Sermon Notes: Sermon Title: The Law and the Meaning of Jesus (Part 2):Matthew 5:17-20

Sermon Notes: Sermon Title: The Law and the Meaning of Jesus (Part 2)

Text: Matthew 5:17-20

Date: Sunday, November 4, 2018

Speaker: Pastor Joseph

  • Introduction: Matthew 5:17-20 is a passage on radical discipleship and obedience to Scripture (verses 16, 20, 48): The underlying claim of Jesus in this passage is total obedience to the Scriptures (verses 18-19); he communicated clearly what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus’ high view of Scripture and his belief in the authority of Scripture refuses to accommodate his culture.
  • Jesus placed Scripture above cultural ideologies and beliefs; culture is not above the Word of God, but subservient to it. In verse 20, Jesus argues that his disciples must have a transformed heart, and those whose hearts are not transformed by Scripture, not culture, are not his disciples; they are lost and outside of the kingdom of God.

Overview of the text: Jesus and the Law

  • Jesus communicates some general principles about fulfilling the law: Matthew 5:17-20
  • Jesus provides six examples (anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love) about how to apply the law: Matthew 5:21-47
  • Jesus provides a summary about what it means to fulfill the law: Matthew 5:48 (see also, Matthew 7:12


Three Categories of Biblical Laws (Law: from Genesis to Deuteronomy)

***613 commandments in the Old Testament (248 positive and 365 negative)

  • The Moral Law (Ex. 20:2-17; Deut. 5 :6-21). The moral codes reveal God’s moral demands from his people; the moral law is rooted in God’s own very nature, character, divine attributes, and moral virtues which are served as the moral compass and measuring rod for all human ethical behavior and moral conduct. The basis of the law is God’s self-identity and the historic intervention of God leading to the liberation of his people from Egyptian slavery: Ex. 20:2
  • The Ceremonial Law (Lev. 17:11; 6:1-7). “Three stands belonging to the ceremonial law. One has to take note of the tabernacle with its theology of the “tabernacling” God (Ex. 29: 43-46; to tabernacle, sakan, means to dwell) and the theology of uncleanness and purification” (Keiser, Theology of the OT, p. 114). Lev. 17:11 implies that God provides the actual means to deal with human sins and transgressions in the sacrificial system.
  • The Civil Law: Keiser writes, “As far as theology is concerned, this aspect of God’s law was a mere application of the moral law to selected parts of the community’s life, especially where tensions were likely to develop in that day. True justice and holiness on the part of the judges and rules was to be measured by the demands of the Decalogue. Accordingly, the civil law illustrated its practice in the various cases or situations which confronted the leadership during the Mosaic era” (Keiser, Theology of the OT, pp. 118-9)

Some Core Principles about the Mosaic Law

  • The law of Moses was given within the historical framework of God’s covenant to his people Israel. The very nature of the Mosaic law is covenant law, that means it has a temporary framework: “The law is a temporary framework that prescribed the terms of obedience for the people of God in the Mosaic era” (Moo, p. 344). The Mosaic covenant was to “last for an age” until the inauguration of the better and new covenant (Ezek. 36:24-28) in Christ, between himself and his people, that will last eternally.
  • The essence of the Mosaic Law is that divine blessing is contingent upon human obedience.
  • The purpose of the Mosaic law was to reveal the character of God to the people of Israel; as a result, God requires of his people to conform to his law, which reflects his will.
  • The law provides to them with a sense of guidance and orientation concerning their own behavior, shortcomings, and their constant need to look to God for salvation.
  • The law promises rewards upon the people’s obedience to it; rewards include material prosperity, good health, deliverance from their enemies, divine security and protection, and God’s uninterrupted peace (shalom) in their new land.
  • God did not give the law through Moses in order they may attain salvation through the law; in other words, the purpose of the law was not to give eternal life, but to lead to obedience to God and to lead the people of God toward sanctification and holiness.
  • The one who keeps the law will not inherit the promise of salvation.
  • The one who fulfills the law is the one who loves his neighbor because love does not harm to neighbor; hence, according to Paul, love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:8-10

Jesus and the Law

  • Verse 17, “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.”
  • Jesus’s basic claim in this verse is that his mission or objective is not to contradict the law or to render it null, useless, meaningless, or inapplicable. These spoken words of Jesus express Jesus’ reaction toward some of his Jewish contemporaries, especially legal authorities and religious leaders who thought that he was breaking the law (that Jesus was against the law and contradicting the Torah) such as in the case of the Sabbath law, food laws, and temple law. “In bringing the consummation of the age into the present, Jesus brings the fulfillment of the Law into the present time (5:17)” (Seifrid).
  • In the Gospels, it is often portrayed that Jesus challenges the various oral interpretations of the Law by the Jewish religious figures and theologians. As a result, he is depicted in conflict with their understanding and purpose of the Law, especially in regard to Sabbath laws, food laws, temple laws. He opposed the legal interpretation of the Pharisees and the ritual piety of the Sadducees,
  • Jesus did not oppose the law nor contradicts it but clarified its original intent and true application in the life of people. Jesus promotes the adherence of the law to people (i.e. divorce, Matthew 5:31ff/ Luke 16:18/Matthew 19:3-9/Mark 10:2-12) and pronounce blessings upon those who walk according to the law of God (Matthew 19:16-30/Mark 10:17-31/Luke 18:18-30)
  • Jesus saw himself as sovereign over the Mosaic law, a new Law-Giver, like Moses. Nonetheless, there are several indicators in the four Gospels that demonstrate such common attitude toward Jesus. In fact, there were several accusations against Jesus by the Pharisees and the Scribes that he and his disciples had broken the law.
  1. A) Controversy over the Sabbath: Matthew 12:9-14/Mark 3:1-6/Luke 6:6-11 (the stories of healing on the Sabbath—oa man with the withered hand; the healing on the sabbath of a woman with a spirit of infirmity, Luke 13:10-17; the healing of a woman with dropsy, Luke 14:1-6; all reveal instances where Jesus seemingly transgressed the Sabbath law, but he did not perform any work. Mark 3:6/ Matthew 12:1-14, Jesus disagrees with the scribes over the correct way to observe the law. In Acts 6:11, 13-14; 21:28, Jesus’ disciples were charged about breaking the Sabbath. In the early centuries of Christianity, some Jews have actually accused Christianity as being a “lawless” movement.
  2. B) Controversy over handwashing (Mark 15:1-20/Mark 7:1-23) and dietary/food laws (Mark 7:1-14)
  3. C) Controversy over the Temple law: Matthew 26:61/Mark 14:58


To abolish (katalyo): means to dismantle and destroy a building or an institution. For many Jews in Jesus’ day, Jesus was trying to abolish or destroy scriptural authority, as that relates to his attitude toward the law and the prophets.

What does it mean to fulfill the law?

  • That Jesus “will bring the law to its intended goal” (Blomberg).
  • “to the bringing to fruition of its complete meaning. Here Jesus views his role as that of fulfilling all of the Old Testament” (Blomberg).
  • Three main interpretations from R.T. France: (1) It may bean that he would do the things laid down in Scripture. (2) “It may mean that he would bring out the full meaning of Scripture. (3) It may mean that in his life and teaching he would bring Scripture to its completion. Each points to an aspect of the truth, and Jesus may well have meant that he would fulfill Scripture in more ways than one” (France)
  • “The law is thus linked with the prophets as looking forward to a time of fulfillment which has now arrived. The Torah, then, is not God’s last word to his people, but is in a sense provisional, looking forward to a time of fulfillment through the Messiah” (France)

How did Jesus fulfill the law?

  • That Jesus “will bring the law to its intended goal” (Blomberg)
  • “This fulfillment of the Law includes the cross, which is already anticipated in Jesus’ words here, just as it is in his prediction that his disciples will be persecuted on account of him (Mt 5:10-11)” (Seifrid).
  • According to Moo, “The entire Mosaic law comes to fulfillment in Christ, and this fulfillment means that this law is no longer a direct and immediate source of, or judge of, the conduct of God’s people. Christian behavior, rather, is now guided directed by “the law of Christ.” “This “law” does not consist of legal prescriptions and ordinances, but of the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles, the central demand of love, and the guiding influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit” (Moo, The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian Life, p. 343)
  • The idea here is not so much that Jesus has challenged scriptural authority, that is the Torah and the Prophets, at the coming of Jesus-Messiah, we must now think differently about their new role in the messianic era. Their role or function is no longer be the same, Jesus has given them new function or new role; he has reinterpreted the role of the Torah and the Prophets in Himself (See Matthew 5:21-48). This is clearly expressed in the phrase “I came” indicating the purpose of his ministry (9:13; 10:34-35; 20:28; 11:19). “I came” denotes Jesus’ preexistence that as a preexistent figure from heaven (John 3:13, 31), he has “come into the world” (John 1:9;9:39; 18:37). Elsewhere at the announcement of Jesus’ birth, Matthew affirms that Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23) signaling his messianic identity and origin as divine.

The word fulfillment in Matthew

  • “Matthew’s understanding of fulfillment in 5:17 needs to be compared the with use of fulfill (pleroo) in the rest of the Gospel. Matthew employs a fulfillment formula on a number of occasions to emphasize that Jesus brings to fruition what the Old Testament pointed to (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17;13:35;21:4;27:9). Indeed, the fulfillment specified in some of these texts (for example, 2:15) is only understood retrospectively in light of Jesus’ coming. This implies that the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Matthew is christologically focused. The fulfillment brought about Jesus, then, does not necessarily mean that the Mosaic covenant will apply in precisely the same way it did before. The Mosaic covenant needs to be interpreted in light of its fulfillment in Jesus Christ” (Schreiner, The Law and Its fulfillment, 235)
  • Verse 18, “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.”

Claim: Jesus affirms the absolute authority of all of the Scriptures.

  • Matthew 5:18: Jesus affirms that it was not the purpose of the Law to have an eternal value and validity, but “to last only until the consummation of the Age” (Seifrid)


  • Verse 19, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
  • This is a warning against false teachers and about those who tend to embrace the Word of God but are deceiving the people of God. Flee from them. Flee from their midst. Jesus warns us about anyone who “sets aside,” that is undermining the authority of the Word of God is not worthy of being called a disciple and a minister of the Word. One should be careful not let cultural beliefs become the Word of God and authoritative laws to govern one’s life. The emphasis is to teach and spread the eternal and transformative value of the Word of God to change one’s life, to remove those in the darkness to light, to restore the brokenhearted to stable and Christ-centered lives. “Disciples should delight in and learn from every word that God has written (Matthew 4:4) rather than picking and choosing between them” (France).


  • Verse 20, “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.”
  • Jesus’s underlying thesis: it was assumed that the Pharisaic way and the way of the experts of the law were the right way of entering the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees received high praise and honor from the Jewish people; they esteemed them highly because the people believed that they were role models of individuals or a collective group who lived by the Torah of God. By contrast, Jesus informed his hearers that the way of the Pharisees was a way of destruction; it was the wrong road and not approved by God. There’s another way to please God and fulfill his holy and righteous demands—that is through Jesus.
  • The scribes and the Pharisees promoted strict legal correctness; by contrast, Jesus promoted love for God and love one’s neighbor, and compassion for those in need of it. The Pharisees and the scribes emphasize the letter of the law; whereas, Jesus accentuates the spirit of the law. Jesus is saying the opposite. Evidently, Jesus’ standards and understanding about the meaning of the law and righteousness clashed with those of the religious leaders of the day.
  • The Pharisaic way is the wrong way of getting right with God. Jesus’ way of righteousness is the only valid and acceptable way for men and women to reconcile with God. There is no other way to find forgiveness and mercy for one’s sins, peace in the time of trouble, and comfort in the time of despair, then the Jesus way. Christian discipleship transcends the way of the Pharisees and call for a greater righteousness superior than that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
  • Jesus conceives humanity as being in two spheres or the world into two different types of people: those who are in the Kingdom, and those who are outside of the Kingdom.


Righteousness: it could be literal obedience to rules and regulations of the law. The Pharisees were the Protagonists who upheld the law. Here, Jesus is referring to a different righteousness and a new way of understanding and acquiring righteousness that pleases God. In Fact, in Matthew 23:1-39, Jesus denounces the Pharisaic way and the way of the Teachers of the law of attaining God’s righteousness or righteousness through and by the law. Jesus pronounces a series of harsh woes against them. Even in their best intentions to observe the law, Jesus is saying that they are outside of the Kingdom of God. The question should be: what must one do to be in the kingdom of God?

First of all, to enter the Kingdom of heaven does not mean to go to heaven or to get saved. The expression Kingdom of heaven is not a concrete and tangible place to go. It is a metaphor for God’s rule and kingship.  Therefore, to enter the kingdom of heaven means “to come under God’s rule, to become one of those who recognize his kingship and live by its standards, to be God’s true people” (France). In other words, Jesus requires a radicalization of the heart and the mind, which will include total submission to the will of God, total trust in Jesus for one’s salvation, a complete self-giving commitment to loving one’s neighbor and caring for the needy, etc.


What the Law Can Do

  • The law discloses the character of God (Lev. 11:45)
  • The law serves as a supervisor or manager of the people of God, the Israelites (Gal. 3:24): the law as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that is a pedagogue, not a teacher, but a babysitter; Christ is the real teacher (Gal. 4:1-7)
  • The law functions as a prison cell indicating that we are there in this prison cell because we are all under sin (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-12; 1:19-22; 2:14-15)
  • The law enslaves us (Rom 7:23; 8:2-3; Gal. 3:10-13): “The world is a prisoner of sin” (Moo) (Rom. 3:19-20). It reveals the knowledge of sin, that is the experiential knowledge of transgressing and sinning.
  • The law effects divine wrath and anger because of its contribution to the revelation of human sin toward God (Rom. 4:13-15; 6:14)
  • For Paul, especially, the central two purposes of the law to the nation of Israel was “guardianship of Israel” and “revelation of sin,” which are limited to the time before the coming of Christ” (Moo)

What the Law Cannot Do

  • The law cannot save us because of sin (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10-12)
  • The law is unable to justify us or redeem us from sin (Romans 7:1-14)
  • The righteousness of God is revealed apart from the law, the witness of the law (Rom. 3:21)
  • God did where the law has failed us; God sent his own sin to fulfill the demands of the law (Rom. 8:1-4)
  • The Law does not grant us the Spirit of the Promise nor has it distributed to believers in Christ the fruit and promises of the Spirit; the Spirit of Promise is from Christ who is given to believers through grace as a gift.

What Jesus demands from his Disciples and the World?

  • “You Must Be Born Again
  • Repent
  • Come to Me
  • Believe in Me
  • Love Me
  • Listen to Me
  • Abide in Me
  • Take Up Your Cross and Follow
  • Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength
  • Worship God in Spirit and Truth
  • Always Pray and Do Not Lose Heart
  • Do Not Be Anxious About the Necessities of Daily Life
  • Do Not Be Anxious About the Threats of Ma
  • Humble Yourself by Making War on Pride
  • Humbles Yourself in Childlikeness, Servanthood, and Brokenhearted Boldness
  • Do Not Be Angry, Trust God’s Providence
  • Do Not Be Angry–Embrace Mercy and Forgiveness
  • Do the Will of My Father Who Is in Heaven—Be Transformed by Trusting Jesus
  • Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door, for Jesus Fulfills the New Covenant
  • Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door, for All of Life Is War
  • Your Righteousness Must Exceed That of the Pharisees, for It Was Hypocritical and Ugly
  • Your Righteousness Must Exceed That of the Pharisees—Clean the Inside of the Cup
  • Love Your Enemies—Lead Them to the Truth
  • Love Your Enemies–—Pray for Those Who Abuse You” (John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World)