“The Torah is Now Complete”

Matthew 5:13-20

Last week we began reading what many call “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus had started His earthly ministry following John the Baptist with the message to “Repent.” Jesus’ message included one more important phrase, “The Kingdom is here.” While teaching and preaching this message Jesus had also been miraculously healing the sick. At this point those that have heard about His miracles have traveled near and far and we find Him surrounded by a crowd of sick, poor and needy followers. The beginning of chapter 5 started with Jesus’ blessings to the crowd of disciples who came to listen to Him on the mountainside. We continue today with verse 13 and Jesus is calling His followers the, “salt of the earth.” If I were to call someone “salt of the earth” today, you would think they were a very good and honest person or group of people. But Jesus wasn’t saying this. 

Jesus was telling them they were precious. For salt in Jesus’ day was a valued commodity. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with salt for their salary. Hence the phrase, “worth his salt?” 

Refrigeration was not around in Jesus’ day so salt was also used to preserve meats and to slow decay. Jesus was telling these disciples they had a preserving influence. 

Salt is also known for adding flavor. Christians should be known for being “flavorful” people. We should be seen as making the earth a purer and more palatable place. Yet, so often we are known for being bland and prudish. Jesus warned against this. Salt must keep its “saltiness” to be of any value. Christians are similar. When they lose their “flavor” they become good for nothing, like flavorless salt. 

Jesus continues to describe these followers, by calling them to be the light of the world. This is both a compliment and a great responsibility. Jesus claimed that title for Himself in John 8:12 and 9:5

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Lighting the world around you. In order to be a light, you need to receive light, then we are called to give light. Giving light means you have a greater concern for others than you do yourself. We cannot live only for ourselves, we are told in the next verse, 15, people don’t put lights under a bowl, to keep it to themselves. Instead they put it on a stand so it gives light to everyone else in the house. 

Jesus tells these followers, and us, to let our light shine before others, light the way for them, guide them to Jesus, not for our own glory, so that our Heavenly Father is glorified. 

Did you notice Jesus didn’t challenge these followers to become salt and light. They were called salt and light. By making the 180 degree turn towards Jesus and walking with Him, followers become salt and light. Bingo.

The question is, are we fulfilling or failing that given responsibility?

This is where I see compromise rear its ugly head. Let’s face it, living in the world as salt is difficult, because the world is rotting and decaying all around us. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. 

We get complacent, nonchalant, or even worse, proud. Before we know it, we are no different from the world around us. 

The world is in darkness and they don’t even realize it. Light is needed. But if we imitate the darkness, instead of reflecting the light of Jesus, we have nothing to show the world. Take some time to test your saltiness and make sure your light is plugged into the Savior. 

The next section of the Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus explains to those listening how He relates to the Torah. Many of our translations read, “The Law and the Prophets.” But what Jesus was referring to was what the Jewish nation claimed as the “The Torah.” Now for us today, when asked what the Torah is, we would reply, “the first five books of the Old Testament.” 

If you were to ask someone during the time of Jesus, they would explain the Torah as the story and the covenant between them and God. It was what made their nation distinct. The Torah was not only their law, it was their identity. Jesus came saying the Kingdom of Israel’s God had arrived through Himself. Jesus claimed to be what the whole story of the Torah was leading up to and He was moving it forward. Jesus’ claims made people confused. At this point in His sermon, He gives some explanations as to what He was up to and how He related to the Torah. 

We were told at the end of chapter four that the main theme Jesus has been trying to get across is that God’s Kingdom has come. Up to this point, the first people Jesus was offering God’s Kingdom to were all of the wrong people. Those sitting in front of Him and listening, were the lowest of society. 

From the world’s standards they did not deserve the time of day, much less entrance to the Kingdom of God. Jesus was turning the knowledge of God’s Kingdom upside down and it was surely confusing to many who heard it. Last week we heard that Jesus blessed them, today He calls them the salt and light of the world. 

This part of the Sermon on the Mount is often referred to as Jesus’ ethical teachings. However, it is more than ethics that Jesus is dealing with here. They are part of His Kingdom announcement. Jesus was calling people to be under the rule of their King, Jesus, and in the process having their whole world of religious beliefs turned upside down. The value system is totally opposite. It is a kingdom where generosity reigns, forgiveness is paramount, peace making, serving one another, humbling oneself and seeking other people’s well being above ourselves are the highest values of the kingdom. 

It’s like this. How many of you are like me and are right handed? The rest of you will need to switch my analogy but I think you can figure it out. Whatever dominant hand you use, think of one activity that you do well with that hand. From now on, I am going to use the analogy of me trying to play tennis, using my left hand. Now mind you, I have played right handed for almost 40 years. But in this new kingdom, God says from now on I have to play with my left hand. Now think about this for a minute. At this point in my game, I don’t even have to think about hitting a forehand, or backhand. My swinging volley is down without a second thought and my serve is based on throwing the ball up with the left hand and swinging the racquet with my right. There are so many maneuvers I have down pat, that I don’t even have to think about, that I can now concentrate on what the other team is doing. But if I put my racquet in the left hand, oh dear. Everything would be upside down in a kingdom where only left handed tennis is allowed. 

This is very similar. This was exactly what Jesus was asking His followers to do. What He was teaching was the very opposite of what they were already doing. He was trying to teach people a new way of being human. Some of the things He taught overlapped with what was already happening, but a lot of it was demonstrating how screwed up the things the human race was doing. Jesus was asking them to retrain how people live. It takes an enormous amount of effort, just like it would for me to begin playing tennis with my left hand. At times I would feel like I had gone back to ground zero. 

This is what really makes it difficult. 

Jesus wasn’t creating a new Kingdom where He took all of His followers out of Jerusalem and moved to Egypt somewhere and lived out the New Kingdom separate from the rest of the world. No. Jesus was telling His followers they would be members of this upside down Kingdom while they were living in the world. They were to be in relationships as salt and light. 

Now let’s go back to my analogy. What if we all committed, that once we leave worship today, that we would begin to use our non-dominant hand for everything we do. What would happen?  Life would slow down, there would be a lot of problems and difficulties. That is what Jesus is challenging us to do. Not to leave the world, but to return to it, as a member of a kingdom with a completely upside down value system and go live. And what can we expect will happen? 

Tension, conflict, disruption. 

Jesus was quite aware that this would happen. He explains it at the end of the Sermon of the Mount, in Matthew 7, verses 28 & 29,

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Why were they amazed? 

Jesus was teaching with authority.

Now they already had an authority, the Torah and those who taught this law.  Up to this point, the Torah, which was made up of commands, 10 of which many of us are aware of, we know as the Ten Commandments. But for the Jews there are 603 more commands to follow after those, which make up their law, or authority. In Israel’s life, in Jesus’ day, that would have been the heart of their Scripture, God’s Word, where they would have gone to know God’s will and to know what to do. 

What stuns people, was that Jesus was setting Himself as an authority, totally apart from the teachers that were teaching the Torah. It can be compared to what we use as our authority in the Christian world. We look to the Bible for guidance and accept it as God’s Word. 

Going back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was saying, Hey, I have some new things to teach you, as if you were hearing the Word of God. 

This was what stunned people. Where did this guy Jesus get such authority? There seemed to be a collision of values and authority. As we continue to read through Matthew we will come across events where Jesus, who was supposedly claiming to be a part of God’s Kingdom, was failing to live under God’s laws that had been given in the Torah. 

Such as having dinner at tax collector’s houses with prostitutes and other sinners or working on the Sabbath, to name a few. The Pharisees and Sadducees, leaders of the Torah were constantly confronting Jesus and asking Him with what authority He had to go against the Torah, that had been given by God. Jesus set Himself up as a teacher that was independent of the Torah. The question was, where did Jesus get this authority? And it caused a huge conflict. 

This isn’t just a theological question, it is also a practical question. 

Where do you go to find God’s will? 

To find what it means to live as a genuine human being? 

To God’s Word, 

to the words of Jesus, 

to both. 

Then what do you do when the words of Jesus seem to contradict the Scriptures? Can you see the dilemma? Jesus was quite aware that this was going to happen. 

That was what Jesus was addressing in the paragraph we were looking at, verse 17,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;” 

Now if Jesus had to say, “Do not think….” then this meant people were more than likely thinking it. The Pharisees especially. He wasn’t undermining the Scriptures, He continues in verse 17,

“I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” 

You probably haven’t been counting this, but we are only in the fifth chapter and already Jesus has referred to this concept. In fact, Jesus has commented seven times already on how He has fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament. Jesus has also stated that along with the prophecies being fulfilled, He has also fulfilled the law. 

What does it mean to fulfill the Ten Commandments? 

It’s at this point, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to take notice. It’s at this point Jesus was cultivating the mindset of His disciple. This is where we learn to look to discern God’s will. 

In order to understand Jesus’s call to fulfill the prophets we need to go back to key passages of the story. We need to start at the beginning of the story where God called Abraham and told him He would make of him a nation that will bring blessings to all other nations. 

They become a big nation, but end up enslaved in Egypt. God rescues them out of slavery, throuth the desert, to the foot of Mt. Sinai where He appears to them out of a cloud and storm and makes an announcement. “I have carried you out of Egypt, I am going to make you a kingdom of priests who are going to show my character to all other nations, if you will agree to the terms of this covenant.” The covenant begins with the ten commandments, and after that 603 more, in the rest of the Torah. 

How did the Isrealites do? 

We have read many of the Old Testament books and we know how they did, they failed. 

They make poor decisions and wind up in exile in Babylon. 

At this point, if God were Kenny Rogers, He would have known when to fold them, counted His losses and walked away. 

But God did not do that. 

Israel fails, but God’s love never fails. 

God does not give up. 

Jeremiah, the prophet, was sitting in exile in Babylon and his word to that generation is recorded in Jeremiah 31:31 & 32

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

    “when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel

    and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant

    I made with their ancestors

when I took them by the hand

    to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant,

    though I was a husband to them,”

declares the Lord.

The old covenant didn’t work, Israel was unfaithful. But this didn’t mean the deal was off.  A new covenant was needed, verses 33 & 34 

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel

    after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put my (Torah) law in their minds

    and write (the Torah) it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

    and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,

    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

    from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

This states that a new covenant would be established. 

Was God doing away with the old covenant? 

No, but their role was changing. 

Because it was not about them being written in a code that they obey. 

No, this time they would be embedded and internalized in the will and hearts of His people. The desire of how to live like God’s people becomes an expression of a relationship, “I will be there God and they will be my people.” There would be a degree of a closeness that changes wanting to be one of God’s people into a joy instead of a duty. No longer will people be compelled to do the right thing, the right thing will be coming from their heart. 

How will this happen?  The last part of verse 34,

“For I will forgive their wickedness

    and will remember their sins no more.” 

This may at first sound profound but actually it is downright practical. For instance, let’s say there has been a time in your life when you blew it. When you did something really painful or hurtful to someone. Get that story in your mind. 

If you have to work really hard, then it’s a clue you are not really self aware, or that your friends aren’t really honest with you. Okay, each of us should have that story in your head. Now, not all of us will have this part of the story in our head, but some of us might. The person whom we have hurt has worked through the pain and we’ve been able to claim our part and own our part and they forgive us. It’s not like they have to forgive us, it’s not that we deserve it, but somehow we are able to work through it and they forgive us. At this point, something changes. The relationship has a deeper bond and is stronger than friendship and nature. Naturally humans, in fact all of nature chooses not to forgive. The natural thing is to get angry, get even or retaliate more. To forgive is unnatural, it creates a unique bond that brings a desire to care because of the crazy act of forgiveness when you don’t deserve it. 

That’s what Jeremiah was talking about here. God is going to move towards His people with such forgiveness that all of a sudden the commands of the Torah are no longer what you have to obey, but what you want to obey. The renovation of the heart is so deep that obedience is going to happen naturally. It’s going to happen through God’s great act of forgiveness. 

This promise in Jeremiah has been waiting to be fulfilled. This is what Jesus sees Himself fulfilling. Jesus sees Himself forming the people of the new covenant. 

At the Last Supper Jesus took the wine and the bread and says what? 

“This is the new covenant, in my blood.” 

Jesus actually sees Himself enacting God’s forgiveness. 

God is no longer going to wait for the tax collectors, and sinners to bring their sacrifices to the temple and seek forgiveness. No, Jesus is going to go to them. He is giving a preemptive act of grace on God’s part. 

These parties Jesus was throwing with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, they knew exactly what He was about. They knew Jesus wanted them to repent and to follow Him. But the way that He moves towards them, respects them and loves them draws these people to Him. All of a sudden they notice that the desire to follow Jesus is messing with their minds and their hearts. 

There you go! That’s it! The renovation of the heart. 

Here is what Jesus is going to do. We will be reading through the next few weeks on how Jesus goes about fulfilling the Torah. It’s not simply obeying the laws. It is about allowing Jesus to renovate the heart. 

For example, let’s look at verse 21. Jesus says, 

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 

This is straight out of the Torah, in fact one of the Ten Commandments. But look what Jesus says next, 

“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” 

Notice what He is doing. He quotes from one of the laws, commandments, and says that is right, that is good. Definitely God’s will. But then He adds His teaching as a new authority alongside, that demonstrates what He is about to teach fulfills the meaning and intent and heart of this commandment. Now think about it. For a very small amount of people, not murdering  someone if they cut you off on the road and make you angry is a small step forward. For most of us that is not our issue. 

We’ve got that commandment down, right? Well….

For Jesus that command is a pointer towards real issues of the heart about pride and contempt and anger. What Jesus focuses on in His ethics in the kingdom is about what is going on in our minds and hearts. It’s the little movies we have in our heads about people we don’t like, and we degrade them and say what we really think about them. Essentially what we do is erase their humanity or murder them in our minds and our hearts. That’s the issue. Jesus doesn’t abolish the command. What He does is He brings it to a new degree of fulfillment. We will read further and discover He will continue to do this six times. 

People who live in this upside down state, who live in the new covenant, they are the Jeremiah 31 people. Let’s see if I can help you wrap your brain around this. How many people in the room have ever tried to learn how to play an instrument? 

Or maybe you have a child learning an instrument right now? Okay, for those of you who haven’t, hopefully you can follow this analogy. So, try to take yourselves back to when you first began. At the beginning you find yourself having to repeat the same thing over and over again. For most of us we were repeating scales. Boring as all get out. Not only boring, but depending on the instrument it can be hard on the ears. Having lived through children learning the cello and French horn, I can tell you it was months before music was actually heard. Why scales? What is supposed to happen is that by practicing the scales over and over, your fingers are supposed to get used to playing a note and remembering how it got there so that it becomes intuitive. So what happens within a year, if you are persistent you have played the scales so much that you can begin to play new notes and combinations. 

Now that you are able to play songs and different types of music, are you contradicting the scales? Are you saying that the scales are lame? 


A year into the instrument are you still playing only the scales anymore? 

No, of course not. Why? 

Because you have fulfilled the purpose of playing the scales. 

That’s exactly what Jesus is saying right here. The 613 commands were set for God’s people for a time and for a place and they were good. In fact, they are still good. Jesus arrives and states, they have been fulfilled. Now we can begin to play the music of the kingdom with our lives, as we become the Jeremiah 31 people together. 

So, if Jesus has fulfilled the Torah, then why don’t we just ditch the Old Testament? It has a lot of things I don’t understand anyway. 

Let’s go back to verse 18, in Matthew 5,

“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 from the Law until everything is accomplished.” 

Here are Jesus’ thoughts on the Torah. 

It’s still important. 

It is a statement of God’s will down to the smallest detail. Until, everything is accomplished. Jesus was there to bring things to its accomplishment, verse 19.

“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,” 

Jesus was stating that the laws of the Torah are not second rate, they are not to be disregarded, in fact, Jesus said we need to learn from them. In fact, Jesus continues and tells us what we have to do them

“but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” 

This seems confusing. Are we to let go of the Old Testament laws and fulfill them in a different way or are we to keep them? Verse 20,

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the (Torah) law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Okay, some of us read that and we think, bummer, I’m done for. What does this mean? 

I’m to surpass the Pharisees, the people who made studying the 613 laws their passion and their livelihood, and how God’s people are to obey them. Is that what he means by righteousness? 

If you think that when you read this you may be thinking, “Good luck, it’d be better for me to join some other religious club or perhaps take up golf then to come to church.” What are we supposed to do? 

If you are in that place, it’s because you think what Jesus is saying is all I have to do is play the Pharisee’s game but just ratchet it up more intensely. 

Think again, that is not what He is going to do. What he’s calling His disciples to do is to have a total renovation of the heart. This is one of the paradoxes of Jesus’ teaching. 

As we continue reading through Matthew we will discover that Jesus is going to expose issues of pride, lust, contempt, of our ways we wiggle out and escape letting people know who we really are by the bending and distortion of the truth. Maneuvering around so we can manage what people perceive of us. We call it lying, but it is really perception management. As we continue to read we will discover Jesus’ deep core issues about the state of our hearts and our minds. He is going to call us to a higher degree of obedience, faithfulness and relationships towards other people. In fact, one of the last statements Jesus will make is “Be perfect, like your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

And it’s like, good grief! What can I do? 

It’s like you are crushed by Jesus’ teaching. 

No joke. 

Jesus really does expect us to live this way. 

At the same time, Jesus knows, when we look at the way Jesus lived and calls His disciples to live it’s like climbing Mt. Everest. Who can live that way all of the time? 

That’s it! If you can hold on to this paradox as we travel through the gospel of Matthew, you’ve got the issue. We will read further on, where Jesus brings it all together, in Matthew 22:34-40,

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Who are the Jeremiah 31 people that Jesus sees Himself bringing into being. It’s the people who are so bowled over by the fact that Jesus has moved towards them, in spite of all the junk that is in their hearts and their minds. 

And the way we think about people and about ourselves. Jesus comes and throws these forgiveness parties, where He invites them to eat with Him. 

We reenact one of them the first Sunday of the month. Communion.

As the act of pure grace continues to be played over and over you begin to realize it affects you. As you allow this paradox to expose that this isn’t about murder is it, what it is really about is how I view other people and think I am superior to them. Why do I do that? When did I start doing that? How over years have I by using my right hand to play tennis, have I made that my nature? By thinking myself better than other people? 

Most of us do. 

Some call it confidence, some call it pride. 

Jesus is saying, “That’s it. That’s what is in focus here.” 

All the Torah and the prophets raise and expose this deep brokenness in our lives so Jesus can move towards it and work on it with His grace. 

Have you noticed it is the tragedies and real failures that bring these things into focus? We go along our days thinking we are fine as a disciple of Jesus, when in fact we are playing the Pharisee game. When something big comes along and we fail, big time, or someone fails you big time, or some tragedy hits and all of a sudden the true you, the person you have tried to keep covered, comes out. It comes out in anger, sexual misbehavior, crashing your life financially, in destruction of your relationships. Paradoxically these are the worst and best moments. Jesus said, I didn’t come to save people who think they are healthy, I came to save sick people. 

People who know that they need to be healed. 

That is what it means to be part of the Jeremiah 31 people. As we go through these teachings, we need to reflect on the forgiveness celebration meals that Jesus held so often. Especially the one He held on the last night He was betrayed. The remembrance of the bread and the cup remind us Jesus lived as the human we are called to be, and then gave His life to us and says He wants to take responsibility for us. 

That’s just crazy! 

Why on earth would He do that?

In His death, he dies the death we are destined to, as a result of being part of this messed up humanity. His resurrection is love, grace and hope. His life can now be given to us. 

The best response we can have is for us to accept and say, “Jesus, help me, help me.” 

Let’s pray.