“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.” Matthew 5:17
Here in these verses, Jesus clarifies what could be a misconception of his ministry. He wanted his original listeners, and us, to know that he cares deeply about all of what God said and commanded in the Old Testament: he affirms that those words will continue until the end of history, that each and every one should be taught and obeyed, and in fact that for a person to enter his kingdom, their goodness has to be beyond even the strictest observers.
At first that might sound like bad news; after all, if you’ve started to understand who God is, you’ve started to understand how much you’re not like him, how much you don’t always follow the rules.
To understand it better, let’s take a step back to consider a few things. First, people were thinking Jesus maybe didn’t care about God’s words, since he was associating with people who were notorious for ignoring them. That’s good news for us—Jesus doesn’t expect you to be perfect before he’ll come be with you.
Second, the Bible promises that if we come to Jesus, he will give us to power to live differently. The religious leaders were following the rules, but they were only obedient on the outside, as this sermon will continue to spell out. When a person starts a relationship with Jesus, he promises to give her the Holy Spirit (see John 3:37-39, or Ephesians 1:13), who will change her on the inside and outwardly.
Third, we can remember why Jesus feels this way about God’s words: it’s because he knows God perfectly, and loves him. Psalm 119 is one long poem about how beautiful God’s rules are, because they reflect the beauty of a God who is good, who loves justice and mercy. Jesus honors God’s words, all of them, because they all reflect and honor his person. As we grow closer to God, this is our motivation too: we don’t fear punishment, because we know Jesus took all of what we deserve on the cross. But we long to honor him, because we see his ways as so good and right.
This gives us so much confidence to pray. If you haven’t yet put yourself under the Lordship of Jesus, consider doing so; he has made a way for you to not only be free from punishment, but to receive power to live differently, and to have your eyes opened to see him for who he really is. If you have submitted to Jesus, pray that he would increase your vision for how his rules reflect his goodness, and ask that he would continue to change you from the inside out.
Sometimes there are patterns in our life that have been stubbornly stuck for a long time. Jesus has power for you there too, and he loves to use other people to help us. Consider inviting older, mature Christians to help you figure out how to apply the power of God to these sticky areas. No one is meant to grow alone!