Until Heaven and Earth Disappear
As I read Matthew 5 this morning verses 17 to 20 popped out at me. The chapter begins with the famous “blesseds” known as the Beatitudes (3-12). It’s a kind of mini-list of characteristics describing what a follower of Jesus should look like and what those believers should expect from God because of their faithful following of His example.
This then leads into a couple of illustrations. People who look like the Beatitudes are the salt of the earth, giving flavour to the world (vs. 13) and they are the light that points others to God (vss. 14-16).
These characteristics are what “righteousness” looks like. And, if we are looking for the perfect example of what righteousness is with skin on, Jesus says in verses 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.”
The character traits given in Beatitudes are simply another expression of all that the Jews would have recognized as the Law. Jesus was the perfect example of someone who was righteous, who modeled without deviation, everything that God expected His creation to be.
Many people try to force this verse to say that by His coming and His death Jesus put an end to any demands that the Law might make on us. It is true, of course, that by His death He put an end to the penalty of the Law. He paid that penalty on our behalf and those who have accepted Christ as Saviour no longer have to fear that penalty—eternal death and separation from God the Father.
But the demands of the Law—righteousness, holy living, obedience—are still in force. Quite apart from the Lord’s clear statement: “I have not come to abolish the Law...” we have Matthew 5:18 which tells us: “I tell you the truth, UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH DISAPPEAR, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” As if that wasn’t enough Jesus goes on to say that anyone who says otherwise is in big trouble (vs. 19).
Heaven and earth are still here and as long as they are, righteousness, as set out for us in the Law, as well as in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, is still required of those who claim to follow the Lord. Until God has done all that He has planned to do, until the Lord returns, we who are free from the penalty of the Law are still required to follow the example of Jesus who kept that Law to perfection.
How else will we be salt and light in a fallen world? How else will anyone be able to tell the difference between us and that world? How else will anyone see the light of truth and come to faith?