Christ Fulfills Scriptures
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, May 11, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
In this study we will consider Matthew 5:17-20. In the previous section, Jesus demanded that his disciples--the citizens of God's kingdom--function as the salt of the rotten, rotting earth and the light of the deep darkness of the world. And he said that as they functioned as salt and light, the world would see their shining, meaning their good works, and glorify the heavenly Father.
In this section of Scripture Jesus sets forth his mission in relation to the Scripture. He speaks about himself and his relationship to Scripture and demands that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees so that we may enter the kingdom of heaven.
How to Make the Word of God Null and Void
As we read the gospel accounts, we notice that many times Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees and teachers of the law on their interpretations of the Holy Scriptures. The teachers of the law, also known as scribes, were the professional theologians of the time, yet they often disagreed with Jesus. The Pharisees were religious separatists who considered themselves holier than everybody else. They were punctilious in their observance of the law, at least in their own minds, and after looking into the Old Testament, they came up with 613 commandments which they codified and elaborated upon. They imposed their own ideas and oral traditions on the Holy Scriptures so much that their traditions became, in their minds, superior to and more authoritative than the Holy Scripture itself. Thus, they made Scripture null and void by their rationalization.
How did the Pharisees nullify the word of God? Let me give you an example. The Scripture requires that we honor our fathers and mothers, which means that we obey and support them. It also means that we don't put them in government accommodations when they are elderly. We are to take care of them rather than warehousing them and sucking up government money for their care. But when the Pharisees interpreted the fifth commandment, they said, "You know, you can dishonor your mother and father. You don't have to care for them at all. You can just rationalize and say, 'What was due them you have given to God.' You don't even have to give it to God, but at least tell them that is what you did."
This was how they made the word of God null and void by their own traditions. And there is no question that Jesus Christ opposed all such rationalization. Jesus constantly opposed the Pharisaic evisceration of the word of God. In fact, he came to defeat their attempt to destroy the Scripture. Jesus' mission, which he reveals in this section of Scripture, was to uphold, establish and fulfill the Scripture. Thus, he opposed the attempt of the scribes and Pharisees to destroy Scripture by their own human opinions. God's word requires us to honor our parents as well as to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Upholding the Scripture
The purpose of the incarnation of Jesus Christ was to glorify God the Father by fulfilling his Scripture, so Christ opposed any false view of the Scripture. He did not come to abolish God's word and give some new messianic law to his disciples. He did not come to bring about the disintegration or destruction of Scripture.
The purpose of Christ's mission was revealed in Psalm 40:6-8: "Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come--it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.'" Jesus came to fulfill and uphold God's word.
The Authority of Scripture
What does it mean to uphold the Scripture? First, we must affirm the authority of Scripture. Jesus Christ believed in the inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture. In the Bible the Scripture is referred to as the Law, the Law and the Prophets, and the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. All of these terms stand for the Old Testament. So when Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets," he was affirming that the Scripture, meaning the Old Testament, has permanent validity and authority until the end of the age, and that it is permanently valid in its entirety as well as in its particular details. Its smallest letter, which in the Hebrew language is the letter yod , or even the smallest part of a letter, has permanent validity, power, and authority, according to Jesus Christ.
Jesus believed in the verbal inspiration of the Scripture. That means that the infallibility, inerrancy, authority, and power of Scripture reaches to every word as well as to every thought in the Holy Scripture. Every word is of divine breath and is, therefore, valid in its relationship to all the other words.
Peter spoke about this in his second epistle when he said that the Scripture did not come from men. Men did not make it up as if they were writing a novel. It is not their own creation. Peter says, "Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). Paul said the same thing in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that all Scripture is God-breathed and therefore profitable.
Upholding the Scripture
So there is the infallibility of Scripture, the validity of Scripture, the permanence of Scripture and the power of Scripture. Jesus was not a theological liberal whose job it was to take apart the Scripture--which in the Greek is kataluo--and cause its disintegration, nor was he interested in destroying the authority of Scripture, as many theological liberals do. Why do theological liberals destroy the authority of Scripture? So that they can sin freely. And I believe that evangelicals join the liberals when we refuse to submit ourselves to the power and authority of the Scripture by carrying on our own sin while paying lip service to the doctrine of the inspiration and the authority of Scripture.
Jesus came to uphold, establish, conform to and fulfill the Scripture. Thus, if anyone questions the authority of Scripture, he questions the authority of the Son of God himself. It is impossible to destroy Scripture and yet believe in Jesus as the Son of God. We know that Jesus believed in the Scripture. He believed in creation out of nothing and in the creation of Adam and Eve by God. He believed in the fall of man and in the miracles of God. It was Jesus who said in John 10:35, "The Scripture cannot be broken." Why did he say that? It is impossible to destroy Scripture's validity, power, authority, and permanence.
Jesus Interpreted the Law
Jesus' mission, then, negatively put, was not to destroy the Scripture. Positively, his mission was to fulfill the Scripture. Jesus came to do the will of God as revealed and predicted in the Scriptures, to fulfill its ethical demands and messianic predictions.
How did Jesus do these things? First, he came to interpret Scripture correctly for us. In Jesus Christ we discover the correct meaning of the Scripture. He is the sole interpreter of it and he did this in his teachings. The scribes and Pharisees misinterpreted the Scripture. In Jesus Christ alone we find its true meaning because he is the truth.
Jesus Kept the Law
Second, Jesus came as one who was under the Law. God the Father placed his eternal Son to be under the Law in order that he may render full obedience to it, which he did. In fact, Jesus challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law: "Can anyone convict me of sin?" No one could.
Although Jesus was crucified as a lawbreaker, he kept God's Law. He was perfect and blameless and kept the Law perfectly on our behalf. That is the reason his perfect divine righteousness can be imputed to everyone who believes in him.
Jesus Fulfilled Prophecy
Third, Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures in the sense that he fulfilled its predictions. Not only did he keep the law perfectly, but he also paid the penalty for our sins as our substitute. All of Scripture from Genesis to the end of the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. Every sacrifice mentioned in Scripture points to him.
Jesus fulfilled the Scripture that declared that the soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18). The wages of sin is death, but Jesus Christ, the only one who knew no sin, became sin for us and suffered death on the cross as the accursed one in our behalf. Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures that pointed to his suffering on our behalf as we read particularly in Genesis 3:15, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53.
All Scripture points to Jesus. On the road to Emmaus Jesus spoke to two disciples, as we read in Luke 24:27, "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." And in verse 44 we read, "He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms," meaning the entire Old Testament.
Jesus Enables Us to Fulfill Scripture
Fourth, Jesus fulfills Scripture even now by enabling us to fulfill it. By that I am not saying that we can keep the Law as a covenant of works in order to be justified. No, we can never do that. Why? Because we are born sinners. There is none righteous, as we read in Romans 3. We are all rotten even as we come from our mothers' wombs. We are born perverse, crooked, self-centered, rebellious, and stubborn--enemies of God's law and incapable of submitting to it. But if we trust in Christ, we are justified by grace through faith in the person and work of Christ. And this is the covenant of grace in which we glory!
But as people justified by Christ's divine righteousness, we are enabled to keep the moral law of God. In fact, it becomes the rule for our life. It is still true, therefore, that we must honor our father and mother, and love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, which is the summary of God's moral law.
In Romans 10:4 we read, "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." That is speaking about justification by faith. Thus, righteousness is imputed to every believer in Jesus. Imputed righteousness is a righteousness apart from our works. It is the righteousness of God that the Law and the Prophets testified about and pointed forward to.
Additionally, there is imparted righteousness, which means experimental righteousness. If we are Christians, we must practice righteousness on a daily basis. Whenever there is justification and the imputation of God's divine righteousness into us, there is also a practicing of righteousness by every person who is justified. No one can separate justification from sanctification. So Paul speaks in the book of Romans about justification by faith but he also speaks about the practice of righteousness by Christians. In Romans 8:3,4 we read, "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man. . ." And what was the purpose of this active and passive obedience of Christ as he died on the cross? "In order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."
Jesus fulfilled the law as the one who interpreted it correctly, as the one who lived under it, and as the one who fulfilled its predictions. But he is also even now fulfilling it in us. Therefore, we love God. We honor our parents. We do not lie. We do not steal. We keep God's Sabbath. We work six days a week, and so on.
Just as Jesus came to fulfill the law in himself, he is also interested in fulfilling it in us. This is sanctification or good works. This is shining as light in the world. This is loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We Must Keep the Law
Jesus was not an antinomian and neither are his disciples. Paul spoke about justification by faith in the book of Romans, but in Romans 13:8 he also said, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." Read Matthew 22:34-40. There Jesus Christ summarizes the Ten Commandments into two commandments. What are they? To love God and to love one's neighbor as oneself. So Paul can say, "He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:8-10).
When you refuse to keep God's law out of love, please do not tell me that you are a Christian. Some people claim, "Oh, we are not under law. Jesus is our Savior but he is not our Lord." Such people are modern Pharisees who eviscerate the Scripture.
How can we obey God's law? When we trust in Christ, Jesus not only forgives our sins but he also makes us sons of God. As sons of God, we imitate God's one and only Son by delighting in God's will and doing it as it is revealed in his moral law. In fact, if you read the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, you will find a description of how we should keep God's moral law.
Jesus delighted in God's law and kept it so that in him the divine purpose of Scripture would be fully worked out, and we must imitate him. Do you remember what he said to John the Baptist when Jesus wanted John to baptize him? "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this and fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). If you do not love God's moral law and delight in it, it is because you are not born of God and justified by faith. You are merely pretending to be a Christian.
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus tells us that our righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The Greek word that he used speaks of the overflowing of river banks by water. This type of surpassing righteousness is demanded of every Christian in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was saying, "If you do not exceed and surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, by no means will you enter into the kingdom of heaven." In other words, no one is permitted to break even the least commandment of God if one wants to enter God's kingdom. (PGM) And in verse 19 he describes how to be great in God's kingdom: "Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of God." What commands are they? Those found in the infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and permanent word of God.
Do and Teach
What was Jesus telling his disciples? Simply put, he was saying, "Do and teach." Why did he say that? Because the scribes and the Pharisees had the habit of speaking and preaching many things but they never practiced what they preached. Just read Matthew 23. In that chapter we read of the utter hypocrisy of these Pharisees and scribes--the professional theologians!--who said many things but did not live righteously.
Paul addressed this issue when he wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, "Watch your life and doctrine closely." Paul didn't just say "Watch your doctrine closely." What did he include? Your life. That is the practical righteousness which is essential for a disciple.
This is an important injunction for us in modern times. For example, suppose a man wants to be a minister. He should read 1 Timothy 3 and examine himself in the light of the criteria given in that chapter. There are many people who want to be ministers, but their lives are miserable. They cannot control their families. Their children are crazy, disobedient, and wild, and their own lives are wild. Yet how many times have we seen such people going around preaching the gospel? What did Paul tell Timothy? "Watch your life"--meaning how you live-- "and doctrine closely." In Acts 1:1 we also read, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach." Notice the order: do first and then teach.
So we must ask ourselves: Father, do you do and teach? Mother, do you do and teach? Preacher, do you do and teach? Or are we all just teaching? If we are, we are practicing Pharisaism. What did Paul say? "Watch your life and doctrine closely." And he added something that should give us tremendous incentive to put this word into practice: "Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."
The Righteousness of the Pharisees
Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." What, then, was the nature of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?
In Matthew 23 we get a flavor of the hypocrisy, the filth, and the wickedness of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus came to fulfill the Scripture, and his ethics and doctrine were in harmony with the Holy Scripture. But the ethics and doctrines of the scribes and Pharisees were one hundred percent opposed to the ethics and doctrines of Jesus.
Ironically, people considered the scribes and Pharisees paradigms of virtue. Most thought that if any people were likely to make it into the kingdom of heaven, the scribes and Pharisees certainly would be the ones. But in this section of Scripture, Jesus Christ shocked his listeners by declaring that these seemingly righteous people were excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because they were phony and not good enough to enter, according to God.
These were astonishing statements for Jesus to make. But do you remember what he said when Nicodemus, who was a doctor of the Law and a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus by night? Jesus shocked him also when he said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Here Jesus was saying, "You, Nicodemus, are outside the kingdom of God. With all your 'righteousness,' you just don't make it. Why? That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You must be born from above, born of the Spirit, to see as well as to enter into the kingdom of heaven." I am sure Nicodemus was genuinely shocked by what Jesus told him. And I am sure that all the scribes and Pharisees, these paragons of virtue, were equally shocked when Jesus said that they were excluded from the kingdom of heaven and from eternal life.
So in Matthew 23:13-14 we read Jesus' words: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" Throughout this chapter Jesus connected the teachers of the law--the professional theologians--with the Pharisees--the separated, holier-than-thou ones who practiced this theology. And then Jesus shocked them: "You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."
What, then, was the nature of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees--this righteousness that we, as disciples, must exceed, surpass, and go beyond? First, it was external and superficial. In Matthew 23:25 Jesus said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence," and in verse 27, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
What about us? Is this our problem also? We must examine ourselves and see if this describes us. Do we spend more time before the mirror than before God? If so, we may appear to be very nice when we come into contact with other people, but what happens when we are alone, when no one is watching us? What are we thinking and doing then? What are we practicing?
The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was superficial, surface, shallow and hollow. It was just external righteousness which proceeded from a bad heart and which indicated that they were not born again.
Second, their righteousness was selective. Again, what about us? Don't we all have our own list of things in which we think we excel? And we carry the list around and tell other people, "Well, you know, you are not excelling on the basis of my list."
In Luke 18 Jesus described a Pharisee who gloried in saying that he fasted twice a week. Now God only required his people to fast one time a year, but here was a Pharisee who fasted 104 times a year. And he also tithed, giving a tenth of his herbs. Now, I do not believe these Pharisees and scribes tithed in real income, but they were very careful to give the correct amount of cumin and anise. But what did Jesus say about such selective righteousness? "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Matt. 23:23). That is selective righteousness.
Third, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was self-made. What did the Pharisee pray in Luke 18? "I thank you that I am not like anybody else. I fast! I give tithes!" He was describing his own self-made human righteousness. But what does God demands of us? Nothing less than perfect, divine righteousness.
Fourth, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was self-glorying. They did everything before men so others could see it and applaud. When people applauded them, the Pharisees would rejoice because they were receiving their reward from the acclaim of men.
We read about this in Luke 16:14-15. First, we read, "The Pharisees, who loved money. . ." and that is why I question whether they really paid tithe or not. These Pharisees were greedy people who wouldn't part with any money for God. "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.'"
Fifth, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was abominable and detestable in God's sight. So in Luke 16:15 Jesus says, "What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." He was speaking about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
In Isaiah 64:6 Isaiah says, "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags." The apostle Paul said the same thing in Philippians 3. Beginning with verse 4, he reminisced about his life as a Pharisee: "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more," and then he lists seven things that he gloried in. First, there were four things that he had inherited: He was circumcised on the eighth day; his father and mother were of the people of Israel, making him a full-blooded Jew; he belonged to Benjamin, the only tribe that remained loyal to Judah; and he was considered a Hebrew of Hebrews. Then he spoke about three earned ones: First, he was a Pharisee by choice, belonging to the strictest sect, as we read in Acts 26:5. Second, he was an activist who was so zealous for God's law that he persecuted the church. Third, he said, "concerning the righteousness of the law, faultless," or perfect. But who was saying he was perfect? Paul, not God.
Then, as a Christian Paul looked at his list. And what did he call all these righteous acts in the light of his salvation in Christ? Filthy rags. Dung. Garbage. In verse 8 Paul says that all that he gloried in he considers dung, refuse, rubbish--something to be gotten rid of, in other words. Why? He realized that all righteousness could be found in Jesus Christ alone.
All of our self-righteousness is abominable before God. I was brought up with this kind of thinking: "Don't smoke. Don't drink. Don't see movies. Don't dance. Don't play. Don't use lipstick. Don't wear jewelry. Don't wear any colored clothes." That was the list, and we would be very proud if we conformed to it. Or we might say to someone, "I don't eat meat. By the way, do you eat meat?" We could always look down upon someone who did not conform to our little list.
Forget about your list! Did Jesus come to fulfill our list? No, he came to fulfill God's eternal law. We need to study what the Scripture is telling us in its totality and do the commands of God.
How to Have Surpassing Righteousness
Jesus told his disciples, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." How, then, can we have this surpassing righteousness? God must give us a new heart. How does he do that? Through new birth. Romans 8:7 tells us that natural man is an enemy of God's law, one who hates God's law and cannot submit to it. But through new birth God gives us a new, divine nature with which we are enabled to love God's law and delight in it.
If you are not born of God, you cannot exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The best you can ever do is to match their phony, shallow, superficial, selective, abominable righteousness. But if you are born again, you are able to exceed their righteousness. Why? Through faith God's perfect righteousness has been imputed to you. Not only that, you have been made sons and daughters of God and now have the natural habit of imitating him, as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 5:1,2.
As Christians we are able to exceed the phony righteousness of the Pharisees and the Sadducees for several other reasons. First, God himself works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. 2:13). Second, besides having a new nature, we have a new dynamic, the Holy Spirit, living in us. Is he inactive? No, the Holy Spirit illuminates us and empowers us to do the will of God.
Third, we have been given understanding into God's word and now delight in doing it. Didn't Jesus say, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light"? By divine operation we have become a new, different, changed people who are given the ability to perform God's word. Thus, Jesus can tell us to hunger and thirst after righteousness with the promise that we will be filled. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we can do what God tells us to do! In Matthew 7:24 Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by speaking of the one who "hears these words of mine and puts them into practice. . ." And in Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus tells his disciples to go "and make disciples of all nations. . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." God has a people who will obey him. Isaiah spoke of them in Isaiah 61:3 as oaks of righteousness. They are not tumbleweeds of righteousness. They are oaks!
Finally, we are able to go beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees and Sadducees because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts. By it we love God and love our neighbor, which is the summary of the moral law.
In Matthew 5:48 Jesus told his disciples, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." As Christians, our righteousness exceeds that of the phonies due to imputed and imparted righteousness. Because of that, let me assure you, we shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Without this surpassing righteousness, no one will enter. Without holiness no one will see God. But Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Praise be to God, the Spirit of the living God causes us to be holy and pure and able to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
God Demands Righteousness
In conclusion, we must notice the authority with which Jesus spoke these words. In verse 18 he said, "I tell you the truth," or in the Greek, "Amen, I tell you." When they spoke the word of the Lord, the prophets of the Old Testament would declare, "Thus saith the Lord," and the apostles of the New Testament would say, "It is written." But Jesus said, "Of a truth I tell you," meaning it is with the very authority of the Son of God that Jesus demands from us a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The people were amazed at this teaching, as we read in the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:28-29, "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching." Why were they amazed? "Because he taught as one how had authority, and not as their teachers of the law."
So I must ask you: Do you feel the authority of Christ in your bones? Do you believe the Scripture to be infallible, inerrant, and permanently valid at all times? Or do you oppose Scripture? If you do, let me warn you, you are opposing Jesus Christ, the one who honored Scripture and came to establish and fulfill it.
It is my prayer that the law of God will convict us and drive us to the gospel. What is the gospel? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. If we do that, God will give us new hearts, new minds, and new natures. He will make us sons and daughters of God and fill us with an abundance of love by which we will delight in the law of God. In fact, obedience will become the great joy of our hearts.
Therefore, may God help us to have exceeding righteousness. May we may go beyond the phony, superficial, selective, self-glorying, abominable righteousness of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. May God help us to get rid of our own lists and get into the word of God in its totality. May he help us to study it, submit to it, and, by God's grace, do and teach the commandments found in it. Then, when Jesus Christ comes again, he will say to us, "Come, enter into the joy of the Lord." Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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