Jesus preached the heart-wrenchingly beautiful qualities of a disciple as the opening poem of the Sermon on the Mount. Then He taught that the humility and dependence of His blessed ones would be like salt and light to the rest of the world.
This wasn’t the first time humanity was given a lesson about how to live for God. God had already taught the Jewish people many things about how to honor and obey Him. He raised up Moses to write down His Law for His people, the nation of Israel. They were meant to bless the world by living out the incredible goodness of His Law on earth. For many centuries afterward, He sent His prophets to confront the nation and challenge them to obey it. If only they had…it would have brought the model of harmony, peace, protection, and freedom from endless poverty and need that the burdened people of this fallen world long for. But they didn’t. Even with all of the breathtaking gifts that the Lord had given the nation of Israel, they were still members of the human race, the broken image of God, slaves to the sin and shame of rebellion against the Only Source of Good. All those hundreds of years of striving proved a point. Humanity needed a Savior that came from outside of humanity. God had to show up Himself.
When Jesus got up to teach the Sermon on the Mount, He wasn’t teaching a bunch of brand new ideas. And He definitely wasn’t rejecting the Old Testament. Jesus is the Son of God. He was the One who gave Moses the Law. They were His ideas. His knowledge and understanding of the Jewish Law were matchless. He was so insightful that He amazed the religious leaders when He was only twelve years old! Jesus was not under the authority of the Law like the religious leaders of His day. He reigned in authority over the Law. It’s His. He wrote it. It is a reflection of His character. So when He began to teach about the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, He was teaching His disciples it’s truest meaning. He said:
“‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.’”
When Jesus says, “the Law and the Prophets,” he is talking about the whole Old Testament. This sacred book was given to the Jewish people to prepare the way in this cursed world for the coming of the Savior. In this simple sentence, Jesus declared that He Himself fulfilled the Old Testament. That is an astonishing thing to say. The Old Testament was written by dozens of authors over thousands of years. It involved millions of people and entire civilizations. The Law was given to Moses on a mountain where the holy presence of God came with quaking thunder and fire. The prophets spoke across hundreds of years about epic events that would lead to the transformation of the entire created order. And in this one, small, simple sentence, Jesus claimed to be nothing less than the fulfillment of it all. Wow. If it isn’t true, then He was either a fool or a liar. If it is true, then the only thing left to do is to fall down and worship Him as Savior.
But the question remains. How was He the fulfillment of the Old Testament? How could one Man do it all within Himself?
We will see that He would do this in many ways. In His teachings, like in the Sermon on the Mount, He would teach the Law as it was truly meant to be taught in all it’s depth and fullness. Then He would go out and live the Law perfectly through His life of absolute righteousness. The Law was completely fulfilled through Him as He walked the earth!
Jesus would also show the fulfillment of the Old Testament through the events of His life that echo back to the amazing things God did in the past for the Jewish nation. When we think of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, we remember that Christ spent forty days in the desert. When we hear Jesus teach that He was the bread of life, we remember that God miraculously gave bread of manna to the Jewish people day after day as they wandered in the wilderness towards the Promise Land. When we think about the animal sacrifices that the nation made year after year to atone for their sin, we see how the Old Testament rituals of blood sacrifice were like a shadow of the hope that Jesus won completely through His sacrifice on the cross (check out the book of Hebrews). When we see the veiled images in the Psalms and Isaiah about an innocent Servant who would suffer for the sins of the world, our hearts ache with our knowledge of Christ’s crucifixion (See Psalm 22, Isaiah 49, 52-53). When we read the epic declarations of the prophets about the apocalyptic ending of human history and the universe as we know it, we can read ahead in the book of Revelation and see how they all culminate in the return of Christ on the Day of the Lord. Everything in the Old Testament points to Him.
The Old Testament teaches about God’s work before Christ. The coming of the Lord Jesus was His next stage. The whole purpose of Christ’s life was to the advance the will of God. His life and death and resurrection are the center of God’s plan. Jesus was teaching His disciples so they could carry the torch of God’s plans into the next stage… after Christ died and rose again.
To the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, the Lord’s message seemed strange. It was so different from what they had been teaching. But that wasn’t because Jesus was wrong or disobedient. He said and did exactly what God wanted. It was the Sadducees and Pharisees who were wrong about the Old Testament. They added things to it and put pressure on the people that God never intended. Jesus came like a sword and cut through their lies and control and distortions, slicing them away so that the true message of the Most High God could be made clear again. He showed what God truly wanted so that the faithful could draw near to their living Lord! If the religious leaders had been hungry for what God really meant in the Old Testament, they would have been happy to throw aside their false notions and follow hard after His Son. But they were not like the true disciples of the Lord…they were not poor in spirit, they were not meek, and they did not mourn their sin.
Jesus went on to warn that anyone who broke God’s commands in the Old Testament or taught others to so would be the very least in His Kingdom. This is what the Pharisees and the religious leaders could not seem to understand. They added to the Law by creating terrible standards of outward behavior that put people in a grip of fear. Instead of teaching their people to love the wonderful beauty of the Law and the glorious order and goodness it could bring to their hearts, to their families, and to their nation, it became a shackle of fear and legalism around the people’s necks.
The Jewish leaders had choices. They could have taught how the Law was a guide for how to love one another. Instead, they did the opposite. The Law became a tool to divide and shame. Jesus said that whoever dishonored the teaching of the Law was the very least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever taught the Law well and lived it out in their lives would be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Wow.
The only problem was, the religious leaders had been distorting and teaching the Word the wrong way for a long time…as in hundreds of years. How would any of the Jewish people know how to teach it the right way? They had been taught deceptions about the Law since they were children! Well, that is exactly what Jesus was overturning. And its what got Him in so much trouble.
In the Sermon He was about to give, Jesus was going to teach the people to move beyond outward obedience of God’s laws and move deeper into the inward obedience of the heart. Members of His Kingdom would not only do the right outward actions, they would be purified in the depths of their heart so that even their longings matched the pure righteousness of God. He was going to teach how a disciple who was truly poor in spirit…who mourned his or her sin, was meek, pure in heart and hungering after righteousness…would obey God’s commands. It was the way God wanted His people to obey Him all along! In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus gave six examples of true obedience to the Law of the Old Testament.