When He came on the scene, Jesus taught a refreshingly different approach to, and understanding of, God the Father.
He taught that God wanted a relationship with His creation! He loves us and wants us to come to Him in faith and trust.
There were many around at that time–religious leaders, especially– who did not welcome Jesus’ approach. They thought He was disrespecting the history of their people, and corrupting the Law of Moses. They must have thought that Jesus was changing everything, and they were (understandably) antagonistic toward those changes.
Jesus wants to clarify them: He did not come to abolish the Law!
Matthew 5:17-18: “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. 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.”
Jesus is not about getting rid of the Law of Moses, but rather, He has come to (finally) fulfill it!
The Pharisees looked at the Law as a set of guardrails–to keep them and the people from going outside of God’s will. And to make it more sure, they made the rules even more restrictive, coming up with a code of conduct that guided the people–or more accurately ‘hemmed them in’. In the Pharisee’s minds, the Law was all about ‘prevention of sin’ and what to do if sin happened.
Jesus came to introduce a whole new level of connection to God–one that far surpassed the Pharisees. He said “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.” (v. 20).
“Surpasses that of the Pharisees”?!
That had to sound IMPOSSIBLE to the people who heard it–the Pharisees were THE Standard of religious behavior!
He then proceeded to explain some of what this looked like:
Instead of just settling for ‘do not murder’, it was more–seek peace with your brother. Seek to check yourself, even if you’re ‘just’ using unkind words.
As to Adultery, it wasn’t only about ‘not committing’, but it was more–don’t even allow yourselves to lust in your heart!
As to Divorce (which was pretty easy for men to do), Jesus set the standard much higher: Don’t divorce, period! The only exception is due to a spouse’s marital unfaithfulness.
As to Oaths and Promises, be a person of your word–don’t make a big show of the Oaths you take. Just make sure that your “Yes is yes, and your No is no” (v. 37).
As to dealing with enemies who mistreat you, don’t think ‘An eye for an eye’, but rather go much further: LOVE your enemies! Actually be generous with them!
In these, and many other ways, Jesus set the bar much higher than the mere ‘sin management’ of the Pharisees. In fact, He said “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (v. 48)
So, what are we to do with this?
Are we just supposed to ‘suck it up’ and try harder?
No. In fact, Jesus alone–Himself–is the only one who could ever fulfill this standard.
And that’s the point: He DID!
He fulfilled the Law–on our behalf!
Therefore, it is no longer about “measuring up”–we can’t!
It’s about God’s gracious acceptance of Jesus’ self-sacrifice to pay for our failure to measure up.
Now we don’t try to ‘Keep the Law’ out of fear, instead we try to follow Jesus’ example out of love and faith!
Jesus is the ONLY One who could measure up–and He did! He fulfilled it!
Now we can follow Him because of our love and appreciation for Him. We will not do it perfectly, but as we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us more, we will actually come closer!