“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).
Most Christians have read this verse numerous times. It comes early in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and seems to me to be the hinge or turning point in the sermon. The sermon begins with the B-attitudes, which tell us the distinguishing marks of Kingdom citizens (those saved by God in Christ). Then Jesus exhorts His followers to be salt and light so that the world might glorify the Heavenly Father (which means, by the way, Christians owe even their good works to God’s grace).
Then Jesus drops this bomb – He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament, even the smallest pen stroke! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. Then maybe some quiet mumbling:
“Did He just say He came to fulfill the Word of God?”
“That’s what I think He said, but we must have misunderstood Him!”
This truth is critical to the gospel – Jesus came to do what we could never do because of our sinful defect. Jesus’ perfection substitutes for our defection! Jesus perfectly obeyed God and His law. Jesus is everything Israel could not be. Jesus is everything we cannot be. Jesus’ whole life is a substitute for sinners, including the death He died on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave.
Jesus is perfection personified. His perfect work (life of obedience and sacrificial death and resurrection) is possible because of His perfect being. He is all God and all man, the One and Only God-man, the One and Only Eternal Son of God.
No wonder God the Father boomed from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). God is perfectly pleased with Jesus. He can never be so with sinners like you and me (Rom 8:8).
To drive home the point even further, Jesus’ goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to bring His listeners to utter despair. He tells them their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they are to make it to heaven. The Pharisees were the religious “heroes” of the commoners. They were considered “holy men.” How could the common person with so little access to the Temple and the sacred scrolls ever attain to such a standard?
Jesus continues and tells His listeners that every one of them is a murderer, adulterer, and liar and are all therefore in danger of hell fire. You see, Jesus was demolishing several hundred years of poor biblical interpretation and application. The external religion of the Pharisees was never the intent of the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament). No, no. God’s law was meant to expose the desparately wicked heart in every person. God’s law rightly read never leads to a feeling of self-righteousness; but rather despair and self-loathing as one is confronted time and again with one’s innate inability to obey Holy God.
Yet, Jesus said He came to render perfect obedience to God’s Law. May God give us ears to hear, friends. God’s perfect pleasure exists only in One Person – Jesus the Christ. Yahweh had promised 700 years before the Sermon on the Mount:
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows . . . He was crushed for our iniquities . . . it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief . . . He [Yahweh] shall see the anguish of His soul [the Suffering Messiah] and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53).
Oh friends, this is the good news! God has crushed Jesus on the cross instead of crushing us. Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross was a perfect sin offering, literally. God gave Jesus what we deserve so He could give us what Jesus deserves (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus, the only purely innocent man ever to walk planet Earth, became “a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
Jesus came as a man, was tempted as a man, and pleased God the Father perfectly as a man (Heb 4:15). Yes, Jesus is fully God (John 1:1-3; Heb 1:1-4), but He is also fully man. And as a man He could rightfully pay the price for man’s sin, for as the Medieval theologian Anselm put it, only man should rightly have to pay the penalty for man’s sin. Yet, only God could possibly meet His own perfectly holy standard. Jesus, the God-man, secured salvation for sinners who trust Him and Him alone. His life for ours – O great exchange!
So much more can and should be said of Jesus. But for now, let’s conclude by reminding ourselves that the gospel finds it fulfillment in Jesus. Salvation is only in His perfect work and Person (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). If we trust anyone or anything else for a right standing with God, we are undone and doomed to hell.
God is holy. We are not. Jesus is holy in our place. Little wonder, then, that Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
Crystal clear, isn’t it? No Jesus. No gospel. The great eternal plan of God to get glory by redeeming helpless sinners is brought to fruition in the Christ, the Son of the Living God.