Who likes Change?
For some people, a change is a good as a vacation.
For the rest of us, change is difficult. Especially if the change is being forced on us.
If we have to change, then please, at the very least, let us as least be in control of the change.
The worst though, is when we don’t understand that change. And when we add up all of the factors and the reason for the change our logic says that it is going to end in disaster. How do you respond to that type of change?
Typically, you would fight it.
The Israelite way of life
had a long history. We could go all the way back to Adam, or Abraham, but instead we will only go so far back as Moses in Israelite history.
God used Moses to lead the people out from under the slavery of Pharaoh and into the land that was Promised to them. Along the way, God had to help these people change the way that they thought about life. They were used to being slaves in a foreign country with very little ability to make their own choices and decisions in life.
God’s plan for Israel was to have them be like a City on a Hill, a light for all of the nations. He wanted for them to live according to his righteousness, so that he could bless them and so that all of the world would be blessed by God through them.
The Ten Commandments
are the best example of God’s standard for the Israelites. If they followed these commands, they would enjoy God’s protection, prosperity and they would experience a life that was in many ways supernatural.
Their history is not one of obedience to God though. Instead it was a destructive cycle of apathy, which lead to sin, which lead to loss of protection, which lead to invasion by enemy armies, which lead to the people crying out for help which lead to God sending a judge to save them. And for a while they would worship God, but eventually, the cycle would repeat.
And it seems to be the rule that every time that the cycle would repeat, it would get a little worse. Finally it came to a point where invading armies were used by God to take his people out of their land, so that the land could heal.
When a remnant of the people finally began to return it was devastating to see the state of affairs. The people realized through prophecy that everything that they had suffered was a consequence for their sins. They longed to be prosperous and autonomous once again. But it never seemed to happen. They were consistently under the rule of foreign powers.
A religious and political group of people emerged calling themselves the Pharisees. Their goal was to ensure that the Israelite people would follow God’s law, so that God would once again bless their nation and give them back their autonomy. Over a period of about 400 years, the power of this group grew until it became the standard for righteousness and also a political power with the authority of Rome in religious dealings.
Experts in the Law
The Pharisaical expertise soon began to take God’s law and build upon it. They began to add more clarifying laws, hashing out in excruciating detail how you could obey the law. They were also very careful to give out their approval and authority only to people who met their standards.
The result is that for the nation of Israel, the Pharisees had become the picture of righteousness. Their way of teaching was the way of teaching. It was entrenched in their culture, customs and ordinary every day routines.
A New Rabbi named Jesus
Now, the Pharisaical way of living was being challenged by a young Jewish Rabbi named Jesus. He welcomed people that were ceremonially unclean, he ate with sinners, he didn’t fast on the days they expected him to fast, and he would even help people on the Sabbath days. Worst of all, he forgave sins, which is something only God can do.
Jesus was accompanied by signs and wonders. People were being healed, nature was servant to his commands. Food was miraculously being multiplied. Jesus was attracting massive crowds, and the Pharisees were not impressed.
Here was a change that was being forced on them. And when they did the math and added everything up, they were very concerned about where things were going. They thought that Jesus would undue everything that they and their fathers had done, both religiously and politically.
The Sermon on the Mount
The crowds that came to Jesus were immense. When he saw the crowd he went up onto a mountain. It was there that Jesus found a place to sit down and teach. The mountain was an ideal way to speak to a crowd without the use of a microphone. His voice would carry, everyone could hear.
What would it have been like to have been a part of that crowd? What sorts of expectations did people have for Jesus?
Jesus started off by saying “The poor in Spirit are blessed, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
Remember the Jewish way of life. Everything that they were doing was to regain their prosperity and autonomy. And Jesus says, it’s the poor in spirit who have God’s approval.
It just keeps going from there. Nothing that he says is what they have been taught. Everything sounds so different from the religion that they had. It was like a whole new authority was here. It was incredible because it rang true. Their hearts are hearing what Jesus says, and it’s blowing their minds and resonating in their spirits simultaneously.
The Pharisees must have been steaming mad. Was he trying to undue all of the work? Was he trying to destroy God’s law?
This brings us to todays’ passage. Lets stand and read it together.
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy”
Why would people have assumed this? Because, by all appearances, he was undoing the work of the Pharisees. Because it seemed as if he was proposing a massive shift in understanding God’s law.
Imagine that God’s law is beautiful tent. Some of the teachers assumed that Jesus was figuratively going from tent peg to tent peg, loosening the cords until the whole tent would lose its power and fall down.
Destroy God’s Law?
Actually, when you think about it, it was the Pharisees who were destroying God’s law. They had made the law all about appearances. It was appearing to be good, even if your heart had ulterior motives. They had made the law all about trying to gain prosperity and national independence.
Jesus came to show the beauty and truth of God’s law. And we all desperately need this truth because we all have some remnant of legalism in our hearts. We want to appear good to people, we want for others to think of us as wholly and righteous, regardless of our own motivations. So, we need this truth today, to correct us and to heal us, and to point us to Jesus, the only one who can save us from these desires.
But Jesus says,
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
There are so many different ways in which Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets. It is amazing and beautiful to see how everything comes to its completing and fullness in Jesus.
The entire story of the Old Testament points to Jesus.
A people who couldn’t save themselves who were looking forward to a saviour.
A law that was the requirement of God, but was impossible for any one to fully obey.
Prophets that foretold Christ’s coming.
A sacrificial system that Christ satisfied.
Jesus completes and fulfills the law through his life, death and resurrection. In Christ, we see what real righteousness looks like.
How can a seed be fulfilled. Is it by putting the seed inside of a beautiful case, and taking pictures and putting on display?
The better way for a seed to be fulfilled, or completed, is for it to be given life. It is planted, watered and soon it begins to grow. The plant is the seed fulfilled.
God’s law is not to only be admired, studied and examined. No, it needs to be given life. Jesus came to fulfill the law, to give it life. The full beauty of God’s law is on display in the life of Christ, for he lived it perfectly.
What we will see here, in the Sermon on the Mount, is that God’s desire is for our life to have the beauty, that shining, as well. But it won’t be because of our righteousness, for we failed at obeying the law. It will be because of a righteousness that lives in our hearts by the power of Jesus Christ.
How does that righteousness get there? It is by repenting of our sinfulness and asking for Jesus to save us from our sins, making him the King of our lives.
In fact because of Jesus, we don’t even have to obey the law to be declared righteous. Because, Jesus has obeyed it in our place. What we get to do is obey it as a praise offering, as a way of trusting God with our lives and not as a way of earning our salvation.
The crowd on the Mountain that day did not have our advantage of historical perspective.
Jesus found it necessary to assure them that he did not come to destroy the law or the prophets.
I’ve got a quick question for you all.
Whose law are we talking about here? God’s law.
Whose message were the prophets prophesying? God’s Message
Jesus is God incarnate, he is fully God and fully man. Does it make any sense for him to come and destroy his law and to change his message?
No, he is doing the opposite. He is showing the eternal nature of his truth. He is affirming the inerrancy of scripture, there is not a stroke of a letter out of place in the entirety of the Bible. Furthermore, it’s far more likely that heaven and earth will pass away than that God’s word will be destroyed.
For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.
Luke records it in a way that adds some clarity.
But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out.
God’s word is eternal, because God is eternal. It is unchanging, because he is unchanging. It is faithful, because he is faithful. It is living, because he is living and speaks through his word to all who are seeking.
There is a greater chance that this world will end than that God’s law will pass away.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Earlier I mentioned that the Pharisees had developped a hierarchy of God’s law. They had said that some were great, and some were least. Prioritize the great ones.
That’s what the crowds did in their efforts to be righteous. How could they possibly keep the law?
Jesus speaks directly to this.
Whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
One quick application points here.
When I was growing up my Pastor used to say,
“Jesus is either Lord of All or not Lord at All.”
If we submit to Jesus rule in our life, then we don’t pick which ones of teachings we approve of and disapprove of.
We want to obey every single one of his commands, because we trust him. Not because we HAVE to obey, but because it is BEST to obey, and by his GRACE we will find that he HELPS us to obey.
The Pharisees are the ones who had introduced the idea of “least” commands.
Jesus is probably the first person in history to suggest that the Pharisees weren’t righteous. That they were least. It would have been upsetting, sometimes the truth hurts.
The Pharisees had a version of the law that was extremely destructive. It made relationship with God impossible, because no one could keep the rules. But then, there were all sorts of people pretending that they were righteous, when in fact they were faking it with good deeds.
The Pharisaical system was broken. Its teachers placed burdens and weights on the population that no one could live up too. It was in fact, impossible. Everyone knew it.
But listen to what he says next about this impossible standard that the Pharisees have.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Imagine a river – That’s a picture of the Pharisees righteousness.
Now imagine that river flooding over its banks, the water cannot be contained. That is a picture of the righteousness that Jesus is calling the crowd too.
It’s not enough to match the Pharisees standards. No, entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven requires a righteousness that floods those standards.
In the peoples minds, Jesus is asking the impossible. Not even the Pharisees can live up to their standards, how are ordinary people supposed to exceed them?
I can imagine the shock that would have been on everyone’s faces when Jesus said this. This is a level of righteousness that is unheard of. This is asking for perfection. This is impossible.
This verse says nothing about how we are to live out that righteousness, it just says that we must.
Yet, we all know that we are incapable. Jesus knows that we are incapable.
Jesus Makes Impossible Righteousness Possible.
Imagine that you are on the mountain, in the crowd, listening to Jesus.
• Right then and there you decide that you are going to be his follower. You repent of your sin. You follow Jesus, he is the Lord of your Life.
• You watch what he does, you see how he teaches, he helps you apply the learning.
• And get to experience some of the truths taking hold in your life.
• It is not like you’re perfect, but things are starting to become clear in life, you are starting to understand God’s righteousness through obedience to Jesus.
• After 3 years of this, Jesus is crucified. He is raised to life on the third day. It is amazing to be with Jesus now, he has overcome death, and he is still teaching, his words suddenly mean so much more.
• Then he goes commissions you. Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have taught you.
• Finally, Jesus ascends to heaven, with the promise that he will send his Holy Spirit to empower you.
• You wait with 119 others for this promise. And then, on the 10th day of praying and waiting the Holy Spirit comes on you and the others. You know his power. You hear the wind, You speak his praises in a new language.
• Peter preaches a sermon, and 3000 are saved.
• And now its your job to teach them what Jesus taught you. But you are not alone. God, the Holy Spirit is with you. You are surrounded by a community of people that God has also empowered, the church.
• Could you have ever imagined it that day as you sat on the Mountain, hearing Jesus speak?
• Probably not, you were probably still wondering how you could possibly measure up to God’s standards. But you know. Its not by your power, or your effort. Its because Jesus that you are being made righteous. Your heart has been transformed, your faith continues to be strengthened, and there is an impossible righteousness of God in you that you couldn’t have done on your own.
• You look back over those 3 years, and you say, to God be the glory. This isn’t because of me. This is Christ working in me and through me.
Friends, this impossible righteousness is available to all who will put their faith in Jesus. He will supply it, our only response is to trust him and do everything that we can to follow him. And in the future, we will look back and say, To God Be the Glory, Great things he has done. It’s not our righteousness, its God’s righteousness being formed in us by his power and because of his love.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.