There had been prophets sent from God centuries before Jesus came, men who were misunderstood, and unwelcomed because people hadn’t grasped or hadn’t wanted what they were teaching. In all the time until Jesus came there had been no changes in human nature. People were as “hard of hearing” as they had been in the days of the prophets. Jesus agonized over this attitude – this same spirit – as he sought to bring God’s wayward children back to him.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
When Jesus began his ministry he knew full well that many people would not understand what he was about. He knew people would, due to prior conditioning and long established thinking, misunderstand and misrepresent him, making false accusations against him. It is as though he is seeing this before it actually began and is attempting to forestall it as much as possible.
Never should it be said that Jesus was against the law of God as he was accused. Never would he say or do anything to give his followers the idea that God’s commandments were unimportant or that they could disregard even one of them. Never should any of his followers say or do anything that would discourage anyone from obeying everything God commanded. Why would the One who was the author of the law deny its value? Why would he denigrate it – belittle it? Why would he encourage anyone to not obey it?
In the sermon on the mount he uttered this precautionary warning:
Matt. 5:17-19 “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. 18 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. 19 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.”
No one who believes in Jesus would slight the law of God or the prophets, nor would they encourage others to do so. The point, however, is not just that people would be discouraged from obedience to the law. To not accept the validity of the law would mean to not esteem the One who is the source of the law and who was the message of the prophets.
The point of the law was not just the regulation of the behavior of man. The law was – and is – a revelation of the character and perfection of God. To reject the law would have meant to reject God in all his purity and perfection. To slight the law would have been to insult the God whose person is represented in the law.
The law and the prophets’ message were given to man to make God known. Man’s need to know God is realized because man was made to be in the image of God. When sin separated humanity from God and man began to focus on himself instead of the Creator we lost sight of his purpose that we are intended to reflect his glory instead of doing our own misdirected thing. Law, direct toward the behavior of man, is nothing more than the reflection of God’s own glory. Its design is that by obedience we come more and more to know the Creator and in that knowing we become more and more like him. The history of the Jewish people to whom God addressed himself particularly in the Law of Moses is an illustration of how men always fail to live up to the demands of God’s perfect law.
The message of the prophets was not just a foretelling of things to come, but a message from God by which his people were measured as to whether they were moving toward his goal for them. Were they becoming the kind of people who represented him to the world? Were they failing in the mission he had set them upon? What did they need to do to measure up to his expectation for them?
By all measures they had failed the test. They did not know the law because they did not know the giver of the law. They treated the law as an end within itself and it wasn’t. Jesus said of the people in his day …
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39).
Jesus said he had come to fulfill the law and the prophets. In fulfilling the law he not only did the things the law required, but in so doing showed the character and heart of the Father. Although the Pharisees – who were sticklers for strict obedience to the law – accused him of breaking the law, particularly that regarding the Sabbath, Jesus obeyed the law perfectly.
In healing on the Sabbath he was showing what the Father was like – his mercy, his compassion, his love. His healing on the Sabbath for which he received strong criticism from the Jews, was not disobedience to the law, it was fulfillment of it! He was giving rest to those whom he healed. What better way to show the meaning of the Sabbath than by showing the Father’s love?
The prophets did not just criticize the people of their day for the wrongs they did, they told them what God expected of them.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
The things God wanted the people of Jeremiah’s day to know about him, Jesus demonstrated in his life when he came. He fulfilled the law by fulfilling this and other prophetic statements about the nature of the Father. And we must not forget the words of the prophet, Micah …
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
This is the essence of the law. This is the very thing Jesus had in view when he answered the question of the lawyer about which was the greatest commandment. His answer …
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39).
So, by fulfilling the two greatest commandments Jesus fulfilled all the law and the prophets!
Matt. 22:40 “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
By living in love we also fulfill God’s purpose for us in this world.
Too simple, you say? Too easy? Before you make that kind of judgment, better read what the apostle John has to say!
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16).
To obey Christ – to fulfill his purpose for our life with and in him – is the tallest order we will ever be confronted with! How can we ever do anything so difficult? When would we ever be called upon to do anything so radical?
The answer is that we are to do it every day! How? Not by great, dramatic deeds, but by humbling ourselves and serving others as Jesus did. We do it by little, seemingly insignificant deeds of kindness and mercy as John goes on to say in the next verses …
John 3:17-18 “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.