Messiah vs. Moses – Matthew 5:17-48

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.

Perhaps the most disputed, misconstrued and damaging debates in the Christian realm is that of law verses grace. Keeping moral commandments resulting in sanctification and perfection has long been pitted against “easy believism” and the continuously “carnal Christian.” The debate has been summed up with the terms “Legalism vs. Antinomianism,” both of which have ship-wrecked the faith of many professing Christians. It’s hard to know which is the more damning of the two doctrines. While many Christians would try to argue the virtues of one or the other, few realize the great peril that both of these false doctrines impose. In a recent book review Dr. Joel Beeke so affectingly wrote, “… legalism and antinomianism are not opposites, but evil allies in Satan’s bitter war to dishonor the great name of Jesus Christ.” So true! The argument has caused some to claim that Jesus’ commands in the Gospel of Matthew apply only to the Jews who are under the law and not to New Covenant believers who have been set free from the law. Others go so far as to pit Jesus’ message against the words of the apostle Paul in epistles such as Romans and Galatians.

Arguments from both camps must grapple with the text in Matthew 5:17-48, where Jesus emphatically and radically contrasts His teaching with the law of Moses. In this text we will see Jesus use six illustrations or antithesis (“You have heard it said” … “But I say unto you” vss. 21-47), wherein He reveals what true kingdom righteousness ought to look like. While the law given through Moses commanded primarily an outward conformity to a righteous standard, Jesus is teaching his disciples that such righteousness is far from enough; He raises the bar calling His disciples to an internal standard that exceeds the external one embodied in those keeping the law of Moses. But before He does this, He wants it to be absolutely clear that He is not contradicting, altering or nullifying the law, but fulfilling it. He affirms the validity and absolute authority of every single word of Scripture, even down to the smallest components of individual words. Not an iota will pass away from the law until all is accomplished (v. 18).

This Sunday we will take a cursory look at this text seeking answers to some of the age old questions concerning the Messiah and His relationship with the law of Moses. Be sure to read the entire text to try to understand for yourself what Jesus is saying.


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