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“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. I 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.” Matthew 5:17-18
In His day, people were trying to figure Jesus out. False prophets were not uncommon in Israel in the past [Jeremiah 14:14 & 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:9 & 22:28; Hosea 11:6; Matthew 7:15; Acts 5:26-29 & 13:6]. So was this guy from Galilee really a miracle-working prophet of God? Was He possibly even the promised Messiah?
And if Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, what was God’s directive? Was He instituting a new order through this audacious preacher-prophet-teacher-healer?
Jesus knew their hearts and minds [Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8-10 & 11:17]. He answered their questions before they could ask them out loud. No, God is not changing His plan of redemption. Yes, the Law and the Prophets still matter in the eternal scheme of human history. Yes, I am the fulfillment of everything that you have studied and heard. No, this world will not last forever. No, God isn’t rewriting the game rules. Yes, everything God said would happen will happen.
The Law of Moses was more than just the ten commandments, though they get the most attention. There were people in Israel whose whole life’s work was to study and interpret the law–experts akin to modern day lawyers. But the Law was meant to show people their sinfulness [Romans 7:7-8 & 8:3]–not to redeem them from it. The Prophets also came to make people aware of their sin, yet they too were powerless to save anyone.
Jesus came to complete the work began in the Law and the Prophets. He came to redeem people from their sin. As long as the Creation endures–and it is going to pass away one day [Revelation 21:1]–the Law and the Prophets will still show people their sin and Jesus will still, by God’s grace through our faith, reconcile the repentant to Himself.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the alphabet in these verses. When He says the least letter, it is the Hebrew yodh or the Greek iota, both literally the smallest letters in their respective alphabets. And the least stroke refers to the horn a little letter flourish, like the bottom curve of a lowercase j. God didn’t change his mind or His plan on even the smallest detail.
As the author of life [Acts 3:15], God never needs to brainstorm, draft or revise. He never needs to eat His words or print a retraction or buy a bottle of whiteout. He doesn’t backspace or delete.
The Word of the Lord stands forever [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25]. Are you standing on that Word?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Our good deeds can never save us–works without faith leads to death. But our good deeds might save others.
God is good. And we were made in His image to do good [Ephesians 2:10].
And God is light [1 John 1:5]. He sent His fully God Son, Jesus, as a fully human life to be a light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [John 1:4]. But the sin-darkened world did not understand the light of Christ [John 1:5].
Yet we are made in God’s image to be light. To do good–according to God’s standard of goodness–so that others may see and come to recognize the truth of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The good we do, we do not do of our own spiritual ability. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us [Philippians 2:13]. Without such deeds, our faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see–is dead [James 2:17]. It is not a living tree that can produce the fruit of the spirit and bring glory to God in heaven [Matthew 3:19, 7:19 & 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; John 15:1-4].
When we first come to know Jesus as our savior, His Word is like a fire shut up in our bones [Jeremiah 20:9]. It burns within us, a light yearning to spill into everyone around us, so that they too may know the truth and be set free from sin.
But if we are embarrassed or ashamed of the light within us, if we keep the truth of God to ourselves, it’s like sticking a lamp under a bowl. No one will see the light, and eventually, the lamp burns up all the oxygen under the bowl and snuffs itself out.
So living as a Christian who never does what God’s Word commands is like living dead in the shadows. We walk around like spiritual zombies, suppressing the life of the spirit within us so that we can blend in with the truly spiritual dead all around us.
Do you live as light? Does God’s goodness shine through all you say and do? Or are you holding back the truth in an effort to fit in with the lost and dying?
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Matthew 5:13
Analogies abound as to what it means to be the salt of the earth. Preservative. Healing. Ice melt. Flavor enhancer. Et al. But did you know that most of the salt in Israel came from the Dead Sea? This is important because this salt was full of impurities–other elements or minerals that mixed with or attached to the sea salt. And it was the impurities that caused the salt to lose its saltiness or salt-like qualities.
Impurities chemically changed the salt so that it couldn’t preserve food. So that it couldn’t heal wounds. So that it couldn’t melt ice [if that had been a thing in Israel, though it wasn’t]. And so that it couldn’t even make food taste better.
While valuable enough that people actually traded in salt at one time, impurities made the salt absolutely useless. No good for anything!
So it is with our faith. Pure faith in God preserves this world from the decomposition of sinfulness. It heals lives. It melts the ice of unbelieving hearts. It magnifies God in the eyes of the world, intensifying their understanding of His goodness.
But when we allow impurities–the love of self or money, worldly ideas and the like–to creep into our lives, then our faith becomes ineffective. When our faith mixes with and is essentially changed by ungodly influences, it loses the ability to keep others around us from sinful ways. It loses the ability to heal the hurting. It loses the ability to affect hearts for God. It loses the ability to give glory to God in a lost and dying world.
Impurities make our faith of no earthly effect.
How pure is your belief in God? Does the truth of His Word work in and through you to effect righteousness? Or have you allowed worldly impurities to make your faith useless?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:6-7
Have you ever been hungry? What about thirsty? Food never tastes better and drinks never satisfy quite so well as when we truly desire to eat and drink.
One of my daughters has never had a very good appetite. She has always eaten small nibbles and left even desserts and other treats untouched because she just isn’t hungry. After her first dance class, though, she was starved–for the first time ever! I was so excited I asked her what she was hungry for, because I was glad to have her eating food of her own accord. She looked at me, eyes sad, and said, I want to be hungry at Grandma’s house.
Of course, Grandma would give her many more of the sweets and treats she’d rather fill up on. But the sentiment is one that we as Christians should identify with. We should want to be hungry in God’s house. We should thirst for the things of God. We should crave righteousness–being morally right and justified in God’s eyes. If we do, we can be guaranteed that our appetites will be satisfied. God desires to fill us to overflowing with the good things that He has prepared for us–the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Mercy is one of these attributes that should pique our spiritual hunger and thirst. God is merciful and created us in His image. When we freely lavish His mercy on others it means that we are showing compassion and forgiveness to those whom it is within our power to punish or harm.
When we have the mind of Christ, showing mercy makes us extremely joyful. But it is a double-edged joy, because others will extend compassion and forgiveness to us as well. Not to mention, when we forgive others, God forgives us [Matthew 6:14-15].
Do you want to be hungry in God’s house? Do you crave His Word and truth in your life? Do you dispense His mercy as freely as He as bestowed it on you?
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:23-25
The disciples followed Jesus simply because He called them. While He taught in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and at open air gatherings during the week, many others came to follow Jesus because of the miracles He performed.
In these verses we see that almost all of the inhabitants of the original Promised Land had representatives following Jesus’ ministry. Strangely missing from the list of followers, though, is Samaria. Another mixed-culture people group looked down on by the orthodox Jews of the south. No doubt Jesus noted their absence and, out of His love for them, willfully passed through the taboo region, bringing them the good news [John 4].
Medical care in the Roman Empire would have included herbal remedies, some doctors and surgeons, folk-practices, superstitions and temple rites. Complete and immediate healing was more than anyone could ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20]. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did.
He preached. And He healed all who were brought to Him. No ailment was too great. And none was too small.
And for this simple ministry, the masses followed Him. He didn’t have high tech visuals or catchy music. He didn’t offer amusement or entertainment or interest groups. He didn’t promise wealth or prosperity or power or protection. Because all of that is false. All of it insincere, destructible and corruptible. All of it will pass away.
Even the physical healings people received from Jesus were temporary–everyone who experienced supernatural healing still aged and died naturally. Because this life is temporary. This world is not our home [Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12]. We’re only passing through.
But the word of the Lord–the good news of His kingdom come–will stand forever [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25].
Have you simply come to Jesus? Are you drawn by the mere truth of Him? Or does something else court your affections?
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ Matthew 4:8-10
Satan scrambles desperately here. He couldn’t tempt Jesus with physical weakness. And he couldn’t tempt Him with religious superiority. So now he tries tempting God’s Son with worldly splendor and sovereignty.
Skip the cross, Jesus. We can settle this nasty business the easy way. I’m the prince of this world, after all [John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2]. You want your people back? I’ll give you every kingdom on the planet. All of their opulence? Yours. Just bow down and say the words, buddy.
But, being fully God, all sovereignty already belonged to Jesus. Not to mention that the kingdoms of this world are temporary. All their wealth and honor and might will crumble in a heap of ashes when this world passes away. All their splendor is meaningless in the big picture of eternity.
The only thing Jesus wanted was the love of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29]. Love can’t be traded like a farm animal or a handcrafted furniture piece or a stock or even a gold bullion. Love can’t be demanded. It can’t be dictated or coerced into being. Love must spring from the genuine condition of the heart that eternally wills for good.
Satan might as well have offered a crumpled up piece of paper from a rotted trash heap. Authority over earthly land and law could in no way secure Jesus’ prized treasure, the apple of His eye, the redemption of humanity. How Jesus longed–in accord with Father and Spirit–to be reconciled to His creation. How He loved us and loves us still, yearning for our wayward hearts to find truth and rest in Him.
To find truth and to root and grow in it, so that our love will never grow cold [Matthew 24:12].
Do you recognize God Almighty alone as Sovereign? Have you accepted Jesus’ reconciliation for your sins? Are you resting in your Savior’s love?
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
Why do we get water baptized?
A few verses earlier we learn that people confessed their sin and were baptized in the river [Matthew 3:6]. John tells us here that repentance was his express purpose for baptizing others in water.
Repentance is thinking again. Understanding our words and deeds through the lens of heaven’s eyes and realizing that we have sinned against God–whether by sinning against others or directly affronting Him. But when we repent–rethink our sinful ways–God begins the mental renovation process within us that ultimately transforms our outward life [Romans 12:2].
Nearly 2,000 years later, we still baptize people by water immersion. And it should still follow the repentant heart.
But it’s not enough.
John was only the harbinger of the Messiah, his cousin, Jesus. Only slaves, household servants, untied or carried their master’s sandals. By saying that he is less than a slave in Christ’s household, John is not belittling himself or bemoaning his station. Rather he is acknowledging that God is transcendent and that none of us or our ministries can in anyway compare to the Almighty.
John was confessing Jesus’ divinity.
John’s baptism made people physically wet. It literally washed the dirt from their skin. It stimulated their senses and connected spirituality to the physical. But it didn’t save anyone. It was a temporary, a fleeting momentary decision and public display incapable of truly changing a person. Just a first step in preparing the heart to receive the Word of Truth and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ baptism would surpass imagination and understanding [Isaiah 55:8-9; Ephesians 3:20]. The Holy Spirit. God’s own Spirit would not wash over us, but pour through us. Cleansing not our mortal skin but our immortal spirit-man within.
And fire. Which purifies gold, burning away impurities so that they can never return [1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18]. Fire baptism is an irreversible chemical change. The life that comes out of this process can never be the same as it was.
One way or another, everyone is going to face the fire.
For those of us who acknowledge God and take up the cross of Christ in this life, our fire will be temporary and it will transform us into the holy nation that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. But for those who deny God and His Son Jesus Christ with their physical life, their fire will last for eternity [Revelation 20:14-15]. Nothing will stay it. Nothing will quench it. And it will produce nothing of worth in their hereafter.
Water baptism does have value as a physical act of our faith. In fact, Jesus commissioned us to be baptized and baptize others in His name [Matthew 28:19-20]. Have you repented your sin nature, confessing to God? Are you being transformed by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit at work in your whole heart?