Home Sermon Matt. 5:17-20 Law vs Grace or The Law in Grace
Matt. 5:17-20 Law vs Grace or The Law in Grace PDF Print E-mail

Context is so important. It is from the context that we can discover the authorial intent.  Again, authorial intent is what the author intended to communicate when he was writing the text. As we look at Matthew 5:17-20, it is helpful for us to remember the context of this particular passage. Jesus was teaching his disciples things concerning the kingdom of heaven. His disciples were Israelites who believed in the importance of the Law and the Prophets. So it is not unreasonable to see how the following question would come up. This question is, Have You, Jesus, come to invalidate the Law and the Prophets?


The Law and the Prophets would be considered what we understand to be the Old Testament (OT). In Matthew 5:17 Jesus answers this question.   The New King James translates the passage as follows: " Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."  Two of the key words are "destroy" and "fulfill."  As these words are being used in this context they are to be seen as opposites to each other. If we go back to the Greek word from which "destroy" is translated, we find that it means to "invalidate" or in other words to "render useless." If we look at the Greek word that is translated "fulfill" we find that it means to "give true meaning to" or to validate.  


Thus Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:17 that His coming does not make the OT useless, but rather He will give the OT its true meaning or He validates it. Another way of saying this is to say that the OT is still important. Jesus stressed the OT's importance in two ways. The Law is more than just a set of rules or commandments. It represents the very nature of who we are to be.  All of the laws in the OT can be distilled down to two:  The first and foremost commandment and the second commandment as outlined in Mark 12:30,31.  These commandments are, in essence, that we are to love God with everything we are and then love others as ourselves. The Law by itself could not transform the human heart. The Law could not make people right before God. It only revealed, through the inability of His people to keep the Law, that the human heart was corrupt. The Law is still good and for it represents a total love for God and a love for others, but it is ineffectual in correcting the effects of the Fall. It is only through Jesus' death and resurrection that people are transformed or "born again." (Romans 8:3) Thus, Jesus, through His life, death and resurrection, fulfills the purpose and requirements of the Law and thus fulfills the Law.  The second way Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets is that He both fulfills and will fulfill all of the prophecies of the OT.


In verses 18 and 19 Jesus emphasizes the importance of the OT and that we need to teach the whole counsel of God, not just parts of it.  If that is the case, then the question arises, are we to be still under the OT Law? The answer is "no" and "yes." The answer is "no" because our compliance with the Law no longer determines our relationship with God (or righteousness). (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:24-25; Gal. 5:1-6; Rom. 7:1-6; Gal. 2:19) Our righteousness is through Christ and Him alone. In reference to the "yes," if we distil all of the commandments down to the first and foremost commandment and the second commandment then the first and foremost commandment and the second commandment define who we are to become as an image bearer of Christ and it defines the boundaries of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.


In verse 20 Jesus talks about surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  The key point here is that they kept the Law on the outside but their hearts were still corrupt (Matt. 23:25,26). So Jesus, in the following verses, goes beyond the commandments to the character of the heart. He defines and teaches what the character of the heart should be and will be for those who have been transformed by Christ.    


Thank God for Jesus Christ for two reasons.  The first reason is that it is through His sacrifice that our failure to keep the commandment is forgiven. Secondly is that it is through Jesus that we are given a new heart and that we have been born again. (John 3; 2 Cor. 5:17) This heart is growing in a love for God and a love for others.    



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