"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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
I've said it many times, and I'm sure I'll never tire of saying it: I have been so blessed to minister as the music pastor at Beacon of Hope Church for the past two years. I have a strong team of musicians that I get to work with each week, and we get to lead a congregation that loves God and His Word and sings out heartily every Sunday. Every so often I have the opportunity to bring before the church a song that I wrote, and they have all been received very well. The latest of those songs was written to compliment our current sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, called "Fulfilled."
For the past year and a half now, our church has been studying through the Life of Christ on Sunday mornings. Pastor Steve has this using all four gospels together, going through the events leading up to Christ's birth, His childhood, and His early ministry. Now we have made it to the Sermon on the Mount, and I wanted to write a song that could be used as a theme for the series (or at least a theme for the beginning of this series). I spent a long while reading and studying Matthew 5-7, and this passage from chapter 5 really grabbed my attention:
Most people start off the year with the intention of reading through the Bible in a year, but they tend to fall off the track midway through the first five books (known as the Pentateuch, or Torah) because a lot of the laws and legal speech of those books bore the reader. To them it seems antiquated and they don't understand how it could possibly fit into their lives, even as believers. To help counter that mindset, I want to look at the Law through the lens of the gospels.
We see early on in the book of Genesis that God will bring the redemption of mankind through the lineage of the man Abraham (seen in His blessing of Abraham repeated in Genesis 12, 15, and 17). This lineage became the nation of Israel, which God set apart from the other nations through circumcision and all these laws of conduct and ritual sacrifices. These laws are summed up in the Ten Commandments, given to Moses in Exodus 20. Of course, no man or woman could ever hope to keep even these ten commandments perfectly through their whole life, and that is why God set up the many different sacrifices of atonement for His people.
Throughout the Torah, we see a pattern of God giving the nation of Israel a few laws and then Israel rebelling against God in some way. It goes back and forth and back and forth through into the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses lays out the Law in a second telling to a new generation of Israelites right before they were to enter the Promised Land. And even in this retelling, Moses tells the people that they still won't follow these laws: "You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear" (Deut. 29:2-4). This points out a big problem with the Law: its intention was never really to save anyone, but to show everyone's inability to keep God's perfect standard. It lays out God's perfect character, and shows us how far we are from Him.
So Israel entered the Promised Land and almost immediately began to do not what the Lord had commanded them to do, but instead "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). There were a few glimmers of hope thanks to certain kings of Israel and Judah, but eventually their rebellion became so pronounced that God brought His judgment upon the people and they were defeated and taken into captivity. Their hearts had been hardened; they had become even more of a "stiff-necked" people, a phrase God would use about them many times as they lived in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.
But despite all this judgment, there are also glimpses of humanity's ultimate redemption throughout the rest of the Old Testament. The prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah both point to a new covenant in their writings. Many times God makes promises that His people will return to their own country, so we see a restoration of God's faithfulness even in the midst of His judgment. And then in Ezekiel 36 God says to His people dispersed in captivity, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God is promising to give His people that heart to understand that Moses had talked about back in Deuteronomy! So in this we see that God's faithfulness remains, even when His people act in direct opposition to Him.
Then we come to the gospels, and we see that promise personified in the man Christ Jesus. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus was able to do the very thing we cannot do: He kept the Law perfectly. He lived like us on this earth, except that He was without sin. In this way He fulfilled the Law, by keeping it perfectly and then taking the punishment that our sin deserves; namely, death.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn't giving us a retelling of the Law. He shows the extent of what the Law required. Many times Jesus begins a statement with "You have heard it was said...but I say to you..." in this sermon. Each time He shows how an action that goes against the Law is played out in our hearts long before we actually do it. Jesus is not only requiring that our actions be pure, but that our very hearts be pure. This is why in Matthew 5:20 He can say, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The scribes and Pharisees were the religious elite in Judea, but all their actions did not come from a heart seeking to obey the Lord.
It's rather cliche to say this, but Jesus came and lived the perfect life that we couldn't live, then died the death we deserved, so that through His sacrifice we might believe in Him and be reconciled to God. This all was going through my head as I wrote the song "Fulfilled," and it particularly comes to a head in this line in the bridge: "For the Law couldn't save us, but Christ made a way." Under the Law, there is not hope. We could work until all the strength was sapped from our bodies and it wouldn't move us one inch closer to reconciliation with God. But Jesus' sacrifice bridged that gap and gave us a way of salvation and reconciliation. He has fulfilled it all. He has redeemed us. We are alive because of His love poured out on our behalf.
A simple servant of the Master.