When people travel with me to one of our overseas Campaigns, they usually tell me; “Peter, the highlight for me was to attend the Gospel Revolution Seminar. It changed my life.”
During the Seminar, which usually involves three days during the Campaign week, Thursday to Saturday, I take the delegates from a view of Scripture that mixes Law and grace, into an understanding that the Gospel is 100% a covenant of God’s grace.
The last day of the Seminar often includes a Q&A session. This is my favorite time, because the questions show how intently the pastors have listened to the message. One of the most common questions is, “Peter, how do you explain Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17 that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it?”
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 5 cuts right to the heart of grace versus the Law. First, we might ask; “Why did Jesus feel the need to emphasize that His intent was not to destroy the Law?” Obviously, His opponents were accusing Him of doing just that. We know from the four Gospels that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law thought that Jesus was seeking to destroy it.
Jesus re-interprets the Bible
Before we look at the key word – fulfill – let’s look at the context. In this chapter Jesus introduces the idea that the Bible must be reinterpreted in the light of the Gospel.
He makes a list of statements, each beginning, “You have heard it said”, and then, “But I say to you”. Jesus re-interprets Old Testament statements in the light of the Gospel.
- In the Old, the issue was “murder”, but under the Gospel it is “anger”, (Mt 5:21 – 22).
- In the Old, it was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth”, while under the Gospel we are told to “not resist an evil person”, (Mt 5:38 – 39).
- In the Old, we were to “love our neighbor and hate our enemy”, while under the Gospel, we “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”, (Mt 5:43 – 44).
If Jesus’ statement that He didn’t come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it meant that the Old Testament Law was to remain intact, as some still claim, then why does Jesus continue to blatantly contradict and cast aside Old Testament principles and laws?
No question, to the Pharisees, it looked like Jesus was destroying the Law, but Jesus insisted that He was not destroying, but fulfilling it.
The meaning of the word “fulfill”
Fulfill has two meanings, either:
- to meet all the requirements of the Law, or
- to complete [perfect] the Law.
When we read the entirety of Jesus’ sermon it becomes clear that He came to complete the Law. In no way does Jesus condone to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Rather Jesus, because of love, is doing the opposite of what the Law prescribed, and in so doing He completes it. Love swallows the law.
Jesus violated the Law
There are many examples in the Gospels that show what Jesus meant by the phrase – to fulfill the Law. He was obviously not talking about adhering to every letter of the Law, because on every page of the four Gospels we find Jesus violating the Law of Moses.
- Jesus broke the Sabbath regulations.
- Jesus touched the unclean.
- Jesus ate and drank with sinners.
- Jesus forgave an adulterous woman, instead of condoning the death sentence that the Law of Moses prescribed.
In short, Jesus continually shocked those who religiously tried to keep the Law, by violating it repeatedly.
The healing of the man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, infuriated the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, (Luke 6:9 – 11). Why would Jesus purposely make the religious leaders “furious”? On another occasion, the same religious leaders seemed rather amiable when they suggested, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath”, (Luke 13:14). Why couldn’t Jesus wait one day to heal? The answer is obvious:
Jesus was deliberately confronting those who claimed that the Law Moses was supreme.
In Matthew chapter 23 Jesus harshly rejected the way the religious leaders, because their rules and regulations were hurting people, pushing them away from God. No wonder, the religious leaders saw Jesus as a lawbreaker, a denier of the Scriptures. Jesus, on the other hand, saw His actions as being faithful to His Father.
The foolishness continues
Jesus’ teaching is troublesome for those who insist that we must still today mix the Law and grace, that the two somehow overlap. Here is the crux: If we must keep the Law we are obligated to keep every “jot and tittle” of it (Matthew 5:18). It is not enough to cherry-pick a few favorite commandments.
Every “jot and tittle” is more than the 10 commandments, it involves every detail and ceremonial law. “No graven image” is allowed – there goes all jewelry and statues. You must not wear mixed clothing like wool and linen, only one textile at the time. There are rules for a going to the washroom, for a woman’s menstrual cycle, for disciplining – even killing – rebellious children.
Is there really anyone among us, who wants to keep “every jot and tittle” of the Law?
If you pay attention, you will notice that even those who claim to be Law keepers, at best, are only choosing a few favorite laws. Take heart, because even under the Old Testament, God knew that Israel couldn’t keep the Law, that’s why they were allowed to approach God through sacrifices, rather than by their own good deeds.
Not much has changed in 2000 years. Many Christians are still confused, just like some of the Jewish believers we read about in the Book of Acts. Some exchange Sunday worship to Saturday, thinking that by so doing, they are more pleasing to God. Others think that by wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, they have a better chance of God responding to their prayers. Still others believe that an ‘extra anointing’ is released by blowing the shofar. Others suggest that they have discovered a great truth by starting to keep the Hebrew feasts, or by following the Hebrew calendar.
I’m not going to argue all these points, but simply to recommend that a straight reading of Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians and to the Colossians should cure this disease of religious foolishness.
The law of love
When was the Law of Moses fulfilled and exchanged into the law of love? At Jesus’ death and resurrection! When we understand the depth of what really happened at the Cross, we understand how totally the Law has been put away. Consider this next paragraph care-fully:
At the cross, God, who is the eternal storehouse of Love, poured out His love for every person through the blood and wounds of a Jewish rabbi called Jesus Christ. Love completed the Law and now we are free from it; free to live, to love, to prosper, to receive from God’s goodness.
The Law was not destroyed; it was fulfilled and made obsolete when it was swallowed up in God’s infinite love revealed through Jesus Christ.
For more teaching material by Peter Youngren, click here.