God’s Mission in Matthew
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God’s Mission in Matthew

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God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:17-20 [NRSV]


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • Why does Jesus say, ‘do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets’?

    • Jesus is clarifying the purpose of his mission

  • Apparently his teaching had led some to believe his intention was to abolish them

    • But this would suggest he was not teaching strict adherence to or obedience of the law

    • We must be careful not to assume Jesus intended the law to be obeyed in the same way it was before he came


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

Matthew 5:17

Do not think that I came

to abolish the law or the prophets

I did not come

to abolish [them]

But [I did come]

to fulfill them

Matthew 10:34

Do not think I came

to bring peace on the earth

I did not come

to bring peace

But [I did come]

to [bring] a sword


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • If the statement about the law and the prophets means, ‘do not think that I came to ‘do away’ with the law in any sense…,’

    • then the statement about peace means, ‘do not think that I came to bring peace in any sense.…’

  • NB the word Jesus uses in opposition to ‘abolish’ is not ‘confirm’ or ‘obey’ or ‘enforce’

    • He uses the term ‘fulfill’


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • The question we should be asking ourselves is not so much ‘how did Jesus stand in relation to the law’?

  • Rather, we should be asking ‘how did the law stand in relation to Jesus?

    • Cf. Luke 16:16 "The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force (see also Matthew 11:12-14)

    • In what sense were the law and the prophets until John?


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • But doesn’t Jesus also say that unless heaven and earth pass away not a single letter of the law will pass away (5:18)?

    • He says, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

    • Jesus does not say the law will never change

    • He says it will not change until all is accomplished (fulfilled)


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • The law is to be respected as divine revelation

  • But this does not mean the law continues to function as it did in the Old Covenant age

    • The law’s purpose has been fulfilled in Jesus

    • All has been accomplished, therefore the law is not to be followed in the same way

      • Those who are ‘in Christ’ are not under the law (e.g. Romans 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Corinthians 9:20-21)


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • Why then does Jesus say, “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven”?


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • Jesus does expect his followers to ‘keep the law’ but not in the same way Israel kept it

    • If Jesus meant that his followers were to observe the law in the same way Israel observed it, then we are faced with an irreconcilable contradiction with Paul (and other NT authors)

  • What then did Jesus mean?


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • Where can one get insight into Jesus intention re ‘doing and teaching’ the commandments?

    He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.‘ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV)

    • Cf also Matthew 7:12 (the ‘golden rule’ which ‘is the law and the prophets’)


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • The way that one ‘does and teaches’ the commandments is by loving God and loving one’s neighbor

    • “We are not called to the love of Torah, but to the Torah of love”(McKnight, Jesus Creed, 54)

  • The ‘Jesus Creed’ is a challenging path of self-denial and service

    • It is not about rules and rituals

    • It is about righteousness and restored relationships


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • This is why Jesus says, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    • He does not mean one has to better at following the law than the Pharisees (good luck with that!)

    • He is calling his followers to the ‘higher standard’ of consistently loving God and others


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • The ‘righteousness’ of the Pharisees was exclusive

    • It kept people out

  • The ‘righteousness’ of Jesus followers is to be inclusive

    • It is intended to bring people in (reach people)

    • To help them find restoration and wholeness

    • To equip them to help others

    • To send and encourage them in their mission to others


God s mission in matthew

God’s Mission in Matthew

  • We too have been called to participate in God’s mission of restoration and healing

  • In the rest of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus will give some practical examples of what this looks like


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