“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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:17-20 NIV)
Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, laying out a new way to think and live (vv. 1-12). Jesus’ disciples respond much like we would: “Tell us who we are, Lord? Where do we fit in to this epic story? What is our identity?”
Jesus’ response? “Be salt and light”. In a word, be ambassadors for God.
Jesus now senses and responds to their next question, even before they have a chance to ask: “Who, then, are You, Jesus? What is Your role in all this, Teacher?”
Jesus was not exactly loved by the religious establishment of His day. Jesus associated with the likes of John the Baptizer and Jesus’ band of misfits that He called “disciples” (hardly an “A-list” or a “who’s who” of Jewish thought and practice). Jesus was often criticized as being a law-breaker and a rebel, and the Pharisees were always looking for an opportunity to bring charges against Jesus, and eventually, to kill Him.
Jesus’ disciples knew His reputation, and were secretly hoping that Jesus would throw off all the burdensome rules that the religious establishment had put on them. Moses had passed along Ten Commandments for the people to follow; the religious rulers imposed over six hundred “laws” for the people to obey.
So what does Jesus do? Does He declare anarchy, or invent some new religious format to follow?
Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite.
Jesus makes a most shocking claim – He is not here to abolish God’s Law and the sayings of the Prophets of old, but to fulfill them.
Jesus’ disciples (and the crowd listening in on Jesus’ teaching) would fall silent when Jesus spoke verse 18:
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
His disciples, with what little Jewish training they had retained, would immediately recall two scripture passages:
“Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89 NIV)
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV)
Jesus then sends shock waves through the crowd when He tells them the bar to get into heaven is even higher than they thought, far surpassing the “rules” of even the religious rulers of their day (v. 20). In fact, entry into heaven is virtually impossible by being good or doing good things. And in the next section, we will see Jesus lay out specific examples of this hyper-righteousness, clearly showing the impossibility of getting into heaven on our own merits.
So what’s the deal? Should we just throw in the towel now, and give up on the idea of getting into heaven?
No. That is not what Jesus is teaching at all.
Instead, the way to heaven is by faith, not by what we do or way or think or feel. It is God who declares us right (pure) in His sight, through the blood of Jesus, who paid the price for us. It’s by God’s grace and love alone, through faith.
Who or what are you counting on to get into heaven?
Is entry into heaven on your terms, or God’s?