Why Preach Christ from the Law and the Prophets

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Psalm 40:6-8; Text: Matthew 5:17-20
August 22, 2010

Introduction

Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount because it was preached by Christ “up on the mountain” to his disciples. In these three long chapters, Jesus expands the Old Testament Law to everyday reality of righteous living as members of the kingdom of heaven.

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d. 1890)

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d. 1890)

In these chapters, we read teachings such as “love your enemies,” “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” and “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Is it really possible for sinners like us to do these things? Some Christians, notably dispensationalists, see these high moral standards as an impossibility in this life, and therefore can only be lived in a perfect millennial kingdom.

This is why many Christians today have this mistaken notion that the Law of Moses has no meaning and application for them today because the Old Testament is just that: old-fashioned, obsolete, irrelevant, and therefore is of no use. This is also why many churches do not study and preach from the Old Testament, but concentrate only on the New Testament. And even when they preach from its pages, they do not preach Christ, but only moral principles, and encourage the people to follow Old Testament personalities as moral examples.

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Or is Jesus merely teaching God’s moral perfection in the Law so that we will see our own sinfulness and thereby drive us to the grace and mercy of God through faith in him? This is true, since one benefit of knowing the Law is that it brings out our sinfulness, and in our misery, it drives us to Christ (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:24). But the challenges of this sermon are not only meant to drive us to the grace of God; Jesus is actually teaching us real and practical living in this present age as members of God’s kingdom. If we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven which is present here and now, how are we to live as its righteous and loyal citizens here and now?

He introduces this high moral standard with a summary of the characteristics of kingdom people in the Beatitudes in 5:3-12, then challenges his disciples to make a difference in this world by being “salt and light” to a watching world (5:13-16).

Then in 5:17-20, he introduces his interpretation of the Law and the Prophets in contrast to the false teaching and application offered by the teachers of the Law, mainly the scribes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He defends himself against accusations of contradicting the law of Moses by first saying that he has not come “come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus wanted to prove to his opponents that he did not come to dissolve or destroy the Law of Moses, but to actually fulfill it in his whole life. Why did he come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He came down to earth as a man to fulfill God’s law perfectly for his people.

To read the rest of the sermon, click here.

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