom Jesus told them  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  Do you think Jesus cares whether you obey this command? Can you enter His kingdom if you ignore it?