READ Matthew 5:17-20
In this passage, we find the thesis statement for the Sermon on the Mount (some would say for the entire gospel of Matthew). Jesus’ thesis is two-fold: 1) The entire Bible – without exception – is the final authority on and the necessary guide to all human flourishing. 2) He came to bring into full reality in His life first and then in ours, everything the Bible says we should do - and in so doing to recover the true and full purpose of the whole Bible.
THE WHOLE BIBLE – ALL OR NOTHING
By saying that he did not come to abolish the “Law + Prophets,” Jesus was saying, “I have not come to revise the Scriptures. I have not come to reject anything written in the Scriptures. But I have come to reclaim & recover – everything - to bring the whole & every single part, all to fulfillment.” This means that we don’t just need the parts we like, the parts we agree with, the parts we are comfortable with. We need everything. And more than that: Jesus is saying it’s all or nothing. If you take some of it away, you lose it all.
Jesus explains further. Until “heaven and earth pass away” not an iota or dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Not even the smallest punctuation mark or detail can be ignored! Jesus rules out selective obedience and acceptance. Though many parts of the Bible are difficult to accept and even more difficult to obey, when we are having a hard time with and disagreeing with the Bible – we take it on Jesus’ authority that it is true and good for us.
THE WHOLE BIBLE VS THE RELAXED BIBLE
Jesus says, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” There are two main ways we relax the Bible – we build fences around it or we draw lines through it. We build fences around the Bible when we approach it thinking, “I’m only accepted, if I obey it all.” Jesus is saying that this approach – that of the religious leaders of the day (Pharisees/Scribes) - actually leads to a relaxing of the Bible. They counted up every command in Scripture, made lists of dos and don’ts and taught people, “Stay on this side of the fence and you are good.” “Just don’t commit the act of murder or adultery.” “Fast at this time and for this long.” “Here’s what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath.” The problem is that these fences create distance from the spirit and purpose of the commands in Scripture by trying to manage the Bible by creating check lists and focusing on externals.
The other way we relax the Bible is when we say, “I’m already accepted as I am, so I don’t have to obey it all. Just relax, what’s everybody so uptight about?” The most common expression of this viewpoint is seen when we divide the Bible into two parts – the Old Testament and Jesus. But Jesus, even in the part of the Bible almost everyone accepts (the Sermon on the Mount) says, “If you want me and want to live this sermon, you have to have the Old Testament. It’s a package deal. Only when you have the whole Bible + surpass the most religious people you know in righteousness can you even enter the kingdom of heaven.”
THE WHOLE BIBLE- ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH
Jesus’ approach is something entirely different from the legalistic and the lax approach to the Bible. It is not “I obey, so I’m accepted” or “I’m accepted as I am so I don’t have to obey.” It is “I wholeheartedly obey it all because I’m accepted by grace.” The lesson of the Pharisees/Scribes is that exposure + effort = never enough. We need an entirely new approach to the Bible.
In order for us to have a righteousness that exceeds the most serious religious persons, we don’t need a relaxed Bible, we need a fulfilled Bible. Jesus did not say - I came to enforce the whole Bible on you, but “I came to fulfill” the whole Bible for you. Understanding the difference between these two things is the key to the Christian life. The lesson of the Pharisees and Scribes is that exposure + effort is not enough to change us. We need to be changed from the inside to love what God loves and to joyfully surrender full reign over our lives to Him. The heart is changed as we see how Jesus fulfilled the Bible for us - through His perfect obedience, his sacrificial death and His empowering work in us (see Romans 8:1-4).
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions? Where do you stand regarding acceptance and submission to the whole Bible? In what ways do you opt for or struggle with selective acceptance and obedience?
Tim Keller writes, “Either it’s an authority over you or you are an authority over it. If there’s anything you dislike about it, it means you’ve put yourself in a position to judge any verse.” Do you filter through the Bible picking and choosing what you will accept or do you allow the Bible to filter you choosing what it will accept and allow?
2. Jesus’ teaching here means that Christians should be able to say (about all their ethical and moral views), “I hold to this view and seek to live it out because this is my best understanding of what the Scriptures teach us about how to live and what’s best for human flourishing.” Where is this hardest for you? How does it help to take it on Jesus’ authority everything it teaches is true and best for human flourishing – even when we don’t understand?
3. How do you most struggle with relaxing the Bible? Do you build fences around it? Or draw lines through it?
4. What’s the difference between a relaxed Bible, an enforced Bible and a fulfilled Bible? How does knowing that Jesus fulfilled the whole Bible for us change us to want to obey and submit to everything it says? How does the Q+A below help us understand what this might look like?
Heidelberg Catechism #114 Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly? A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.
5. How are you currently exposing your life to the whole bible? How can you grow in this area?