17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
In our own little world, we like to think that God will execute justice on evil-doers. In fact, we cheer for someone who has put a villain into the hands of the law, and we nod approvingly when we hear about a gunman who was gunned down by police officers as he fled the scene of his heinous crime. We hate to see a cheater prosper, and so we relish the moment when a shady banker or malicious hacker gets taken down. We mourn for victims, but we take great satisfaction in seeing criminals get their come-uppance.
But what about our own crimes?
Do you know what a “jot” is? “Jot” is an English transliteration of the Greek word “iota,” which is the name for the letter “i”, the smallest letter in their alphabet. In handwriting, it was often denoted by a tiny comma-like stroke of the pen. In today’s passage, Jesus tells us that not even the tiniest part of the law is necessarily done away with. In fact, none of the Law or the Prophets will cease until ALL is fulfilled. In short, just because He came to pay the price for our sins, that does not mean we are not to live holy lives.
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
So if we stumble in showing favorites in who we bless or in coveting our neighbors’ goods or in committing adultery, then we are just as guilty–AND JUST AS DESERVING OF PUNISHMENT–as if we had committed murder. Think about that for a moment while I toss one more tidbit in here.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’
22 “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
28 “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
As Jesus makes abundantly clear here and throughout the Gospels, it is not the crime that brings us to punishment but the thoughts and intent behind the crime. Sin doesn’t start with the crime itself, it starts when we begin to doubt our God and exalt ourselves. Sin begins in our hearts when we allow ourselves to feel anger, lust, envy, and pride–and we ALL feel those things. And if we all feel those things, and if we are all drawn away by our temptations to lust, to be angry, to desire other people’s things, to idolize something other than God, then we are all GUILTY of sin.
And don’t we love it when a guilty man gets punished?
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For OUR crimes, we deserve the sentence of death.
And now for my favorite phrase in the whole Bible…
4 BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
God has not done to us as we deserve but as His love moves Him to act. (Romans 5:8) Yes, He is a just God in that the requirements of the law–and the payment for breaking it–must still be fulfilled. And He is a merciful God in that He gave His only Son to die in our place for our sins. (John 3:16)
And so we should THANK GOD that He is merciful and does not judge us right on the spot, we who stumble every day. We should THANK GOD that the little discipline we face by living with the results of our sinful choices in life, is like the “waters of Noah” to God–i.e. a temporary thing, a demonstration of His mercy in not wiping us out altogether. (Isaiah 54:7-10) We should THANK GOD that His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
JESUS HIMSELF is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, but the righteous requirements of the law have not gone away. We cannot simply say, “Jesus paid for my sins, so why should I worry?” We SHOULD be concerned because, although Jesus paid the price we ourselves ought to have paid, we are still required to do something on our part:
14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. REPENT, AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.”
It is not enough that we simply believe in the good news that Jesus Christ came to pay the price for our sins. We must also REPENT, and that means changing our ways, throwing off sin, allowing ourselves to become the new creation we are in Christ. We are to live in the Spirit, and not in the flesh. (Read Romans 8, please.)
So the next time we cheer upon seeing a bad guy get his just rewards, the next time we exult in seeing a cheater punished for their crimes, the next time we hope in our typical bloodthirsty manner that a murderer gets killed for their crimes, let us remember that it is only by God’s abundant mercy that we are not all dead already. We are still alive today only because He loves us so much and is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) Therefore, let us repent, let us change our ways and live in the Spirit, so that we no longer sin by desiring ruin and death. Let us instead act justly ourselves, love mercy rather than punishment, and walk humbly before our God. (Micah 6:8) All it takes is for us to stumble in one tiny point of the law to be condemned. And all it takes for us to avoid stumbling is to repent and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again to lead us into new life.
Heavenly Father, we do indeed thank You for giving us Your Son Jesus to die for us so that we may live. We thank and praise You for Your abundant mercy and love. And we, Lord God, pray that Your Spirit would help and guide us to live as You desire, to be just and merciful and loving and humbly obedient just as Jesus was and is. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, Lord. Amen.