The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

12 – Christ Fulfills the Law

Matthew 5:17-19:

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.  I tell you the truth, 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.  Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I would like to begin by reminding you that we must never forget that the whole Sermon on the Mount is a unit.  It is not random portions, so as we begin this new section, we want to remember that it is linked with what Christ has already taught.  Let me start by giving you a quick resume of what Christ is doing in the Sermon on the Mount.

Number one, we must keep in mind that Christ is addressing His disciples.  He is not addressing people who have not accepted Him.  He is addressing believers; therefore, the Sermon on the Mount is not evangelical in the sense that it is not trying to preach the gospel to convert people.  But it is what we call deductive, or teaching.  Christ is teaching His disciples how they should live.

Number two, Christ introduces the Sermon on the Mount by what we call the Eight Beatitudes.  It is a description of what a true Christian should be.  Then this is followed by how the true Christian must affect the world by his lifestyle — by his message.  He affects the world in two ways:  salt and light.  Jesus used the word “salt” in the sense of preserving or retarding the rotting process in the fish that was transported to Jerusalem from the Sea of Galilee.  Christ is saying by this symbol that the world is spiritually dead and that it is rotting, and Christians, as they mingle with the world, are to retard the rotting process.

But we have to do more than that.  We are also the light of the world.  What the world desperately needs to see is Christ; He’s the Light of the world.  And the Light is equated with His Life.  The Life that He gave to all men.  Now in Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus lays the foundation, He speaks in general terms, as to how a Christian must live.  In one word we can describe it:  he must live righteously.  The life of the true Christian is a life of righteousness.

We want to cover verses 17 to 19 in this study.  (Verse 20 is a transitional text and goes with two sections.)  What Christ is saying is two things in this section.

Verses 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.  I tell you the truth, 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.
Verses 19-20:
Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  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.

Christ is telling us two things.  We can divide this section into two parts:  verses 17 and 18, and verses 19 and 20.  And He is saying in the first part (vs. 17-18) that the teaching of Christ is in perfect harmony with the Old Testament teachings.  The New Testament and Christ’s teachings do not contradict the Old Testament teachings.  Number two, He is saying that His teaching completely contradicts the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees.

With this in mind, let’s look at it in detail.  Look at verse 17 and the first question is, “What prompted Christ to say, ‘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’?”  The scribes and Pharisees claimed to be the authority of the Bible.  They claimed to be the authority on the teachings of the Old Testament.  They claimed to be the authority in interpreting the Law and the Prophets.  Christ’s teaching disagreed with their teaching.  Therefore, the Pharisees accused Christ of doing away with the Law and the teachings of the prophets.  The question is, “Are they correct?”  Is He there to destroy the teaching of the Old Testament?  And the answer is, No.  “Do not think,” don’t believe what those Pharisees are teaching you.  “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”

There are some examples of this in John 9:16, when the Pharisees and scribes accuse Christ of breaking the Sabbath:

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?”  So they were divided.

This is not the only time.  Let’s look at some other texts in Matthew itself.  Turn to Matthew 11:19.  The Old Testament taught temperance, but look at what Jesus said in verse 19:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they [scribes and Pharisees] say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’”  But wisdom is proved right by her actions.

This is what the Pharisees and scribes accused Christ of.  Then turn to Chapter 26 of Matthew and, in verse 65, when Christ was brought before the Sanhedrin, listen to what they say to Him.  Jesus had just mentioned that they would see Him coming in the clouds of heaven with power.  And listen to what the high priest said:

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy!  Why do we need any more witnesses?  Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.”

Christ was accused of terrible things.  He was accused of breaking the law, accused of blasphemy, of being a drunkard, gluttonous.  And so the Pharisees were giving an impression to the people that Christ was an imposter, that Christ was against the Law, against the Old Testament.  By the way, Paul had the same problem.  Turn to Acts 21:27-28.  Remember when Paul was arrested by the Jews?  Here is what they said about him.  This is the Jews who grabbed him and accused him.

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple.  They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us!  This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place [the temple].  And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.”

Now are these accusations right?  Was Christ a glutton and a drunkard?  Was Christ a breaker of the law?  That is what the Pharisees were teaching.  And Christ said, “This is not true.  Think not that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets.”  Why were these accusations against Christ?  Who was behind this?  Satan.  Satan does not like for the truth to be preached and we have the same problem today.

I learned many years ago that it is impossible to preach the gospel without coming under fire.  Even in Walla Walla, Washington, you will come under fire.  It is one of the costs.  I was getting many phone calls, asking, “How many rooms are there in the heavenly sanctuary?”  Apparently someone is telling folks that I am a heretic:  “He doesn’t believe in two rooms.”  I would advise you to read the book that has just come out, The 27 Beliefs.

We (the Adventist Church) came under fire because we gave the impression that the Father and the Son were separated for 1,800 years.  The Sanctuary was a model, a parable of the truth as it is in Christ.  Yes, there is a Sanctuary in heaven.  The New Testament is absolutely clear on that, but the moment you take the earthly and make the heavenly like it exactly in every respect you have problems.  In the earthly, God and the priests were separated by a curtain except for once a year.

To counter the accusations, we have said God was also in the Holy Place, but, if that was true, it was no longer the Holy Place, it was the Most Holy.  A place is never most holy, it is the presence of God that makes it Most Holy.  We must not become paganists and make something holy out of things.  It is God that is Most Holy.  What the two rooms pointed to was two ministries.  The daily ministry and the yearly ministry:  the intercession and the judgment.

Christ faced it [misunderstanding], Paul faced it, anyone who preaches the gospel has to face it.  Read the New Testament.  The bread in the sanctuary represented Christ.  John 6:35:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The light (candlesticks) in the Holy Place represented Christ.  John 8:12:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The mercy seat is Christ.  In Hebrews 10, He is the curtain, or veil, in some translations.  Hebrews 10:19-20:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body....

You go right through the New Testament and Christ is the reality [of the sanctuary].  But, above all, look at John 2:19-21:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The Jews replied, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

Jesus is the temple.  (There is however, a heavenly sanctuary, Hebrews is clear.)  But Christ must always be the reality of the type.  Otherwise, we destroy the purpose.  Who is the lamb?  Christ.  The spotless lamb represents His perfect obedience and the sacrifice of the lamb represents the justice of the law.

Christ said [in Matthew 5:17], “I have not come to destroy the Old Testament [the law and the prophets] but I have come to fulfill.”  The Greek word for “fulfill” means “to fill it up, to make it a reality.”  What is Christ saying?  What part of the Old Testament did He come to fulfill?

Turn to an important text to answer this question, Luke 24.  You remember, after the resurrection, Jesus met with the two men on their way to Emmaus (a distance of approximately 7 miles).  At what point [in the Old Testament] Christ began I do not know, but in verse 27, after a certain amount of dialogue, listen to what we read:

And beginning with Moses [the book of the law] and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Christ is the reality of the Old Testament:  He came to fulfill.  Did He come to fulfill only the ceremonial law or did He come to fulfill the moral law?  If He fulfilled only the ceremonial law, He did not save us because in the Old Testament the ceremonial law points to Christ as the fulfillment of the moral law.  The definition of righteousness is the moral law — clearly, nothing else.  And Christ came to fulfill all righteousness.  The ceremonial law simply pointed to Christ as the fulfillment of the moral law to be our Savior.

Turn to John 19:28.  This is what Christ meant when He said, “I came to fulfill, not do away with.”  Here, in this verse, Christ is hanging on the cross:

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

What was Christ thinking about?  He was thinking about Psalms 69:21, when He said they would give Him vinegar to ease His pain:

They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

See verses 29-30 in John 19:

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now going back to Matthew 5:18:

I tell you the truth, 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.

The word “law” here means the Torah, the five books of Moses.  Did Christ fulfill the whole of the Old Testament in His earthly ministry?  The answer is, “No.”  Because the Old Testament also points to the heavenly ministry of Christ, and, when that is finished, He will stand up and He will say, “It is finished.”

Christ came, primarily, to fulfill the promises.  In other words, the Old Testament is promise.  Christ, His earthly and His heavenly ministry, is fulfillment.  We have to look at Christ as the reality of the fulfillment.  Go to verse 19:

Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

That text has been misunderstood.  Jesus is not teaching that you have to keep the law in order to be saved.  What He is saying is:  “I am not come to do away with the law, but I am come to fulfill it and lift it up and present it to you as the right way of righteous living.”  In other words, the law has two functions and we must keep this in mind.  Number one, the law points us to and leads us to Christ.  It is our schoolmaster, says Paul, to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  We must never use the law as the means of salvation.  That is what the Pharisees were doing and that is what Christ is contradicting.

For an example, turn to Matthew 19:16.  You are familiar with this, the young man comes to Jesus:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Where did he get this from?  Who taught him that he had to do something good in order to get eternal life?  The scribes and the Pharisees.  [Please notice that the young man did not address Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, but as a good teacher, Rabbi.]  Jesus said to him (verse 17):

“Why do you ask me about what is good?”  Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

Christ implied that in order for him to do good, he must be good.  In order to produce an apple, you must be an apple tree.  In Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White says that, in order for us to keep the Sabbath holy, we must first of all be holy.  (I think it is page 40).  How will we become holy?  Not by trying, but by faith.  But, Jesus says, if you want to enter into life — in other words, if you want to earn eternal life, then the definition of righteousness is the law — keep the commandments.  And the young man asked which one (verse 18):

“Which ones?”  the man inquired.

And Jesus referred to the commandments that deal with our relationship and He ended up by saying, “Love your neighbor in the same way as you leave yourself.”  Verses 18b-19:

Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

That means spontaneously, without trying, and whether you are good or bad.  That is how you must love your neighbor.

And the young man replied in verse 20:

“All these I have kept,” the young man said.  “What do I still lack?”

“All these things have I kept from my youth up.  Since I was in Primary Sabbath School, I have been keeping the law.”  No, what he was keeping were the rules and regulations the scribes and Pharisees were giving him.  How do I know?  Turn to Philippians 3:5-6 and you will discover what Paul says about himself as a Pharisee (Pharisees were experts on the law):

...Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

This young man, very sincerely says to Christ, “I have been keeping the commandments ever since I was a youth.”  What did Jesus say?  Did Jesus pat him on the back and say, “Keep up the good work”?  No.  Matthew 19:21:

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

“If you want to be perfect in regards to keeping the law, if you really love your neighbor as yourself, then you would take all your wealth and give it to the poor and you come and follow Me and I will give you My wealth.”  How is that for a bargain?  If he had accepted Christ as the Messiah, would he have jumped for it?  Yes.  Because the Messiah owned the universe.  But look at verse 22:

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Did he, under this test, did he really love his neighbor as himself?  No.  Therefore, was he really keeping the commandments?  No.  As far the law was concerned, was he qualified for heaven?  No.  And so, when Jesus turned around to the disciples, notice what He said in the last part of verse 26 after he explained that this man had failed:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Going back now to Matthew.  Were the Pharisees really teaching the law correctly?  No.  Where were they wrong?  Christ is going to spend much time in explaining where they were wrong in verses 21 onward and we will cover that.

But the one area in which they were wrong that I will touch now is that they were wrong in the fact that they were using the law as a method to go to heaven.  They were wrong there.  Did Christ use the law as a method to go to heaven?  No.  Did Christ use the law as a standard of Christian living?  Yes.  And that is what He is teaching here.  He is saying that the law is not a method of salvation, but it is a standard of Christian living.  “I came to fulfill the law, that you may go to heaven.”  Christ is the righteousness of the law in terms of going to heaven.  That is what He meant by “I have fulfilled the law.”

That is why (so that everything about Him in the Old Testament prophecies might be fulfilled) in John He said, “I’m thirsty.”  But, when it comes to Christian living, He uses the law as the standard of Christian living.  So did Christ come to do away with the law?  No.  That is why we need to know clearly the relationship of law and grace.  Are these two enemies?  What is the relationship of grace and law?  What does grace do?

Grace does two things.  Number one, grace saves you.  Is it clear that we are saved by grace alone?  But there is something else that grace does.  Grace also writes the law in our hearts and it gives us new incentives, new desires.  What are they?  My incentive is to live for Christ.  And my desire is to live also for my fellow man.  Christ is saying that, if you are truly a disciple, you will accept Him as your salvation (He fulfilled the law for your salvation) but you will also look at the law as the standard of Christian living.

I was at a World Council of Churches seminar for pastors in Nairobi, Kenya.  There were 1,500 pastors from 83 denominations.  Of course, we weren’t invited as a Church because we don’t belong to the World Council of Churches, but the man in charge of the Theology Department was from Sweden and, since I sold books in Sweden and spoke the language, we became good friends and spent quite a lot of time discussing theology.  He said to me, “We can invite you as a visitor, we have permission; we have visitors’ passes.”  I told him it would depend on who was speaking; if it was a liberal theologian, I didn’t want to waste my time.  He said, “No, we have the very best:  John Stott.”  I said, “Please give me all the passes you want.”  I had heard Stott speak in England when I was studying at Newbold.

But this is what I want to tell you that he said:

“We evangelicals know how to preach the good news, but we have failed miserably to preach the good life.  And that is because we have done away with the law.  Grace never did away with the law.  Grace presents the law as a standard of Christian living.”

And I used to alternate between hearing him, an Anglican, and Martin Lloyd Jones.  The best preacher that England has produced in the Twentieth Century was Martin Lloyd Jones.  He was a medical doctor in the top line of doctors in Britain.  He gave his practice up, a very lucrative profession.  He gave it up to be a preacher and became the pastor of the Congregational Church in Westminster Chapel.  And he said the same thing in different words.  He said, “The law is always the standard of Christian living.”

And this is what Christ is saying here.  And then He says in 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.

In other words, “Not only am I presenting the Law as the standard of Christian living, but the righteousness that the Law demands as a standard must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.”  Could you exceed their righteousness?  Weren’t they very particular?  What was Christ trying to say?  In what sense should our righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees?  How should it be in terms of performance?  Because, when Jesus goes to verse 21 [next study], He is dealing with performance.

Number one, the moment you use the law as the method of salvation, your motivation for lawkeeping will be self.  Remember the prayer of the Pharisee [in Luke 18:9-14]?

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:  ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“God, thank you I am not a sinner like the tax collector.  I deserve to go to heaven.”  Any lawkeeping that is done, either out of fear of punishment or a desire to go to heaven, in God’s eyes is filthy rags.

How can human beings who are egocentric by nature serve a God out of unselfish love?  How?  Because Christ first of all gives you peace with Him.  He satisfies the longing in every human soul for heaven.  Every human soul is born with the fear of death.  Jesus removes that fear through the gospel.  He removes your anxieties.  The first thing He gives you is peace with God.  Then once He gives you peace, He says, “This is how I want you to live.”

When I was at Newbold College (U.K.), there was a young man who was showering a girl with all kinds of presents:  flowers and chocolates, every week he would buy something.  And after doing that for two years, he asked the girl to marry him.  And she came to me and said, “Can you give me some advice?  I appreciate all the gifts he gave me, but I am not in love with him.”  I said, “Well, say no to him.”  “But how can I say no?  He showered me with all these things.”  I said, “Anyone who gives you gifts in order to get something back from you, that is bribery, that is not love.  Just tell him that you appreciate all the gifts but you can’t say yes because you feel that deep down God has not put you together.”  And so she did and he replied, “You ungrateful thing.”  What was he telling her when he said that?  “I was trying to buy your love.”  I said to her, “Sister, if you had married him, he would have stopped giving you the gifts, because he would have got what he wanted.”

Why do you serve God?  Is it because you want something or is because you are so filled with appreciation for what Christ did that you want to serve Him out of love?  We love Him because He first loved us.  We don’t love Him because we want a reciprocal love.  We love Him because He first loved us and He redeemed us.  God so loved the world while it was rebellious and He saved us.  So Christ says, “If you really appreciate my sacrifice, if you really appreciate what I have done for you, you will keep my commandments.”  We don’t love Him because we want something in return.  We love Him because He has already redeemed us.  When we can produce a people like this, then our righteousness will exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.

And when we go to verse 21 onward, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is simply expounding on this one statement, that Christians should not be Christians only in words, but their lifestyle must reflect that they are citizens of heaven.  So please remember that the law is not a method of salvation, but it is a standard of Christian living.  And what Christ wants from us is not keeping the law in the letter but in the spirit.  And this is what Paul teaches.

I want to conclude by turning to Romans 7:4,6.  Paul tells us that He delivered us from under the law — not that we can now live as we like.

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.  ...But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

No longer does the law say to the Christian, “You obey me; otherwise, you will be zapped.”  The law can’t say that to the Christian because he is no longer under the law.  He is liberated by the fulfillment of Christ.  Now he is “released from the law,” not released (or “delivered,” in some translations) from keeping it but released from its demands in terms of salvation.

The Pharisees and scribes were serving the law “in the old way of the written code.”  They were serving the law under the old covenant.  What does the old covenant teach?  “Obey me and you will live, but, if you disobey, you will die.”  The new covenant doesn’t say that.  The new covenant says, “I will write the law in the heart.”  Do you know what that means?  It means that our desire will be in harmony with the law.  We will want to do these things from the inside.  Not “we must do those things, otherwise we won’t make it.”  We will serve in “the new way of the Spirit.”

And when that happens, the earth will be lightened with the glory of God.  And the Church will become very attractive.  The world will say, “If this is Christianity, this is what we want.”  But right now they are not saying that.  Why?  Because — forget the world — our own young people say, “It is a misery to be a Seventh-day Adventist because it is full of dos and don’ts.”  The same young people will go out of their way to do tremendous things for somebody they love, for their girlfriends, or their team.  We need to present to our young people the matchless charms of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Then they will say, “I don’t want to do anything that will hurt my Savior.  I don’t want to do anything that brought Him to the cross.”  They will hate sin, not because they are going to be punished but because they love Jesus Christ.

In other words, God hates sin because He loves us.  Because what does sin do to us?  It kills.  So God hates sin because He loves us.  We should hate sin because of what it did (and does) to Christ.  Under grace, it is grace that takes the punishment.  And on the cross, Jesus suffered the most terrible death, the death that nobody has yet suffered.  He suffered the death of God’s abandonment.  And God did not spare His own Son because He loved the people of this world so much.

It is my prayer that we will hate sin because of our love for Jesus Christ.  And that we will use the law, not as a hammer on our people, saying, “unless you do this, you won’t make it.”  Jesus did not teach that.  He said, “I did not come to destroy the law.  I came to fulfill it.”  And He fulfilled the moral law primarily to save us.  All other prophecies pointed to Christ as the fulfillment of the moral law to save us.  He kept the law perfectly that He may be our righteousness.  He died the wages of the moral law that He might be our righteousness.

The ceremonial law was simply pointing to Christ as the fulfillment of the moral law.  So when I look at the ceremonial law and see the spotless lamb, it points to the perfect obedience of Christ to the moral law.

When I look at Christ crucified, the lamb slain, it points to Christ as the fulfillment of the justice of the moral law.  It is the moral law that says, “The soul that sins must die.”  And that is what Paul meant that Christ is the reality of the moral law.

But now I look at the law not as rules but as the righteousness of Christ, which I want now to reflect.  The world needs to see Christ in me, “the hope of glory.”  And then we will not have all these people leaving our churches.  They will realize that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

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