Jesus tells us not to assume He comes to destroy the Law; rather He comes to fulfill the Law. He warns that unless we are more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees, we “will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) It is not enough to refrain from murder; we must refrain from being angry or insulting. It is not enough that we refrain from adultery; we must refrain from lust. It is not enough that we keep our oaths; we must not make oaths at all. It is not enough to love our neighbor; we must also love our enemy. It is not enough to be righteous; we must not be righteous “in front of people, to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1) It is not enough to pray; we must not pray in public “to be seen by people” or “babble like the idolators, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:5,7) It is not enough to fast; we must “put oil on [our] heads, and wash [our] faces.” (Matthew 6:17)
“Whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
Looking in the mirror, I see the least in the kingdom of heaven for I break the least of these commands more times than I can count. I find no room in my heart for self-righteousness. The only righteousness I have belongs to another — my righteousness rests solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets.
“For Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.”
Sins are paid for only one time – not repeatedly. Sins are paid once for all as the Righteous One dies for the unrighteous. We who are sinners are brought to God once – by Christ’s sacrificial death and by His resurrection from the dead. Like any well-formulated, ironclad contract, our salvation is settled.
“Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11) The only person who is righteous, who fulfills the entire law is Jesus. “Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.” (Galatians 3:10)
Now anyone who claims to do everything written in the book of the law is self-deceived. Jesus says He comes to fulfill the law not destroy it. (Matthew 5:17) He says, “not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) Jesus’ ability to satisfy God is enough for us — we add nothing to Christ’s finished work. Our contract with God is unbreakable – signed with the blood of our Savior and sealed with His Holy Spirit.
“He makes us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.”
Jesus says, “Don’t assume that I come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I do not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches to do so is called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands is called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 17-19) Then He tells us to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees — who make an extraordinary effort to obey the letter of the Law.
The letter kills, says Paul. The letter of the Law kills because we can not fully obey it. Even “the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter” is capable of killing us. Jesus says even if we do not actually murder another person, our simple anger at that person is enough to make us “subject to judgment.” Even calling that extremely rude and bad driver in front of us a “fool” makes us “subject to ‘hellfire.'” (Matthew 5: 21, 22) Jesus even says that “anything more than [‘yes’ and ‘no’] is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)
No wonder Paul laments, wondering who is able to rescue him from this body of death. The new covenant says that Jesus is our rescuer. No amount of self-effort will result in our righteousness. Only “the Spirit produces life.”
Jesus says, with His last human breath, “It is accomplished.”
“The Spirit produces life.”
“Bear [or carry] one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Yet within the next few sentences of his letter to the Galatians, Paul adds: “For each will have to bear his own load.” (Galatians 6: 4)
Carry your own load, but look to your neighbor — to help him bear his load. Look to your neighbor — not for help with your own burdens — but in order to help him carry his.
Jesus says, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 43-45)
So, Jesus is saying that it is not enough to help your neighbor; you must also help your enemy carry his burden. And when you examine this, of course your enemy necessarily carries a heavier burden than does your neighbor. Your enemy’s burden includes hatred, vengeance, bitterness, rage. How do you help one such as this with a load so enormous? Jesus gives us the answer — through prayer.
“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” asks Jesus. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 46, 48)