By Russ Ramsey
Our relationship to the Old Testament law is changed in Jesus, who fulfills the law and clarifies the ethics that characterize the kingdom.
When I was growing up, I attended church with the owner of a local fast food restaurant. The back of the church bulletin had a coupon for a “buy one get one free” breakfast sandwich, “one per customer, per visit.” Dad used to make sure each member of our family got a bulletin. After church, we’d head straight for the restaurant, and Dad would give us each two dollars. Then we’d go through the line individually, so we could load up on free breakfast sandwiches. That’s what you call a loophole.
People look for all kinds of loopholes—legal, ethical, financial, even spiritual. In today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes away our loopholes by talking about the Law, and what it really means in the kingdom of God.
In the Old Testament, the law came in two basic categories: moral and ceremonial. The moral law defines righteous living and tells us how to live in a way that is just, loving, and responsible with the time we’ve been given. The Ten Commandments, for example, are moral law. Jesus did not abolish this Law. Rather, He fulfilled it completely.
The ceremonial law, on the other hand, was given so that God’s people might be reminded that they were, in fact, bound to Him in a covenant relationship, and so that they could demonstrate this to other nations. This law included things like feasts, circumcision, holy day regulations, and the like. It was given to remind the Jewish people of their special union with God, one that no other nation shared.
Our relationship to the Old Testament Law has changed in Jesus, who fulfilled it and clarified the ethics that characterize God’s kingdom. Christ’s birth nullified the ceremonial law. Believers would no longer have to worship on a specific hill in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in truth. New believers would not need to be circumcised. God’s people could forego the kosher diet and eat all the bacon they wanted. Not too shabby.
As for the moral law, Jesus kept it perfectly. And He did it for us. He lived the life we were meant to live and then died the death we transgressors deserved, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He lived in our place and died in our place, taking our record of sin and placing it upon Himself, and robing us in His perfect record of righteousness. That’s what Jesus meant when He said He didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it completely, for us (Matthew 5:17).
I remember feeling all kinds of nervous as I stood in that line to get those breakfast sandwiches because I knew I was exploiting the intent of the coupon by way of a loophole. It is a mercy that we’re not left to find and exploit loopholes in God’s law in order to be saved. Our guilt is removed. Jesus has fulfilled the law perfectly on our behalf.