(This is Part I of a sermon preached at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, May 25, 2008.)
“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, ESV).
When we come together, our goal is for you to love Jesus more when you leave than when you walked in. For those of you who may have never submitted to Christ, our prayer is that you would see all that he accomplished for you on your behalf by taking our sin and its penalty and removing us from this world’s curse and emptiness. For those of you who may be followers of Christ, but the flame of fire and dimmed to a small ember, our desire is that you would not be like the Ephesian church in Revelation where you have “abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).
So, is loving Jesus enough? I just want to answer with an undeniable, “Yes!” I suppose the next question you all may ask me is, “Why would this question even come up?” Sadly, because we have a number of folks who really question the very nature of the Scriptures. But it’s the same principle with our marriages and our children. You can say, “I love my wife and kids.” But if you neglect them, ignore your vows to them, and exclude them from the day-to-day aspect of your life, you do not truly love them. You may get a warm feeling, but you are failing to see the nature of marriage and parenthood.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus teaches us about what it means to love and be devoted to him. Some were intrigued by him and curious at his teaching and demeanor, and thought that was enough. Others were comparing him to the Pharisees, of whom many considered as the spiritual leaders and examples. Jesus in these four verses takes time to tell us what it really means to love him.
1. You cannot say you love Jesus, but reject the Bible.
In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus says, “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.”
Do you find yourself separating Jesus from the Bible? When I was in college and seminary in the early 1990s, I would find myself sitting under a professor who, in an effort to be more spiritual and less dry and academic, would warn us not to commit what was called “bible-olatry,” or a worship of the Bible. They would give us a warning not to put our heads so deep in the Bible. Just love Jesus. After all, they would say, there are so many interpretations that it’s hard to know what the Bible is saying (especially the Old Testament). I was taught by these professors that for the majority of the Old Testament, the stories were transmitted orally for many years before they were written down, so we really cannot know for sure how many adaptations and changes took place — so just cling to Jesus.
The result was many of my fellow student brothers in the ministry (and for a time, myself included) would walk out of those classrooms thinking that you could actually take one without the other. As a result, those students would often go into the pulpits of our local churches teaching that very thing. They would seem to show that you that you could make a distinction. With all due respect to these professors and many others dotting our landscape, we must realize that Jesus never, ever makes this distinction. To try and separate Jesus from the Scriptures may sound noble and pious but it is confusing and dangerous.
All through his ministry, he notes how he does what he does “so the Scriptures may be fulfilled.” Why did he go here? The people and even the Pharisees could tell that he was a rabbi because (1) he taught about the Law, and (2) he had disciples. But he was different in that he went against their traditions. Jesus was accused of “eating with tax collectors and sinners,” plus he would on occasion converse with women. According to Jewish tradition, holy men did not do either one of these things. Because of this, the Pharisees and the people were confused and would even say that he was not from God and was wanting to do away with all of the Old Testament.
Is this what Jesus is saying? No, he came to finish and fulfill the Old Testament. But how did he do that? Some say he simply came to accomplished all of the law and to live a perfect life. Did he do this? Yes. Romans 8 tells us that “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3b-4). But let’s not miss the full reason.
D.A. Carson noted that “Jesus does not conceive of his life and ministry in terms of opposition to the Old Testament, but in terms of bringing to fruition that toward which it points. Jesus continued and completed the work the law and the prophets began. Every moral, civil, and ceremonial law points in some way to Christ.” Romans 3:21 even says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.”
So why did he come? What is the “fulfillment” part? Let’s put it this way: have you ever had someone come up to you pointing out a problem they see? Let’s just say that on occasion (sarcasm intended) that happens to me. They come up to me and issue a problem. Some even come up and offer a solution: “Bro. Matt, what you should do is … ?” Yet there are some that go even further and say, “And Bro. Matt, I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 3:20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” In other words, the Old Testament tells us that God made everything and made everything for a purpose. But the Old Testament also reveals God’s will and way — and how we have rebelled and fallen short. God in his goodness lets us know that we are under judgment. That’s our problem. But the Old Testament also prophecies that a solution will take place: not by works but by One who comes. But then he goes a step further by saying, “I’ll even take care of the problem and be the solution.”
Jesus came fulfill the demands of the law which we have violated and have separated us from him, but also to fulfill all that the prophets said about him. Let me ask you: are you rejecting the Bible, all the while saying you love Jesus? See, in theory we hold to a high view of Scriptures, but yet we reject reading the Scriptures as part of our daily walk with Christ. We may say that the Bible is hard to understand, or we may say that since we are already in the Kingdom then there’s no sense in continuing on. So there are many ways to reject the Scriptures. May this not be the case with us!