John Bunyan’s classic story, Pilgrim’s Progress, is generally regarded as the 2nd-most widely read book of all time outside the Bible. In it he tells the allegorical story of “Pilgrim”, who leaves “The City of Destruction” where he lives, on a journey to the Celestial City. Along the way he enters through the narrow gate, his burden falls off at the empty tomb, and he is given a book to guide him on his journey. Unfortunately, at a resting place, Pilgrim accidentally leaves the little book behind, and when he discovers that he doesn’t have it, he rushes back to his former resting place to get it. He cannot go on in this journey, without the Book that is so indispensable to Him in his pilgrimage. Of course, that “book” in Bunyan’s story represents the Bible, and it IS indeed the “indispensable book” for a person who is on their way to heaven.
In the first part of The Sermon On The Mount, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. He describes in the Beatitudes what the character of His disciples is to look like, and then as we saw last week, He tells us what the role of His disciples is to be in the world: to be salt & light to those around us. Now here in :17-19 He reminds us of the indispensable book He gave His disciples for our journey to heaven: the word of God, the Bible.
I. The “Big Picture” Of The Book
:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
It may be hard for many of us who have heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount almost all of our lives, to understand just how radical this message was. We get a clue at the end of the message in 7:28-29 when it says the crowds were “amazed” at His teaching, for He taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. They had never heard anything like this before: that it was the humble who relied on God (the “poor in spirit”) who would inherit heaven; and it is not the outwardly religious who would see God, but “the pure in HEART.” This was radically different from the “traditional” teachings of their rabbis from the Law. So the natural question for many of them might be: was Jesus doing away with the Old Testament Law? Was He doing something totally “new and different”?
This is why Jesus tells His disciples here: “DO NOT THINK that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets.” No way, He says (and it is a “double negative”; a very strong statement!) The scriptures are the word of God! He did not come to do away with them, rather, He says, I came to FULFILL them.
This is something that many of us today need to be reminded of. Unfortunately many Christians think of the Old Testament as “outdated”, not “relevant” to us today, and they pretty much just use the New Testament as their Bible.
But this is a tragic mistake. I Timothy 3:16 says “ALL scripture is inspired by God and is profitable …”. We need to remember that Paul was speaking there primarily of the Old Testament, which was the only Bible they had in the early New Testament days. The Old Testament is the inspired word of God. And Jesus says I did not come to do away with it. He says I came to fulfill it. Don’t make the mistake of tossing out 2/3 of the word of God!
I think one of the reasons why so many people disregard the Old Testament is that they really don’t understand how the whole Bible fits together. As I said during VBS, a lot of people just see the Old Testament as a bunch of unrelated stories, like little pieces of a “jigsaw puzzle”, but they don’t really understand how the pieces all fit together. But when you see how they fit together, then it all makes sense — and you realize how important each piece of scripture is.
I love how Dr. Alvin Reid of our Southeastern Baptist Seminary summarizes the “Big Story” of the Bible in his book, “Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out.” He says we can summarize it like this: (Our VBS outline was very similar to it …)
— There is CREATION — in which God made us for a relationship with Him, which he describes in Genesis 1 & 2;
— Then there is the FALL of Man from that relationship because our sin, which Genesis 3 details.
— Then From that time on in the Old Testament there are the Promises of Restoration: that God would send Someone Who would do something to make us right with God, and then in the New Testament we get the full RESTORATION that was bought for us with Jesus’ death on the cross, which is taught in the Gospels and the letters.
— Then at the end of the Book, in Revelation, we have full RESTORATION: God’s people are restored to the relationship with God that He designed for them to have originally, and we “live happily ever after” with Him in heaven.
EVERYTHING in the Bible “fits” into this “big picture.” The Old Testament is not just a bunch of unrelated laws and stories; everything in it points to how we fell away from the relationship God created us for with Him, and how He promised to make it right through the Messiah He was sending to die as the sacrifice for our sins.
— So Joseph coming out of prison in Egypt isn’t just some isolated story about a guy who overcame; it is the story of how God preserved the family of Israel through whom He had promised the Messiah would come, who would die for our sins and make us right with Him again.
— Ruth & Naomi isn’t just a story of a faithful daughter-in-law; it is another “piece of the jigsaw puzzle” of the “Big Story” of the Old Testament, which led to the promised Messiah being born from the marriage of Ruth & Boaz.
— Isaiah isn’t just a bunch of individual “prophecies”; it foretold specifically how the Messiah would come, born of a virgin (7:14) who would be the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”, and Chapter 53 says that although “we like sheep have gone astray and turned every one to his own way” that “the Lord would lay on Him (this promised Messiah) the sins of us all.” And then chapter 65 prophesies how God will make “new heavens and a new earth” and there will be a “new Jerusalem” and “the wolf and the lamb will graze together” as all things will one day be restored and made right in the end.
THE OLD TESTAMENT IS NOT JUST A BUNCH OF UNRELATED “STORIES” AND LAWS; the whole Book tells ONE GREAT STORY: of the relationship God created us for, of how we ruined it with our sin; of how God prepared and promised a coming Messiah to make things right with His sacrifice for us, and how one day we can live “happily ever after” through Him.
AND what we need to understand is that JESUS is the center of that story. JESUS is the “star” of the show; the central character of this book. Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish” the Law, but to fulfill it. And so He did. And if you go back and read through this book carefully, you will see that HE is the message of the whole Old Testament; HE is the fulfillment of all of its promises:
— Jesus is the One God promised as soon as Adam & Eve sinned, in Genesis 3:15, who would come and crush the head of the serpent who had deceived them.
— Jesus is the lamb of Exodus whose blood would save those who would put it over the door of their home
— Jesus is the ultimate payment that all the Levitical sacrifices described
— When Moses lifted up the serpent on the pole in Numbers, that whoever looks to Him and believes will be saved, he was pointing ahead to Jesus!
— Jesus is the ultimate prophet that God promised in Deuteronomy
— Jesus is the “Joshua” who would lead His people into the Promised Land (in fact, Jesus and Joshua are the same name in Hebrew!)
— Jesus is the ultimate Leader His people needed in Judges
— Jesus is the offspring of Ruth & Boaz who would be the Messiah
— Jesus is the One True King Israel was looking for all the days of David and Saul and all the Kings in Samuel, Kings, & Chronicles.
— Jesus is the ultimate Teacher that Ezra represented
— Jesus is the Nehemiah who would lead His people to the Heavenly Jerusalem
— Who is the One would come at “such a time as this” to save His people in Esther? It is pointing ultimately to Jesus!
— Job, in the midst of all his pain and suffering, cried out, Oh, how I wish there were a Mediator between God and Man — JESUS is that Mediator!
— Jesus is the One the Psalms repeatedly predict: who would cry “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” in Psalm 22, and who is also Psalm 23’s good Shepherd
— Jesus is the One to whom all the prophets pointed:
Isaiah foretold that He would be born of a virgin (7:14);
Jeremiah predicted that He would be our righteousness (Jer. 23:6);
Daniel called Him the Son of Man who is coming on the clouds of glory whose kingdom will never end!
From Genesis to Malachi, the whole Old Testament is not just a bunch of random “jigsaw puzzle pieces”; there is one big picture — and that one “big picture” is JESUS! Jesus did not come to “abolish” the Law; He came to FULFILL it! Whenever you are reading, or studying, or teaching anywhere in this word, make sure you understand and teach how that “jigsaw puzzle piece” of scripture fits into the “big picture”. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. JESUS is the “big picture” of this Book!
II. The Trustworthiness of the Book
Having given us the “big picture” of the word, Jesus now reminds us of how trustworthy it is. He says: in :18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.”
When Jesus said “not the smallest letter or stroke will pass away from the Law”, He was making an amazingly strong statement about the authority and reliability of the word of God.
The “smallest letter” in Hebrew is the letter “yod” — it is similar in shape and size to our apostrophe. The “stroke” He talks about here is the technical name the “keriah”: a little stroke of a pen that makes a difference between two letters. For example, look at the Hebrew letter “resh” ר and the Hebrew letter “daleth” ד. Though these letters appear to be very similar, if you look at the two Hebrew words “acher” and “achad” closely, you can tell just a bit of difference: the daleth juts out just a bit on the upper right side. That little “stroke” is called a “keriah”, and is the kind of “stroke” that Jesus is referring to here.
To put it into something like an English equivalent, you might say it like the difference between the English capital letter “O” and the capital letter “Q.” These letters are very similar, aren’t they? There is really only one little difference: that little “dash” at the bottom of the “Q.” That is similar to what Jesus is saying here: not the smallest letter — or even STROKE that makes a difference in a letter — will pass away from God’s word until it is all accomplished.
Some people ask the question: “Do you believe the words of scripture are inspired, or just the thoughts behind it?” Jesus says it’s even more than that: He teaches us here that not only is every WORD of scripture inspired, but every LETTER — and even every STROKE that makes a difference between two letters! THAT is how inspired and accurate and authoritative the word of God is for the disciple of Jesus Christ!
Jesus went on to say in Matthew 24, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” That’s why our Baptist Faith & Message, our church’s doctrinal statement, says that the Bible is “totally true and trustworthy.”
That is why the Bible is our ultimate authority in this church. The pastor of this church is not the ultimate authority; the deacons are not the ultimate authority; the “vote of the people” is not the ultimate authority. The word of GOD is our ultimate authority! “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25)
And because it is such perfect, authoritative book, we should be totally committed to it, as Jesus’ disciples.
III. Our Commitment to the Book
:19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Here Jesus talks about our commitment as disciples to this Book. If this Book is the perfect, authoritative word He says it is, then we need to be committed to it, and base our lives on it.
— We have to read and study it every day, to be able to “keep and teach” it like Jesus says here
— Then once have studied it, our next responsibility is not to “teach” it, but to “KEEP” it; to practice it ourselves.
— And when we are committed to “keep” it ourselves, THEN we can be teachers of others.
The Old Testament teacher Ezra had the right commitment to the word of God: Ezra 7:10 says “For Ezra had set his heart to STUDY the Law of the Lord and to PRACTICE it, and to TEACH His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra studied it first, then was committed to PRACTICE it in his own life, and THEN “teach” it in Israel. We need to have that same commitment: study God’s word daily; put it into practice ourselves; and then teach it to others.
And we are NOT to change it along the way! Jesus said here if you annul one of the least of His commandments, you will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
That can be difficult in our society today. People don’t want to submit to much of what God’s word teaches. One example of that is in regard to homosexual behavior. Many people today are trying to change what God has clearly taught in His word about this issue. I have seen where many LGBT advocates have ridiculed the Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality, saying that those laws are ridiculous and outdated. And one of the arguments they often use is saying that yes, the Old Testament prohibits homosexual behavior — but it also says you can’t boil a calf in its mother’s milk, or wear clothes with mixed fabrics, or get a tattoo! (By that, they’re implying that if those things are “out of date”, then so is the prohibition of homosexuality.)
But what these “interpreters” fail to understand is that there were several kinds of laws in the Old Testament:
— There were sacrificial laws that related to the forgiveness of sins;
— There were laws for the State of Israel: things God commanded Israel to do to make them different from the nations around them;
— And then there were the moral laws: things that are inherently right and wrong in the eyes of God.
We have a different relationship to each of these kinds of laws today:
— The sacrificial laws of the Old Testament were all fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Reading about them is still useful, because they remind us what Jesus did for us, but we don’t practice those sacrifices any longer, as He paid them “once for all” with His death on the cross (Hebrews 7:27)
— Then there were national laws God gave to the State of Israel which He wanted them to observe to set them apart from other nations as the people of God. We are not citizens of the nation of Israel, and the New Testament teaches us that we are not under obligation to observe those laws — like not getting a tattoo, or boiling a calf in its mother’s milk, and so on.
— But the moral laws of the Old Testament have not changed. Moral right and wrong do not change with the times: it is always wrong to steal; it is always wrong to commit adultery; and it is always wrong for a male to lie with a male as he would with a female. And what helps us to distinguish that is that we find that the moral laws of the Old Testament are all repeated and reaffirmed in the New Testament, which is just what you would expect if these laws were unchanging.
— So you find in the New Testament that Jesus reaffirms that “for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”, and what God has joined together, let no man separate. His moral law regarding marriage did not change. It was the same, Old Testament and New Testament.
— So you see in the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament that God said “Thou shalt not steal’, and we find that reaffirmed in the New Testament: Ephesians 4 still commands believers not to steal.
— AND the Old Testament says it is abhorrent for a male to lie with another male as he would lie with a female, and the New Testament, as you would expect with a moral law, reaffirms that, in I Corinthians 6:9, and I Timothy 1:10, and other passages.
These moral laws are repeated in the New Testament because THE MORAL LAW DOES NOT CHANGE. There is no New Testament command to make sacrifices — because they were fulfilled in Christ. There is no command about boiling a calf in its mothers milk in the New Testament because that is not moral law. The moral laws did not change, and God SHOWED that they did not change, by repeating them again in the New Testament.
GOD’S MORAL LAW DOES NOT CHANGE. We may want it change; we may wish it would change; we may try to explain it away and change it; but God’s moral law does not change. And those who try to equate the unchanging moral laws of the Old Testament with the ceremonial and sacrificial laws may end up “winning a debate” with confused and uninformed people; it may do something to help “ease” their own conscience, but deep down they know, and anyone who has a commitment to the authority of the word of God knows, that these are God’s moral laws, and these Laws like Him, never change. He is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever”, and what is really right and what is really wrong do not change either; moral laws are the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
Do not be carried away with the tide of modern morality into compromising or explaining away the unchanging truth of the word of God. Jesus gave us a stern warning here: “Whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Don’t you dare try to change the unchanging word of God.
This is such a temptation today, when people want “entertainment’ or something “new”; we can be tempted to be ‘creative” or innovative with the Word of God, to give people “something they’ve never heard before.” Well, after 2000 years of Christianity if someone is teaching something “new”, you can pretty much guarantee is going to be WRONG! Listen, preachers and teachers; we are not here to give people something “new”; we are here as stewards of the word of God to pass along to His people just what He said in His word — nothing taken away; nothing added.
I know everyone believes the pastor’s home must be a perfect place, but for some reason, ours never was! When our older children were little, Paul, David, & Libby would get into little “fusses” like most kids do. I remember one time, the boys wouldn’t let Libby into the room where they were playing, and she was banging on the door to get in. She finally came to me where I was studying on my computer and said, “Dad, the boys won’t open the door and let me in.” I said, “Libby, you go tell them, that Dad said to open that door right now!” So Libby marches triumphantly down the hall, and I can hear her yell at them through the door: “Boys, Dad said to open the door right now, you dummies!” I immediately hollered back at her, “Libby, come here!” And when she came back I said to her, “When I tell you something to tell the boys, you tell them exactly what I tell you. You don’t add anything to it (like “dummies”) or change it in any way. You tell them just what I told you, and don’t change it.”
That is the Lord’s commission to US as His preachers, and teachers, and ministers. He has given us His word, which is exactly what we need. It is pure; it is perfect; not a letter or stroke of it will pass away. And we are to pass it along to His people, and not change it; or add to it, or take away from it; or put our own ideas or opinions into it. We are to tell people what God says, and not change it because “our times are changing” or we like some alternate truth better. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to be committed to keep and teach the word of God.
The Word of God is reliable, and you can trust your life, and your eternal soul to it. Sometimes we entrust ourselves to things that are NOT quite so reliable — like your GPS. Have you ever trusted your GPS to get you somewhere, and you followed it — and it led you to the wrong place? I’ve done that a number of times.
One of the worst was when Cheryl, Michael & I were in England, and this was when Michael was 10 years old, and he was in this phase where just about the only thing he would eat out was McDonalds chicken strips. (I told Cheryl she should have done a scrapbook of “The McDonalds of England” — because we hit about every one trying to keep him fed!) But we were in one town touring a museum they had there, and we were on foot, and it was time to eat, and we were tired and hungry, so I typed “McDonalds” into the GPS, and saw there was one about 2 miles away. So we took off walking, and it was the longest, uphill walk through town, and we were SO tired and hungry, when we finally arrived — at “McDonald’s FURNITURE Store”! You can’t always trust the GPS to get you just where you want to go!
But Jesus says you CAN trust the word of God. It is authoritative. It is perfect. And it WILL take you where you want to go. II Timothy 3:15 says “From childhood you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” You can trust the Bible. It will take you where you want to go. If you spend time in it every day, it will guide you faithfully through life, and most importantly, it will point you to Jesus, who will save you and take you to heaven with Him. That’s why the Bible is the Disciple’s Indispensable Book!