Imagine if you were planning a trip to Uganda and had never visited Africa before. How grateful would you be for a letter written by a local or someone who had lived there for an extended period of time, a letter with advice on what was safe to eat, what plants to stay away from and how to interact with the natives. Maybe we should look at the law less like a rule book and more like a survival guide. What about the Ten Commandments? Well let’s look at what Jesus says about the Law.
The Fulfillment of the Law
17“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. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,a and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’e 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’f 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
33“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
An Eye for an Eye
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
or maybe more simply stated in Matthew 22
34But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “ ‘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 foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
And it seems like that’s all the law ever was. It’s relational. Look at the tend commandments, it’s like God was giving the children of Israel some practical advice on how to maintain good community. Like He was saying, “If you love me you will hang out with me once a week, you will keep me as the most important priority in your life, you will only use my name in high regard.” and “If you love each other you will take care of each-other, you’ll encourage each-other to be thankful for what you have, you’ll hold life to a high esteem. Maybe these commandments were more descriptive than prescriptive and all Jesus was doing by saying, I’m not abolishing the law but fulfilling it, was hitting a reset button.
The leaders of the Hebrew faith had almost 400 years between the close of the old testament and the birth of Jesus to “interpret” the law. And by interpret I mean they turned it into a non-relational, religious, who measures up and who doesn’t systemic approach to holiness.
Jesus was kind of saying, “Hey guys, listen, remember in the beginning when it was relational and love centered? Yeah, I’m here to bring it back to that. No more killing animals, no more priests or holy of hollies, it’s me.” Before we can sit on our high horse and point fingers at the Pharisees for “missing the point” we have to admit that we do the same thing. Let’s be honest it’s really hard to accept the grace that doesn’t come with strings and it’s really hard to believe that “obeying” the law could be so simple. Simple but not easy.