Matthew 5:17–18 (ESV): 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.
Jesus’ arrived in a time period where the people of God had not heard the voice of a prophet in around 400 years. He was baptized by John the Baptist in front of a large crowd when the Heavens opened and God said “this is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) From there Jesus’ went on to preach with authority unlike anything that God’s people had ever seen. Instead of emphasizing the Law of Moses as the Pharisees and Scribes did, Jesus gave greater attention to His unique message entitled “the gospel of the Kingdom.” (Matt. 4:23) The Pharisees were threatened by the power of His ministry because the people were seeing that there was finally a “new Sheriff in town.”
It’s not surprising that the contrast between the message of the Kingdom that Jesus preached and what the teachers of the Law of Moses emphasized in their pontifications led people to wonder if Jesus was intending to overthrow the Law and replace it with something completely contradictory. The teachers of the Law used the Word of God to control and manipulate people into obedience to themselves while Jesus healed the sick, delivered people of demons, and called people into true repentance and obedience to the God of Israel. Jesus’ declaration that He came not to “abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them” was likely in response to rumors that His teachings were intended to undermine the Law of Moses. Not only did Jesus refute the notion that His teachings undermined the Law, He took it to a totally different level by claiming that He would fulfill them entirely. The Kingdom of God does not abolish the Law of Moses but rather brings it to its full expression through a New Covenant initiated in Jesus’ blood.
Matthew 5:19–20 (ESV): 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The so-called “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees was based upon external, ritualistic application of the Law of Moses. This inevitably produced the fruit of hypocrisy, selfish manipulation, and outright carnality; the exact opposite of what pleases God. In the Kingdom of God, obedience is not something characterized by merely obeying God in an external, ritualistic sense, but from the heart, and by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. For our righteousness to “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” we need to receive a brand new heart through the gospel of Jesus Christ. From there we can obey the Law of Christ as the full expression of everything God has ever commanded.
Jeremiah 31:31–33 (ESV): 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The good news of the Kingdom of God was that through fulfilling the Law of Moses on our behalf Jesus Christ opened the way for both Jews and Gentiles to obey God from a new and regenerated heart. By obeying the Law of Christ, which is the principle of sacrificial love, we please God in a way that we never could have under the Old Covenant. This does not make the Old Covenant invalid and unworthy of our attention, it’s quite the opposite. It means that the very purpose for which God gave every Commandment is brought to its total culmination in Jesus Christ. The New Covenant established through the blood of Christ recalibrates everything that God ever said into its full expression. Through following the teachings of Jesus and His apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to truly love God and be loved by Him.
The Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom of lawlessness. It’s also not a Kingdom of dead dry religion. The Kingdom of God is a realm in which our hearts are transformed by God’s love and through this experience we are able to have the kind of communion with Him that has always been intended. God is not looking for people to perform for Him with empty rituals and rule keeping. God is looking for people who freely choose to love Him because they realize the love that He had for them first. Even though we are no longer under the Law of Moses it doesn’t mean that we are free to sin as we please. When we love God from a transformed heart we will naturally keep His commandments to love one another and be led by the Holy Spirit in every area of our lives.
Prayer for today: Lord Jesus, deliver me from dead dry religion. Deliver me also from the temptation to abuse Your grace. I want my heart to be transformed more and more by Your love so that I can love You better. Thank you for dying on the cross so that I can be forgiven, delivered, healed, and set free! Guide me to use my freedom to serve others in love, not to indulge in immoral behavior. Empower me with the ability to be an abounding expression of Your love to the nations! In Jesus’ name, amen.