#303 – THE GREATEST AND THE LEAST (10/3/21)
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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.’ (Matthew 5:19)
If I were to guess at what might be the greatest commandment in the Old Testament, I might say something like “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). If I were to suggest a contender for the ‘least’ of the commands, one could make a good case for ‘If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road … do not take the mother with the young’ (Deut. 22:6). All of the great and obvious, along with the strange and perplexing teachings of the Old Testament are to be thought about, puzzled over, practised and taught.
In fact, it's our attitude to the ‘least’ of the commands that determines our spiritual stature. If you are someone who can’t be bothered with your Old Testament, you are least in the Kingdom. That’s not a good thing. That’s a bad state of affairs for you.
How about you and I aim for greatness by ‘practising and teaching these commands’?!
Let’s remember, we are to read and apply the Old Testament in light of Christ and His work. We are to read it with this question in our minds, ‘What does Jesus and the gospel say to this teaching?’
So, let’s get practical, how are we to apply something obscure like,
‘If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.’ (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)
A text like this is quite uncontroversial really. Its application for Christians is quite clear. It speaks of our imitating God’s love for creation. In a culture that would feed on wild birds, this protects bird populations. As Christians, we are to have loving concern for creation and loving concern for other’s welfare by avoiding harmful greed. The sparing of the mother bird, for the greater good, speaks of sacrifice. The ‘great’ in the kingdom of God are marked out by small acts of sacrificial kindness.
COMMUNITY GROUP STUDY - OBEY AND TEACH THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
What are you most looking forward to when the lockdown restrictions have ended?
Introduction - please share in your group
This week we are continuing in our series on The Sermon on the Mount by looking at Matthew 5:17-20. Here, Jesus is teaching that if we are to be 'salt and light', we must obey and teach the whole of the Old Testament. However, as those in the New Covenant - a new way of relating to God in Christ - we are to obey in light of Jesus and His work.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, 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. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. For 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. (Matthew 5:17-20)
Jesus has not abolished but has fulfilled the Old Testament. To fulfil means ’that to which something or someone points’. The ‘law and prophets’ (the whole Old Testament) point to Jesus. As Christians, we read it and apply it in the light of how Christ has fulfilled it.
For example, the Ceremonial laws - those that directed worship in Israel; the priesthood, sacrifices, temple design, festivals… were directed in great detail. All of these laws were fulfilled in Christ. The true intent of these laws is obeyed by us as we put our faith in Christ who is our priest and sacrifice and he makes us His temple. We are now in a ‘new order’.
‘Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary… They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.’ (Hebrews 9:1,10)
Until Jesus comes again, the Old Testament, in all its detail, is to be obeyed in light of Jesus. It's our attitude in this regard that marks us as either great or least in the Kingdom of God.
Finally, as we obey the Old Testament (in light of how Jesus has fulfilled it), Our righteousness will surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers. Their devotion was for a show, for their own reputation. On top of this, they rejected Jesus, the one to whom the Law and prophets pointed. As Christians, our heart devotion to God and our honouring of Jesus marks us out as having greater righteousness in God's eyes.
1. Did God speak to you about anything in particular from Sunday's message or the blogs this week?
(You may want to read Matthew 5:17-20 again)
2. Hebrews 10:1 makes a very important point in regard to how we obey the Law and prophets (the Old Testament).
'The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.'
What are the various 'shadows' that Jesus fulfils?
An example is the Sabbath. It’s very important to note that you will find no teaching on keeping the Sabbath in the New Testament. So how are we as Christians to obey this Law? There are differences of view but I believe that Jesus has fulfilled what the Sabbath foreshadowed by giving us His ‘rest’. In Christ, we rest from our works.
‘There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.’ (Hebrews 4:9-10).