Sunday, October 18, 2009

And the Missing Link is Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20)

It would have been clear to Jesus' Jewish audience that the characteristics of members of the kingdom of heaven (= the real disciples of Jesus = Christians) and their relationship with the world (Matthew 5:3-16) was not unlike what they had been taught through the ages by God's prophets and written down in the Law and the Prophets. Viral meme word associations would have hit a chord in their (sub)consciousness, like "zipbra preens", "duck genes" and "boomz" to a Singaporean.

Snuffleupagus and the Laws of the Land

But the elephant in the room on that mountaintop might have had its trunk in a knot trying to fit Jesus' teaching into the Old Testament Hebrew worldview: how did the dots all join up? Was Jesus teaching a new thing and ought he then be stoned for heresy? No, said Jesus,
Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes 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)
This pushes off an astonishing teaching section on the connection between this seemingly new revelation and God's revelation through the centuries, and ends with Matthew 7:11 - "this is the Law and the Prophets".

Ok, cool. So it was clear that all the preceding commandments and teachings still stood. They were God's words afterall and one wouldn't expect revisionism from an all-powerful all-knowing God. And if these were still in effect, then entry into the kingdom of heaven would be by obedience to these words.

The scribes and the Pharisees apparently were well aware of this and were fastidious OCD keepers of the commandments...or well, the commandments were a bit vague you see so they put in a clarification here and a neatly packed some others and put them in colour-coded boxes within reaching distance filed by aleph-a-bet. It would be easy to fall in the pharisiacal did-God-really-say trap of concluding that it wouldn't be too difficult to top the righteousness of the Pharisees - after all they were all law no love nasty smug legalistic moralistic bullies with simpering voices who deserved their comeuppance. But the standard, Jesus emphasised, in case anyone was thinking otherwise, was far higher - "...be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Not an iota or a dot was to pass from the Law, and no part of the commandments was to be relaxed.

At this point, the elephant on the mountain might have fainted clean away, causing massive environmental damage by tsunami on the other side of the earth. Real, unwatered-down perfection? Impossible!

And just how impossible? From Jesus' six examples of how the Law and the Prophets had indeed not been diluted but were far more Extra Strength Man Sized than the wimpy righteousness promulgated by the Pharisees (see Matthew 5:21-48), infinitely impossible. The terrible overwhelming sinfulness of sin. This dreadful realisation would have driven anyone, screaming OMGOMG, to the poverty of spirit that characterises the person in Matthew 5:3 to whom is promised the kingdom of heaven.

No wait.

Are there two ways of entering the kingdom of heaven? Why have those contrite failures been promised the kingdom earlier in the Sermon (Matthew 5:3)? But doesn't the need for perfection strictly preclude any other backdoor (contrition) route? The ridiculousness of anything short of perfection managing to see God would be like singing the scary fat man song Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham in rounds in the crisp mountain air making everything alright in the world and with God.

Ah, the missing link is
...
...
...
wait for it
...
...
...
wait for it
...
...
...
Jesus!

Strawberry Tart with Valrhona Ganache
Unable to Follow Even Simple Tart-making Instructions Person is Obviously Needing Jesus

The rest of the Bible then explains how Jesus' death allows grossly imperfect people to enter into a relationship God. Huge and mind-boggling. Theological terms like substitutionary atonement, penal substitution, imputed righteousness, propitiation, expiation all go some way to attempting to explain this and obviously a paragraph can't do it justice. But regardless, this was the good news Jesus was to preach to the poor (Matthew 5:3 cf Matthew 11:5, Isaiah 61:1), that he had come to enable the scum of the earth to meet the perfect maker of heaven and earth. So Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17) not only by keeping them perfectly in the fullness of their meaning, but also by being the one to whom they had been pointing (qv Matthew 1:22, 3:15, 4:1-12, 4:14, 11:12-15). Therefore obeying the Law and the Prophets would necessarily require acknowledgement of Jesus as saviour and obedience to his words which, far from abolishing them, bring out the real significance of the Law and the Prophets. So some aspects of the law, eg. the ceremonies, priests, temple and sacrifices, no longer existed in their Old Testament form because the person to whom they had been pointing had arrived and the event/problem to which they had been anticipating was fulfilled/accomplished by Jesus.

If Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, if all has been paid for already, does that mean we don't have to bother with them or with working on our righteousness?

To think so would be to fall into the same hole, on top of the bodies of the Pharisees and scribes littering the bottom. Such a view assumes that the commandments and instructions are but mechanical means of entry into heaven, so once these have been satisfied they can be tossed into the junkheap. It's just as erroneous to see these words as mere commandments to be kept so that God will give us a little pat on the head for being such an obedient boy/girl when we see him. Nor are they to be co-opted by those who love certainty and rules to live by as the perfect moral complement to their rigorous self-improvement, healthy mind and body regime. Nor are they in the first instance (though it is one of their purposes, see Romans 7) the evangelistic instrument by which God bats us out so we will be contrite in heart and poor in spirit. Just as the Law and the Prophets were first given to Israel when they became God's people and he became their God, Jesus' commandments are meant to teach us who have come to know God the character of God embedded therein and how to live in direct, living, true relationship with this God. The focus is on the living person of God not the letter of the law (and the inevitable pharisaical sub-laws, regulations and guidelines that trail not far behind).

And besides, if we are Christians who think the kingdom of heaven is ours, are we not then people who also hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) surpassing that of the Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 5:20), and who are pure in heart and seek after God (Matthew 5:8)? If we treat the law lightly and teach others to do the same (Matthew 5:19), we demonstrate that we aren't what we say we are.


A Trundle Through Sermon on the Mount
Earth Moves Under Feet, Kingdom Comes (Matthew 5-7)
This is the Sound of Inevitability (Matthew 5:1-6)
Breeding - We Hazs It (Matthew 5:7-12)
Coffee, Salt and Light, and the Essence and Use of the Christian (Matthew 5:13-16)
And the Missing Link is Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20)
Perfect Laws for Perfect Relationships (Matthew 5:21-48)
Cakes for Kierkegaard and Sermon on the Mount as Existentialist Answer Perhaps (Matthew 6:1-18)

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4 Comments:

At October 19, 2009 10:33 am , Anonymous oldie said...

That is not an elephant - it's Mr. Snuffaluffagus from Sesame Street! :-)

 
At October 21, 2009 8:56 am , Blogger Orual said...

Please keep it up. These studies have been a lifeline out here in the wilds of Washington. Each study is a good snap, like when the A/C is trying to come back to life and a cool dry puff comes along intermittently with the hot damp.

 
At December 27, 2009 6:52 am , Blogger bathmate said...

Well that was a nice post. I liked it.
Bathmate

 
At March 10, 2010 2:48 am , Blogger Anders Branderud said...

Regarding “Matthew 5:17f”.

Ribi Yehoshuas authentic teachings reads:
[Torah, Oral Law & Hebrew Matityahu: Ribi Yehoshua Commanded Non-Selective Observance
The Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu (NHM)]:

"I didn't come to subtract from the Torâh of Moshëh or the Neviim, nor to add onto the Torah of Moshëh did I come. Because, rather, I came to [bring about the] complete [i.e., non-selective] observance of them in truth.
Should the heavens and ha-Aretz exchange places, still, not even one י or one of the Halâkhâh of the Torah of Moshehshall so much as exchange places; toward the time when it becomes that they are all being performed -- i.e., non- selectively -- in full.
For whoever deletes one [point of] the Halâkhâh of these mitzwot from Torah, or shall teach others such, [by those in] the Realm of the heavens he shall be called 'deleted.' And whoever ratifies and teaches them shall be called ' Ribi' in the Realm of the heavens.

For I tell you that unless your tzәdâqâh is over and above that of the [Hellenist-Roman Pseudo- Tzedoqim] Codifiers of halakhah, and of the Rabbinic- Perushim sect of Judaism, no way will you enter into the Realm of the heavens." (see NHM)

Quote from www.netzarim.co.il ; “History Museum”

The reconstruction is made using a scientific and logic methodology. One of the premises is that the historical Ribi Yehoshua was a Torah-observant Pharisee. So how can one know that?

A logical analysis (found in previous mentioned Netzarim-website (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical. Ribi Yehoshua was called a Ribi, and only the Perushim (Pharisees) had Ribis.

A second premise is that he taught in Hebrew (what that statement is based on is found in Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu).


Anders Branderud

 

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