25 June 1999


These are the words of Jesus:
"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets;" I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:17-20 RSV)

Immediately following these words Jesus commences a series of interpretations of the Law of Moses, in which he begins with "Ye have heard that it was said ....." and then goes on to say "BUT I SAY TO YOU ....."

There are some who carelessly wrest the Scriptures to say that Jesus came to lower the requirements of obedience, so that we could all be saved with less effort and less inconvenience on our part! This philosophy amounts to a state of rebellion against the real teaching of Jesus! It creates a fuzzy and deceptive gospel of tolerance and indulgence, which is falsely defined as "love" and "grace". And calls to honest and practical heart's obedience, are rejected as "legalism". But if we honestly and carefully compare that with the actual words of Jesus, it is nothing less than a thinly disguised revelation of an unbelieving heart!

Others seem to think that Jesus was CHANGING the law! He was not!

When He said "Ye have heard ..... " he was stating the common understanding of the law as taught by the Scribes and Pharisees of that day. And when He said "But I say ...... " He was making a challenging contrast between what they said, and His own PERFECT understanding of how God really meant the Jews to obey the words of Moses. For those who heard Him, He was raising the standard FAR HIGHER than they were being taught by their religious leaders!

It is also clear that He expected them to OBEY this radical teaching! First He defined what HE meant by fulfilment of the law and the prophets. Then He said "Be ye perfect ...... ". (i.e. perfect in doing what He had just taught.) And the standard for measuring the required "perfection" is ..... "as your heavenly Father is perfect"! (Matt 5:48) ..... That is a LOT of perfection, isn't it?

Some make the fearful mistake of explaining these words away as impossible for humans. Others pay lip service, but think they can be ignored as "impractical" in our late 20th century middle class urban culture. But consider this ..... if it really is impossible or impractical for humans to obey, then there could be no real justice in God's future judgement against those sinners who fail to do the impossible! To accuse God of that sort of injustice, is a serious SLANDER against God!

Read the Sermon On The Mount again ..... carefully. Is there anything there that is impossible? Moreover, Jesus was human ..... AND HE OBEYED ALL OF IT!

There lies THE GOOD NEWS. If obedience is possible for the human Jesus, then it is NOT impossible for OTHER HUMANS, who love God as He does! They too can LEARN to obey, as He did. (Heb 5:8-10)

Of course for all of us it is true that, in our past lives, before we heard Jesus, we have all "sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Rom 3:23) However, in COMMANDING obedience, Jesus is NOT concerned with past failures (Acts 17:30) but with what He can teach us to do with the rest of our mortal "born again" new lives, which follow on from belief and baptism.

Belief in the Gospel of the Kingdom (ALL OF IT ..... including this beautiful teaching about radical obedience) leads to repentance. And TRUE repentance leads inevitably to the making of a covenant with God to live for the future, in a way which demonstrates BOTH faith (James 2:18-26) and repentance. (Acts 26:20)

When confronted with the impossibility of a Virgin Birth, Mary's reaction was to believe the angel who said: "For with God nothing shall be impossible." (Luke 1:37) Nearly two thousand years before, those same words had inspired the faith which preceded the birth of Isaac to the 90 year old barren Sarah, and Abraham whose 100 year old body was "as good as dead". (Rom 4:19-21) Now for Mary, they led to something even more "impossible"! A Virgin Birth was no more impossible, than the birth of Isaac. Nor, half a lifetime later, was the resurrection of Mary's miraculously conceived child, any less possible. And in due time, neither will our own resurrection be any less possible.

So why should we doubt the PROMISE inherent in that commandment from Jesus, to "be perfect"?

Here is Paul's challenge:
"Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph 4:22-24)

And here is Paul's prayer for that "impossible" miracle to happen:
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, THAT YOU MAY BE FILLED WITH ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD.(Eph 3:14-19)

Is it really true? Can we be truly filled with "all the fullness of God"? Can we really grow to "mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"? (Eph 4:13)

In answer to that question, Paul was INSPIRED to write:
"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do FAR MORE ABUNDANTLY THAN ALL THAT WE ASK OR THINK, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen."  (Eph 2:20-21)

Freely paraphrased, Paul is saying there that it can happen for us, FAR BEYOND OUR WILDEST IMAGINATION! "For with God NOTHING shall be impossible!"

That is part of the FAITH OF ABRAHAM!

Believing the Gospel this way, offers real assurance of an inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, without this life changing repentance, the message of the Kingdom is not Good News at all! It is only the BAD NEWS of impending Judgment!

The commandment from Jesus to "be perfect", is NOT intended to be changed, ignored, or explained away as impossible. Instead of automatically reacting with reasons as to why it might not mean EXACTLY what it says, we should rather be praying for love, and faith, and wisdom, and help from God, to understand the outer limits of what it means, and then do the "impossible".

May we continue to pray that way, until, with God's help (and NEVER without God!) we reach that state of full grown maturity in Christ, which experiences the fullness of that beautiful GOSPEL PROMISE inherent in the command from Jesus!