For those who think they understand, Jesus threw in a mystery
and a puzzle.

"Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did
not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you,
till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will
by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these
commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in
the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them,
he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say
to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the
righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no
means enter the kingdom of heaven."

                                                                      Matthew 5:17-20 NKJV

                                    The Law and The Prophets

The Law and the Prophets are basically what we have in the Old
Testament. The message of the Prophets was about the faithfulness
of God and the unfaithfulness of God's people. Sin and judgment
for sure, but also hope and restoration. Therefore--Seek God; return
to the God who loves you. Repent, change your ways and deal justly
with your brother.

The Law dates back to the days of Moses and Israel's journey from
slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. The laws and
commandments of God are recorded in the Bible in Exodus through
Deuteronomy. Added to God's Law were a compilation of oral
traditions and scribal laws which explained in detail what the Law
required, for example, how far you could walk on the Sabbath before
it was considered work and therefore forbidden. Scribal law filled
endless pages.

"Don't get the wrong impression!" Did you ever say that to someone?
We say it when we think our words or deeds may be misinterpreted.
It means we want people to listen carefully and not jump to
conclusions which we do not intend.

It was time for Jesus to say, "Don't get me wrong." Because Jesus'
lifestyle and message were so radical, people questioned whether
he kept the Law. To the people in the crowds, Jesus was totally new
in his thinking and very distinct from their religious leaders. So it
was natural for them to conclude that the ancient words of their
holy scriptures might not be as valid as they were taught to believe.

Jesus needed to make this very clear. Even though he disagreed with
the practices and leadership of the scribes and Pharisees, that didn't
mean he disagreed with the commandments contained in their holy
texts. Jesus made three points.

  1. The Law and the Prophets will stand forever until it is fulfilled and
    its mission accomplished. Till then absolutely nothing about it will
    change or become invalid. Jesus came, not to destroy the Law,
    but to fulfill it.
  2. Either you break the commandments or you keep them. If you
    break one, or teach others to break even the least command,
    you are grouped with those who break the Law. Both the breakers
    and keepers are included in the kingdom of heaven.
  3. On the other hand, one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless
    they are more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees.

The Law stands as written. Everyone is guilty of transgression. We
must be more righteous than the "top dogs" in order to enter the
kingdom of heaven. That's what Jesus said. The Law and its
"fulfillment" sounds like a mystery. The puzzle is that in one sentence
all are included in the kingdom, in the next sentence all seem to be
excluded. How can anyone be more righteous than those scribes
and Pharisees! Is it any wonder that we scratch our heads and
feel perplexed? Maybe understanding Jesus will take more time
than we realized when we started this study!

The scribes and Pharisees were right in seeking God and desiring
to obey God's laws. They were wrong in thinking righteousness was
to be found in the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the
law. Obviously something more is needed in order to enter God's
kingdom than strict obedience to the Law.

Jesus is about to give us a glimpse into the heart of the Law-Giver,
and righteousness will take on a whole new perspective. In the next
several studies, Jesus will explain what it means to live by the spirit of
the Law and the Prophets. He chose as his subjects: murder; peace
and reconciliation; lust; adultery; divorce; integrity; love and hate;
revenge; generosity; prayer; forgiveness; fasting; wealth; worry and
faith; judging others; goodness and evil; illusions of religiosity; and
foundation building.

As Jesus expands these topics, you will see not only the wording of
the law. More importantly, Jesus will show you the spirit and meaning
of the Law. It's all about relationships and how we interact with people.
And there's no goodness without a loving spirit. The prophet Jeremiah
called it a law written, not in stone, but on our hearts. You and I are
the ones who must change, not the Law and The Prophets!


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

: What is one verse or story or commandment which you 
                   remember from the Old Testament?

This is a good time to talk about religious backgrounds. We all came
from somewhere and have some kind of religious history.
            Share a few things that were unique to your religious background.
            If you're familiar with more than one religious group, discuss
                        some of the different ways people interpret a particular
                        part of the Bible.

The Pharisees and Jesus both studied from the same scripture texts.
            How is it possible, then, that they expressed opposing
                        religious views?
            Do you think we see and understand the words of God any more
                        clearly than the Pharisees did?
            Give some examples of interpreting Scripture according to the
                        letter of the Law while ignoring the spirit of the Law?

Do you believe the Old Testament part of the Bible is important for us today?
            Are there things you like or dislike about the Old Testament?
            Do we have to obey the Ten commandments to be saved?

The scribes and Pharisees did what the words of the Law prescribed.
Yet Jesus said their efforts were inadequate.
            What were they missing?

Do you believe Jesus fulfilled the Law when he died on the cross?
            If not, what do you believe about Jesus' life and death?
            If yes, explain how the Cross is significant to you?

You probably know people who think that good works come first before
we are worthy enough for God to receive us. You probably know people
who think faith comes first and then works.
            Which way do you see it?
            Is one way any better than the other?
            Is righteousness a gift from God or must we work at it?

What is your motivation for being good and doing good things?
            If the promise of heaven didn't exist, would you still live
                        like you do?

There's no goodness without a loving spirit.  Read I Corinthians 13:1-3.
            Do you agree with these words from St. Paul?
            On a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high), what score would you get
                        for "loving spirit"?
            How do you feel about your score?

[[I want to add one footnote here--thoughts which were not part of what
Jesus was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. But after Jesus' death
and resurrection, the believers could look back to the words Jesus
spoke in this passage and interpret them in a new light.

New Testament theology (St. Paul's letters in particular) taught that
we are not saved by keeping the Law, but by believing in Jesus. We are
redeemed from our sins by faith through God's grace and forgiveness.
The righteousness we need to enter the kingdom of heaven does not
come from the Law, it is a gift given to us by God when we believe.
The Old Testament word, atonement, means "at one with God." Jesus
is our atonement, the one who brings us back, and brings us home,
to our loving and wonderful heavenly Father.

The Law and the Prophets have guided us to Jesus. Since we do not
obey the Law any better than the elders of Israel did, the Law shows us
that we all need a Savior. When Jesus died on the cross, the Law and
the Prophets were fulfilled. Jesus became our righteousness, and the
door through which we enter God's kingdom.

For those who believe in Jesus, the motivation for being good is not
the Law. It is God's love. We love because God first loved us. We forgive,
we are faithful; we extend mercy and grace to others, because that is
how God treats us.]]

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