As Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, he first preaches what is known as the Beatitudes and then the importance of being salt and light to the world before saying something about himself. Yet what he says about himself in Matt 5:17 is a profoundly deep statement that is different than what many Christians think in regards to who they say Jesus is. Jesus says ““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.”
Too many churches today focus solely on the New Testament for their understanding of who Jesus is. The focus is on the unfathomable love that God demonstrated by having Jesus be the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Our eyes are easily drawn to John 15:13 “no greater love has man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.” And then Jesus says that love is at the heart of the saved person – a love for God and a love for neighbors. God is love, Jesus is the manifestation of love, and the world will know His followers by their love for others. But Jesus himself uses the Law to help clarify who He is.
Even if we limit our definition of the Law to simply the Ten Commandments, we know that we cannot keep them perfectly. If keeping the Law perfectly was the means to salvation, we would have no hope. For that reason, we embrace the freedom that we have from the Law due to the shed blood of Jesus. But if Jesus, who we rightly associate with love, did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, perhaps we have been too quick to look away from the Law.
The Law of God reveals the Love of God, which Jesus clearly fulfills. Jesus didn’t come to abolish it, because the Law remains a gift to us, guiding us as we seek first His kingdom, His righteousness. When we have surrendered our hearts fully to God and allowed ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we will love God’s Law as well, even when we stumble and fail to keep it perfectly.
In our culture today that places great importance on self-esteem, it seems counter productive to hold up a standard that none of us can meet. We want to believe that we are good enough, that somehow, we have done something to deserve salvation. But that isn’t what the Law teaches. Those who don’t understand the Law will look at it and say, as the disciples once did, “who then can be saved?” Fortunately, the answer that Jesus gives to that concern is “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The people of the Church need to once again hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God which He reveals in the Law. God’s Law is an extension of God’s love, and we cannot fully understand who Jesus is without embracing the Law. Almost as important, we cannot fully understand how we are called to love without embracing the Law. If we as Christians are to be known by our love, we must be known as those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, for God’s Law. Jesus chose to identify himself as the fulfillment of the Law, so we as His disciples must honor that sacred connection.