Reaching heaven

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One key to the sermon is Jesus’ approach to the Law and the Prophets – the Old Testament. Track him closely. He doesn’t oppose the law; he fulfils it. Local religious leaders, on the other hand, fall short.

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Bible passage Matthew 5:17–20

The Fulfillment of the Law
 17"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. 18I tell you the truth, 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. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Explore the Bible

Jesus, Law or both?
How is Old Testament law related to Christian life today? It’s a challenging topic that goes well beyond our space here.

Yet it’s clear enough that Jesus supported the law; and refused to be seen as a critic. His purpose, in fact, was to fulfil the law, not to abolish it.

Gaining heaven
But that doesn’t remove the tension the law raises. While Jesus could fulfil the law, he warned us not to follow ‘teachers of the law’ (v 20) who don’t keep it themselves. In fact, if we hope to gain heaven we will need to surpass their failed approach.

The way Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven is intriguing: can you follow him? Some in the kingdom will be ‘least’ and others ‘great’ depending on how they regard the law. But the approach to the law offered by Jesus’ religious opponents will not achieve heaven. Why not?


Jesus himself was sinless – fulfilling the law. Without him we would all be helpless and hopeless; and with him we find rest. Reflect, then: are you trusting yourself, or Jesus? It makes all the difference.

Ron Frost

Deeper Bible study

‘The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.’ (Psalm 33:5)

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law considered themselves righteous. They were very strict and careful when it came to observing the 613 commandments that they believed were found in the Torah. They were fearful that they would break them unintentionally. Paul, who prided himself as a Pharisee of Pharisees, claimed that he was zealous for the Law and that no one could fault him for breaking any part of the Law or commandments (Philippians 3:4–6; see also Acts 22:3; 26:5). If Pharisees were so zealous in keeping the Law, how could Jesus expect our righteousness to exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (v 20)?

The main problem with the Pharisees was that they reduced the Law to a series of dos and don’ts. They made the Law less demanding by introducing a series of permissible acts that one could observe so as to avoid breaking the Law. For example, they devised a number of reasons to enable a man to divorce his wife without breaking the Law – and this included such acts as the wife accidentally burning the food cooked for the husband!

Jesus makes it clear that righteousness is not manifested only through outward appearance or by merely following the commandments blindly. Neither is righteousness measured by how many laws one has not broken. We cannot claim to be more righteous just because we are able to keep 500 commandments or observe more commandments than others, while remaining unrepentant of the remaining commandments that we have broken. Righteousness runs much deeper. It speaks about our worship, devotion and obedience to God. At the same time, it also speaks of how we relate to others by upholding justice, doing what is morally right and showing mercy to others. This is righteousness.

Kar Yong Lim

Law for Christians

The Law: letter and spirit
The Pharisees tried to clarify every detail of the Law. Jesus took a different approach by teaching the important principles behind the Law, summarising the whole Law in two verses from the Old Testament: love God and love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40; quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18).

Love God and do what you like’
This was Augustine of Hippo’s conclusion. This is fine, provided that we love God perfectly and at all times. In fact it is more helpful to have some guidelines and reminders, such as we have in the Old Testament Law and also in some of Paul’s teaching (eg Colossians 3:5–10).

And most importantly
Many people try to be good by trying their hardest. The problem is, we can never be good enough to meet God’s standards. That is why Jesus died in our place, to give us his righteousness. (See 1 Peter 3:18; Romans 4:21–24; 8:1–4) If you have never done so, why not thank him for this amazing gift, and be free from the burden of your own struggle. He will give you his Spirit, who will change you from the inside.

Further reading
Gordon D Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to read the Bible for all its worth (Zondervan, 1993, ch 9) has a very helpful chapter on the Law.

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Genesis 5,6  

Matthew 3


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  • Rachael Hampton | Tuesday, 02 January 2018

    Can’t we just see jaws dropping and eyes wide with concern at being told that God requires better adherence to the Law than that of the Pharisees?! And this from the one Who broke the Sabbath regulations, by doing work of healing, and ‘threshing’, and ate with sinners! No doubt He went on to explain as our notes have done so well, that the Law is about really living in love for God and others. And what a joy and relief it is for us to know that He is our righteousness, and we have been given a new heart that longs to please Him. Rebecca, good one! Salt creates thirst. Yes! And thank you for the link to Mike’s blog. Hope he stays on the Word Live readings!

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican in gives us an idea of the outward standard of holiness that the Pharisees observed. That Pharisee did not cheat, steal, or commit adultery. He gave tithes of everything that he possessed and fasted twice each week. They were ignorant of achieving right standing (righteousness) with God through simply receiving His forgiveness by faith and were trying to earn salvation by their acts. Someone once described Compulsory Christian Disorder as living by the Law. Law is right doing. Grace is right believing. i.e.Rom 6:14 ‘Sin shall no longer be your master because you are not under the law but under grace. It so refreshes our soul to be reminded of Scriptures like this.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    In Luke 18 of course for Pharisee and Publican parable. Rom 6:14 is a promise to pray for ourselves to quench enticing sin for God wants our faith to improve into a confidence for total deliverance.

  • Joshua Martin | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    Really nice one. Thanks for sharing and helping us understand that it’s not just only about merely doing certain external acts but it’s the internal motive, the longing and the love for God which truly matter.

  • Angela Munday | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    God is good; He put His laws in place for the health and safety of all. People can mis-use God's gifts and Jesus points us back to God's original intention that was now going to be fulfilled in Him. Jesus is the light by which everything is seen clearly; He is God's own dear Son and our eternal loving friend. He has placed His own Spirit within those who believe and no-one can hide from His presence. God's way is perfectly created for our use.

  • Lynda Spencer | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    SU comments as always really helpful. Thank you. For deeper study, I would strongly recommend a book I read recently and intend to read again now we are in te Sermon on the Mount. It is called simply 'Studies in the Sermon on the Mount' by D Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is the transcript of a series of sermons he delivered in Westminster Chapel. Very readable and accessible to the non-academic, yet with a depth that, for me, helped to nurture a greater hunger and thirst for the things of God.

  • Ian Whyte | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    If Jesus, and John The Baptist, harshly condemned their religious leaders who, at face value, were trying to encourage people to follow the law given to Moses by God, how much more will he condemn the religious leaders today who 'rigourously' enforce man-made rules, such as those that are supposed to protect vulnerable people, when the true motivation for their actions is about protecting the reputation of their local church, protecting their own status as church leaders / trustees, and / or getting ego-points for (in their eyes) preventing someone who is actually using the gifts God has undeniably given them to the glory of God and the extension of His Kingom (a good tree) because they like to believe that this person has criminal intent and that they have (in their eyes) stopped them.

  • Barbara Sabin | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    The Jewish people still today try to live under the law. If you visit Israel you will find that your hotel has it's lifts programmed to stop at every floor on the Sabbath, this is from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday as it is classed as work to press the lift button. Christians live under grace not under the law. Wonderful grace Wonderful Grace Wonderful grace That gives what I don’t deserve Pays me what Christ has earned Then lets me go free Wonderful grace That gives me the time to change Washes away the stain That once covered me Wonderful love That held in the face of death Breathed in it’s final breath Forgiveness for me Wonderful love Whose power can break every chain Giving us life again Setting us free Wonderful power My Lord risen from the dead Forging the way ahead With new eyes I see Wonderful power A new life for me to claim Jesus the Saviour reigns And His power holds me And all that I am I lay at the feet Of the wonderful Saviour Who loves me

  • Jack Russell | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    "Compulsory Christian Disorder", haha - I've not heard that phrase before but I like it and will use it. Yes of course he did things against the Law such as healing on the Sabbath. So he rightly was challenged by it according to the Law. He talks about everything being accomplished and saying until then not one letter of the Law will disappear. So what did he mean by accomplished? And was he condemning himself to be the least in the kingdom for healing on the Sabbath? Of course he is using hyperbole for rhetorical effect and his words are not to be taken literally. Coming out of slavery and being feral, there was a need for a long list of Laws that Israel depended on to thrive and survive in the desert and with surrounding threats. He's not saying to do away with that but showing how something else is fulfilling it. We don't make any kind of a fuss about eating shellfish or wearing clothes woven of different cloths any more because the context in which those laws were made no longer applies. The Sabbath was needed for rest but he heals on the Sabbath because he is Lord of the Sabbath and attends to his needs for rest as he decides. If we applied the rule about not working on the Sabbath to church leaders, there would be a lot of leaders in trouble and no church gatherings on a Sunday! The Law is superseded and fulfilled in Christ, in the "Law" being written on the heart, of knowing instinctively what is the right thing to do. No laws or attempt a human endeavours of righteousness could come close to that, Not even for the most respected religious leaders of society!

  • Rebecca Huie | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    Lynda, I have also studied the Sermon in the Mount book by Martyn Lloyd Jones and completely agree with you- it is comprehensive and finds truths I’d never have discovered without it. Also recommend the books by his successor at Westminster Chapel, R. T. Kendall. A native of Kentucky, US, he served there for 25 years & now ministers on both sides of the Atlantic. Dr. Kendall has written over 60 books, many still in print. My favorites are The Presence of God, The Midnight Cry, The Word and the Spirit, and Total Forgiveness. Very sound theology. He spoke at a conference at the Billy Graham center in Asheville, NC, US, in August, 2017. One of the most inspiring events I’ve ever attended. He recommended three authors: Martyn Lloyd Jones, John Piper, and Billy Graham (now in his 100th year). To that list, I would add R.T. Kendall.

  • Ruth Lewis | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    Amen, IAN WHYTE!!!

  • Ruth Lewis | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    I have been so tremendously Blessed by everyone's comments, especially these last few days!!! Still missing DEREK and his hymns. Please come back soon.

  • Hannah Watson | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    I hope nobody minds but here's today's link to Mike Thomas' blog, I think his blog compliments the fantastic wordlive notes we have.

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