Today’s passage: Matthew 5:17-20
God is King, and life in his kingdom is the best life there possibly can be. It’s a life that is perfectly in accordance with God’s will; in God’s kingdom, everything is exactly as God wants it to be. As creator of all that is, God is sovereign over all that is – he alone has the right (and the capacity!) to rule everything. The bad news of the Bible is that we humans reject God as King, and attempt to set up our own kingdoms. But our kingdoms, set against God, are ultimately just vassal states for the rule of the devil.
But the good news is that God’s kingdom doesn’t flee when opposed. And the excellent news is that rather than destroying all opposition immediately, God had a plan (before the creation of the world!) to restore humanity and this creation we broke into life with him – into life in his kingdom.
The gospel of Jesus is that this kingdom of the heavens is near – and that we simply need to repent and believe the good news. Because for those who come to Jesus, God’s kingdom turns the world right-side up. God’s blessing – his favour – rest on all who encounter the kingdom of God in the person of it’s king: Jesus.
Jesus, God’s Messiah – the anointed king and priest and rescuer of the world – brought the kingdom near and made it possible for us to enter it. But God didn’t just send Jesus without any warning. Jesus stands at the centre of God’s long-running plan to redeem the world. Before Jesus, God chose to work through a select group of people – Abraham, Isaac and ultimately the nation of Israel. He made himself known to them, showing them his might and power and character. And he made his people a holy nation – a nation of priests. God’s people were meant to be a light to the nations – they were meant to represent God to the world.
Did they do that perfectly? No. Certainly not. But God was working towards the right time, when he would send his One and only Son: Jesus.
But the religious elite of the day weren’t all that impressed with Jesus – nor Jesus with them. Rather than applauding the self-righteous, Jesus announced kingdom blessings over all impacted by the kingdom – regardless of how much they deserved them. He told the crowds surrounding him – most of whom would have been ordinary folk – that they were the salt and light of the world.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were those who thought that if they only made sure they didn’t do the wrong thing, God would accept them. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t play by their rules. He hung out with sinners. He touched the unclean, which they wouldn’t do for fear of ritual defilement. He healed on the Sabbath. He allowed his disciples to not fast. He called them out for their hypocrisy.
Was Jesus starting a new page in God’s plan for redeeming humanity. Had God finally decided that his experiment with Israel was a failure, and that it was necessary to start from scratch? Were the writings of God in the Old Testament – the law and prophets – not to be taken into account any more?
Did Jesus come to abolish of the Old Testament/Covenant, and replace it with a brand new one?
Yes, there is a new covenant – but it has continuity with the Old. For the law and the prophets come from the same God who walked the earth as our Lord Jesus. Jesus didn’t undo the Old, he brought it into focus, fulfilling it’s requirements. The Old Testament gives us an insight into the character of someone living according to God’s will. But, because of the hardness of human hearts, it could only go so far. Jesus doesn’t annul the Old – he shows how a life lived in the kingdom goes beyond that.
The law and prophets called people to live under God’s will – and so does Jesus. But Jesus won’t let us get away with reducing the character of the kingdom to a list of do-s and don’t-s.
The greatest kingdom people practice do what God commands – and teach others to do the same. That’s what Jesus says. So why is it that we don’t obey all of the commands in the Old Testament? And does our failure to perfectly obey mean that we don’t have any chance of entry into the kingdom of the heavens? After all, Jesus did say that our righteousness had to exceed that of the religious elite of the day – the Pharisees and teachers of the law. If they, with all their fencing around possible transgressions, weren’t good enough to gain entry… what hope is there for us?
It all comes back to Jesus… what does he desire from us, and how on earth can he promise the kingdom of the heavens to those who are spiritually bankrupt?