The Teaching of Jesus. Jesus and the OT.
People tend to want some pretty silly things. I found a top ten list of the wishes people would ask from a genie if they found a magic lamp. Some of the answers were so dumb—like “an identical twin sibling” because they said they wanted a person who would be sweet, kind, and nice to them—they’ve apparently never met actual twins. Another person said they wanted to live in a world of fiction, with superheros and wizards and mythical creatures—they were like, imagine how amazing the world would be if it was more like a Disney movie or the Hunger Games. Well, it’s pretty easy to imagine because someone did all the imagining for me—it would be a world where parents are dead, children are orphans, and unless you’re Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen, you’ll probably be eaten by a dragon or murdered by a one-dimensional super villain. In the top ten list, most people just wished for things that they thought would make them rich or famous or popular—presumably so they would be happier but really so they would feel loved, or if not loved then at least have a lot of sex. People tend to want some pretty dumb things.
But what does God want? What does God want for His people? If God had a top ten list, what would be on it? I mean, we know the things we want God to do for us, but what does God want us to do?
You know, there are a lot of mysteries about the universe and the hidden things that only God knows—but what He wants from us is not really one of them. He made sure we had it all written down. Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Those ancient words we sang about a few minutes ago—the Bible—He’s made it pretty clear what He wants.
66.40.1500.39.27.1 The Bible is 66 books, Genesis to Revelation, it has 40 different authors, it was written over the course of 1,500 years and yet it tells one cohesive story. It’s the story of God rescuing His people from the devastating consequences of sin. There are 39 books in what we call the Old Testament and 27 books in what’s known as the New Testament.
Whenever Jesus or anyone in the Bible makes a reference to “the Scriptures,” or what Jesus calls “The Law and the Prophets,” it’s always a reference to the Old Testament, the first 39 books.
The Old Testament is some history and some poetry. “The Law” is a reference mostly to the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses—the parts of the Bible that tell us how we got into this mess and how God wants people to live. This would include His top ten list, the ten commandments. Then “The Prophets” refers to the stories and preaching and prayers of the people who spoke on behalf of God to everyone else—mostly letting them know how disappointing and stupid they’ve been. The Law explains what God wants and The Prophets let them know how much they sucked at doing it. But the prophets also give us hope. They don’t only talk about God’s anger and judgment, they also speak of His unfailing, everlasting love, His patience and promise to save His people, save the world, and fix everything. Then the New Testament is all about how Jesus is the promised Savior and the way God is actually fixing everything.
So I said all that to get to this point: What are we supposed to do with the Old Testament now?
A lot of people don’t know what to do with it. In his famous book The God Delusion, the popular atheist Richard Dawkins says, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Those are pretty harsh words to throw at God. You have to admit, it sounds a lot like a tantrum—like what an angry seven year old might scream at their mom—I mean, if the seven year old had the vocabulary of a PHD. It’s almost as bad as something you might post in response to someone who disagrees with your politics on social media. Almost.
So Dawkins obviously isn’t a fan of the Old Testament, but a lot of Christians don’t know what to do with it either. God doesn’t seem nice enough. Jesus is a lot easier to deal with—unless you actually pay attention to what He really teaches. If we do, we find that God hasn’t changed His mind about what He wants from us, Jesus is gonna make that perfectly clear as we continue in the Sermon on the Mount.
Here’s today’s text: Matthew chapter 5, 17-20 “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 accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”
Prayer: Father in heaven, we come to Your Word today asking that You would show us what it means for us as we live our lives trying to make sense out of it all. What do You want from us? How are we supposed to understand our place in the world? We ask for wisdom today in Jesus’ name. AMEN
So how does Jesus relate to the Old Testament? And what about us? Now that we have the New Testament, what are we supposed to think about it?
Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law or the prophets—I came to fulfill them, to accomplish their purpose.” It seems like a lot of people hear that verse and it’s like they think Jesus said, “I didn’t come to do away with the Old Testament, and came to do away with it.” “I didn’t come to abolish it, I came to make it irrelevant.” Which makes no sense.
God didn’t send Jesus into the world so we wouldn’t do what He wants. God has the same plan for His people that He’s always had—He wants us to have good lives. Holy lives. Godly lives. He wants us to do the right thing.
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets—to accomplish everything in the Old Testament. He didn’t come to abolish it—to nullify it or make it meaningless. He also didn’t come to simply repeat it and remind us to get our act together, like all the Old Testament prophets did. He came to do something new, something different—to fulfill, to accomplish what they were talking about. The Old Testament doesn’t become irrelevant now that Jesus has completed it and explained where it’s always been headed—it’s more relevant than ever, more important than ever—now we actually get the point. Jesus is the point.
So how are we supposed to regard the Old Testament? Jesus is about to tell us.
He started this teaching off with the beatitudes, the blessings—He said, “You know who’s gonna be saved in this new thing I’m doing in the world? It’s all of you who know you can’t save yourself by getting everything right and bringing your own perfect righteousness to the table.” Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Then He said, “And now that you’re blessed, now that you’re one of my people, one of the members of my spiritual family, the church—now that you’re a Christian—you’re the light of the world and the salt of the earth. You’re gonna shine and preserve and change the world. And you know how you’re gonna do it? I’ll give you a hint—it’s not by ignoring what God told you to do.
That’s the context. Now that you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re the salt and light of the world, which means you gotta start acting like a follower of Jesus. And Jesus didn’t come to do away with all those things God told us to do and not do—He didn’t come to turn down the heat on our responsibilities for how to live a godly life—we’re gonna find that He actually came to turn up the heat and bring it to a full boil.
He’s gonna give some examples of how different religious leaders had been getting the intention behind God’s rules and commandments wrong. He’s not correcting the Old Testament, He’s correcting the interpretation of some different religious leaders—correcting the spin they’ve been putting on it. It’s gonna be those “you have heard it said, but I say unto you” passages that we’ll get to in the next couple of weeks.
God didn’t send Jesus into the world so we wouldn’t do what He wants. He sent Jesus into the world so it would be possible for us to do the right things—so that when we try to do what’s right and it all goes wrong anyway—Jesus takes that failure on Himself so it doesn’t destroy us. God sent Jesus into the world so He could explain the real purpose of all the rules and commandments He gave us—He wants us to know that at the center of it all, the biggest idea in the universe is His love for us. He loves us, He wants us to love each other, He wants good things for us, He wants a good life for us—and He knows we’re gonna keep wanting stupid things, doing stupid things—so He sent Jesus to fulfill the law and prophets for us.
Here’s how it works: The story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story of God saving His people from the certain death and destruction that comes from sin. By one man, Adam, sin came into the world. The story of the Bible is God bringing another man into the world so that it could be saved. Abraham was promised that one of his descendants would be One who brought salvation to all people and every nation. Then we follow the story of his descendants—Isaac, Jacob who was renamed Israel, then the sons of Israel, the twelve tribes who, as a nation, God called His son. When God saved the children of Israel from their slavery to Pharaoh, He said, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” The promise narrows to the tribe of Judah—it will be from this tribe that the Savior will come. Then we follow Israel’s story through the Judges and through the kings—the promise narrows again, the Savior, the Messiah, will come from the line of King David. When the Gospel of Matthew begins, we get a quick glance at this history and then in the most unimaginable and surprising way possible—the promise narrows to a tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem. This is the One. This is Emmanuel—God with us. The Messiah. God’s ways are not our ways.
Jesus is Israel reduced to one man. Everything that Jesus did, from His birth in Bethlehem, the city of David, to His baptism and wandering in the wilderness for forty days, to His teaching, His death on the cross, and His resurrection—it was all the Son of God fulfilling everything that was said in the Law and the Prophets. It was Jesus, as Israel, accomplishing everything for us. He succeeded in every way that Israel had failed. He stood up to every temptation. His sacrifice on the cross is the true sacrifice that all those animal sacrifices had pointed to. His kingship is the reign that all those kings who came before Him failed to achieve. The story of the Bible is the story of Israel struggling with God and the way God brought salvation to the world through Israel anyway. Jesus is Israel. The cross is the apocalypse with every penalty of sin blasted onto Jesus. The resurrection is the beginning of new life and salvation that everyone who believes on the name of Jesus has by faith. Because Jesus raised from the death that was caused by our sins—we have the hope and promise that even if we die, we will also live. There will be a day of resurrection for us just like there was for Him. That’s why death has lost its sting and the grave has lost its victory.
Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament. So, 2,000 years ago, Jesus was sitting on a little mountain in Palestine teaching with the authority of God and He wanted to make something perfectly clear—He didn’t come to abolish all the things that God had already told us, He came to accomplish them. God didn’t send Jesus into the world so we wouldn’t do what He wants. God still wants us to live good lives, do good things, live holy lives.
We are not to ignore what God wants. He said not the smallest detail is going anywhere until its purpose is achieved. He said if you ignore the least of the commandments and teach other people to ignore the least of the commandments—you’re gonna be the least in the kingdom of heaven. Which makes sense—if you don’t do what the king wants you to do, you’re not a great law abiding citizen of the kingdom are you? You’re still in the kingdom—you’re still technically a citizen—but you’re the worst kind of citizen. A criminal. An anarchist. Anyone who thinks the way to get on the good side of the King and do well in the kingdom is by acting like fool and trying to get away with as much sin as possible—anyone who thinks the same God who died to save the world from sin has a casual attitude toward sinning—come on. You’re fooling yourself.
The last thing Jesus says in this text is a warning. He’s about to explain how the Scribes and the Pharisees look at some of God’s commands, and He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Does that sound like Jesus thinks we don’t have to do what God wants anymore?
The Scribes and the Pharisees were not followers of Jesus. This is the important thing to understand—they were not believers. They were the opposite of the poor in spirit and the meek—they thought they had a special deal with God and were very proud. They were not blessed. They were not the salt of the earth or the light of the world. When they tried to do good, they did it for the wrong reasons, they were not following Jesus—who is the only way to the Father. Whatever they tried to do could only bring further shame on themselves, it couldn’t give glory to God.
So, how can your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the religious leaders? The Scribes and Pharisees? How can your good deeds be good enough so you can enter the kingdom of heaven? I would think you’d want to know that. Seems pretty important.
Here’s how we have to believe: We have to live our lives connected to Jesus. Kinda like how Jesus fulfilled and accomplished the Law and the Prophets by becoming all of Israel in one man—all of God’s people now live their lives connected to Jesus. Romans chapter six says that in our baptism we were joined with Christ—in His life, in His death, in His resurrection. Everything we do now, we do connected to the life of Jesus. This is why one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples was, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another the way I have loved you.”
So Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament—not a word of it. It still tells us what God wants us to do—are we supposed to do what God wants us to do? Did God send Jesus into the world so we wouldn’t do what He wants? Why would we not want to do what God wants? Does that really seem like a good idea? God wants good things for us. Jesus is gonna let us in on the true intent behind God’s commands—we’ll start digging into all this next week. He’s gonna talk about anger and murder and sex and revenge—let us know what it actually means to worship God and love people in the real world. Because that’s what we’re supposed to spend our lives doing—to the best of our ability—instead of wasting our life on all the goofy things that aren’t any good for us.
I had a professor one time who told us on the first day of class that our final paper would be due on a certain date at a certain time. He said if any papers were turned in after the deadline they would get a zero and we would fail the class. He asked if there were any questions about when the paper was due and what would happen if we were late—no one had any questions. Then he said, “Some of you are gonna come to me the day before the paper is due and ask for more time, you’re gonna want a grace period—here’s the only grace you’re gonna get—I’m telling you 16 weeks before it’s due that I won’t accept it if it’s late.” Maybe I should have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain professor who told his class when their paper would be due.”
So God has been perfectly clear with us, but when we fail, there is gonna be mercy. We will never get very far before we have to go back to the doorway—back to the beatitudes—Lord, forgive me, once again I am spiritually bankrupt, a sinner in need of grace, in need of Your blessing, once again I am poor in spirit. And once again God will look at you, just as I am now, and say, “Because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven.” Now get up, and go try again.