Matthew 5:17-20: The Law Fulfilled

Read: Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus explicitly proclaims that he did not come to abolish the law, so why is it that Christians are required to give sacrifices at the temple and follow a myriad of other such laws relating to sacrifices, what rituals one should follow to be ceremonially clean, and how the priests were suppose to act? In the same breath, Jesus says that he also came to “fulfill the law”.

So what did Jesus actually fulfill? There aren’t pat answers that can be given to answer this question, but it can be generally addressed by seeing the all the laws in the Old Testament were seen as falling into one or two categories: ceremonially laws and moral laws. Ceremonially laws were seen as those which related to all the ceremonially practices and requirements related to sacrifice, the priesthood, who is and isn’t ceremonially clean, clean and unclean foods, the process for becoming ceremonially clean for various conditions, among many others. The moral laws were those that related to the do’s and don’ts, such as not stealing, not lying, not murdering, and giving the poor, taking care of widows, and being kind for foreigners. All these laws were either dealing with practical and civil relationships between various people or matters of personal holiness. While these two categories exist, there were still some questions lingering in the minds of new believers even after Jesus ascended into heaven. Many new Christians that came out of Judaism, for instance, wanted to maintain portions of the Old Testament law such as circumcision. Large sections of the New Testament, such as much of Galatians, are dedicate to Paul and the other apostles addressing this very issue.

The book of Hebrews unpacks how Jesus fulfills the ceremonially laws by becoming the high priest (Hebrews 7) and being the sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18). It also explains how the temple and the tabernacle were “copies” of things in heaven that pointed to the perfect temple and what it contained. Jesus himself is both the priest forever and one and for all sacrifice, so there is no need for daily and yearly sacrifices, priests to offer them, or temple with its altar to offer them on. In doing so, Jesus fulfills the ceremonially law for all times so Christians don’t have to offer sacrifices anymore. With this being fulfilled, what’s left is the moral laws, and the New Testament has many lists of what one might consider moral right or wrong. Even with much of the New Testament dedicated to helping Christians understand what is and isn’t fulfilled in Jesus in the Bible, it’s not always as crystal clear as one would like to it to be. For instance, some Christians object to tattoos on moral grounds while others do not, claiming that the Law forbade tattoos because of the ceremonially law. Some Christians think that others shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it is rooted in pagan traditions while other Christians don’t have a problem with it. Paul in light of this gives practical advice concerning this conflict in Romans 14, with what has become known as the “principle of conscience”. Paul says to this matter that one should not become a stumbling block to another by trying to impose such morality that isn’t otherwise explicitly addressed on another as being morally binding.

One thing is clear: righteousness does not come from following the law, rather righteousness comes by faith in Jesus. The Pharisees, however, believed that righteousness could come through following the law and made painstaking efforts to abide by the ceremonial law. Their problem was that they were not following the moral laws. Righteousness comes from faith in Jesus, believing that he is the once and for all sacrifice for sin. When one is made clean by Jesus, he or she is freed up to live a life free from the bondage of the Law and bondage to sin and can pursue holiness not as means to obtain righteousness, rather as response to the great love that God has lavished on it all believers. In doing so believers obey the moral laws and love God at the same time!

Lord, you fulfilled the law for me when I could not! All I can do is love your in return!

Matthew 5:2-12: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Meek” is not a common word in modern language, and usually it has the connotation of weak and submissive. Meekness in the context of the kingdom of God though goes right back to the first beatitude about being poor in spirit. This beatitude makes a reference to Psalm 37:11 which contains a very similar phrase. In the context of Psalm 37, the psalmist lays out a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. While the former plots against the righteous, the Lord laughs at them because they are no match for the and the Lord will fight on behalf of the righteous and deliver them. James 1:20-12 has a similar contrast between meekness and wickedness. He says put away wickedness and take on “with meekness” the implanted word, which was made known through Jesus. James injects this quality because meekness stands in contrast to wickedness, which is prideful and selfish. Submission to the will and word of God requires meekness, and these will be the ones who will inherit the “earth” which is a metaphor taken from the psalm as an allusion to the inheritance that was promised Israel but is made available to all those who believe.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Psalm 42 and Psalm 63 describe one who desires to be in the presence of the Lord like one who is dying of thirst in a dry land. They feels as if they are living in a place where God’s presence is removed and and they long to be where it is. Such is the way one who follows God ought to. Righteousness though on one’s own is impossible, and this is what the Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. While is is sufficient for justification before God, one ought to put away sin and desire righteousness as one contends with the two natures this side of heaven, knowing that one day the desire for righteousness will be filled in the kingdom of God.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Hosea’s life is a picture of God’s story of redemption for his people. Hosea takes a wife, but she has an affair that brings children. One of those children is named “No Mercy”. Yet in this, God gives mercy to the one who was called “No Mercy”. God in his righteousness has every right to condemn sinners for being unfaithful to him, but he chooses to give mercy to those that don’t deserve it. Later in the sermon, Jesus speaks to this same truth and applies to those who who forgive others (Matthew 6:14-16). The truth of the matter is that every person owes God more than any single person owes another. Matthew illustrates this with a parable in Matthew 18:21-25, where Jesus describes one with a servant who owed an insurmountable debt that his master forgives, but who is unwilling to forgive a debt that is substantially less to another servant. God wants Christians to model his own mercy, being quick to forgive before condemnation.

To Be Continued…

Hebrews 12:1-11: Don’t Give Up!

Read: Hebrews 12:1-11

Faith is momentous and the quintessential trait of every person listed in or alluded to in Hebrews chapter 11. Having made his case for faith, the author of Hebrews breaks away from making a theological point to making some points of application, and he does so with the use of three different metaphors.

First, the author of Hebrews says that a “cloud” of witnesses surrounds believers.  The imagery here suggests a fog so thick fog such that one cannot tell which way he is going. In a manner of speaking, the author is trying to show his readers that the witness of God working in the lives of the faithful is undeniable – there’s no escaping it. This thick cloud of witnesses serves as a point of encouragement to the readers, knowing that God is faithful to those with faith.

Second, the author of Hebrews follows the cloud metaphor with a metaphor from racing. He likens the Christian life to a long distance race. First, runners should lighten themselves. He says to his reader that they should shed their sin that gets in the way perusing Jesus as a runner discards excess baggage before running a race. Second, he calls Jesus the “author” and “perferter” of the faith. In keeping with the race metaphor, Jesus is the “leader” and “finisher” of the race of faith. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as enduring the cross and its shame for the Joy set before him and he is now seated, high and exalted. The author is encouraging his readers to look to Jesus as the exemplar runner. But even so, his readers have not shed blood in their struggle against sin as Jesus did. The Apostle Paul uses the race metaphor elsewhere in scripture in a similar manner. He says that runners run to receive a prize and they do so by maintaining a since of self control so that they would not become disqualified from the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). At the end of his life, he says that he has run the race such that he will receive a prize when he departs from the earth to be with God (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The manner in which one runs the race is important so that one can be as the exemplar runner, namely Jesus.

Third, the author of Hebrews likens the hardship that his readers are enduring to the sort of discipline a father gives his children. He draws on an Old Testament quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. Proverbs 3 is part of a larger pericope of scripture exonerating the value of wisdom, particularly from one’s father and mother. The author of Hebrews is invoking this passage to show that God does indeed use the difficulties in life to hone one’s faith, and it is a blessing to receive such discipline. The author notes that it results in a “fruit” of righteousness, and even more so what Paul called a “crown of righteousness” that one receives as a reward from God.

The question for Christians is not if hardship will come, rather when hardship will come. When it does, Christians are often tempted to retreat back into sin and give up. But rather than give up, Christians can be reminded of the cloud of testimonies of so many others who have remained faithful. In doing so, this can help Christians not to give up, rather to continuously fix their eyes on Jesus, not the problems of life and look on hardship as an opportunity to be blessed by God rather than feel cursed by God. In the end, a reward of righteousness will be the prize!

Lord, rather than giving up, I want to be encouraged to run with endurance so I might be blessed!

Help me to do just this!

Ecclesiastes 7:20: Righteousness

Read: Ecclesiastes 7:20

Righteousness, simply defined in a scriptural context, is being without sin. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes notes that no one is righteous, and this fact is reiterated over and over in the scriptures (Romans 3:23, 2 Corinthians 6:36, 1 Kings 8:46, 1 John 1:8, Psalm 130:3-4, Proverbs 20:9). The Preacher qualifies this, saying that no one continually does good and without sinning. There are those who do indeed live lives that are well enumerated with good deeds, but the Preacher is saying that even such people still sin and are not righteous for this reason. When Paul declares in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, he is making the same sort of observation. Even those who live according to the ways of God still have a sin problem. Paul infers this from by citing several verses from the Old Testament (Romans 3:10-18). He says that no one is made righteous by observing the law, rather that the law is in place to make one aware of their sin (Romans 3:19-20).

But there is hope that comes from faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is what “justifies” a person. When one is “justified”, he or she is declared righteous in God’s sight. God sees those who are justified as he would look upon one who has never sinned before. Paul explains that the law demands a price for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). The law requires that every person that has ever sinned pay the penalty of death for his or her sin. What Jesus provides for sinners though is a way out, a way to be made righteous. Jesus, on behalf of sinners, died on the cross in their place. This death satisfied the requirement of the law that demands death (Romans 4:25). Sinners are then presented with two options: trust in Jesus who is able to make one righteous, or trust in one’s own righteousness when one stands before God

If all have fallen short of God’s standard, then there is really only one option that makes any sense, and that is to trust in Jesus. . Note, that when one “trusts” one is not merely accenting to some facts about Jesus. One is relying on Jesus to make them righteous, and this is what the Bible is talking about when it says “faith”. Faith is not believing something without evidence or reason to believe it as many think it is. It is rather trusting in a person to do something he or she has promised to do. God does indeed love people and he does not delight in the demise of the wicked. He would rather people repent and believe that condemn them to die because of their sin (Ezekiel 18:23). But those who choose not to believe in Jesus are nevertheless subject to God’s judgment and will be dealt with according to their sins. As for the Christian though, they will be judged according to their faith in Jesus because Jesus has made them righteous. But being declared righteous before God does not mean that one is able to do as he or she pleases. Rather one is made a “slave to righteousness” (Romans 6:14-19). One should go about the work of telling others how they too can be made righteous before God by trusting in Jesus!

Lord, I am made righteous by you! Help me live in a manner worthy of your righteousness!

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18: Avoid The Extremes

Read: Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

Excessive righteousness and excessive wickedness stand in contrast to one another as do excessive wisdom and excessive folly. In the Bible, the ones most often associated with excessive righteousness are the Pharisees. They had created rules to supplement the rules that were in the Law so that they were sure not to violate the law. They had become sticklers for doing the law perfectly such that they really missed the point. Likewise, there were those who threw the law to the wind and did whatever they wanted to such that they were excessively wicked. The Preacher is not encouraging people to be slightly wicked or even saying that a little wickedness is okay, rather that wickedness with no regard for the law is unacceptable as it leads to destruction. In the same manner, the Preacher says one should not be overly wise or overly foolish. Being excessively wise is being wise for wisdom’s sake and being excessive foolish is being foolish with no regard to wisdom at all because it to is destructive. When one goes to the extremes, one’s life is effectively wasted and the preacher is telling people to not waste their lives in trivial or destructive pursuits.

The Preacher is telling people to avoid extremes in a manner of speaking.  He sees one as grasping two things and holding onto them and bringing them to God. If one were to grasp two ropes pulling with equal force opposite directions, one would remain in the middle. If one holds something heavy in one hand and something of equal weight in the other, there is equilibrium and such is actually easier to carry than something that is not balanced. This sort of imagery is what the Preacher is using to illustrate the matter of grasping wisdom alongside folly righteousness alongside wickedness. One needs to be in touch with both to avoid the dangerous extremes.

Paul, before becoming a Christian was the sort of legalistic Pharisee mentioned earlier. He had a zeal for the law and a zeal for persecuting those who he did not agree with, namely the church. But when he converted, he took on a more level-headed approach to obeying the law. In Romans 12:1-3, Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to present themselves as living sacrifices and to do so in a manner such that they don’t think of themselves more highly than they ought to, rather being sober minded (i.e. living wisely) and doing as to not create false piety (Colossians 2:16-22). This is all done in light of God’s mercy. At the same time, there is another extreme Paul warns against: sinning in light of grace. Jesus’ death is not a license to sin, rather quote the opposite. Christ fulfills the demands of the law and upholds the law in doing so. One should be all the more compelled to live according to it (Romans 6:15-18).

Living out one’s life in a manner that does not drift towards one extreme or another requires vigilance against the extreme. One should heed the advice given by the Preacher by being aware of wickedness and righteousness at the same time and being aware of wisdom and foolishness at the same time. It is in this balance, one will be able to live in a way that does not destroy or needlessly waste one’s life.

Lord, help not waste my life in trivial or dangerous pursuits!

Ecclesiastes 7:7: Integrity

Read: Ecclesiastes 7:7

Ecclesiastes has one short verse in Chapter 7 on bribery and extortion. Bribery as something that is inherently unholy almost goes without saying, but the Bible does speak to bribery in many places.

  • Exodus 23:8 explicitly forbids the act as a commandment.
  • Proverbs 15:27 speaks to the matter, saying that the one who accepts unjust gain brings trouble, but the one who does not accept bribes lives
  • Proverbs 29:4 is similar to 15:27, but talks about it from the perspective of a king: a king that does not accept bribes has stability in his country, but the one that does tears it down.
  • Psalm 26 speaks of a man who is blameless, and asking the Lord for vindication. He is contrasted with a man full of wicked schemes and who accepts bribes.
  • In Acts 24, Felix wanted a bribe from Paul so that he would let Paul go. Paul was never succumbed to the temptation; rather he remained in jail for two years under Felix.

Bribery and extortion is not limited to illicitly accepting money for some sort of illegal or dishonest act. A bribe can come in all kinds of forms. The principal of the matter is that one should not compromise one’s integrity for some sort of gain – that is one should be honest in his or her dealings. The Preacher says that accepting bribes turns one into a fool and corrupts the heart. Integrity is something that is difficult to maintain, and it only takes a single incident to ruin one’s integrity. But at the same time, integrity can also be the very thing that foils baseless accusations about corruption. A person who is not even suspected of being dishonest in his or her dealings has the integrity to carry him through. When this is not present, it can only lead to ruin.

Bribes come with a price. While accepting a bribe is easy, the bribe itself corrupts one’s heart and destroys one’s integrity. But such is not limited to bribes. Any number of compromises to one’s integrity can have the same effect. Christians should seek to not fall prey to the temptation of quick gains. They should maintain integrity on all fronts. Paul encourages Timothy to compete according to the rules as an athlete does so that he can win the prize (2 Timothy 2:5). Paul felt that he had run the race and would receive a crown of righteousness because he had done so according to the rules (2 Timothy 5:6-8). Paul expounds on this motif in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 saying that he trains to compete. The motif of an athlete practicing a strict training routine and competing according to the rules is analogous to the Christian life. The way to avoid temptation is to undergo strict training and compete according to the rules, and for the Christian this is done by exercising the spiritual training that comes from spending time learning God’s Word. This is intentional, not haphazard as Paul describes. There is purpose to the training so that one can hone skills so that he or she may perform with excellence. Second one competes by living one’s life according to what one learns from his or her training. In this manner, one can run the race and not be disqualified!

Lord, help me to train and compete so that I am not disqualified!