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"Go and teach all nations to observe whatsoever things I have taught you..." Matthew 28:19-20
Fulfilling the Law
“Verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
In the letter to the Romans, chapter 6, the apostle Paul has a lot to say about sin. Read the chapter and you will find that Paul states again and again that sin is the problem. Paul never says that the law is a problem. In fact, as we saw in the last issue, Paul is at pains to point out that the law is good, just, and holy. Here in chapter 6, it is sin, not the law, that needs dealing with.
“Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed”. The law is not destroyed. “He that is dead is free from sin” (not “free from the law”). “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (not “dead unto the law”). “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (not “the law shall not have dominion over you”) (6:6,7,11,14). “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” asks Paul. “God forbid!” (6:15). We are under grace, not under the law, but being under grace we become “servants of righteousness” (6:18). “Yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (6:19).
Jesus begins the words we are studying with “verily” — that is, truly, certainly, absolutely. It’s the first time Jesus uses the expression in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s emphatic and important. “... till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” A “jot” is Jod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. A “tittle” is one of the tiny marks that occur over or under some of the letters. Nothing of the law is finished or destroyed, not even the smallest letter of it.
The Fixed State
When will “heaven and earth pass”? Not yet, certainly. Nor in the millennium. The law still holds good then. Only after the millennium will earth and heaven pass away and be replaced by the new heaven and earth. At that time a great change will take place, not just physically but spiritually. In the millennium men still have free will to obey or disobey. Jesus will, it seems, enforce obedience at that time, at least to some extent; he will “rule with a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15). But when the new heaven and earth come, the final judgment has taken place, and everything is fixed for ever.
“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still ... he that is righteous, let him be righteous still” (Revelation 22:11). In eternity we understand that there is no more chance of forgiveness or repentance, no more chance for change. Nothing can change; it’s a fixed state. So there can be no “free will” or choice in the sense that we understand it now, the choice to obey or disobey. That is why the law is finished with when heaven and earth pass away. Our eternal future is not a return to the garden of Eden with its two trees and its choice of obedience or disobedience. It’s not a return to a former state. God never returns to the former things. He is always doing “a new thing”. Everything is moving on to perfection in God’s process, until “all be fulfilled”. The law will pass away one day. But until
then, it still stands.
Teaching And Doing
Jesus thus reaches a conclusion. Because the law shall not pass until “all be fulfilled”, Jesus says, “Therefore whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Notice that Jesus says “whoever breaks them and teaches men to break them”. To break a commandment may be weakness. But to teach others to break them is rebellion; it’s self-justification, self-righteousness. Jesus and his disciples all taught by example. What they taught, they also did. Jesus lived with his disciples. They learned not only his teachings and beliefs but his lifestyle. Paul was the same. He said to Timothy, “Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions ...” (2 Timothy 3:10); and he was scathing of those who taught but did not do: “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest that a man should not steal, dost thou steal?” (Romans 2:21).
Keeping The Outward
The Pharisees had one point in their favor. They at least kept the outward letter of the law. We have somehow come to the strange belief that when Jesus said our righteousness “must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees”, he meant that our righteousness was a kind of alternative to that of the Scribes and Pharisees; theirs was through the law, ours is through grace. Not so! “Exceed” means “do more than, do over and above”. We must do at least what they do, and more. They kept the outward letter of the law, we must keep the letter and the spirit of it. That’s far more demanding! It calls for great love, great sacrifice, great faith, great compassion, great patience. Yet, Jesus says, if we can’t keep the spirit of the law, “the weightier matters”, as Jesus put it (Matthew 23:23), we cannot even enter the kingdom of heaven! It’s certainly not for those who say “Lord, Lord”, but do not live the lifestyle that matches their words. But we should not forget that the Pharisees were not wrong to keep the outward observances. Jesus never criticised them for that. He told the people, “The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore that they bid you observe, that observe and do” (Matthew 23:2,3). He told the Pharisees, “Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
So we ought to do the outward and the inward. That’s the New Testament fulfilling of the law. It’s more than just presenting ourselves outwardly to God. “I beseech you ... that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). It’s only reasonable, Paul says, to do this. We think it’s exceptional! But we must actually do more! Paul shows us in the next verse that we are also to present our minds to God — to do the inward as well as the outward. I have a teaching tape devoted to these two verses, called “God’s Will”. If you have not heard it, I think you will find it helpful to understand these concepts of what God wants of us, the letter and the spirit, the outward and the inward.
You see, unless our inward motives and desires are radically changed, the outward won’t really change. The Pharisees who kept the law outwardly ended up crucifying Christ. So will we, sooner or later, if we don’t crucify ourselves. Either we crucify ourselves or we crucify Christ. It’s in the heart that the answer lies. That is really the conclusion to these two messages about the law. Only the heart is capable of fulfilling the law. That’s where the Pharisees went wrong: with their lips and their hands they obeyed the outward letter of the law; but their hearts, as God said through the prophet, “are far from me” .Someone once said that in every person’s heart there are two things: a throne, and a cross. Either we are on the throne, and Jesus is on the cross, or we are on the cross, and Jesus is on the throne. The choice, while 'free will' still exists, is ours to make today.
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