Jesus and the Bible | Matthew 5:17-20
Topic: God's Word Scripture: Matthew 5:17–20
Good morning, Church. Children ages Preschool-2nd Grade can be dismissed out this door to your right for Children’s Church. I hope you heard those lyrics: “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to the Cross I cling.” Wow. We cling to the Cross because it’s our hope, our joy, our righteousness. Man, I cling to it. Great song. I love singing with you as a church, worshipping God, getting into the Word together, and even just spending time together.
I hope you are planning on coming tonight to our Park Day at Hitt Park in Greenwood. In case you haven’t heard, we’ll be there from 5-8pm. We’ll actually be at a different part of the park this time. There’s horseshoes, basketball, sand volleyball, and a large playground for kiddoes. So come, bring your own drinks, a side like chips or fruit to share, and we will provide the hamburgers. It’s just a perfect way for all of us to just fellowship and catch up on life, and especially if you’re new to Raintree, I’d highly encourage you to come and have some fun with us!
The other thing I want to mention before we get to the Word is that I want to ask you to be praying for three potential new deacons we have: They are Duane Dodrill, Scott Connell, and Amy Connell. Not only are the elders praying about them being potential deacons, but we also want to openly ask you to bring to us any thoughts or concerns about these three potentially becoming deacons. I know that’s an odd thing to ask, but according to Scripture, the qualifications for deacons are almost identical to that of elders. In other words, deacons don’t have to be perfect at all, but we want to make sure that, as far as we can possibly know, they reflect Christ in their lives. So come talk to us about any thoughts or concerns, and again, be praying for them and for the elders. We’ll likely vote as a church and confirm them as deacons at the Family Meeting on June 26th in 2 weeks.
If you remember, we started a new series in the Sermon on the Mount two weeks ago. We started with the Beatitudes, a list of blessings that Jesus gave, then moved to how we are the salt and light of the earth, how we’re to delay decay, and how we’re to shine the light of Christ everywhere, not hiding it or being embarrassed of Christ. Today we’re going to look at what Jesus had to say about the Bible. You see up to this point, in Jesus’ most important sermon, the most important sermon of history, the Jews listening in are likely wondering, “What about the Law? What about the Torah? The Old Testament? Jesus, you’re preaching about you. What about the Law?” This is why Jesus responds as he does, which we’ll read in just a moment.
But, today, in our culture, there are those who struggle with too much of a focus on their own version of God’s Law or God’s Word, like the Pharisees. Maybe our version of this is reading into the Bible sometimes what we want to see instead of what might actually be there. We can project our desires into the Word, instead of simply seeking what God is communicating. But, there are also many who struggle with having any respect for God’s Word at all, outside of maybe what Jesus said.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, and I believe I said it myself in high school, that they love Jesus but just don’t love the Bible. Or they’ll say something like “Jesus is my God; the Bible is not.” Now, that’s technically true, but they mean more than just what they’re saying when they say that. When we make that strong of a distinction between loving God and loving the Bible, it’s like saying about my bride Lauryn that, “Man, I love her so much. But when she opens her mouth…ugh! I love her; I just don’t love when she talks.” Or, “I love her, but I don’t really care what she says.” That wouldn’t go over very well for me, would it? An attitude like that does not exactly reveal a healthy relationship between me and my wife.
In the same way, loving Jesus without loving the Word and all the Word reveals an unhealthy relationships. It reveals a problem. Because not only do we believe that the Bible is God’s communication to His people, His primary way of speaking directly to people, but Jesus Himself also had very specific things to say about the Bible, and I’m talking about the entire Bible, Old Testament included. So if today you do struggle with taking the whole Bible seriously (maybe you’re ok with what Jesus said, but not sure about the rest, or you’re ok with most of it, but not all of it), I hope this will be a particularly helpful thing to hear directly from Jesus Himself– what He thought about the Bible as a whole. So let’s turn to Matthew 5 together; we’ll be reading verses 17-20. Matthew 5:17-20.
“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. 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. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So, from this text, Jesus gives us four very strong thoughts on what He thinks about the Bible. The first is this:
- All of God’s Word points to Jesus.
Look at verse 17 again: “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.” This is an incredibly important statement from Jesus. This new so-called prophet, Jesus, who was intriguing in every way, because he didn’t identify with any of the religious sects or movements of the day, the biggest question for many of the Jews about Jesus was: what is his take on Moses and the prophets? What about the Law?
You see, the rabbis and other religious leaders of the day were so focused on external acts and conforming to this list of rules and regulations that had little to nothing to do with the heart, and suddenly Jesus came along and was preaching and teaching about the heart, and even seemingly to disregard the Law, or at least what the rabbis and Pharisees considered the Law, which wasn’t just the Old Testament, but also all their own little additions and explanations of the Old Testament. So, what did Jesus think about the law?
Some wanted to hear him affirm their version of the Law– the scribes and the Pharisees. Others wanted to hear him completely denounce the Law, or at least say he was here to overturn it and start a completely new standard for living. Unfortunately for most of his listeners, he did neither!
He said, “Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the law or the Prophets.” The word for “abolish” means to “destroy.” (kataluo). The Law and the Prophets is the Jewish way of referring to the whole Old Testament. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Law, the Law and the Prophets, Moses and the Prophets; all of these terms refer to the Old Testament canon of Scripture. So he’s saying very clearly, “I’m not hear to destroy the Old Testament, or render it irrelevant at all.” In fact, what does he say? “I’ve not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them!”
Now this is a BIG deal. Put yourselves in the shoes of some of those listening for a moment. You came to fulfill the Old Testament? What does that even mean? There are several things he meant. The word for “fulfill” is (play-ro-oh). This word is used lots in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. It’s used in multiple different ways. It’s used to reveal that Jesus has fulfilled what the Old Testament prophesied about him. But it’s also used in a bigger way. Jesus not only fulfilled what God spoke through the prophets about Him, like others who fulfilled what the Old Testament prophesied about them, John the Baptist being a good example. It’s more than that. Jesus fulfilled the ultimate goal of the entire Old Testament. He brought the entire story of Israel to completion! Jesus completes all of Scripture.
This is why Jesus said, I’m not here to change things up or destroy the Old Testament. I’m the point of the Old Testament and what now is new! I’ve said this before, but it’s a good picture to remember: The Old Testament points forward to Jesus; the New Testament points back to Jesus. All of God’s Word points to Jesus.
So Jesus lived God’s Law perfectly, he fulfilled what was prophesied about Him, but, ultimately, even more than those things, he said, “All of the Bible is about me. All of God’s Word points to me. That’s the first thing we learn from Jesus’ own understanding of the Bible. The second is this:
- All of God’s Word is unchanging.
In our world, everything changes. Especially in the 21st century, everything changes constantly. The economy’s reliability, society’s priorities, cultural expectations and worldview, everything is constantly shifting. Just think about our own lives- financial situations, family relationships, a child’s development, even our day-to-day experiences cannot be expected to stay the same.
But there is one thing that Jesus says does not change. Verse 18- “For truly, I say to you.” The modern equivalent for that is “For real, listen to what I’m going to say.” Or “For rizzle, seriously”. “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.” Did you hear that? Until the end of the world as we know it, the Word of God is absolutely unchanging.
Now it’s worth noting that what Jesus specifically refers to here is the Old Testament. As I mentioned already, “The Law and the Prophets” were how the Jews referred to the Old Testament. So Jesus is saying that the Old Testament is unchanging. But, we can also conclude that this is true of the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, particularly because Jesus, in Matthew 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” So in the New Testament, we see Jesus implying that his own words and the words of the apostles have equal authority to the Old Testament. So, that’s why we say here that ALL of God’s Word is unchanging.
So “not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law”, from what God has said. An iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. Its Hebrew equivalent is the yodh, which is also the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (In case you don’t know, the Old Testament was written in Ancient Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek, for the most part). Not an iota, not a dot. A dot, or a “stroke.” This is like the stroke of a pen, the smallest, the smallest mark you have to make with any letter. Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until ALL is accomplished.
This is the strongest statement from Jesus in the New Testament on the fact that the Bible is absolutely God’s Word, both inerrant and infallible– Both without error and totally trustworthy. Every prophecy, every commandment, even the most insignificant parts of the Bible will be accomplished. So do we really have to believe that all of the Bible is God’s Word? Do we really need to see all of it as important? Well, Jesus did. So yes, I think if Jesus did, then we should do.
Maybe you’ve thought before that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New. Or at least, that the Bible has changed in its presentation of who God is. That’s not it. It’s all one story of redemption, and of the same God who sent His son to die for sin. It’s all one story, and the truth of this story is unchanging. This brings us logically to the third thought from what Jesus Himself said about the Bible:
- All of God’s Word is infinitely relevant.
Verse 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.”
Not only is the Bible all one story that points forward and backward to Jesus, and not only is the Bible unchanging and absolutely reliable, but it’s also infinitely relevant! This is not just a book of history, or a book that we can trust; it’s a book that we’re to live! Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
This book is alive. It’s the Holy Spirit’s primary tool in changing lives! We’re to live and to teach every bit of it. All of it! Jesus wants this point to come across so strong that he says, those who relax even the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of God. This means any and all of the Word of God; we’re not to diminish or disobey ANY of it! “But Ryan, we don’t really have to take the Old Testament seriously, right? I’m more of a red-letter Christian.” That’s actually a really common thing now, people saying that they’re ok with believing and following what Jesus said, but not everything else, necessarily.
The problem with this is that Jesus himself makes clear here that all of God’s Word is from God. He Himself actually refers to the Old Testament more than 60 times. He so clearly attaches himself to the Old Testament, as we talked about in the first point, that to say that the Old Testament isn’t relevant is to say that Jesus isn’t relevant! To accept Jesus’ relevance, you must accept the relevance of all of God’s Word. To put this in the language of the Sermon on the Mount: we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and we must accept what the King says! He says all of the Word of God matters, and will always matter.
I know it may seem like only parts of the Bible are relevant to you, right now. It’s easy to read it sometimes and think, “What does this have to do with me?” So how is it that ALL of God’s Word is relevant? A great verse that I think answers that is 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The entire Bible reveals to us God’s character, the history of God’s redemptive power, and also His will for his children. All of it is relevant because all of it reveals absolute truth, and ultimately, all of it transforms the life of the Christian. All Scripture adds to making the man or woman of God complete. If you’ve ever tried reading through the Bible, or maybe you’re on some sort of reading plan, most of the time you’ll finish having several things in mind that apply directly to your life.
But sometimes, it’s easy to open the Bible only having me in mind. Like OK, God, I need something for me to do today. The Bible does transform lives and the Bible does give us how to LIVE for Him, but not always by giving us three things to do differently every single day. Sometimes it’s in reading an entire book of the Bible over weeks or even months that God teaches you one grand truth about who He is. A perfect example, a book I’m hoping to go through as a church sometime within the next year, is the book of Exodus. You can learn plenty in reading this book, but ultimately, God teaches one grand truth by the time you get to the end of the book, and that is that God relentlessly rescues and protects his children. We may not always feel in the moment of reading the Word that it directly applies to me, but we can know, ultimately, the knowledge and wisdom we’re going, will great transform us in the long haul.
This book is not a microwave for changed lives. It’s not a McDonald’s—you jump order, scarf down the food, and move on. The Christian life is rarely drastic change from day to day, sometimes it is, upon rare occasion. Generally, though, God is transforming us from one degree of glory to another, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it. I know how many times I tried reading the Bible, and I’d try it for like a day or two, maybe a week, then I’d say, “Yeah, it just didn’t really appeal to me.” You kidding me, young Ryan? Or more young Ryan? Don’t try it for a week; try it for a year. For that matter, don’t “try” it at all!
Instead, trust that God will teach us what He wishes and change us as He wishes, in His timing and in His way. What we can know for a fact is that ALL of God’s Word is absolutely relevant. And we need to read it and see God for who he is. Not read so we can say we read it. If you’ve ever tried to follow a plan or read the Bible consistently, you may know how easy it is to just read it to check it off your daily spiritual list. Doing it for that reason will cause us to be legalistic. We will understand our place before God as dependent upon whether or not we read the Bible that day. Please, read the Word, dig into it, but don’t just do it to make yourself feel self-righteous. Read it to pursue Christ, and pursue lives of holiness that glorify God.
I know we’ve grown so accustomed to a very fast-paced society with guarantees for quick results or your money back. Sometimes, when we open the Word, we expect that from God, without realizing that God just wants us to STOP and be still. Psalm 46:10 is up on the wall in our house. It says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes I can’t help but think that’s the main thing He wants us to do. Just STOP! Slow down long enough to rest yourself in the truth that you are a child of God, not because of anything you did or how well you’re performing in the race of life, but because of His mercy in Christ. That’s part of why my heart for how we do Sunday mornings is NOT a fast-paced performance-driven, perfect, slick machine. Because we need some time and some place to stop, and be still, let the worries and the anxiety of life be seen through the lens of Jesus, and if that place isn’t the church, I don’t know where it would be. All of God’s Word is infinitely relevant, even when it doesn’t give us what we want right then and there when we want it. The last thing we can learn from what Jesus says about the Word of God:
- All of God’s Word transforms hearts.
Verse 20- “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What does Jesus mean by this, and what does it have to do with God’s Word transforming hearts?
The Scribes and the Pharisees cared about God’s Law. There is no doubt about this. Most of them had a genuine concern for God’s Law, because they thought that’s what God wanted. The problem though, is that when they realized that God’s Law was impossible to truly follow perfectly, they added their own details as to what it meant to obey the Law, so they could measure themselves on whether or not they were in fact obeying. They added all these specific, measurable rules and regulations so that they could know they were living up to the Law, or at least their version of it. Adding rules they could actually measure for themselves brought them a sense of control.
All the while, they miss the heart of Old Testament teaching. There are many specifics to God’s commands in the Old Testament, but the core of it is that God wants our hearts! He wants obedience, yes, but first obedience of the heart! Even Jesus, when he expounds upon some of these Old Testament commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, which we’ll see over the next few weeks, he’s not really changing them! He’s getting at the heart of these commandments, that God doesn’t just want external obedience; he wants our hearts.
Think about in Matthew 22 when one of the Pharisees who was a lawyer asked Jesus what were the greatest commandments. Jesus’ answer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Then, the second is like it, to love your neighbors as yourself.” They didn’t ask Jesus to sum up just generally what he thought was most important in life; they asked him what were the most important commandments of the LAW! And this is how he answers… This LOVE that God wants from us is the heart of the Law! Isn’t that just weird to think about?! The Law, the Old Testament Law that we read sometimes and think, man, I’m glad I’m a New Testament Christian. This Law is summed up in that we’re to love God with everything we are.
The Pharisees wanted to measure their ability to obey the Law. Why? Because it made them confident in themselves! And as I mentioned, it gave them a sense of control and even comfort. If they obeyed exactly how many steps they were allowed to take on the Sabbath, they could go to sleep knowing they were righteous by their actions. There’s a reason, though, that God’s commands are often immeasurable, or at least they’re often impossible to obey perfectly. Ultimately, it’s because God wants to point us to Christ and our inability to truly follow the Law in such a way as to earn favor with God. But, it’s also because God wants us to love Him, this immeasurable God, with an immeasurable thing. All of our heart, mind, affections, glad obedience and submission.
This is what Jesus means when he says that the righteousness of a Christian, even the very least of a Christian, must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. He doesn’t want merely external obedience. He wants our hearts. If you’re here today, and you don’t where your heart is, or you don’t know what you desire most, or what has most captivated your affections right now. I encourage you to do one thing: Open God’s Word and see who He is, because ALL of God’s Word transforms hearts. It’s the primary tool the Holy Spirit uses to change lives.
The scribes and the Pharisees had fooled themselves. The ultimate question for us to ask when it comes to our faith: Are we fooling ourselves? Do we really think that God is somehow impressed by our goodness? Or our looking like good Christians? God wants our hearts. Jesus loved the Pharisees just like he loved the rest of the world, but he vehemently denounced superficial obedience and faith.
In Matthew 23, Jesus said this to the Pharisees in verses 25-27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” He goes on, in case they didn’t quite get the picture already: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
A question we must ask ourselves: Am I a whitewashed tomb? Trying to act alive and beautiful, but really just dead, unclean? God says: “Come to me as you are. Repent from your sin, trust in Christ, and you will be saved. Not just on the outside; I’m not throwing a bunch of paint on a tomb; I’m raising you from the dead. You are alive and righteous because of Jesus.”
There is no doubt that the Word of God, the Bible, is not something that we just decided one day to put up on a pedestal, and feel good about having something written down to tell us how to live. This truly is God’s holy and inspired Word. To ignore it, is to ignore God. Jesus Himself is the point, the climax, of the whole Bible. His Word is unchanging, infinitely relevant, and it has the power to transform hearts. My main question for us today is a simple one: do we open it? Do we read it? Do we let God captivate our hearts by it? Or does it sit on the shelf?
Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord.” Let’s pray for just that.
More in Sermon on the Mount
October 2, 2016The Scariest Passage in the Bible | Matthew 7:13-23
September 25, 2016The Golden Rule and the Narrow Way | Matthew 7:12-14
September 18, 2016Asking for the Good Things | Matthew 7:7-11