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Do you ever wonder what Jesus really meant when he spoke of the “law and the prophets”? He was referring to the Scriptures, those that we now identify as the Old Testament and some other apocryphal texts. The law and the prophets refers to the testimony of God’s word to his people and the traditions of those people. These two, testimony and tradition, converge and clash at the time of Jesus.
Jesus represents that clash; he had a high regard for the law and he also challenged the teachers of the law. He said he came to “fulfill” the law, but there are looming questions that arise from his behavior. He obviously broke the Sabbath to provoke the Pharisees and to make a point about how we are to interpret the law.
Jesus announces that the kingdom has come. What did he mean by that? The kingdom is the “place” where God’s rule is evident. God rules all things, but his rule is limited by something. Otherwise, Jesus would not even need to announce “the kingdom has come near you.” What limits God’s rule? Traditions.
Jesus said, “thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.” (Matt. 7:13) When he makes the announcement that the kingdom is near, we need to see that it is Jesus who is the fulfillment of the law. The rule of God has finally come, not in written code, but in the person of Jesus. Jesus declares that the law is accomplished in him.
By saying “the law is accomplished”, was he implying that the law is actually temporary?
Now that Jesus has come, the law is fulfilled, and the law is accomplished. Do you sense the tension in Matthew’s Gospel regarding obedience to the law? Matthew’s congregation apparently needs some understanding, and so do we. We need help navigating between the amazing liberty we have received in Christ and the dangerous license that has too often resulted.
Jesus did not abolish the law. In fact, he calls for an adherence to the law, which is “greater than the Pharisees.” How do we live free from the law and at the same time under the “rule of God” as citizens of the kingdom of God?
Jesus rules his kingdom. Jesus critique of the Law is not so much about obedience to a strict set of Pharisaic laws, but rather the heart motive behind that obedience. Jesus critiqued the traditions of the Pharisees, which made the Law of “no effect.” Jesus sought to reveal the underlying kingdom values reflected in the law, while also unmasking the dangerous effects of tradition. Jesus calls us to a deeper obedience, a new way of life in the kingdom of God.
A growing segment of the postmodern Western world is urban, tech-savvy, pluralist, and conservationist. They care for their neighbors through community gardens, recycle efforts, and multicultural celebrations. Rather than ascribe to a single religious creed, this emerging neo-pagan people embrace a credo of caring for the poor and needy, the marginalized who have suffered under modern injustices.
Early penitent Modernists, like prophets, developed the principles of this emerging community through protest movements. However subsequent generations have taken on a more self-righteous rejection of the second-hand values of materialism, secularism, and individualism. The new leaders are proud of their progressive thinking and the supposed tolerance of their movement. Informed by multiple religious traditions, not least of which are select biblical teachings, this community enforces their vision of “purity” for government and business through the “patronage” of allied elites in politics, entertainment, and education. This power-laden religious/political force mimics Second-Temple Judaism.
Jesus makes headline news when miracles occur in his local community, a vast urban slum. He looks in the camera decrying the hypocrisy and injustice of the self-righteous and powerful. Those who once sought for justice for the poor reject Jesus and mount a media campaign to “crucify” him.