by Steve DuPlessie
“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 tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-20
So to be clear here, Jesus told them right up front: All the old Laws of Moses, all that stuff Moses taught at Mount Sinai, not just the Ten Commandments, but that, plus all the other (Heb.) mitzvot or laws—the 248 positive commandments: the 365 negative commands or prohibitions, 613 in all—they all still stand!
To make sure they understood, Jesus continued, verse 18: “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.” Ok, so other translations that are more literal than the NLT say, “…not an iota, not a dot…” or “…not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
The small print…
Jesus was referring to yod, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, translated as the English letter y, or a keraia, or tittle—just a pen stroke, the tiny hook on some Hebrew letters that distinguishes them, like the tiny pen stroke that distinguishes between a capital O and a capital Q in the English alphabet. So the point is, Jesus said nothing in his teaching, nothing—not even the really tiny stuff—will change or be eliminated from the Law of Moses. It all applies. It all still stands.
Jesus continued, verse 19… “So if you ignore the least commandment…” One of the commandments on the list of 613 is #185, [Lev 11:42] Do not eat non-kosher maggots, (I didn’t know there was such a thing as kosher maggots!) or #606, [Dt 23:13] Every soldier must have a shovel.
So Jesus said, “If you ignore even the least commandment, and you 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!” Verse 20, “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!” Wow!
How is that possible?
So what are we supposed to do with that? Besides the obvious that Jesus took all the Hebrew Scriptures very seriously, Jesus also made it really, really clear to his followers, “nothing changes!” Nothing in the Law of Moses changes, it all still applies. So if that’s the case, then why are we meeting here today and not yesterday? How come I trimmed the corners of my hair, and had bacon for breakfast?
How is it even possible for me to live a more diligent life than a serious minded Jew who not only knows all 613 Mitzvot, but is working really, really hard, every day, to keep every single one of the ones that still apply today without a temple or a priesthood? How can my righteousness possibly exceed a sincere and diligent Jew? In what world would God look at me, or at you, and say that your righteousness is better than the best Jew?
Ahh. There’s the rub…
Of course, I can’t, you can’t, possibly measure up, no matter how hard I try. In fact, the Law of Moses teaches me … that I’m not good enough. I need a savior. Not only a savior to save me, but a power outside of myself to live a righteous, good and holy life before God. And thank God I have a savior, and I have a power…
Jesus said he did not come to abolish or do away with the Law, but he did come to fulfill or accomplish it. He was diligent to do all that that Law required. He didn’t miss any of the 613. He was the first, and the last, human to stand sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22) and without any accusation before his Father in Heaven.
On the cross, where he died for you and for me to bring us to God, he said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Not just the work of saving broken people far from God, but he also accomplished all that the Law required: he was the sacrifice that replaces all the sacrifices mandatory in the Law; he was the priest that is superior to all the priests who had to offer sacrifices for their own sin; and, and his righteousness is transferred to your account, to my account, so his Father can look at you and see that the Law is already fully completed in you—because of Jesus!
So later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “The Law is a schoolteacher who brings you to Christ,” (Galatians 3:24). And he wrote in his letter to the Romans, “…you are not under Law but under grace,” (Romans 6:14). The Law was given to the Jewish people, to reveal God’s holiness; and to show them their own inability to please God, their need for a savior. Jesus accomplished that, fulfilled all of that, so you and I are no longer under the burden, the obligation of the Law.
Our righteousness before God is not based on keeping the Law perfectly, as if anyone could do that, but trusting that Jesus is God’s solution to our sin problem.