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Jesus positions his teachings with the Mosaic Law. Jesus makes it clear that he does not nullify the Law in any way, but has come to fulfill it. To fulfill literally means to fill it full. Imagine an empty glass as the Law and filling up the glass with Jesus. The Law was the form and Jesus is the substance! The Law of Moses spoke and illustrated Jesus throughout, then Jesus shows up to fill up the form set forth by that Law.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
NOTE that Jesus in no way excludes the Jewish people and their Law of Moses, but only has difficulty with their application of it. In fact, Jesus isn’t like the religious exclusivists. He is always inclusive. Jesus unites. Everything and everyone else tends toward dividing. I don’t know many people like this Jesus.
Jesus gives the requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven. Your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Wow! Is Jesus saying that we are to be more religious than these Jewish leaders? Not at all-just the opposite!
The scribes and Pharisees were some of the most religious people ever. Their religiosity was all about external matters-separation from sin and sinners and cleansing oneself. The Pharisees were known for: 1. Professing righteousness without possession of it! 2. Being hyper-critical-not hypocrites in the normal sense, but hair-splitters, nit-pickers, feather-pluckers! 3. Emphasizing the letter over the spirit of the Law-all truth and little grace! 4. Making absolutes out of non-absolutes-listing as many rules and regulations as possible! 5. Drawing the condemnation of men on righteous acts before God-such as praying, fasting, giving.
Jesus was saying that your righteousness must surpass their righteousness. I believe he is saying that your righteousness must go deeper-from the externals into the internals. Remember, God looks on the heart (internals) while man looks on the outward appearance (externals). Righteousness is a matter of the heart.
I think the most important aspect of this section of the teachings of Jesus is how Jesus came to fill up the Jewish container shaped by their laws, traditions, dreams and desires. The more I study other religions, their laws, traditions, dreams and desires, the more I understand that Jesus came to fill full all of the religious containers of the world. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of everyone’s heart.
SECRET #17 is: The follower of Jesus respects all laws & religious structures, knowing his Master will fill it full of meaning and fulfillment. In the same way Jesus fills up the Jewish container I believe this is what Jesus does with every religious and cultural container in the world. Jesus is the only one in the world who can bring the world together in unity. I see it every day: Jesus unites and most everything else divides!