My iPhone contains my contacts, email accounts, podcasts, apps, pictures of the four cutest grandchildren, and my playlist of running songs. The song that inspires me to sprint the last half-mile of my five-mile run is John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song,” which he dubbed "our new version of 'I Fought The Law.'"
“I Fought The Law,” composed in 1959, is about a guy jailed after a robbery spree. The phrase "I fought the law" remained in our American lexicon ever since. Even landscapers change the lyrics to "I fought the lawn."
Americans love figures that fight the law, even if they do not always win. Characters like Cool Hand Luke and Don Corleone, and movies like Star Wars and Hunger Games ka’ching Hollywood. But as much as we admire their heroics, as Christians, we need the law. We reject the view that Christians are free of all moral law, and recognize the triple use of the Law: curb, mirror and rule.
Playlists and pop culture aside, we focus on (1) Jesus, the Law and the Prophets; (2) how the first disciples saw the Law and Prophets through Christ; and (3) finally, what the texts teach us about Christian living in the world today.
When Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, he contrasted how the scribes and Pharisees interpreted God’s Law with its true authoritative meaning, which Jesus himself proclaimed.
In verses 21-48, Jesus clarified how God intended people to live the Commandments. He spoke forcefully about murder and anger, marriage vows and public oaths, retaliation and love of enemies. He did not abolish any of the commandments, but contrasted his teaching of God’s Law with other teachers within Judaism – the scribes and the Pharisees – who relaxed the least of these commandments and taught others to do likewise, especially when it benefitted them. Later Jesus would condemn his hypocritical opponents because “they preach, but do not practice.”
Clearly, Jesus did not abolish the Commandments. So, what did He mean when earlier He said, “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. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” What did Jesus mean when he said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets?
To fulfill means to bring to realization, as a prophecy or promise. The general thrust of Matthew was to establish, on behalf of 1st century Jews, that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah of the Scriptures. Matthew listed dozens of Old Testament references. Nine times, he used the expression, “it is written,” to express the authority and truth of what was written. Twelve times, he cited Old Testament prophecy together with the term fulfill.
Why was it imperative for Matthew to demonstrate that Jesus fulfilled Scripture? To answer that, picture yourself as an observant Jew 2,000 years ago. For you, Mosaic Law ruled life. Mosaic Law was the “canon within the canon” or the rule of rules, Mosaic Law determined everything else in Scripture. The prophets were the protectors and authorized interpreters of Mosaic Law.
Matthew upended that view with two points. First, the prophets were the rule of rules or the “canon within the canon.” As an observant Jew, you were to live according to how the prophets interpreted Law. Second, while the prophets looked back to the Law to interpret it for their day, their primary role was to point forward to the Messiah. Once the Messiah came, their central position in the life of the people of God was taken over by the Fulfiller of the prophets. Jesus Christ fulfilled their prophetic promises and He fulfilled the Law.
Jesus Christ fulfilled their prophetic promises and He fulfilled the Law. Now, let us explore how the disciples saw the Law and Prophets through Christ. … Instead of asking, what is the relation of this Jesus to our Mosaic Law, which stands at the center of our faith, 1st century Christians, like Matthew, started asking, what is the relation of Mosaic Law to Jesus Christ, who stands at the center of our faith?
Let’s face it; although the first disciples were Jews, they saw Jesus – not the Law or the Prophets – as their focus and prism. They were not without Law, but accepted the teaching of the Law from the Messiah who fulfilled the Law and Prophets. 1st century Jewish and Gentile Christians accepted Matthew’s conclusion that Christ commanded Apostles: Teach people “to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Having seen the Risen Lord, the Apostles said, “It is not our option to teach anything contrary to Christ’s teaching.”
In the 1st century, doing and teaching the least of God’s commands were the priority and goal for all disciples. That meant Christians were not obliged to follow all 613 laws of the Torah or accept the interpretation of scribes or rabbis, but having now received the gift of salvation and entry into the Kingdom of God through baptism, Matthew expected more than the minimum.
Matthew expected Christians to grapple with the same issues the people of God faced 700 years before them (and perhaps the same ones we face today). Imagine early Christians discussing their daily devotions with members of their small group. They share their thoughts of fasting as written in Isaiah 58. Through the lens of the Risen Christ, they ponder its meaning and why, when the economy went south, the empowered who delighted in seeking God in their comfortable homes, oppressed workers as beasts of burden, and shared neither food nor shelter with the hungry or the homeless (even though they had stocked up on milk and bread).
Empowered by the Risen Christ, Matthew’s Christians fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, offered hospitality to the homeless, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned. They performed acts of mercy because, like the prophets, they looked forward – not to when the Messiah would come, but when the Lord would return. Matthew’s Christians were great in the kingdom of heaven because they taught what Christ taught, and did what He commanded. They fasted to feed the hungry, slept on the floor to shelter the homeless. Matthew’s Christians joyfully embraced the Gospel and the sacrifices it demanded. Doing and teaching the least of God’s commands – the priority and goal for all disciples.
When the priorities of life are doing and teaching the least of God’s commands, I am salt and light to the world. Unfortunately, fewer people choose to be salt and light. Today, 15% of Americans claim “none” as their religion, double what it was 20 years ago. For 22%, religion is not a factor in their lives. When President Obama described America as a nation of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers,” he was right. Non-believers are bright, moral, self-reliant freethinkers, whom I will probably not move by my personal witness of the Gospel, but that should not prevent me from witnessing.
Over the next week, as we have time reflect because it’s cold outside, and there are no Winter Olympic Games or Superbowl, we each have time to ask ourselves some questions about Christian living in the world today.
Does my faith enhance other people’s lives as salt enhances food? In other words, when did I last share with an unchurched or non-Christian person my story of what the Living Christ did for me? Or, is my faith story as appetizing as soiled salt?
Does my life offer the light of the Gospel to people in darkness? When did I last talk to someone experiencing a crisis how God’s grace moved me through the darkest moments of my life?
Do I spend enough time with God so that He will reveal new insights about my life? Or am I too busy? Finally, over the last month, did anyone see my good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven?
The opportunities before us are boundless. I may never prompt change in the heart of an unbeliever, but I can start close to home. If I desire to be salt for the world, I can start with the people in my family and add what is missing in their lives.
I can ask my children or grandchildren which of their friends is experiencing darkness now and bring them the Light of Christ.
Schedule 15 minutes this week to read the Sermon on the Mount. Be as attentive as Christ’s first disciples. God will speak to your heart.
Ask the Holy Spirit to accompany you when you leave home so someone will see how you love Christ and glorify your Heavenly Father.
Finally, since Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, heed the words of this singer. “Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy. And you will be happy too. And when you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). Amen.
 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006. p. 264.
 Matthew 23:1ff.
 Matthew 28:20
 Phil Zuckerman, Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. pp. 3f.