What is the relation of Jesus to the law and hence our relationship to the law and duty.

Today I’ve been thinking about when Jesus said that our righteousness has to surpass that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  These are actually incredible words because If we think about it Jesus had many run ins with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and they were always trying to trip him up.  Yet Jesus said, your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Nicodemus was also a Pharisee he was a Pharisee that actually believed in Jesus, secretly, that he was the Messiah.

Now the question is:

How can our righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees?

The Pharisees and the Sadducees kept the law absolutely perfectly, and they even made a fence around it so that it would be impossible to break the law when our Lord and saviour grew up in a place where the Temple, the Second Temple, was still around also there was a place in the desert where people worshiped God, because for them the Temple in Jerusalem had become unholy.

In that sense the New Testament isn’t only important to Christians but it’s actually important to Judaism as well.  At one point, Christianity is a critique of Judaism in a particular form.  Perhaps one of the problems of Judaism at the time of Jesus was that the rabbis and the priests and so on may have come to a place of pride because they were so important to the functioning of the Temple that perhaps the logic was, they were more important than the ordinary person in the street.  From that point of view, Jesus can be seen as the great equalizer in Judaic society.

The truth is that what Jesus taught was so radical that it changed the whole ancient world and brought in a new religion, Christianity.

So, the question is.

What was so radical about what Jesus taught?

I think Jesus got behind the action. This is a very important point this is why the Beatitudes are so important.  This is why the Beatitudes are the key to understanding Jesus’ teachings.

It is true that the Pharisees and the Sadducee’s were able to keep the law absolutely perfectly.

They were perfect on the outside, but Jesus looked beyond the outside.

He looked at what is within the human heart.

On the outside, you can be pretend to be Mr Goody 2 shoes but on the inside, you can be somebody completely different.  Jesus revealed the hypocrisy that was going on in human beings universally.

This teaching of Jesus is a lot bigger than the Pharisees and the Sadducees, It is a bit lot bigger than Christendom.  It’s a lot bigger than any political system.  The teachings of Jesus hints at what it means to be human and how we ought to live our lives.  Jesus cuts through all of this. Surface social perfection and doing good things where people can see what you are doing.  He cuts through all the way through to the soul and what it is that makes a person tick.

The thing is that some Christians tend to put the emphasis on grace and that the law was done away with.  This is a misreading really. The main thing that was done away with is the ceremonial law.  The 10 Commandments stay effective forever, is part of the moral law.

So, then what was done away with the death and resurrection of Jesus was the ceremonial law where animals had to be killed regularly so that we could have our sins forgiven and this was done by the priest.

The big problem was that in AD 70 the actual Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and Judaism itself had an identity crisis and this is when, in a sense, the rabbis went on a particular Road.

But for Christian Judaism, I don’t think this was such a problem because the death and resurrection of Christ meant that there was no physical Temple that Jewish Christians had to rely on.

Looking at a commentary on Matthew here I read the following:

“The larger context of the verse (e.g., the grace of the beatitudes) forbids us to conclude that entrance into the kingdom depends, in a cause-effect relationship, upon personal moral attainments. The verse is addressed, it must be remembered, to those who are the recipients of the kingdom. Entrance into the kingdom is God’s gift; but to belong to the kingdom means to follow Jesus’ teaching. Hence, the kingdom and the righteousness of the kingdom go together; they cannot be separated. And it follows that without this righteousness there can be no entrance into the kingdom.”

(By Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, p. 109). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

I can see from the Beatitudes that God searches not only, cause and ‘effect but he also searches deeper than that, the ‘intentions and attitudes of the soul’.  Hence because of the Fall we need Christ to bring us into His holiness and glory. 

The same writer continues:

“Only an interpretation of the present pericope such as this is compatible with the bearing of Jesus toward the law throughout the Gospel. These words do not contradict what is said elsewhere in the Gospel nor do they involve a misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus. Although they unmistakably reflect the idiom of the Pharisees, and to that extent may be misleading if taken literally, they make a valid point concerning Jesus and his attitude toward the law. The words may not have been adequately understood at their first hearing, but in retrospect, given the whole sweep of events recorded in the Gospels, their meaning would have become clear to the early Church. The evangelist is of course delighted to seize these sayings and incorporate them into this discourse on the righteousness of the kingdom. His Jewish-Christian readers needed to know—especially in the light of repeated counter-claims—that the pattern for righteousness taught by Jesus reflects the true meaning of the Torah, and thus that the Torah in its entirety is preserved in and through the ethical teaching of the Church”

(By Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, p. 109). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

So, then we as believers have a true understanding of ‘righteousness’ by following the teachings of Jesus.  By faith we follow our Saviour and by faith one day we will meet him in the Celestial City for all eternity.  Matthew is an amazing book, and it blows away a lot of our misconceptions away.

Reflection

My reflection on the Sermon on the Mount has slowed me down in my writing because I realize how little I actually understand.  Thus, I have been reading some background stuff to get up to speed.  At the same time, I have started book two of Herman Bavincks Ethics and he is actually going to go through all of the 10 commandments.  He begins by looking at duty and in his introduction, he has shown us the pitfalls of the new philosophy through the eyes of Kant.  Actually, Bavinck looks at Matthew’s Gospel for the Trinitarian ethics which goes against our Culture.  I’m sure that I will feed his teachings into the Sermon on the Mount!

Nevertheless, I can say that at the time of Christ the world was a melting pot of various cultures.  This is what is happening to the world today.   There were many streams of thought at the time of Christ and our time is very similar.  They had powers and authorities and today we have powers and authorities.  When Jesus said these things, it was before the Second Temple was destroyed.  Jewish Christians also worshipped in the Temple as Judaism and Christianity at that moment in history did not go their separate ways.  With the destruction of the Temple this changed.  Christians were being persecuted by the powers of the age.  The destruction of the Temple was from my point of view a cataclysm that would change the world forever.   For Christians today the Temple of God is the Church.  We do not need a building to worship in.  The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His resurrection was enough to bring us into the presence of God through the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are blessed.  Judaism has also survived the destruction of the Second Temple and flourished, and the synagogue has played a massive role in this.

The word duty is not found a lot in the Bible.  In the Bible it is found in about eight books in the Old testament and once in the New Testament (NASB, exhaustive concordance).  Herman Bavinck said the same type of thing on page 7 of his Ethics volume 2.  He actually said that duty in the Dutch Bible is really only found in the Dutch Psalter. However, he explains something very important to us:

“Duty presupposes Law.”

This then leads Herman Bavinck to raise the more important question:

“What is the relation of the believer to the law?” (Around page 7 of his ethics).

However for this piece of writing I can ask the question:

“What is the relation of our Lord Jesus to the Law?”

Then this would lead into Bavincks question.

So then as we can have seen in Matthew, Jesus said in Matthew that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.  As Bavinck says, when it came to the Judaic law Jesus was very conservative. 

“Jesus says no word, nor performs any deed to abolish the law.”

Bavinck then goes on to say,

“Jesus demands a righteousness that ‘surpasses’ the Pharisees.” 

As we have seen from the Beatitudes that Jesus ‘gives an internal spiritual explanation of the law.’ (Around page 7 of his ethics).  Righteousness (δικαιουσυνη) is an attitude of the Kingdom of God. 

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”(Matthew 6:33; Olive Tree, NASB Bible)  Bavinck reminds us of how Jesus describes  this ‘righteousness’ through the use of metaphor:

Being clothed with wedding garments

 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he *said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:11-14

Jesus family are his disciples

“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

God’s will is revealed in the Law and the Prophets

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Matthew 7:21

And again

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

Jesus starting point is the Law

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17

Again,

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

Again,

 “On these two commandments depend on the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:40

Summing up Bavinck on Duty

We need to take Jesus’ words very seriously on righteousness and there is a direct correspondence between ‘righteousness’ and our understanding of duty.  Duty carries in itself the idea ‘that we must do the right act’. When we dive deeper into the text there are other verbs that point to this ethical necessity:

 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

The phrase above ‘He had to’ οφειλω.

Or again in Vines Dictionary

“Behoved dei (1163), “it is necessary,” is rendered “behoved,” in Luke 24:46; RV, (that the Christ) “should” (suffer). Dei expresses a logical necessity, opheilo, a moral obligation; cf. chre, Jas. 3:10, “ought,” which expresses a need resulting from the fitness of things (Trench, Sec. cvii). Luke 24:46”

Reflection

Jesus’s teachings of the kingdom of God necessitate Holiness and the truth is that no person on this earth in their own strength and will can make themselves perfectly holy.  Jesus dis not lower the bar on the law.  In fact, Jesus did the opposite.  It is only when we realize that we cannot be Holy in our strength that we realize that we ought to humble ourselves before a Holy God. This is the starting point, by faith through the work of the Trinity that we can even have a sniff of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ teachings engenders humility something that deals with pride in people. Dare I say it! The pride that is found even within our own being. So then let us come to Christ in humility confessing Jesus as Lord, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead and through his atoning work as The True High Priest, and once and for all sacrifice, that we may walk into the heaven-lies as beloved children of God.

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