IN A WORLD OF NO ACCOUNTABILITY
We live in a culture where attitudes and behavior are increasingly shaped by political correctness. If we don’t conform we are marginalized. It is an outcome of society’s rejection of God.
The Greek philosopher Protagoras and the modern-day Carl Sagan both insist there is no God. We are alone in a vast universe. It’s a scary yet exciting idea. It offers us a freedom to think and do what we want, for there is no final accountability.
So, someone wanting a million dollars will decide to rip off a bank, a company, the government – without getting caught. Still others, experiencing an unwanted pregnancy see termination to be the solution. Others, finding themselves in a marriage that is coming apart, view divorce as the only option. Because there is no external moral order, we can shape our lives as we want.
Centuries ago when there was the same desire for ‘freedom’, Jesus said: “I have not come to abolish the law and the commandments, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
Matthew uses the word ‘fulfill’ in the first four chapters of his gospel to make it plain that Jesus fulfills a range of Old Testament prophecies. In chapter 1 an angel points out to Joseph that everything about Jesus’ birth was to ‘fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet’. The same idea is echoed in the following chapters.
Jesus was saying that everything in the Old Testament points to him. He was not working against the law and the prophets. Rather he was bringing them to fruition. Far from being abolished by him, they find their continuity in the way they are worked out in him.
Imagine that all the law and the prophets are like light waves. They are traveling towards the same focal point – Jesus. Having reached the focal point, the light waves are now filtered: some come to an end; others are given a new shape; still others continue on just as they were.
So, the specific laws concerning sacrifice for sin are now perfectly fulfilled. Jesus’ death was the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for human sin. The legal principle of the need for a sacrifice for sin continues, but there is now no longer any need for further sacrifices for sin.
WHAT IS EXPECTED
Furthermore, the specific laws concerning our relationship with God and with one another – the Ten Commandments – also find their fulfillment in Jesus. However, the requirements of those laws continue. For Jesus, in setting out the commands of the kingdom, gives us insight into the meaning and practice of the Ten Commandments. He expects us to live them out.
So we read in 5:19: “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.” What we might call ‘gospel freedom’, is not the license to do as we want, but the liberty to do as we ought – defined by Jesus.
Jesus has become the lens through which we view the Old Testament. What he teaches about the law has now become the requirement of the kingdom. He is God’s king instructing us how to live. His teaching includes all that he has been saying about our mind-set and behavior in the Beatitudes. It includes what he has yet to say about murder, about adultery, about love, about prayer and possessions, about self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
Jesus gives us clear instruction as to how the law, which will not pass away, is to be understood and applied. His words are not a sentimental do-goodism. He is forthright, clear and punchy! The standards of goodness he expects of those who want to follow him are high.
We won’t reach God’s standards in this life. However, Jesus expects us by his grace and through the power of his resurrection, to work towards them. He wants the expectation of the new heaven and the new earth which he holds out to us, to be shaping our lives now.