How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law? Christ, His Teaching, and the New Covenant

jon-tyson-195064-unsplashIn Matthew 5:17 Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. And as D. A. Carson has observed about these verses, “The theological and canonical ramifications of one’s exegetical conclusions . . . are so numerous that discussion becomes freighted with the intricacies of biblical theology” (“Matthew,” 141).

In other words, it is really easy to import one’s biblical framework into Jesus’s words. For how one understands the law and its use in the New Testament and how the New Testament relates to the Old Testament, will in large measure impact the way one understands Jesus’s words, which in turn reinforces, or reforms, our biblical-theological framework.

Therefore, the question before is, “How do we stay on the line of Scripture when we interpret Matthew 5:17”? By comparison with Matthew 10:34 (“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”) and Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”), we learn that Jesus “non-abolishment clause” in Matthew 5:17 may not be absolute. Sharing the same structure as Matthew 5:17, Matthew 10:34 does not mean Jesus has forsaken his peace-making ways. Rather, his peace-making will include the restructuring (and severing) of family relations in order to make a new family of  peace.

From this analogy, we learn there are some things in the Law that have come to an end—e.g., Hebrews indicates that Christ’s sacrifice ends the old covenant system of animal sacrifice. Therefore, we should go back to Jesus’s words to learn how to apply the Law. And thankfully, because of Matthew’s repeated and technical usage of the word “fulfill”/”fulfillment” (pleroō), we can get a good idea of how to understand the relationship of the Law to Christ and from Christ to us.  Continue reading

How Do I Feed On God’s Word?

aaron-burden-113284-unsplash (1).jpgYesterday, I wrote on the importance of feeding on the Word. Today, let me add another reflection on that theme—namely, what it looks like to actually feed on the Word of God.

Certainly, if God calls us to live upon every Word that proceeds from his mouth (Matthew 4:4), it should not surprise us that he is not silent on what it looks like to feed on his word. Just as the health professionals have protocols for what consists of healthy vital signs, so does Scripture with respect to how to feed on God’s Word.

How do I feed on the Word of God?

In Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifehe takes two chapters to outline “Bible Intake.” In his chapters (summarized here), he includes five ways to feed on God’s Word.

  1. Hear It (cf. Romans 10:17)
  2. Read It (Matthew 19:4)
  3. Study It (cf. Ezra 7:10)
  4. Memorize It (cf. Psalm 119:11)
  5. Meditate On It (cf. Psalm 1:2)

Similarly, but with even more specificity, Psalm 119 gives us at least six ways we can and should feed on the word of God. Continue reading

Feeding on the Lord: So Much More Than a Metaphor

breadHunger. It’s one of the most basic of human desires. And in the Bible it is one of the most important concepts related to salvation, faith, and one’s experience with God.

Physically, hunger and our attempts to fill our stomaches are experiences that unite all mankind. While experienced differently in famine-afflicted Africa or affluency-afflicted America, an “empty stomach” is something that speaks to everyone.  We cannot go without food, and thus we search for something to fill us up and give us life.

Spiritually, the language of food, famine, eating, nourishment, and emptiness fills the Bible. From the plethora of fruit trees given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the Manna in the wilderness, to the loaves and fishes that Jesus provided for his followers, God has provided physical sustenance. At the same time, food has been a source of destruction—sin entered the world through eating the forbidden fruit; Esau lost his inheritance when he chose stew over his birthright, and Paul says that men ate and drank destruction on themselves when they wrongly ate the Lord’s Supper.

So clearly, food plays a key role in our physical and spiritual pursuit of God. At the same time, Scripture often speaks of eating metaphorically. Psalm 34:8 reads, “Taste and see that the Lord is God.” And Psalm 36:8 says that the children of man “feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Apparently, our experience with food—physical bread, meat, and drink—is meant by God to teach us what it means to feed on the Lord and drink from his streams of life.

Still, I suspect that for all we know about food, we may struggle to understand what it means to feed on the Lord. If God is Spirit (John 4:24), then how do we feed on him? And if he is invisible, where do we go to find fullness in him?

Just this last week, I preached a message on feeding on the Lord. My repeated command: Feed on the goodness and grace of God. But how? I can imagine someone saying, “That’s sounds great, but what does that mean?” So here is my answer to that question: What does it mean to feed on the God who is invisible? Continue reading

How Should I Give a Testimony?

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Let’s say you are called upon to share with a small group or a large congregation the recent happenings at Vacation Bible School, a missions trip, or some other event at school, church, or elsewhere. How will you do it? What priorities will inform your 60 seconds or 6 minutes?

In college, Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) taught me three (maybe four) “rules” for giving a testimony. I share them here for anyone who may be called to give a testimony, plus a couple others. For the sake of memory, they follow the first six letters of the alphabet.

Six “Rules” For Giving a Testimony

A – Be Audible

You can’t bear witness to God’s goodness, if you can’t be heard. Therefore, be sure to speak clearly. Of course, this may mean making sure the microphone is on, but more importantly, it means knowing what you will say before you say it.

Often times poor delivery comes from a lack of confidence in what we will say. Therefore, know what you are going to say. Pray for God to help you say it. Say it. And give thanks to God for helping you speak with boldness, clarity, and volume. Continue reading

A Filter, A Lens, and A Prism: Three Ways Christ Applies the Law of Moses to New Covenant Disciples

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One of the most challenging aspects of reading the Bible is applying the old covenant law to the new covenant follower of Christ. As the book Five Views on Law and Gospel illustrates, there are multiple ways in which Christians have sought to apply the Old Testament and its legal demands to the church today. And one of the most familiar ways is to differentiate three parts of the law.

Typically divided as moral, civil, and ceremonial, the tripartite approach to the Old Testament argues that some laws are eternal and unchanging (the moral); others are related to the theocracy given to  Israel (the civil); still others are related to the system of priests, sacrifices, and the temple (the ceremonial). In Christ, the civil and ceremonial came to their completion, while the moral law continues unabated.

The trouble with this approach is that the Old Testament never specifies the tripartite division and in many places the moral, civil, and ceremonial overlap. Still, we must make some sense of the way parts of the law continue and others do not. And historically, the tripartite division has a long tradition of helping Christians think carefully about the Bible, the Law, and the Gospel. Still, it is not the only way and there may be better approaches.
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Addressing this subject, I have found help in the way Jonathan Lunde uses three images to describe the way in which Christ fulfills the law. In his book Following Jesus, the Servant Kinghe spends three chapters outlining the way Christ fulfills the law of Moses. Focusing much of his attention on the Sermon on the Mount, he specifies the way Christ functions as filter, lens, and prism. In some ways, Christ brings the laws of Moses to an end (filter); in others, he clarifies what the law already meant (lens); and still in other ways, he heightens the demands of the law (prism).

While these three approaches (filter, lens, prism) are extra-textual and only illustrative, I find them more helpful in getting at what the text says. They make us consider what Jesus does and does not say about the law. And instead of foisting an extra-textual grid on the Bible, like the tripartite division of the law, they make us listen closely to the text itself to see how Jesus mediates between old and new covenants.

Because this approach is explicitly Christ-centered, in a way that the tripartite division of the law is not, I find it to be a surer guide. Likewise, because it does not create a whole system of categorization (which the Bible does not have), it lets the text of Scripture speak. It also permits more freedom to disagree about certain points—as I do below in two ways—and helps us go back to the feet of Jesus to learn how he approaches the old and new covenants. Continue reading

Circumcising the Heart: Eleven Things Jesus Teaches Us About Anger

angerIn Matthew 5:21–26 Jesus outlines his interpretation and application of the sixth command, “Thou shall not murder” (Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17). And though Jesus words are only six verses in length, we can learn at least eleven truths about anger from Christ’s wise words.

1. Anger is a matter of the heart.

As the cliche goes, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. And in Jesus first of six “antithesis” he clarifies that the point of command, “thou shall not murder,” is not really an antithesis at all. Rather, the command to not shed another’s blood is meant to awaken the heart of someone prone to anger. In other words, it is misguided to believe the Lord only cared about the heart in the New Testament.

The Lord has always cared about the heart. Each of the ten commandments were instructed to train the hearts of the Israelites. Deuteronomy 10:16 called upon the Israelites to “circumcise their hearts.” And the common indictment against Israel, under the old covenant, was the problem of their hearts (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Psalm 95).

Hence, Jesus is not giving a new commandment here, but reminding his disciples what the intentions of God were, are, and forever will be. In the law, God called his people to not murder so that it would awaken in them a desire to love, serve, and protect their neighbor. Therefore, Jesus rightly recalls the laws original intent and that the sixth command addresses a heart of anger. Continue reading

The Center of the Sermon on the Mount: Twelve Truths About Our Father in Heaven

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All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
— Matthew 11:27 —

Perhaps of the most surprising (and edifying) aspects of the Sermon on the Mount is the emphasis Jesus’ makes on his Father in heaven. While we may consider the Sermon as a explanation of the Law (see 5:17–48), or instructions for true piety (see 6:1–18), or a warnings to walk in the true way (see 7:13–28), the heartbeat of the Sermon is a love for the Father. And more than that, the Sermon is about how disciples of Christ might know and enjoy the Father’s love.

The importance of this Father-centered vision of the Sermon cannot be understated. As John 14:6 indicates, Jesus came to bring us to the Father. Likewise, Matthew’s own Gospel identifies how Jesus seeks to reveal the Father to those whom the Father has given (see above, Matthew 11:25–27). Therefore, it is worth noting how in his first discourse, the Father plays a prominent role. In what follows, I’ve notated twelve truths about what Jesus tells us about his Father and his Father’s love for those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Continue reading

The Blessed Christ: How Jesus Exemplifies All His Beatitudes

bruno-martins-442303-unsplash.jpgAll the beatitudes that Jesus uttered in the Gospel,
he confirms by his example, exemplifying what he taught.
— Origen

If we want to understand what the Beatitudes look like in action, we should look to Christ. And if we want to embody the Beatitudes, it will require a long and loving gaze at our Lord. Why? Because as we see him, we gain wisdom to know how to walk as he walks, and more importantly, when we look with faith at Christ our hearts grow in affection for his way of life. This is how the Lord sanctifies us and transforms us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

What follows, therefore, is the slimmest confirmation of Origen’s assertion (cited by Davies and Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Catechism, 69)—namely, that in the Gospels and Epistles we find evidence that all that Jesus commends in the Beatitudes are displayed in his life.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Luke 23:46

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last

Acts 10:37–38

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Matthew 12:28

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 17:20–21

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Isaiah 53:1–3

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

John 11:34­–36

And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”[1]

 

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 11:28–30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 21:5, citing Zechariah 9:9

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

  

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 3:13–15

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

John 4:31–32

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  

 

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 9:27

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

Matthew 15:22

22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

Matthew 17:15

“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.

Matthew 20:30–31

30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Luke 7:47–48

47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Psalm 24 (cf. Psalm 15)

A Psalm of David.

1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. 3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah 7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah

John 1:18

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 6:45–46

45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

 

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 

Ephesians 2:14–17

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Hebrews 2:10

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

 

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 27:15–23

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

2 Corinthians 5:21

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Peter 3:18

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

 

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

Seeing the Mountain-Like Structure of the Sermon on the Mount

jeremy-bishop-248837-unsplash.jpgEarlier this week, we considered the way Matthew organized his Gospel with careful literary structures. Today, we look more closely at one part of his work, the Sermon on the Mount. And in that section of Scripture (4:23–8:1), we learn a number of things about how Matthew organized Jesus’ sermon in order to direct our attention to the main point of the sermon—namely, communion with the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.

Returning to the helpful work of Jonathan Pennington, we see in his The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, that he organizes Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount into a chiastic structure that looks something like this—this arrangement here abbreviates his original outline (see pp. 132–33). Continue reading

The Significance of the Sermon on the Mount: 10 Reflections from Herman Ridderbos

sermon05What is the Sermon on the Mount about?

That question has puzzled pastors, theologians, and Bible scholars for centuries. While large volumes have been written on the subject, sometimes a slimmer response is helpful. On that note, one finds great help from the late Dutch New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos.

Writing a chapter on the Sermon on the Mount (“The Significance of the Sermon on the Mount,” in When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology26–43), Ridderbos explains the eschatological nature of Christ’s kingdom and how the arrival of Christ’s kingdom as a fulfillment of the Law and Prophets helps us understand and apply Jesus’ famous words.  Continue reading