Texts: Matthew 5:13-20, 48;
Jesus embraced the Law of God given to His people through the lens of God’s unfailing love, setting aside His own wants and His own rights in order that the World might know. The Law had not changed, nor had God’s will changed. God’s application of the Law changed with the advent, the birth of incarnational love into the world, beginning with Jesus, and continuing with the church through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
The change was this: Love came to complete what the Law by itself could not accomplish. Paul elaborates on this extensively in his letter to the Romans when he discusses the experience of living by the law or living by faith. Gentiles, Paul says, become a law unto themselves when by faith they do what the law requires, even though they do not have the law. Such was the case for Abraham, who was called Righteous (the measure of perfection that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount). In Romans 3:19-26, Paul brings it into clear focus:
19 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses and to bring the entire world into judgment before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God’s law, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying it. 21 But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight � not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22 We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. 23 For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. 26 And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.
Hebrews also expands along the same lines on this shift in God’s plan from the covenant of Law to the covenant of Love: 11 And finally, if the priesthood of Levi could have achieved God’s purposes and it was that priesthood on which the law was based why did God need to send a different priest from the line of Melchizedek, instead of from the line of Levi and Aaron? 12 And when the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to permit it. 13 For the one we are talking about belongs to a different tribe, whose members do not serve at the altar. 14 What I mean is, our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never mentioned Judah in connection with the priesthood. 15 The change in God’s law is even more evident from the fact that a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has now come. 16 He became a priest, not by meeting the old requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. 17 And the psalmist pointed this out when he said of Christ, “You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek.” 18 Yes, the old requirement about the priesthood was set aside because it was weak and useless. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, and now a better hope has taken its place. And that is how we draw near to God. 20 God took an oath that Christ would always be a priest, but he never did this for any other priest. 21 Only to Jesus did he say, “The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow: ‘You are a priest forever.'” 22 Because of God’s oath, it is Jesus who guarantees the effectiveness of this better covenant. 23 Another difference is that there were many priests under the old system. When one priest died, another had to take his place. 24 But Jesus remains a priest forever; his priesthood will never end. 25 Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save everyone who comes to God through him. He lives forever to plead with God on their behalf. 26 He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has now been set apart from sinners, and he has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. 27 He does not need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he sacrificed himself on the cross. 28 Those who were high priests under the law of Moses were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:11-28)
Revisit what Jesus says in our text about the law: 17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. 18 I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God’s law will remain until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 “But I warn you � unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all! (Mt 5:17-20)
The Law remains. What has changed is that we are now to live out our relationship to God based upon LOVE – His love for us, Our love for him expressed by our love toward others – neighbors, brothers in Christ, and even enemies. The Pharisees had come to conclude that the Law stood between them and others – and they were right. The Law existed to distinguish the Nation of Israel from those who did not know and serve YHWY. Now Christ comes to become a bridge across the chasm –
14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body F9 through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. F10 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. F11 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually F12 into a dwelling place for God.
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled F5 you F6 to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. F7 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in F8 him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers�all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in F9 him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled F10 in his fleshly body F11 through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him� 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. 24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
In all that we do, we must yield to the Law of Love. When our understanding seems to be in conflict with Love, we must pray earnestly to discern which is wrong – our understanding of the Law, or our understanding of Love.