Jesus and the law: What can we learn?

Holy Bible
Image via

This post is #15 in the Sermon on the Mount Series.

Based on their own understanding of the law, the Pharisees struggled to see how Jesus’ behavior fit into that law. He allowed his disciples to eat without ceremonial washing. Jesus allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath. Jesus himself performed healings on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were flummoxed about this behavior and came to the conclusion that Jesus was setting himself above and outside the law that they cherished.

To this accusation Jesus responds:

Matthew 5:17–19 “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.” (NASB)

There are a few things that I take away from this passage:

  • In these verses Jesus validated what we know as the Old Testament. Answers in Genesis has an excellent article entitled Jesus Christ on the Infallibility of Scripture which details Jesus’ use of the OT in his teaching. Rather than provide a list of references where Jesus used the OT, you can follow the link and read them there.
  • Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of the OT prophecy. You can agree or disagree with the truth of this claim. This brings us to the classic C. S. Lewis trilema, where Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or he is Lord.
  • Jesus tells us that everything will be accomplished as God has laid it out. There is nothing that anyone can do to thwart God’s plan, the rhetoric from both American political parties notwithstanding.
  • Jesus takes the law very seriously and we set it aside to our peril. This one in particular causes me to pause and reflect. Do we take the Old Testament law seriously? Are we living out the principles? Like many evangelicals, I can be quite cavalier about things like the Sabbath rest, thinking that we are not under law but under grace. While this is true, am I violating the spirit of the law behind the Sabbath? Am I taking the prescribed rest? Am I resting in the goodness of God to provide?
  • I am responsible for what I teach the next generation. If I make it acceptable to disrespect the law, I will lose standing in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a huge responsibility.

Biblical illiteracy is rampant both within and without the church today. What Jesus is saying is that we ignore the Old Testament to our peril. When the homosexual community states that nowhere in Scripture is the homosexual act condemned, they get away with this statement because a majority of those who claim to be Christians have never read the Bible. Anyone who has read it without an agenda would know this to be a false statement. It is our illiteracy that makes us vulnerable to this attack.

Jesus is saying that anyone who claims the name of Christ will be held responsible for how he responds to Scripture and how he teaches others to respond to it. We better take that responsibility seriously. There is a lot riding on our getting it right.

Discussion Question: Do you think that we get this right? Do we need to change how we approach the Bible in general and the OT in particular?