SERMON FOR THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 7-12-2015
Rev. Dr. Brian German

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

“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.”


John 3:16 may continue to pop up on poster boards at sporting events as “the Gospel in a nutshell,” but this verse from Matthew is the entire Bible in a nutshell. The person and work of Jesus cannot be understood apart from the “Law and the Prophets”—or the Old Testament—and the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from Him. Nothing is to be abolished; everything is to be fulfilled.

And yet this word “fulfill” seems to be a bit of a moving target. On the one hand, our Lord follows every dotted “I” and crossed “t” of the Old Testament. When He healed a leper, for example, He told the leper to follow the instructions that Moses wrote for cleansed lepers. When our Lord was confronted by a lawyer, He told him to review the Ten Commandments, the same ones we heard a few moments ago.

On the other hand, our Lord didn’t think twice about healing several people on the Sabbath—something that was clearly forbidden in the Old Testament. He also prohibited taking oaths—something that was clearly allowed in the Old Testament—and on numerous occasions he crossed the lines of fellowship. Today we even hear of an authority over the sacred past—“you’ve heard it said, but I say to you.”

SERMON FOR THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 7-12-2015
Rev. Dr. Brian German

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

“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.”


John 3:16 may continue to pop up on poster boards at sporting events as “the Gospel in a nutshell,” but this verse from Matthew is the entire Bible in a nutshell. The person and work of Jesus cannot be understood apart from the “Law and the Prophets”—or the Old Testament—and the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from Him. Nothing is to be abolished; everything is to be fulfilled.

And yet this word “fulfill” seems to be a bit of a moving target. On the one hand, our Lord follows every dotted “I” and crossed “t” of the Old Testament. When He healed a leper, for example, He told the leper to follow the instructions that Moses wrote for cleansed lepers. When our Lord was confronted by a lawyer, He told him to review the Ten Commandments, the same ones we heard a few moments ago.

On the other hand, our Lord didn’t think twice about healing several people on the Sabbath—something that was clearly forbidden in the Old Testament. He also prohibited taking oaths—something that was clearly allowed in the Old Testament—and on numerous occasions he crossed the lines of fellowship. Today we even hear of an authority over the sacred past—“you’ve heard it said, but I say to you.”


If it’s the case that parts of the Old Testament, like those forceful Ten Commandments that were recently ordered to be removed from Oklahoma’s state capitol building, are still binding for Christians, while other parts of the Old Testament, like those old ceremonies and rituals, no longer apply, how is it that neither of them are abolished, and both of them are fulfilled?

 

One solution to this, which happens to be very influential in modern times, is to take a play from the Enlightenment playbook, as it were, and to see the history of the Bible as getting better and better. So of course the Old Testament is going to have some obscure rituals and difficult stories simply because it’s so ancient and therefore inferior. God used to be quite vengeful in those days, but by the time of the New Testament, He’s much more pleasant. Just look at all the talk of love. So Jesus fulfills the Old Testament by bringing us something nicer.

 

Soon, however, even the New Testament is no longer all that...new. Sure, St. Paul might have been a great improvement over Leviticus, but even he has a long way to go to get with the times. Then the relevance fades away, along with its authority, until it becomes practically abolished. Perhaps most of the wider church’s current confusion over sexuality stems from this very approach.

 

Another option of unpacking this term “fulfill” would be to go with the popular interpretations of the day. “You have heard that it was said…” You’ve heard from others about what murder, for example, is all about. You have traditions about how it should be dealt with; you have laws telling you what counts for murder and what doesn’t count. So, here enters Jesus, fulfilling the Old Testament by bringing about a better culture, and showing us how to do the same. And yet, our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world…

 

The next option hits a little closer to home. Whatever the case with the first two, this one has certainly made its way into these walls, followed us into our pews, and burrowed into our hearts. Perhaps, we like to think, that our Lord’s fulfillment gives us a comfortable spectrum, that the commandments, for example, apply only to outward behavior, to the huge, news breaking events; to the people who actually go to jail for murder or to the ones in the spotlight for adultery—the real commandment breakers, the stories that make us feel better about ourselves. Jesus, after all, makes everything relative.

 

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

 

This is no ordinary “council.” With talk of “hell fire,” this is God’s courtroom. And in his jurisdiction, simply refraining from murder does not at all mean that we have a perfect score on the fifth commandment. Our personal grudges, our envy, our bitterness, our refusal to forgive…all stem from the same poisonous root as murder itself, because they all take shots at life.

 

To insult another person is to devalue another person’s life. To be controlled by anger is not only to be vulnerable to foolishness with one’s own life (Prov. 14:29) but it also prefers to release on loved ones, on marriages, on families, on the basic units of life. All of our thoughts, and all of our words, and all of our deeds should promote and uphold life.

 

Here we begin to see what is truly at stake in our Lord’s fulfilling “the Law and the Prophets.” What was once a 15-watt lightbulb is now a floodlight and a laser beam on every one of our hearts. “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven….”

 

Christ does not simply render the Old Testament outdated or irrelevant or easier to follow or anything of the sort. He comes to fill it up with its true meaning. He reveals its deeper content, its greater purposes, and the final intentions behind every last jot and tittle. It was already complete and ready to go “as is”—it was a new tuxedo with no blemishes and no alterations needed—it just needed to be filled with a Groom.

 

In Christ the fifth commandment is not just some sort of fence guarding against outward behavior—it does that, to be sure—but in Him we have both the negative and the positive terminals. Christ comes not only to refrain from committing murder, but he comes to give life. And so also for the other commandments. He comes not only to not commit adultery, but to give purity. He comes not only to not steal but to give us all things needful; to show us the true meaning of the Sabbath and to be our Sabbath rest.

 

To hold a grudge against someone else is to fail at reflecting the fact that God has no grudges against us because of Christ. To refuse to forgive someone else or to give guilt trips is to turn our backs on the behavior that God shows toward us because of His Son. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

 

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” How has your righteousness looked over the past week? As we reflect on that, the scribes and the Pharisees will be busy memorizing Scripture and praying non-stop. And yet even their standards, which put ours to shame, overlook the weightier matters of the law.

 

The only righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees must be of a different kind all together, a righteousness that runs much deeper, one that gives holiness down to the root. We need Someone to fulfill King David’s life, so as to rule not just over Israel but in our hearts and minds. We need a new Moses to lead an exodus from the sin that enslaves us. We need an Elijah who can not only ascend to heaven but who can sit right next to our heavenly Father and speak with Him on our behalf. We need Someone to come in the way of the suffering servant of Isaiah, not just to repeat that old prophet’s piercings and wounds all over again, but Someone to sharpen them and intensify them to the point of hell fire.


All of this, dear Christians, is what Christ delights in giving to you. Everything fulfilled for you; nothing abolished for you. Yes, even those old ceremonies and rituals aren’t ripped out of our Bibles, not because there is more left to be done by way of outward action—Christ has filled that to the brim—but because they continue to bear witness even today to the person and work of Christ and what it means to live in Him. They show us what it means for God’s wrath to be quenched, what it means to be forgiven for all of our outbursts, for our tempers with loved ones, to have a Passover Lamb that gives a clean slate. All of this is forever relevant, even and especially as it speaks to what it means for you to bear the crosses that bother you the most. Those, too, have much deeper meaning, much greater purposes, in Christ.

 

Yes, there will be no shortage of situations in life that make our bones burn like a furnace. But, with the psalmist, be angry, and do not sin (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26). Ponder in your own hearts our Lord’s words about the fifth commandment and above all else, may God grant through His Spirit that in those moments, we remember why He is no longer angry with us.


In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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