WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday November 6, 2011
FULFILLING THE LAW
(Practice and teach the laws of the kingdom, and preserve reverence and respect)
In Matthew chapter 5, verses 17-20, JESUS rejects the charges of religious critics, namely the Scribes and Pharisees, that HE was seeking to abolish any of GOD’s laws, or the writings of GOD’s prophets with HIS teachings. Here JESUS expresses HIS total allegiance to the writings and laws of the Old Testament, and in fact, just like the Mosaic Law itself, JESUS’ teachings are meant to reveal any human behavior that is contrary to GOD’s will. JESUS also sought to reveal those human attitudes, values, and motives that must be transformed if we are to shape and harmonize our lives into a form and symphony that is pleasing to the eyes and ears of GOD.
Time and time again, JESUS violated what the Jewish hierarchy called “our law”. HE did not observe the silly hand-washing rituals, for instance, that, their law called for, nor, did HE refrain from performing HIS miraculous healings on the Sabbath days. Sadly, in the end, JESUS was crucified, in part, as a law-breaker, because HIS rebellious acts defied the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees, and rendered their man-made rules and regulations worthless.
The expression “The Law” was used by the Jewish leaders in four different ways. First, it meant “The Ten Commandments”. Secondly, they used it to mean “The Pentateuch”, the first five books of the Bible. The word “Pentateuch” literally means “The five Rolls”, or “Scrolls”. These five “Law Books” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy) which were written by Moses, were to them, the most important part of the Scriptures. Thirdly, they liked to use the phrase “The Law and the prophets”, which meant “the whole of Scripture”. To them it was a comprehensive description of the entire Old Testament as they knew it at that time. And finally, and most commonly, they referred to the term, the “Oral”, or “Scribal Laws”, which were more about them, than about GOD. It was these Scribal Laws that so infuriated JESUS, (and later, the Apostle Paul) that HE utterly condemned them for creating them.
The Jewish Scribes insisted that, out of GOD’s Law, it was possible to deduce a rule and regulation for every possible situation in life. And so they set about the business of dedicating their lives to reducing GOD’s great principles of Law, down to literally thousands of rules and regulations, and then they compelled the people to adhere to them. All manner of minor physical endeavors became classified as “work”, that could not be engaged in on the Sabbath Day. For instance, they defined work as lifting any weight greater than that of a dried fig, a swallow of milk, or ink enough to write two alphabets. To carry anything above those weighs on the Sabbath was considered by them to be a burden, and thereby, a violation of GOD’S Law.
The Scribes came up with these silly rules and regulations, and the Pharisees enforced them. And so, to the strict orthodox Jew of the first century, serving GOD became a matter of them striving to keep these thousands, upon thousands of legalistic, and very petty man-made laws, instead of just adhering to GOD’s Law.
Here in this passage of Matthew’s Gospel account, verses 17-22, JESUS makes it clear that He doesn’t have a problem with Moses’ writings, or the writings of the prophets. HE says it is those laws that HE came to uphold, defend, and fulfill. It was the laws of the Scribes and Pharisees, the false teachers, whom JESUS had a problem with. HE tells these wicked leaders in verse 19 that, “If you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys GOD’s Laws and teaches others to do the same will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (NLT).
Now at first that sounds like maybe a false teacher can go into the Kingdom of Heaven anyway, until you read JESUS’ follow-up statement in verse 20. There JESUS warns that, “Unless you obey GOD better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter into the Kingdom of Heaven at all” (NLT).
That had to be a shocking statement for all who were present that day to hear it, and for all those who were later told about it, by those who heard it. It is no wonder that JESUS’ next statement (verse 21) is concerning “murder” and “anger”. A fly on the wall could tell you that the Scribes and the Pharisees, who were present at that moment, were probably angry enough to crucify JESUS right then and there. Maybe JESUS was reminding HIS stunned adversaries of the consequences of such an act, after seeing the looks on their faces. JESUS also talks about the dangerous repercussions of “fire and brimstone judgment” one would face, even for calling a person an idiot, or cursing them, which they were probably doing to JESUS right about then (verse 22).
In verses 23-26, JESUS goes on to remind them that if they are standing before the altar in the temple offering sacrifices to GOD and are reminded that someone has something against them. Leave the sacrifice at the altar, and then, go and be reconciled to that person. Afterwards you will be clear to come and offer sacrifice to GOD. And do it quickly, JESUS warns, while you still have time.
At its core, this passage is mostly about reverence and respect, and JESUS came to show men, in real life, just what reverence for GOD, and respect for our fellowman is really like. Justice consists of giving to GOD, and to man, that which is their just due. Reverence and respect does not consist of sacrifice, as much as it does, of mercy; it does not consist of legalism, but rather, it consists of love; it does not consist of prohibitions which demand that men should NOT DO, but rather, it consists of instructions on HOW TO DO, using the positive commandment of love.
The message that JESUS is seeking to convey in this passage is that the “reverence” and “respect”, which is the foundation of the Ten Commandments, will never be allowed to pass away. They represent the eternal make-up of a man’s relationship with GOD, and, his relationship with his fellowman.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
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