As we continue today in what it means to live a blessed life, we are going to begin a transition. Up until this week we have been discussing the significance of God changing our hearts. Each of the elements that we spoke about within the beatitudes were spiritual truths that can only be realized in the person of Christ. Becoming the salt and light of the earth and world is not something that you or I can do on our own but is only revealed when we embrace the calling of God in our lives. The passage that we are going to dig into today is similar in nature, yet too easily many look at this passage as element of the spiritual walk that we need to put on, not one that resides within. Our Lord revealing this passage to the believers and to you and me today is for the purpose of changing our intellectual and spiritual perception of what it means to live the law. For many living under the law means living a list of don’ts. For others, the law means authority. However, if one really digs into what the law means to the believer one quickly realizes that it carries neither of these meanings. So, what does the law of our Lord mean to us? What should it mean to us? How do we live within the law of our Lord? Turn with me to Matthew 5 today and let’s see what our Lord means when He says he has come to fulfill the law.
Scripture – Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)
The Fulfillment of the Law
17 “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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 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.
Engaging the Word
The purpose of the Law
So what is the law? Why is our Lord after just discussing something that was focused entirely upon the condition of the heart is now focused upon the Law? Surely he understands that the law was all about appearances and not substance? The first area of truth that we need to embrace here is the biblical truth is that God did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. So why did our Lord come to fulfill the law? What is the purpose of the law? Why do we need the law? If you are an individual appreciates being a law abiding society, you would probably say, well it keeps everybody in check and with that I would agree. However, if you are more of a free spirit or limited government, you would probably point out that too often the law just gets in the way. I would also agree with that perception at times. However when it comes to the law of God, if you spend time in the scriptures it quickly becomes evident that the law of God was given to provide spiritual awareness. It was given by our Lord on Sinai so that the people of God could understand that these are precepts of God, actions which please God and those that do not. It is with this understanding that David wrote in Psalms 19:7 “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. 11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” As I read this psalm from David, the first thing that struck me was how David refers to the law as being refreshing. That it is as precious as gold. As I have walked as a believer in Christ, I have at times struggled with the law of God, the instruction of my Lord. It has at times been hard to abide within because of my own self and at times I have just not understood it purpose within my walk. Yet in embracing the law of God in my life it has become evident time after time how our Lord blesses those who walk in his instruction. More importantly it is evident that walking in the law of God provides a pathway unto our Savior. As David says here in this text, the law of our Lord warns us as believers and provides great reward. The law of God was not given to trip us up, nor was it given to provide frustration in the life of the believer it was given so that we might realize a pathway to our creator. That we might understand the difference between right and wrong but more importantly realize the truth that is in Christ.
Writing the Law upon our Hearts
So knowing that the law was not given to frustrate the life of the believer but to reward them and knowing that embracing the law of God in our lives is a struggle at times; how can we as believers successfully embrace all the law of God? The key to embracing this truth in our life is not about studying the Word, although it is important. It is not about going to church, although that is biblically required. It is about realizing that the law is written upon our hearts. Jeremiah speaks of this truth when he writes in Jeremiah 31:33, ““This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” You see our Lord did not come to speak life into the law rather our Lord was the law and as he was the law, it was in Him that we write the law upon our hearts. It is in him that we now understand what is right and what is wrong. This does not diminish the law within the scriptures but it breathes life to the law within the Word. When the scriptures tell us that our Lord came to fulfill the law, it specifically is telling us that in Jesus we can and do fulfill the law within our hearts. It is through embracing our Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts that the law is written upon our hearts. We cannot fulfill the law in and of ourselves, this is evidenced within the examples of the scribes and Pharisees and even within this text in Jeremiah it says that he will put the law upon our minds. The desire to receive the law upon our minds can only be realized if we search after placing our Lord within our hearts.
Fulfilling the Law within our Hearts
So then how is it that that we as believers still struggle with the law having been written upon our hearts? In verse 20 of this passage our Lord tells us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees then we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. This might seem like a hard text to us at times, because the scribes and Pharisees dedicate their lives to the study of God’s word. We on the other hand spend little to no time actually embracing the word of God. In 2013 the Barna Group conducted “The State of the Bible 2013” study for American Bible Society, using 1,005 telephone interviews and 1,078 online surveys. Within this study they discovered that the majority of Americans (57 percent) only read their Bibles four times a year or less. That only 26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week). If you are one of those that read their Bible regularly then praise God, but if you struggle to embrace the Word of God in your life then I pray that today is a spiritual wake up call. Reading the Bible in itself will not get you into heaven, but if we do not embrace the word of God in our lives, how can his law be written upon our heart? If we do not have the law written upon our heart then how can we obey it? If you have ever wanted to know how our Lord will bring his law to life within our hearts Ezekiel speaks it in Ezekiel 36:27, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Our Lord’s law is written upon our hearts through his presence, it is discovered through his word, but it is brought to life in us through his Holy Spirit according to Ezekiel. If we have ever struggled to embrace the law of our Lord in our lives, here are the three areas in which believers struggle.
- Believers do not embrace the Lord’s writing upon their heart. (Example: Church goers who never experience salvation)
- Believers do not study the law of our Lord and as such do not know the presence of God in their lives. (Example: Christians that drink the milk but don’t eat the meat of the Word. Come to church, listen to the sermons but never seek to search after the heart of God).
- Believers do not embrace surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives. (Example: Believers who eat and drink of the Word, embrace the Salvation of our Lord, seek after his face but fight the workings of the Holy Spirit in aspects of their spiritual walk).
If we are to fulfill the law as our Lord has called us to. If we are to fulfill the presence of our Lord in our lives. This requires that we embrace every aspect of the law within our lives. This requires that we experience salvation within our souls. It requires that we embrace not just the milk of the word but also the meat of his presence. It requires that we obey the presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives so that it might move us specifically to where we need to be.
Anger – the condition of our Heart
In the very next portion of this passage we see as our Lord then moves from embrace the law of God, now to living the law of God and He begins by focusing upon anger within the heart of the believer. The next few passages of text we will be discussing in the coming weeks from anger to lust, to divorce, to oaths, to retaliation to loving our enemies. However because we don’t have the time available today we will begin by just focusing upon understanding anger within the life of the believer. Here in this text, we see as our Lord likens anger within the life of the believer to that of murder. When one reads this particularly within today’s context, it is easy to perhaps question the significance of this text within today’s society. It is very evident that today’s society has allowed anger to capture its attention. From road rage that isn’t just a little fist fight on the side of the road or a bump of a car, but now people shooting at one another on the highways. To kids shooting up their classmates and teachers because they have succumbed to the anger of this world. To church board members screaming and shouting at one another because of disagreements. These are just some of the examples of anger alive and well within our society and our churches. So, knowing this, what specifically is our Lord speaking to when he addresses anger within the life of the believer. Let’s just consider the range of our understanding of anger within the Word. This text here has been translated in a variety of different manners. Anger has been translated to
– Harbor malice – which means to keep a negative thought or feeling about someone in one’s mind or heart.
– Become exasperated – which means to become intensely irritated or annoyed with someone or to become infuriated.
– Enmity of Heart – which means to feel actively opposed or hostile towards someone.
These are just some of the translations that have been spoken into this text and if we take a moment to consider these texts it is evident that it is easy for all of us to have experienced some form of these emotions within our lives. Unfortunately, because we are unaware of the consequences of these sinful emotions within our lives, these actions of the heart have resulted in separation within our homes, our work places, our churches, communities and our nation. It has resulted in the hatred of this world being spilled for the sake of being “right”. It is for this reason that our Lord illustrates for the disciples and for us today that if we embrace the sinful emotions of this world, anger will result in our lives and spiritual damnation our eternity. In fact, our Lord specifically illustrates that to those who call their brother or sister “raca” or fool, they will be cast into the hell of fire. This word for fool has been interpreted a variety of ways from nitwit, blockhead, numbskull, bonehead, brainless idiot. These are all perceptions or judgments made by men for the purpose of belittling another individual, by looking down upon an individual. It is the process of placing ourselves within the position of our Lord so that we can judge those around us and in context, it places our opinions or insights as god’s. It is to this that our Lord tells us to consider that which we think, feel and say towards others.
Reconciliation before Service
Lastly within the context of this portion of this passage our Lord illustrates in verse 24 that if we have found ourselves within the context of this text and seek to give to our Lord; our offerings should only follow once reconciliation has been embraced. What does this mean? For those of us who are involved in ministry, which means all of us, our lives before God can only remain effective before Christ and completely in Christ. When our lives have been divided for the purposes of self-gratification through personal anger towards another brother and sister, the fullness of what God desires can never be realized. Our Lord desires to reveal his mighty hand in each of our lives if we will just place our perspectives, our positions, our worldly emotions at the foot of the cross so that His Holy Spirit might move us in ways that we could never imagine.
Today we have discussed the significance of the Law within our lives. This is not the law of the Pharisees and scribes but rather the law of our Lord that He desires to write upon our hearts, restore within our souls and reveal through our lives. This is law not written by man, but evidence in the person and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in embracing the law of our Lord in our lives, that we can experience a life that is free from the anger of this world. Where we can live the truth love your enemies. These truths are not spiritual challenges for you and me to go home and try to incorporate in our lives, rather they are revelations that if we allow the presence of our Lord to change and mold our lives, He will shape us into a new creation for which none can fathom.