6–12 January 2019.
Ever since the ancient days of the Old Testament, followers of God have known that they cannot simply open up scripture and immediately understand the will of God. Scripture needs to be interpreted, and wise teachers are needed for that. In Nehemiah 8:8 we see how Ezra and a special group of Levites read from the Book of the Law of God and had to clearly explain the meaning of what was being read, helping people to understand each passage. Scripture needs interpretation, and that’s why the Jewish community has a long history of pharisees, rabbis, and scholars responsible for doing this serious work.
But as soon as we have different rabbis interpreting scripture, we have different opinions on what scripture really means. We see an example of this in the thousands of pages of the Jewish Talmud, which collects together centuries of discussion and debate between different rabbis on what they believe the correct interpretation of scripture should be.
When ancient rabbis debated about the law of Moses, if they didn’t agree with an interpretation they would angrily shout at their opponent: “Your interpretation has abolished the law!” If they agreed with an interpretation they would say with satisfaction: “Your interpretation has fulfilled the law.”
When we understand this, we understand why the New Testament pharisees attacked Jesus so often. Jesus constantly challenged the Jewish law, opposed the law, rejected the law, or ignored it. At times Jesus’s teachings even directly contradicted the law, rejecting, for example, ideas that we should love our friends but hate our enemies, or that we should seek revenge and take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We see many examples of Jesus’s opposition to the law in Matthew 5.
It’s no surprise then that the pharisees furiously attacked him. They thought Jesus was just an uneducated carpenter “abolishing” the meaning of the law by giving bad interpretations of it. They didn’t understand that Jesus is actually God, that Jesus is the Eternal Word, and giver of the true law.
That’s why Jesus rejects their criticisms. And that’s why Jesus can oppose, ignore, and even reject the law while still strangely claiming not to “abolish” it. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus’s point is that he is not a foolish rabbi who doesn’t know how to interpret scripture; he is the one who has come to tell the whole world what the true will of God actually is. That’s why Jesus can say of himself that he truly “fulfils” every tiny part of the law. And that’s why we say of Jesus that he is really the True Word of God.
This week in the church we celebrate Epiphany, remembering that Jesus Christ is the true Light of the world, the perfect revelation of God, and God’s true Word (John 1:1–9). At Epiphany we remember how before Jesus, the world lived in darkness, not really seeing God, not really knowing God, or understanding God’s will for our world (John 14:7). At Epiphany, we Christians reaffirm our faith in Jesus, knowing and trusting that Christ Jesus is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life (John 14:6), and that there is no other way for us to know or understand God except through Jesus.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis