Full and Filled
Rev. Kurt Lantz Trinity 6 Matthew 5:17-26
July 16, 2023 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear disciples of Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Little children, why bother listening to mom and dad? Do you always listen and do what you are told, and stop doing what you are told not to do? It is hard, isn’t it? Sometimes we think we know better than mom and dad. Sometimes we just want to do what we want to do. But when we listen it isn’t just because we don’t want to be punished. The real reason that we listen is because we love mom and dad and we know that they love us. We want to do the things that make them happy because they have done lots of things to make us happy. We don’t want to do things that make them sad, because we know that they care for us when we are sad and help to take those awful feelings away. We don’t want anyone to feel that way. Jesus does not want you to feel that way. That doesn’t mean that mom and dad have no rules. It means that their rules are as good and loving for us as their hugs and kisses.
So, older children: Why would Jesus say such a thing as, “Do not think that I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17)? And why would He tell you, “I did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them”?
We need to be told that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets because that is what we presume to do so often. We abolish the Law by ignoring it and doing whatever we want. We abolish the Law by claiming that it does not apply to us in our particular situation. We abolish the Law by minimizing it to something so specific that we would never come close to breaking it. We abolish the Law by saying that since Jesus has fulfilled it, it doesn’t matter any more.
How dare you try to abolish God’s divine words? How dare you try to change them in any way? How dare you try to whittle it down to such a fine point that it becomes ineffective in your life? How dare you say that since Jesus has come and fulfilled it in its broadest meanings, it no longer matters? It certainly mattered to Him that He should fulfill it completely. He did that for you, not so that you would think it no longer important, or something that will never intersect your life, or something that has nothing to do with you, and certainly not something that you can transgress wherever and whenever you want to.
In the last few decades an ancient heresy has been resurrected and paraded around, and it is called “Antinomianism.” It is summarized as the belief that the Law of God has no place in the life of the Christian; that since Jesus has fulfilled the Law, it no longer applies to those who are covered by Jesus; that God only has sweet words of forgiveness and affirmation for His people. Antinomians are “anti-Law,” against the Law.
If Jesus and His followers are to be Antinomians, then it is kind of strange that at the beginning of His great Sermon on the Mount, right after He speaks of those who are blessed in so many ways by being blessed in Him, that He should proceed into such a honed homily on the Law, with His theme being: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” And then He goes on to macro-zoom in on several of the Ten Commandments until His disciples are feeling no longer blessed, but lying in a puddle of guilt of shame, having to search for their worthiness outside of themselves.
Jesus warns His budding apostles whom He will send out to teach that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law... Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and so teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven” (vv. 18-19). For example, the well-known, “You shall not murder” is not fully understand to be that you shall not intentionally hurt someone to the extent that they die. Pretty much anybody could keep such a commandment to that extent, if they remained in their right mind and tried hard.
But Jesus, the One by whom the Law was spoken on Mount Sinai, the eternal Word of God Himself, is the One who gets to determine the scope and meaning of the Commandment, not you or me. Where we would abolish, He lets His Word grow, and He expands it and fills in any gaps to the widest possible extent. “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22).
There is no escaping. There is no wiggle room. There is nowhere to hide. You would have to be an “Antinomian” to think you have gotten away with it, or could continue to do so, or that it didn’t have anything to do with your life, or that you were somehow above all of this. It is in this strictest sense that Jesus put Himself under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law (Galatians 4:4). If you don’t feel that this Law or any of the others applies to you, than do not presume that you have been redeemed by the One who gave this Law and then was born of woman to fulfill it fully and completely.
If this Law had nothing to do with us, we could skip over to the next one about committing adultery. But before we are allowed to do that, Jesus teaches us what keeping this commandment entails. He gives us a “therefore.” “Therefore if you... remember that your brother has something against you...” (v. 23). The resulting effect of this Law is not just that we have to be reconciled to God for our hurting, our insults, our humiliation of others, as well as our killing; the resulting effect is that we are to be reconciled also with all people.
That is a tough one. It is difficult enough to tell God, who gave the Law, that you are sorry and you want your relationship as His beloved child restored. You know that He sent Jesus to do that very thing for you. But it is so much more difficult to even want to restore a relationship with someone where this hurting and insulting and humiliating stuff has been going on.
This is where we want to abolish this Law of Jesus. This is where we want to be able to say that it doesn’t count in our case because of this condition and that circumstance, and the order of events. This is where we want to abolish the Law and say, “I can live with this damaged relationship” because I still have a relationship with Jesus and that is the one that counts.
This reconciling act with anyone else is so important to your Saviour that He wants you to give it priority over anything that you would do for Him. Before offering your gift of thanksgiving or praise to the One who has redeemed you, first go and be reconciled and then come and offer your gift. Jesus didn’t specify what that gift might be (your financial offering, your prayers, your hymns, your vocation carried out to His glory and honour, your eucharistic thanksgiving at His Supper?). What is clear is that He places high importance on it, not as a way of escaping the judgment of the civil authorities, or the church, or even to escape hell; but as that which pleases Him more than any gift you have to offer to Him.
Your reconciliation with someone may result in them dropping their charges against you in the civil courts, or in a church tribunal, or even in their prayers to the Lord. That would bring relief and blessing of its own. But if you were to agree with the other Accuser, not the one whom you have slandered or humiliated, but the Accuser who gave this Law and explained its expansive impact in His Sermon on the Mount, the Accuser Jesus who did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them, then you would find rich forgiveness, mercy, and grace without bounds, stretching far wider than the line of trespass against this commandment.
For its expansive definition was not to cast a larger net in order to trap you, but to give such a wide definition that in His own fulfillment of it Jesus might cover each and every possible sin against it. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. In order to fulfill them to the extent of His love for His Father He stretches them deep and wide. He exercises perfect and complete obedience to the One He loves.
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He didn’t come to cancel them out, but to lovingly obey His heavenly Father in every possibly way. He didn’t come to make our life more difficult or more easy. He came to love us as He loves the Father, so He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets fully in order to love us fully too.
His perfect obedience to the Law made Him the only One who could redeem those under the Law, you and me. He perfectly and completely obeyed in order to perfectly and completely pay for our disobedience (each and every way that we try to find to wiggle through or escape the condemnation of the commandments). He expanded them and filled all the gaps so that His obedience and His suffering and death would cover all of our disobedience, each and every way we might ever try to find to hurt someone or make them feel bad or find a way to damage their name in front of other people. He went all the way to the cross and grave in love toward His Father and to us so that we might go in love to Him and to our neighbour in order to be reconciled.
He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. They are who speak not just of commandments but of a redeemer. The Law and the Prophets reveal the Saviour who gives His life to save us from the punishments that our sins deserve. Can you imagine if Jesus came and did abolish the Law and the Prophets who promise our reconciliation with God? We would all be damned to hell in our sins and not get out of that fire until we paid the last penny (something we would never be able to do, not even with the help of all the saints and angels). There is no purgatory to escape or to work out of, or to pay off. There is only hell awaiting those who cannot fulfill the Law of God in its entirety.
But Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. He came to fulfill them. And that is why we can be sure that we are redeemed and saved from all the punishments of our sins. He fulfilled the Law to its fullest extent and He is the fulfillment of all of God’s prophetic promises of One to save His people from their sins. He has reconciled you fully to the Father in order to fill you with that same love for the Father and for all of His children.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.