“Christ and the Law” – Matthew 5:17-20


November 13th, 2016

Mt 5:17-20

“Christ and the Law”

Aux Text: Hebrews 10:1-18

Call to Worship: Psalm 119:1-8


Service Orientation: The Law is a foreshadowing what Christ would 1500 years later come to do so we can have an intimate relationship with God.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  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. — Matthew 5:17-20


Background Information:

  • Verses 17-20 teach the foundation for the inner qualities of the Beatitudes and for functioning as God’s salt and light. That foundation is God’s Word, the only standard of righteousness and of truth.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 252)
  • Mt 5:17-20 serves as the interpretive key to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, understanding this particular section of the sermon is critical for understanding the sermon as a whole.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 94)
  • The method of starting with basic principles is something we see here as our Lord goes on to deal with this question of righteousness. He does so by laying down in this paragraph two categorical propositions.  In the first, in verses 17 and 18, He says that everything He is going to teach is in absolute harmony with the entire teaching of the OT Scriptures.  There is nothing in this teaching which in any way contradicts them.

The second proposition, which He lays down in verses 19 and 20, is that this teaching of His which is in such harmony with the OT is in complete disharmony with, and an utter contradiction of, the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 158)

  • (v. 17) Jesus’ warning, do not think, indicates that most, if not all, of His hearers had a wrong conception about His teaching. Most traditionalistic Jews considered the rabbinic instructions to be the proper interpretations of the law of Moses, and they concluded that, because Jesus did not scrupulously follow those traditions, He obviously was doing away with the law or relegating it to minor importance.  Because Jesus swept away the traditions of washings, special tithes, extreme Sabbath observance, and such things, the people thought He was thereby overthrowing God’s law.  From the outset, therefore, Jesus wanted to disabuse His hearers of any misconceptions about His view of Scripture.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 253)
  • (v. 17) “I have come,” said Jesus. This indicates that he was fully conscious of his Messianic mission, and in close connection with it, of his pre-existence.  This doctrine of pre-existence is therefore not peculiar to John (1:1-14; 3:17; 5:36, 43; 6:38; 8:58; 16:28; 18:37) and Paul (2 Cor 8:9; Gal 4:4, 5; Eph 4:9, 10; Phil 2:5 ff.; etc.).  Though not as abundantly it is nevertheless taught clearly also in the Synoptics (Mt 5:17; Lk 12:49; 19:10).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 290)
  • (v. 17) The Jews of Jesus’ day could refer to the Scriptures as “the Law and the Prophets” (7:12; 11:14; 22:40; Lk 16:16; Jn 1:45; Acts 13:15; 28:23; Rom 3:21); “the Law…, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Lk 24:44); or just “Law” (5:18; Jn 10:34; 12:34; 15:25; 1 Cor 14:21); the divisions were not yet stereotyped. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 142)
  • (v. 17) The Jews used the expression The Law in four different ways. (i) They used it to mean the Ten Commandments.  (ii) They used it to mean the first five books of the Bible.  That part of the Bible which is known as the Pentateuch–which literally means The Five Rolls–was to the Jew The Law par excellence and was to them by far the most important part of the Bible.  (iii) They used the phrase The Law and the prophets to mean the whole of Scripture; they used it as a comprehensive description of what we would call the whole OT.  (iv) They used it to mean the Oral or the Scribal Law.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 127)
  • (v. 17) The real meaning of the word “fulfill” is to carry out, to fulfill in the sense of giving full obedience to it, literally carrying out everything that has been said and stated in the law and in the prophets. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 162)
  • (v. 18) In the NT the word Amen, as an adverbial accusative, combines the ideas of truthfulness and solemnity. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 290)
  • (v. 18) “I tell you the truth” signals that the statement to follow is of the utmost importance. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 145)
  • (v. 18) In some cases we read, “Truly, truly I say to you…” The translation comes from the Hebrew word for “truth,” which in Aramaic is rendered by the term amēn.  When the people of God say “amen” after the preacher preaches or after a prayer is made, they are saying, “That is true,” or, “So let it be.”  Jesus, however, begins His pronouncements with the word “amen.”  In doing so He is saying, “This truth that I am about to say to you is absolutely certain.”  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 104)
  • (v. 18) “Until heaven and earth pass away” is a conventional way (cf. our “until hell freezes”) of saying for all practical purposes, “never” (cf. Jer 31:35-36; 33:20-21, 25-26; Job 14:12; also positively Ps 72:5, 7, 17), and the repetition of the verb “pass away” links the law closely with heaven and earth as being equally permanent; in 24:35 Jesus’ own words are stated to be more permanent than heaven and earth. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 185)
  • Jesus grew up and spent his ministry among the most religious Jews in the world. Galileans were known for their great reverence for Scripture and their passionate desire to be faithful to it in every aspect of daily life.  The people of Galilee knew Scripture by memory, debated its application with enthusiasm, loved God with all their heart, soul and strength (Dt 6:5), and trained their children to do the same.  Their great desire to follow God translated into vibrant religious communities whose synagogues echoed with debate and discussions about keeping the Torah.  As a result, Galilee produced more famous rabbis than any other region in the world. (Ray VanderLaan; The Dust of the Rabbi: Discovery Guide, 63)
  • 1. The “ceremonial law” related specifically to Israel’s worship (see Lv 1:2-3, for example).  Its primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ; these laws, therefore, were no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  While we need not follow all these ceremonial laws, the principles behind them–to worship and love a holy God–still apply.  The Pharisees often accused Jesus of violating ceremonial law.
  1. The “civil “law” applied to daily living in Israel (see Dt 24:10-11, for example). Because modern society and culture differ so radically from that time and setting, we need not keep all of these guidelines specifically.  However, the principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct.  Jesus demonstrated these principles by example.
  2. The “moral law” (such as the Ten Commandments) is the direct command of God; thus, it requires strict obedience (see Ex 20:13, for example). The moral law reveals the nature and will of God, and it still applies today.  Jesus obeyed the moral law completely and expects his followers to do the same.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 89)



  • In verse 20 Jesus gives his “thesis statement” for all that follows in the Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you [literal translation], unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then in verse 48 he ends this section by saying, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I know these verses are a bit tricky, but not as tricky as you might think.  The basic message of verses 20-48 is: don’t act like the scribes and Pharisees; but instead act like God.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 131)


If you are a follower of Christ, then you must have within you a deep desire to want to love and obey God’s Word because that is what drove Jesus.  Constantly, Jesus refers to his actions as being what His father told him to do or Jesus does what he does so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.   How can you say you follow Christ and contradict the very principle upon which his life was based . . .  To fulfill the Scriptures.  You cannot call yourself a Christian and do less than read, obey and love God’s Word. Otherwise, to call yourself a Christian and to live contrary to what we have just said, is to make a mockery of Jesus.  (Tim Keller message on Acts 3)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why should we care about the Law?   What is Jesus’ connection with the Law?


Answers:  The Law reflects the heart and values of Almighty God.  The Law foreshadowed the work that Jesus was foreordained to accomplish so those in Christ can enjoy an intimate relationship with the God of the Universe.   


There are books that people make, but the Bible makes people. —Thomas Ramundo


The Word for the Day is . . . Superior


I-  Why should we, like Jesus, care about the Law?:

  1. The Law reflects God’s heart and values. (Ps 19:7-14; ch 119; Mt 4:4; Jn 4:34; 17:17; 2 Tm 3:16-17; Heb 4:12)


Why is the Lord, the law-giver, so intent that his law should run throughout the whole life of his people in small matters as well as great, in their hearts and thoughts as well as in relationships and actions?  Because he desires that they should be like him.  The ‘text’ which this whole chapter expounds is announced in Lv 19:2:  ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’  Thus the intention of the law is to make the people like their God, and this, too, is the thread of unity running through the splendid diversity of the whole chapter.  Fifteen times the laws enunciated are driven home by the words ‘I am the LORD/I am the LORD your God’.  Thanks to the translational scruple of representing the divine Name, Yahweh, by the English convention “LORD’, this repeated sanction attached to the laws sounds like an assertion of authority:  you must do this because, as your Lord, I command it.  This is a misunderstanding.  What is asserted fifteen times over is not the authority vested in the deity but the revealed nature of Israel’s God, the ‘I am what I am’ of Ex 3:14-15.  Consequently, we can paraphrase the situation in Lv 19 like this:  ‘You are to obey all these laws, applying the law of the Lord to every detail of life in all its multiplicity, because I am what I am.  It is for this reason that I legislate how you are to treat your parents, the disabled, the elderly, the alien, the poor…because I AM WHAT I AM’.  In a word, the law is the preceptual replica of the divine nature; by obeying the law the Lord’s people become like him.  (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 77)


In the life of obedience, therefore, two things come together:  man in the image of God, and the law in the image of God.  In declaring his law, the Lord declares what he is; in obeying the law we are being fundamentally true to what we are.  Because the law reflects his image, it is the true law of our true nature.  In obedience we are living according to our revealed definition, we are ‘being ourselves’.  The law of the Lord is the ‘Maker’s Handbook’ for the effectuation of a truly human existence and personal human fulfilment.  (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 77-8)


God is after a certain quality of life.  He wants us to live in the image of God.  We are to be like God and live like Him.  That is what the Law is all about and that is why we need to have the Law written in our minds and on our hearts (Jer 31:31-34) if we are to be like God and live up to the reason why we were created to begin with. —Pastor Keith


When we see the law as a pointer to the character of God and His holiness, infinite depth is suggested.  When we read the law in the context of the whole Bible, we can see that it expresses the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself.  Since we are to be imitators of Christ and to reflect His righteousness (1 Pt 2:21; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29), the law is also relevant to us.  (Vern Poythress, Ph.D., The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 108-9)


The Christian who is interested in knowing his God is the Christian who wants to know what God says about himself in the Bible.  Such a Christian will not begin sentences with “I like to think of God as…”  She has learned not to blend together a little New Age or a little Hinduism with a little Christianity in order to yield a custom-fitted deity for herself.  No, the Christian church member who is serious about knowing God is the member who is committed to what the Bible says about God, because the Bible is where God tells us about himself.  (Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, 28)


How could the young ruler understand his sinfulness if he completely misunderstood God’s law?  How can today’s sinners, who are totally ignorant of God’s holy law and its demands upon them, look at themselves as condemned sinners?  The idea of sin is strange because God’s law is foreign to their minds.  (Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel:  Authentic or Synthetic?, 37)


Christ has indeed fulfilled the law (and the prophets, Mt 5:17), which means not only that he is the perfect embodiment of all that the law demands and the perfect interpreter of its meaning, but also that he represents the climax of the narrative that includes Yahweh’s gracious self-disclosure at Sinai and his mediated self-disclosure through Moses on the plains of Moab.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 38)


Read these four Gospels, and watch His quotations from the OT.  You can come to one conclusion only, namely, that He believed it all and not only certain parts of it!  He quoted almost every part of it.  To the Lord Jesus Christ the OT was the Word of God; it was Scripture; it was something absolutely unique and apart; it had authority which nothing else has ever possessed nor can possess.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 163)


The absence of authority in much contemporary preaching is directly attributable to the absence of confidence in the authority of the Bible.  Once biblical authority is undermined and eroded, preaching becomes a pretense.  The preacher stands to offer religious advice on the basis of the latest secular learning and the “spirituality” of the day.  The dust of death covers thousands of pulpits across the land.

But when the Bible’s authority is recognized and honored, the pulpit stands as a summons to hear and obey the word of God.  True worship takes place when the authority of the Bible is rightly honored and the preaching of the word is understood to be the event whereby God speaks to his people through his word, by the human instrumentality of his servants–the preachers.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 118)


  1. The Law points the way back to God through repentance. (Dt 31:17-18; Lev 8:15; Isa 59:1-2; 64:7; Ezek 45:15; Mt 7:23; Lk 13:27; Rom 5:1-10; 8:7; 2 Cor 5:18-21; Eph 2:15-18; Col 1:20-22; Heb 2:17; 12:14)


The Pharisee had never seen the need of forgiveness and there is no more terrible sin than that.  I know of nothing worse than the person who says; ‘You know I have never really felt that I am a sinner’.  That is the height of sin because it means that you have never realized the truth about God and the truth about yourself.  Read the argument of the Apostle Paul and you will find that his logic is not only inevitable, but also unanswerable.  ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’  We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.’  If you have never realized your guilt or guiltiness before God you will never have joy in Christ.  It is impossible.  ‘Not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to save.’  ‘They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.’  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, 31)


When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgement of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works.  (Martin Luther, Galatians, 94)


One reason God permits the gift of freedom to result in sin is in order that we can arrive at a consciousness of our own finitude and our own inability to attain righteousness on our own.  Hence Luther viewed temptation, sins, and suffering as closely related to providence.  A major function of the law (the divine requirement codified in Mosaic law) is to train us to not rely upon our own righteousness.  Thus providence works, even through the law, to teach us that we cannot achieve righteousness on our own, apart from God’s sustaining help and grace.  The germ of that idea was already present in the patristic writers.

According to Augustine, God would not permit evil at all unless He could draw good out of it.  (Thomas C. Oden; The Living God, 298)


The reason for this Bible centeredness is obvious:  faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17).  It is by the word that we are born again (1 Pt 1:23-25).  We grow by the “pure milk of the word” (2:2).  We are sanctified by the truth of God’s word (Jn 17:17).  God’s word is profitable and equips us for every good work (2 Tm 3:16-17).  God’s word is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).  It is the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17).  It is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16; cf. 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thes 1:5).  It performs its work in us (2:13).  It is “like fire…and like a hammer which shatters a rock” (Jer 23:29).  It does not return void, God says, “without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 275)


The office therefore of the law is to kill, but only so that God may revive and quicken again.  It is not given only to kill; but because man is proud, and dreams that he is wise, righteous, and holy, it is necessary that he should be humbled by the law so that this beast, the resumption of righteousness, might be slain; otherwise, man cannot obtain life.  (Martin Luther; Galatians, 219)


Commenting on the sinful tax collector who could not even lift his eyes to heaven but could only beat his breast and ask God to be merciful to him a sinner, Christ remarked, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (18:14).  God heard the prayer of the tax collector who broke the law but not that of the Pharisees who apparently had kept it scrupulously (v. 11).  Christ did not say that the Pharisee was not justified though he kept the law.  The point is, rather, that the Pharisee was not, by his very spirit, keeping the law as he claimed, while the tax collector, recognizing the truth about himself and confessing it, was forgiven.   (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 88)


Our thinking processes are so darkened that we twist and pervert the truth (1 Cor 2:14; Jn 1:5; Rom 8:7; Eph 4:18; Ti 1:15).  Our wills have been rendered unable to choose what is spiritually good (Jn 8:34; 2 Tm 3:2-4).  Our affections have been marred and misdirected so that we love the world and its evil pleasures (Jn 5:42; Heb 3:13; 1 Jn 2:15-17).  For these reasons, we are under the judgment of God (Jn 3:18-19) and unable to do anything to redeem ourselves (Jn 6:44; 3:5; Rom 7:18, 23).  The sin of Adam and Eve has had a devastating effect on human character.  (Richard L. Pratt, Jr., Designed for Dignity, 51)


In particular, the church must stand firm on the two foundational concepts now under attack:  morality and truth.  “The ultimate proof of the sinner,” said Luther, “is that he doesn’t know his own sin.  Our job is to make him see it.”   Proclaiming God’s Law can bring conviction of sin; at that point, our job is to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.    (Gene Veith Jr.; Postmodern Times, 228)


The law is the mediation of God’s will for fallen man but precisely because of his fallenness he is totally unable to keep it.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, 895)

Thus far we have noted the unmitigated, absolute, unchanging demand of the law which reflects the holiness of God and thus sets out the evil of man by glaring contrast. Those who would have hoped in their own righteousness for acceptance before God are shown the futility of this hope by looking at the high standard of the law. The law speaks and shuts every mouth, bringing all the world under God’s judgment (Rom 3:19). Sinners apart from Christ have no hope in this world (Eph 2:12). The sinner’s only recourse must be to the free mercy of God’s promise.  Enlightened as to his guilt, he cries out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).  God’s gracious answer is Jesus Christ (3: 25), who manifests a righteousness of God apart from our obedience to the law (v. 21) and who justifies us by the free gift of faith (Rom 3:22-26; 5:18-21; 6:23).  In this way the law serves an important function in bringing men to salvation.  It demonstrates their need and leaves them no honest option but God’s offer of salvation.  “Before faith came we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:23-24). This passage is customarily cited for the wording which suggests that the law drives us along to Christ.


The law was given to drive us to Christ.  But if we do not know His Law, the Law cannot do its job to bring us to repentance and thus drive us to Christ.



II-  What is Jesus’ connection with the Law?:


  1. Jesus alone completes the Law. (Mt 5:17; see also: Mt 1:22; 2:5, 15, 23; 3:3, 15; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4, 42; 26:54-56; 27:9; Mk 1:2; 7:6; 12:10; 14:49; Lk 2:39; 3:4; 4:16-21; 18:31; 21:22; 22:37; 23:47; 24:13-27, 44-49; Jn 1:1-14, 45; 5:45; 8:46; 10:37; 12:37-43; 13:18-19; 15:10, 22-25; 17:12; 19: 24-36; 20:9; Acts 13:15-41; 28:23; Rom 8:1-4; 10:1-5)


One of the ways in which the law has to be fulfilled is that its punishment of sin must be carried out.  This punishment is death, and that was why He died.  The law must be fulfilled.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 168)


Don’t ever imagine that Jesus could or would abolish or abrogate the Word.  Jesus is the Word.


It would have been bold if Jesus said, “I have come to adhere perfectly, as no man has ever done, to the Law,” or if he said, “I have come to give the best and final authoritative teaching on the Law.”  Both of those would have been enough for the religious crowd first to scratch their heads and then to rend their garments.  But to say what Jesus actually said will get one crucified.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 128)


The author of this epistle (Hebrews) argues that though the OT priesthood finds it strength and authority in the law, it cannot bring perfection.  This can be achieved only by the distinguished High Priest, even Christ.  For Paul the law is weak because man does not do it, for the author of Hebrews it is weak because man does it.

Paul and the author of Hebrews agree that the true purpose of the law is to point the sinner to Christ in order that through Him he may find access to God.  It is only through the high-priestly ministry of Jesus that man may approach the Holy God.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, 896)


“Did Christ finish His work?  How dangerous it is to join anything of our own to the righteousness of Christ, in pursuit of justification before God!   Jesus Christ will never endure this; it reflects upon His work dishonorably.  He will be all, or none, in our justification.  If He has finished the work, what need is there of our additions?  And if not, to what purpose are they?  Can we finish that which Christ Himself could not complete?   Did He finish the work, and will he ever divide the glory and praise of it with us?  No, no; Christ is no half Savior.  It is a hard thing to bring proud hearts to rest upon Christ for righteousness.   God humbles the proud by calling sinners wholly from their own righteousness to Christ for their justification.  — John Flavel


He fulfilled the Law historically by becoming man, so that its prophecies could find fulfillment in Him; vicariously, in His life of perfect obedience to its demands; and sacrificially, by His perfect atoning sacrifice.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 30)


Jesus fulfilled the OT by being its fulfillment.  He did not simply teach it fully and exemplify it fully–He was it fully.  He did not come simply to teach righteousness and to model righteousness; He came as divine righteousness.  What He said and what He did reflected who He is.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 256)


This means that the Bible is about Jesus and that he is its fulfillment in all ways.  He fulfills the moral law by his obedience, the prophecies by the specifics of life, and the sacrificial system by his once-and-for-all atonement.  This is a part of what Paul means in Rom 10:4 when he calls Christ “the end of the law.”  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 81)


In fact, all the commandments reflect the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the true God and as such is Himself the divine standard that we are called on to imitate.  Jesus Christ is also true man and as such was perfectly obedient to God.  He perfectly reflected God’s standard in human life.  He alone of all human beings consistently and thoroughly served God and no idol.  He alone kept pure the proper way of worshiping God, following God’s own commandments.  He alone perfectly honored the name of God by perfectly revealing God in human form.  He alone perfectly kept the sabbath by accomplishing the re-creation of the world, the purpose to which the sabbath pointed forward.  He alone perfectly honored not only His human parents (Lk 2:51) but His Father in heaven.  He alone single-mindedly sought and perfectly embodied the divine ordering and not the disordering of human life, sexuality, possessions, speech, and desires of the heart.  All His achievements came to a climax on the cross.  In obedience to God the Father, He surrendered to destruction and death His human authority, His life, His sexuality, His possessions, His power of speech, and His heart, in order that the Father would be obeyed and honored, and the disorders and death of humanity and creation be remedied.  (Vern Poythress, Ph.D., The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 92)


The meaning for “fulfill” has been taken three ways: (1) to accomplish or obey the OT laws; (2) to bring out the full meaning of the law and prophecy, showing how Christ is the fulfillment of all to which they pointed; (3) to bring the OT law and promises to their destined end or intended completion.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 86)


None of what Jesus is saying and doing is abolishing any word, letter, or mark that has been written.  He is not relaxing or teaching anyone to relax any of God’s commands.  Rather, he is living out and teaching others to live out those very rules.  And while he has been or will be dining with sinners, talking with women, healing on the Sabbath, and even overturning the greedy and racist moneychangers’ tables in the temple, none of those things are aberrations of God’s Word, as the scribes and Pharisees think.  Instead those actions accord with the Law’s highest principles.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 128)


Paul’s basic principle was that Christ is not the negation of the law, but the fulfillment of it. Gal 2:21 is especially significant:  “If justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.”  Paul was as emphatic as Christ in reaffirming that the law was established, not abolished, by faith.  “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” he asked (Rom 6:2; cf. 1 Cor 6:9; Gal 5:19-21).  He showed that grace leads again to law.  “Are we to continue in sin [violating the law] that grace may abound?  By no means!” he said (Rom 6:1f.).  Not continuing in sin is not, however, the same as standing in the law and boasting of virtue (Gal 3:10), which is what he and his fellow Jews had been doing (Phil 3:5f.).  The Christian lives in obedience to the law, not in merit from it.  It was the fatal error of Paul’s kinsmen after the flesh, the Jews, to think that they could establish their own righteousness (Rom 10:1).  They were mistaken not in keeping the law but in supposing that they were when in fact its meaning had not even come home to them (7:9; cf. Gal 3:10).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 89)


The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says:  You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works:  which if you go about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.   “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.   When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.”    (Martin Luther; Galatians, 92)


The essential and basic negation of the Law in Jesus consists in the fact that He deposes it from its position of mediation.  What determines man’s relation to God is no longer the Law and man’s relation to it.  This decisive position is now occupied by the Word of Jesus, indeed, by Jesus Himself.  Man finds his relation to God in the relation to Jesus, to the lordship of God which has invaded the world in Him.  (Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT, 1060)


  1. Jesus empowers us through the Holy Spirit to want to complete the Law. (Mt 5:20; see also: Dt 30:6; Psa 51:1-10; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:25-27; Jn 14:6; Rom 3:19-26; 8:1-17; 1 Cor 1:30; Gal 3:19-25; Phil 3:4b-10; Heb 8:8-12)


I am very much aware that Scripture memorization has largely fallen by the wayside in our day of microwave meals and television entertainment.  But let me say as graciously but as firmly as I can:  We cannot effectively pursue holiness without the Word of God stored up in our minds where it can be used by the Holy Spirit to transform us.  (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 175)


The One who demands perfect righteousness gives perfect righteousness.  The One who tells us of the way into the kingdom is Himself that way.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (Jn 14:6), Jesus said.  The King not only sets the standard of perfect righteousness, but will Himself bring anyone up to that standard who is willing to enter the kingdom on the King’s terms.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 280)


Paul recognized that these things were worthless in the sight of a just and holy God.  It was the day on which he met Jesus.  Before this happened he thought that he had attained to righteousness by keeping his conception of God’s law.  Afterward he knew that all this righteousness was as dirty in God’s sight as filthy rags.  He had once said, “As touching the righteousness which is in the law I am blameless.”  He now said, “I am the chief of sinners.”  (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 89)


Our righteousness must (1) come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves, (2) be God-centered, not self-centered, (3) be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and (4) go beyond keeping the law to loving God who gave the law.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 90)


The implied truth of Mt 5:20 is this:  The purpose of God’s law was to show that, to please God and to be worthy of citizenship in His kingdom, more righteousness is required than anyone can possibly have or accomplish in himself.  The purpose of the law was not to show what to do in order to make oneself acceptable, much less to show how good one already is, but to show how utterly sinful and helpless all men are in themselves.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 276)


Samuel Bolton explains the radical changes the Spirit effects in our affections:

This, then is the reason why a godly man conducts himself well in duty, not merely because it is commanded but because he has the nature which truly and rightly responds to the command.  The law of God which is in the book is transcribed into his heart; it is his nature, his new nature.  So that he acts his own nature renewed as he acts obedience.  The eye needs no command to see, nor the ear to hear; it is their nature to see and hear…So far as the heart is renewed, it is as natural for it to obey as for the eye to see or the ear to hear…So far as the law of God is its nature, so far does it find delight in obedience.  (Bryan Chapell; Holiness by Grace, 152)


We can look at the law of God in both of these ways.  If our hearts are hardened by sin, we will see God’s rules as confining prison cells.  But if our hearts have been renewed by God’s grace, we will view the regulations of Scripture as wonderful guides to dignity.  (Richard L. Pratt, Jr., Designed for Dignity, 107)


Think about your own righteousness and presenting it to God.  What a joke!  You have nothing to offer the God of the Universe.  Even your most pure righteous deeds fall far short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23, Isa 64:6).   The only thing that can please God is God.  Therefore the only thing you can offer the God of the Universe is Himself reflected in you by the work of the Holy Spirit in you.  That is what brings glory to God.  That is what pleases God.  That is what brings merit to us before God.  It is God and God alone.  — Pastor Keith


Have you not learned that lesson of despair yet?  Is it necessary for the Holy Spirit to make you despair again? Why not have one good despair and get it all over?  Why despair every few days?  Only because you are still hunting round for something somewhere, some range of goodness in yourself that you can present to God that will please Him, satisfy Him and answer to His requirements.  You will never find it.  Settle it that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  Our righteousness, all that trying to be so righteous, the Lord says of it all, “Filthy rags!”  Let us settle this once for all.  If you are looking ahead of what I am saying, you will see what it is leading to.  It is leading to the most glorious position.  It is leading to that glorious issue mentioned by the Lord Jesus in this way, in those days before things became inward:  “Learn of me…and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  That is the end.  But we shall never find rest unto our souls until we have first of all learned the utter difference between Christ and ourselves, and then the utter impossibility of our ever being like Him by anything that we can find in ourselves, produce or do.  It is not in us, in ourselves, in that way. (T. Austin-Sparks; The School of Christ, 14)


Heidelberg Catechism:

Q62.            Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?



  1. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law (Rom 3:20; Col 3:10; Dt 27:26).  Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin (Isa 64:6).


Jesus’ words were also difficult to accept because he was not saying that in order for a man to get to heaven he must have a slightly higher degree of the same kind of righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees had been accumulating.  The first part of the Sermon should have dispelled any thought of that.  He was saying that if a man was to get to heaven he must somehow have a different and better righteousness than these men were showing.  And this meant that he must turn his back on human goodness altogether and receive instead the freely offered goodness of God.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 86)


Outside of sin itself, the Bible opposes nothing more vehemently than the religion of human achievement.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 275)


“The real evil is that we trust in our own power to be righteous and will not lift up our eyes to see what Christ has done for us…”   It is your goodness more than your badness that separates you from God.” (Martin Luther’s preface to the Galatians)


Human goodness is not good enough for God.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 86)


Not only was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees external, partial, and redefined, but it was also completely self-centered.  It was produced by self for the purposes of self-glory.  Above all else, those leaders sought to be self-satisfied, and their system of religion was designed to enhance that self-satisfaction by providing ways to accomplish external, showy things about which they could boast and be proud.  Their satisfaction came when they received approval and commendation from men.

In stark contrast, the godly person is broken about his sin and mourns over the wicked condition of his inner life, the unrighteousness he sees in his heart and for the righteousness only God can give out of His mercy and grace.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 279)


As the God-Man, Christ is the prototype of the new, redeemed humanity.  The Christian is the person who in repentance and faith, by the Holy Spirit, is identified with the Christ who died and rose again for him.  He is dead, and the life he now lives is that of Christ in him (Gal 2:20).  He is a new creature (or creation); the old things have passed and new things have come (2 Cor 5:17).  This redemption has an ethical implication.  He is born again in Christ, and hence the whole movement of his life is to be one of being made comformable to Christ.  Every thought is to be brought captive to Christ’s obedience (2 Cor 10:5).  The mind of Christ is to be his mind (Phil 2:5).  As the mind is renewed, so conduct should be transformed.  The old man is to be put off with his wicked works, the new man put on, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:22ff.; Col 3:9ff.).  The process of the Christian life is that of the fashioning of the image of Christ in His people.  But there is also an eschatological implication.  As Paul says in 1 Cor 15:49, at the last day we shall finally bear the image of the heavenly.  The Lord Jesus “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).  “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2).  The original purpose of God, that man be created in His own image and after His likeness, will thus be brought to perfect and glorious fulfillment in the new creation, when the redeemed people of God bear the image of their Lord and Head, who bore the image of sinful man for them, and who is Himself the express image of God.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 2, 805)


The trouble with the Pharisees was that they were interested in details rather than principles, that they were interested in actions rather than in motives, and that they were interested in doing rather than in being.  The remainder of this Sermon on the Mount is just an exposition of that.  Our Lord said to them in effect, “You are pleased with yourselves because you do not commit adultery; but if you even look with lust in your eyes, that is adultery.  It is the principle, not the action only, that matters; it is what you think and desire, it is the state of your heart that is important.  You do not become Christian by just refraining from some actions and doing others; the Christian is a man who is in a particular relationship to God and whose supreme desire is to know Him better and to love Him more truly.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 181)


The LAW only tells us what not to do.   The LAW in no way equips us to follow it.  – Steve Brown


Through types and prophecy this book also points us to Christ.  He is the Passover Lamb (16:1 note) and the coming Prophet (18:15-19 note).  Moses, the founder of Israel’s theocracy, mediated the old covenant, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, mediated the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34).  The substance of the covenants is the same; but their manner of administration differs significantly.  Whereas the old covenant was written on tablets of stone, Christ writes the new covenant through the Spirit of the living God on the tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3).  The old covenant was ratified with Israel’s promise, “we will hear and do” (5:27; cf. Ex 19:8; 20:19).  But the new covenant depends on God’s better promise, “I will. . . write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33; Heb 8:7).  The old covenant called for shedding the blood of animals; the everlasting new covenant was instituted once and for all by the blood of Christ (Jer 32:40; Heb 9:11-28).  The old covenant calls for a heart religion, but it failed through human weakness and became obsolete after its fulfillment at Calvary (Rom 8:3; Heb 7:12; 8:13).  (Thomas Nelson Publishers, New Geneva Study Bible, 240)


Worship Point:  Worship Jesus Who allows us who are “in Christ” to have life through His fulfillment of the Law.


And the fulfillment Jesus has in mind here in relation to the OT is not simply external conformity to its commands, but rather a heart alive to God.  This is what the law was calling for all along (Dt 30:6).  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 94)


The early church saw so clearly in Jesus the fulfillment of Ps 40:8:  “To do your will, O my God, is my desire; your law is within my heart” (cf. Heb 10:7).  Jesus enjoyed doing God’s will.  It was “meat and drink” to him:  “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34).  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 72)


To worship God we must know who God is, but we cannot know who God is unless God first chooses to reveal himself to us.  God has done this in the Bible, which is why the Bible and the teaching of the Bible need to be central in our worship. — James Montgomery Boice


To a Pharisee, the service of God was a bondage which he did not love but form which he could not escape without a loss too great to bear.  God, as the Pharisees saw Him, was not a God easy to live with.  So their daily religion became grim and hard, with no trace of true love in it.

It can be said about us, as humans, that we try to be like our God.  If He is conceived to be stern and exacting and harsh, so will we be!

The blessed and inviting truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings, and in our worship of Him we should find unspeakable pleasure.  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 28)


Love asks:  How much can I give?   Legalism asks:  How little can I give?


The law which itself reveals the pattern of good works should drive us to Christ.  Christ is the point of the law; Christ is the goal of the law; Christ is the meaning of the law.  So if you try to follow and obey the law, but avoid Christ, you have missed the whole point of the law.  (R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: Romans, 178)


Gospel Application: We can have an intimate relationship with God because of Christ’s foreordained work foreshadowed by the Law.


Christ’s work does not come as an afterthought appended to an already self-existing, self-sufficient law.  The law of the OT is not a mere datum or a mere code book, but the personal word of the great King of the universe.  And who is this King?  From eternity to eternity the Word was with God and was God (Jn 1:1).  The King is the Trinitarian God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God the Son was always at work from the beginning.  The law of Moses is a reflection and foreshadowing of the absolute perfection and righteousness of Christ, rather than Christ being a reflection of the law.  (Vern Poythress, Ph.D., The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 92-3)


Go back again and read the books of Leviticus and Numbers; read all about the burnt offerings and sacrifices; read all about the tabernacle, and the temple ceremonial, all about the altar and the laver of washing and so on.  Go back to those details and ask yourself, “What do all these things mean?  What are they for, the shewbread, and the high priest, and the vessels, and all these other things?  What are they meant to do?”  They are nothing but shadows, types, prophecies of what is going to be done fully and finally by the Lord Jesus Christ.  He indeed has literally fulfilled and carried out and brought to pass every single one of those types.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 168)


In His death, resurrection and ascension the whole of the ceremonial law has been entirely fulfilled.  In conformation of that, as it were, the temple was later destroyed.  The veil of the temple had already been rent in twain at His death, and finally the temple and all that belonged to it were destroyed.  So that, unless I see that the Lord Jesus Christ is the altar and the sacrifice and the laver of washing and the incense and everything else, I am still bound to that Levitical order.  Unless I see all this fulfilled in Christ, unless He is my burnt offering, my sacrifice, my everything, all this ceremonial law still applies to me, and I shall be held responsible unless I perform it.  But seeing it all fulfilled and carried out in Him, I say I am fulfilling it all by believing in Him and by subjecting myself to Him.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 170)


The law cannot condemn a believer, for Christ hath fulfilled it for him; divine justice cannot condemn him, for that Christ hath satisfied; his sins cannot condemn him, for they in the blood of Christ are pardoned; and his own conscience, upon righteous grounds, cannot condemn him, because Christ, that is greater than his conscience, hath acquitted him.  (Thomas Brooks; Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 143)


Heidelberg Catechism: Question number 60

  1. How are you right with God?



  1. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Phil 3:8-11).

Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all of God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them (Rom 3:9-10), and even though I am still inclined towards all evil (Rom 7:23), nevertheless, without my deserving it at all (Ti 3:4-5), out of sheer grace (Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8), God grants and credits to me the perfect salvation, righteousness, and holiness of Christ (Rom 4:3-5; Gn 15:6; 2 Cor 5:17-19; 1 Jn 2:1-2), as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me (Rom 4:24-25; 2 Cor 5:21).

All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart (Jn 3:18; Acts 16:30-31).


Q61.   Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God?



  1. It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me.  Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God (1 Cor 1:30-31).  And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone (Rom 10:10; 1 Jn 5:10-12).


Spiritual Challenge:  Recognize that the Law brings love and life.  Not through our obedience but through Christ’s.  (Jn 5:39-40).


Satan would have us define ourselves as holy by the Law, when God gave us the law to define us as sinners.  —Chuck Swindoll


You were not created to be JUST a law follower.  You were created to love and the Law is simply a guide or a rule to assist you to know how to define love and then how to truly love.  — Pastor Keith


As D. L. Moody said, “Those who read the Bible most find it ever new.”  The Bible that is falling apart, it has been said, usually belongs to someone who isn’t!  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 306)


So What?:  Do you see the Law and Christ’s fulfillment of it as amazing, electrifying and life?  If not you need to beg God for a heart of repentance and continue to seek the Lord until you are broken and contrite in recognition of your sinfulness while at the same time rejoicing in God’s great mercy, forgiveness, grace and love.


God’s law is no longer an external rule that we find burdensome.  Because God has given us a new heart committed to him and his ways, we want to obey him.  That is often one of the first discoveries a new Christian makes.  Whereas before he struggled against God’s law, now he finds that he has a heart to obey it.  So, in his followers, Jesus begins to show the law’s meaning, too.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 74)


If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying!  — Tim Keller


You can be scrupulous in the affairs of your life so that you are not the least bit dishonest in business.  But you cannot make your heart loving if your heart is not loving.  You cannot become humble if you are proud.  You cannot make yourself pure.  Hence, the first reason why human righteousness will not get anywhere with God is that the only righteousness of which you are capable is external.  God demands a transformation of the heart.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 87)


The best reason to be good is to want to be good.  Internal change requires relationship.  It requires love.  “Who can be good, if not made so by loving?” asked Augustine.  When Augustine made the famous statement, “If you but love God you may do as you incline,” he was perfectly serious.  A person who truly loves God will be inclined to please God, which is why Jesus and Paul both summed up the entire law in the simple command, “Love God.”

If we truly grasped the wonder of God’s love for us, the devious question that prompted Romans 6 and 7 — What can I get away with? — would never even occur to us.  We would spend our days trying to fathom, not exploit, God’s grace.  (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 191)


The ultimate condemnation of the Pharisee is that there is in his life a complete absence of the spirit delineated in the Beatitudes.  That is the difference between him and the Christian.  The Christian is a man who exemplifies the Beatitudes.  He is “poor in spirit,” he is “meek,” he is “merciful.”  He is not satisfied because he has performed one prescribed task.  No; he is “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”  He longs to be like Christ.  There is a profound lack of satisfaction within him.  That is the test by which we must judge ourselves.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 180-1)


It is not your sin that will keep you out of heaven . . .  It is your thinking that you are righteous . ..  That you don’t need Jesus.





Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply