Read Matthew 5:17-20
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! (NLT)
Human beings have a tendency to figure out ways to get around laws and regulations. Where are the loopholes? How can I keep on the right side of the law with the least effort? How can I twist words so as to fit my personal desires? So rather than seeking to conform our lives to the law, we seek to manipulate the law to conform it to our own lives.
Jesus spends quite some time in the Sermon on the Mount challenging contemporary views of the biblical commands. He assures his listeners he hasn’t come to do away with them or rubbish them or minimise them so as to suit contemporary tastes. He has instead come to show what those laws really meant. He will do it by both word and example.
He will go on to penetrate deeply into the spirit of those laws, all the time rebuking those who simply observed the letter of the law. And also rebuking those who had added a whole lot of human traditions on to the law. In doing so, he challenges both those who try to make the law easier to obey and those who make the law burdensome.
Obeying God’s commands is meant to be neither easy nor burdensome. We are not to wriggle out of them by twisting them so we end up obeying our own self-centred interpretation of them. Nor are we to give up in despair at how hard they are.
Jesus challenges us to a greater and deeper righteousness than the legalistic, skin-deep righteousness of the religious leaders of his day. But thankfully, he who commands is also he who empowers and forgives.