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Clear Words

Clear Words – The End of the Law (Matthew 5:17-18)

Today’s Reading: Matthew 5-6

Today’s Reflection: Matthew 5:17-18

17) “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. 18) For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made many profound pronouncements, perhaps none as profound as this one.  In these two verses Jesus does something incredibly important, challenging and perhaps quite controversial: He ties His earthly ministry to the Law and the Prophets, saying His purpose wasn’t to wipe out the law, but rather to fulfill it.  What does this mean and why is it important to us today?

First of all, the Law and the Prophets was another way of saying the scriptures.  The Law referred to the writings of Moses: the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) also known as the Torah.  The Prophets referred to the writings of God’s prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos and Micah.  In essence Jesus was saying His purpose was to fulfill everything these scriptures spoke of.  The apostle John even explicitly equates Jesus with the scriptures in the first verses of his Gospel account:

John 1:1-3, 14 – 1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2) He was in the beginning with God. 3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 14) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So Jesus is literally, the Word of God made flesh.  The fulfillment, purpose, or end, of every promise God made to man.

Romans 10:4 – For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Some of you may struggle with this as you’ve been told or taught that Jesus ‘nailed the law to the cross’ when He died for our sins.  This is not so, if you read the text that refers to this, it is not ‘the law’ but the record of our sins that was nailed to the cross.  Historically, when someone was crucified a record of the crime for which they died was nailed above them so the authorities could publicly reinforce which behaviours were punishable by death.  But Jesus was without sin or crime.  He died for our sins.  So it was the record of our sins that was nailed to His cross.  With that understanding re-read the text in question (I’ve provided three translations to help you see this idea remains consistent regardless of the version):

Colossians 2:13-14(ESV) – 13) And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14) by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Colossians 2:13-14(KJV) – 13) And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14) Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Colossians 2:13-14(NIV) – 13) When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14) having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

But if you insist that something has changed with the law since Christ, you’re couldn’t be more right.  For Jesus’ fulfilling of the law literally transforms the meaning of everything that was understood in Old Testament times.  We now understand that the purpose of the Ten Commandments and all of the other laws was to promote loving relationships between man and God and between man and his fellow man:

Matthew 22:36-40 – 36) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38) This is the great and first commandment. 39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

We also understand that the symbols central to Jewish religious life find their true meaning in Jesus.  The sacrifices, meant to absolve the people of their sins (Leviticus 4:26) were just symbols for Jesus who became the true sacrifice, giving His life to atone for our sins once and for all (Romans 6:10).  The priesthood represented Jesus, who now ministers in the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf and serves as our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).  The sanctuary, which was made so God could dwell with His people (Exodus 25:8), represented us because Jesus death and resurrection made it possible for Jesus to dwell within us through the gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).  So now we no longer need animal sacrifices, a separate priesthood, or buildings to serve specifically as meeting places with God.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection has fulfilled these things transforming our practice from the old covenant of symbols to a new and better covenant built upon Him.

Hebrews 7:22 – This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

So Jesus erased none of the law.  It ALL remains relevant today but His example transformed the way we understand and practice it today.  I encourage you to look at all of the references back to Old Testament law throughout the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament and embrace the beauty of the law revealed through Jesus and embrace His grace as we strive to understand and keep the law as He would have us do.

John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

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