“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20, NASB95)
There are some that claim that when Jesus came to fulfill the Law, removing them from the power of the Law, they were then free to practice behaviors that were clearly condemned in the Old Testament. They look at things such as the dietary laws no longer applying to all as equivalent to God’s standard for sexual morality not applying as well. Jesus made it clear here that His coming was not for the purpose of getting rid of the Law and that which the Prophets spoke about, but He came as their perfect fulfillment. As God Himself He reinforced God’s Word as given, and He also pointed to the inability of any man to fulfill all that was written perfectly. He said that the person who did this would have to far surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees who saw themselves as the human standards for righteousness—but whom also Jesus called hypocrites as they themselves did not live to the standard they demanded.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and He alone was able. This did not include the various rules that the religious leaders had added over the years which were above and beyond God’s Word, but it did include all that God had given through His prophets who were moved by His Spirit to record His perfect and inerrant Word. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20–21, NASB95)
Jesus fulfilled the moral law by keeping it perfectly. All that was written about how man was to walk before God in both His behavior and His thought were obeyed perfectly by Jesus. We will read more on this as we move through the next portion of His Sermon on the Mount. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by being the final and complete embodiment of all that the sacrifices and temple worship pointed forward to. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was a fragrant aroma to the Father who was well pleased with His offering. And He fulfilled the judicial law by satisfying once for all God’s perfect justice. The price He paid for the transgressions of man were complete and sufficient to satisfy God the Father for all who believe.
We are no longer to office the sacrifices which the Jews were commanded to offer on a regular basis to God, because Jesus fulfilled this need perfectly. We no longer have to satisfy the justice of God, because Jesus met it perfectly. We are called to live in obedience to His moral laws and to continually give ourselves back to Him as living sacrifices pleasing to Him. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)
God’s grace is truly amazing. If we believed in His Son for our salvation and have placed our trust in Him then we are promised that all of our sins are at that moment forgiven for all time, even the ones not yet committed. But knowing this does not give us an excuse to continue in sin. Paul dealt with this in Romans chapter 6.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:1–14, NASB95)
Jesus said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” On our own this is impossible. There is no way we can meet that standard, nor would most of us even try. But Jesus did meet that perfect standard, and He did give Himself for us to satisfy God’s perfect wrath. He credited to us His righteousness so that we are now declared perfectly righteous before God. Now our calling is not to live under the burden of perfect observance which we cannot meet, but to live according to the grace and power which He supplies, knowing that when we fail we are forgiven and our Advocate is Christ.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:16–18, NASB95)
“Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high. My friends are my scoffers; my eye weeps to God. O that a man might plead with God As a man with his neighbor!” (Job 16:19–21, NASB95)
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:” (1 John 2:1–5, NASB95)
Praise God for His perfect answer in Jesus Christ and for the price He paid for our salvation that we might then live according to His Word by the power of His Spirit.