After appointing the twelve we see Jesus comes down from the mountain and is greeted by a great crowd of people. His fame had spread considerably and his ministry was well into stride at this time.
At this point he is about to commence what has become known as the sermon on the mount. As we often see, God confirmed the message by the miracles and the signs that were performed. Here in this section of scripture all the people sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed all who were ill with diseases or possessed by unclean spirits.
Once this cleansing work was done Jesus settled down to teach the people the truth of God and the message of the New Covenant. His message was a remarkable message for it was so different to that taught by the scribes and Pharisees. I was considering this earlier today and it struck me that the difference between what the Pharisees and scribes taught and what Jesus taught can be seen in the scripture in Matthew 5:17, which is part of that writer’s version of the sermon on the mount. Matthew wrote, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” I had never before today recognised how profound this statement is and my mind began to reel with the understanding of this scripture, which I will attempt to explain.
Jesus said to the people that, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:2-3) So he is saying that the scribes and Pharisees were teaching the law, but not very good at keeping it. Why? Because they approached the law as if it were based upon works. They were KEEPERS of the law, that is, they were COMPLIANT to what the law taught by doing what is required, that is by doing the works of the law.
But in Jesus we see a man who did not come to just keep the law, but to FULFIL the law. Think about the word “fulfil” for a moment. To fulfil something is to be completely and totally immersed in it; to live it or to be filled fully in it. The Lord asked the Pharisees at another time which is the greatest of the laws and we found that it was to love God and to love your neighbour. Paul also said, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) So when Jesus fulfilled the law he did so by living a life of love, which is to be in the nature of God for God is love.
But the Pharisees, indeed Israel in total, failed because they did not approach the law from the perspective of faith but as if it were based upon works, as Paul wrote in Romans 9:31-32. Now this is important for Jesus certainly approached the law from the basis of faith, but how does this work? Well first you must believe that the law is the right thing to do and it is what God wants. If you don’t do that, then you are like a Pharisee and just a keeper of the law. But when you BELIEVE it is right, not just because it was written on tablets of stone but because it is the right thing to do, then you internalise the law and live “in it” and FULFIL it rather than living “by it” and UNDER it. You do what is right no longer because the law says, “Thou shalt…” but because you say to yourself, “I shalt…” because it is the nature of God. And when that transformation takes place you no longer need the law for you do by nature what the law requires. You become committed rather than compliant and so prove the truth of the love that is in the laws of God. For the law is based also upon love. God gave the law to his people because he loved them and wanted them to live the best life possible. The law gave them boundaries so that they would not hurt themselves or others and this was based on God’s love. He did not give them the law as a stick or a set of manacles to bind them, albeit there is an element of bondage under law, but instead he gave them the law to protect and free them from sin by defining sin so they could escape it and do right. Most could not see this.
But who needs to be told by a law to do right when you do by nature what is right? Does God need a law to tell him right from wrong? No, because the law was laid down for the unjust and ungodly; for sinners and not for the righteous. It was laid down so that sin would be revealed for sin and could be dealt with and also so that God’s wisdom and knowledge between right and wrong could be taught to the people for their growth and protection. But when Jesus came he released those people from law who come to him so that they can learn to “live” what is right and not just “do” what is right.
This is also why Paul wrote “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31) Jesus set us free from the law through his death and baptism so that we could be transformed into his image by the Holy Spirit. But even though we are not under law we do not throw it away. Rather we become immersed in God’s love as we learn and grow, and through the transformation of the Spirit we find the place where we stand as Jesus stood; in fulfilment of the law. When we walk in Spirit we are applying the love of God to the weaknesses in our nature to overcome those problems in us that lead to failure and sin, so that we can be made perfect as Christ is perfect. But God has done this beforehand so that we first receive this righteousness by faith, and in time we will receive it by fact.
There is much more I am discovering about this matter and it is a great revelation. I hope you find value in this too and as the Lord unfolds this to me I will share it with you for your thoughts and comments as you see appropriate.