Law or Love?

The Sermon on the Mount reported by Matthew in chapters 5 through 7 is a sermon preached by Jesus instructing His disciples in the way of the kingdom that He declared was near: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, `Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 4: 17 NIV)

The core of the teaching of Jesus is in two concepts:

  1. We are to become salt and light: You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
  2. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets: “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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear for the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. For 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.” (Matthew 5: 13 – 20 NIV)

These passages quoted above may be the most difficult in all Scripture. The Beatitudes just preached by Jesus throw our normal expectation of religion and, indeed, all of life on its ear. From “Blessed are the poor in spirit” to “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,” Jesus is announcing the kingdom of God (kingdom of heaven in Matthew) in terms that are seemingly impossible to comprehend and certainly impossible to complete in one’s own life. Then He immediately calls us out and challenges us to be “salt” and “light” in this world that Jesus said we were to live in but not be part of.I do not see myself as a light set on a lampstand. I do not find that I am shedding light into anyone else’s life. I am not set on a hill like a city; but I have been hidden. Why have I been hidden and am not shedding my light? Why am I not a preservative in the world and one who makes things around me more tasty?Following Jesus in the Way of Love places me in a very unique position in all of history in both heaven and earth. By following Jesus in the Way of Love I enter into Jesus. I exchange my life for His. I actually die. This is what Jesus was talking about. If I were to cling to my life by trying to fulfill what Jesus has already fulfilled I will fail to live over and over again. However, if I die to any attempt to fulfill the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount or the other teachings of Jesus and examples of His life and death I live according to the life He gives me.After the coming of the Holy Spirit Peter preached a sermon that resulted in the salvation of 3,000. The words of Jesus were truly fulfilled and the church was established on the fact that Jesus is the Christ.

When I attempt to fulfill the Law I find that I am helpless to do so. I cannot be salt and light. However, when I accept the fact that Jesus has fulfilled the Law and Prophets and die to my own attempts I then live the life of Jesus in this fallen world and He becomes salt and light in me, through me, and around me. Jesus’s life, lived in us, witnesses to the fact that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in us.

We see the effect of these attempts to live in the lives of the disciples who lived with Jesus for 3 ½ years during His ministry. They quarreled over which of them was the greatest. James and John tried to get Jesus to promise them a place at His right and left hands in the coming kingdom. At least three times Jesus taught them that He was to go to Jerusalem, die at the hands of the high priests, and be raised on the third day. They did not understand. When Jesus was arrested Peter tried to cut off the head of a servant of the High Priest, succeeded only in cutting off his ear, and then fled. Peter followed at a distance but found that he would only deny that he ever knew Jesus and fulfill Jesus’ prophecy. But the Holy Spirit would come.

Fear! The misapplication of faith. The fear that I am unable to fulfill the call Jesus has place on my life. And, thus, I am paralyzed and inactive and filled with feelings of hopelessness. And the reason for the fear, the doubt, and the unbelief is a gross misunderstanding of the words of Jesus in the next part of His sermon: “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.” (The bold and underline is mine to emphasize my point.) What I have done with this sermon is to turn it into law rather than realize that Jesus has fulfilled the law. Rather than attempt what has actually proven impossible I must follow Jesus in His Way of Love because He has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

I am challenged by this. I find that when I look at myself and my life I have, indeed, lost my saltiness. I certainly have not lived according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. I do not see myself as one who acts as a preservative in the world or one who makes things in the world taste better. 

I do not see myself as a light set on a lampstand. I do not find that I am shedding light into anyone else’s life. I am not set on a hill like a city; but I have been hidden. Why have I been hidden and am not shedding my light? Why am I not a preservative in the world and one who makes things around me more tasty?

Fear! The misapplication of faith. The fear that I am unable to fulfill the call Jesus has place on my life. And, thus, I am paralyzed and inactive and filled with feelings of hopelessness. And the reason for the fear, the doubt, and the unbelief is a gross misunderstanding of the words of Jesus in the next part of His sermon: “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.” (The bold and underline is mine to emphasize my point.) What I have done with this sermon is to turn it into law rather than realize that Jesus has fulfilled the law. Rather than attempt what has actually proven impossible I must follow Jesus in His Way of Love because He has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

Following Jesus in the Way of Love places me in a very unique position in all of history in both heaven and earth. By following Jesus in the Way of Love I enter into Jesus. I exchange my life for His. I actually die. This is what Jesus was talking about. If I were to cling to my life by trying to fulfill what Jesus has already fulfilled I will fail to live over and over again. However, if I die to any attempt to fulfill the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount or the other teachings of Jesus and examples of His life and death I live according to the life He gives me.

We see the effect of these attempts to live in the lives of the disciples who lived with Jesus for 3 ½ years during His ministry. They quarreled over which of them was the greatest. James and John tried to get Jesus to promise them a place at His right and left hands in the coming kingdom. At least three times Jesus taught them that He was to go to Jerusalem, die at the hands of the high priests, and be raised on the third day. They did not understand. When Jesus was arrested Peter tried to cut off the head of a servant of the High Priest, succeeded only in cutting off his ear, and then fled. Peter followed at a distance but found that he would only deny that he ever knew Jesus and fulfill Jesus’ prophecy. But the Holy Spirit would come.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit Peter preached a sermon that resulted in the salvation of 3,000. The words of Jesus were truly fulfilled and the church was established on the fact that Jesus is the Christ.

When I attempt to fulfill the Law I find that I am helpless to do so. I cannot be salt and light. However, when I accept the fact that Jesus has fulfilled the Law and Prophets and die to my own attempts I then live the life of Jesus in this fallen world and He becomes salt and light in me, through me, and around me. Jesus’s life, lived in us, witnesses to the fact that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in us.