The Law and the Prophets
March 14th, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-14-65 7:30 p.m.
I like that. I love a triumphant note in the Christian religion. Through our tears, see the face of Jesus; out of death, the resurrection of life; in apparent defeat and disaster, ultimate and final glory and victory, an unbeatable, undefeatable, triumphant commitment. That is the religion of Jesus our Christ.
On the radio, on WRR, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message from the life of our Lord. We have been following the life of Jesus these Sunday evenings for a long time. And it will be a long time yet, every Sunday night, preaching a sermon following the life of our Lord. I could not think of a finer assignment than for a preacher to give himself to preaching about Jesus, bragging on Jesus, exalting the Lord Jesus, making appeal in the name of Christ Jesus. And that is what we do every Sunday night.
Now the sermon is entitled The Law and the Prophets, and it is found in the fifth chapter of Matthew, verses 17 through 20. And in your Bible, turn to the passage, and we shall read it together, Matthew chapter 5, this is the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5, four verses, 17 through 20. And the sermon is going to be the outline of verses 17, 18, and 19. Now, let us read the four together, starting at verse 17, quitting at verse 20:
Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Now let us begin. Our Lord says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" [Matthew 5:17]. So He starts off with an avowal. It is very easy, He says, to fall into wrong patterns of thought about Christ. And I do not know of anything that has been more steadfastly true in the history of this whole world than that observation. All the diverse and conflicting ideas about Jesus, about the church, about the ordinances, about the great doctrines of the faith, even about our assignments; what an amazing complexity of opinions about Jesus. So He starts off, "Think not," think not, you may have a wrong idea, "think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets," referring to the revelation, the covenant of the Old Testament. Do not think that I have come to cast away the great foundation upon which God hath been building this superstructure to the millenniums. Do not think that I have come to obviate and to do away with, to count as nothing all of the revelations and the promises, all of the prophecies, all of the things that God had said by His holy servants throughout these centuries past. Don’t you think that. For He says, "I am not come to destroy, not a jot or a tittle, not a sentence, not a syllable of the Old Covenant, but I am come to fulfill it all" [Matthew 5:17-18].
Now, we need to pause there, to think there. "I am come, not to destroy, but to plēroō, to fulfill." What does that word mean, plēroō, fulfill? What does that mean? Well, it is very plain and very simple what that word means. Let’s take an illustration: if you had a promissory note and somebody said to you, "I owe you a thousand dollars, and by such and such date I promise to pay you one thousand dollars, a promissory note." Now, what shall I do to get rid, to fulfill that promissory note? What shall I do? Oh, along comes a man and he says, "Give it to me; I will fulfill that promissory note." And he takes it, and he tears it up and puts it in the wastebasket. He’s destroyed it all right. He’s got rid of it all right, but he hasn’t fulfilled it. He hasn’t brought it to its consummating purpose or intent. And here comes along another man, and he says, "Well, you give it to me, I’ll fulfill that note. I’ll get rid of it for you." And he takes the note, and he throws it in the fire, and it turns to ashes before our very eyes. Has he got rid of it, really? Has he fulfilled it, really? Has he brought it to the intent and consummation for which it was made? No, no, he has not even approached it.
Well, what is the fulfilling of that promissory note? Nothing in this earth, nothing until that man, by that certain day and according to that ascertained and written promise, counts out one thousand dollars. Then the note is fulfilled. It has reached the intent and the purpose for which it was made. That is exactly what that word plēroō means. And that is exactly why Christ came into this world.
He came to take every promise, and every sentence, and every picture, and every ordinance, and to bring it to its intent and to its purpose. All of them find their consummation, and their reality, and their realization in the person of Jesus Christ. "This is what I was talking about," says the prophet. "This is what I was picturing," says the ordinances. "This is the great consummation toward which all revelation has been moving," says the Old Covenant. All of it is in Jesus Christ.
Now, that is struggling upward in the revelation of God. And in the Old Testament Scriptures, in the Law and in the Prophets; that struggling upward toward Jesus has characterized it from the beginning. Our Lord was not an afterthought in the mind of God. He was not something that the Lord unintentionally or accidentally brought on the stage of history. But the entire Old Covenant, every syllable in it, was reaching upward toward this gospel of salvation from the beginning! Or could I say it like this? The Old Testament has been a gospel from the day of its inception in the heart and mind of Almighty God. Now may I illustrate that?
I watched over here, I watched the building of the spire on our activities building. I watched that. I saw those workmen with their drills into the foundation of this earth. I watched them lay the foundation for that spire. And if you remember its structural steel, there was a square there set in that building and there were great steel beams on that square. It is a little section of the building all made to itself. And from the beginning, when they poured concrete in that foundation and all the way up, and all the way up and all through that building – all five stories of that building and finally to the top of that spire, from the beginning – from the beginning, the architect saw that in his mind. And from the beginning, the contractor built that thing from the blueprint from the start! I’m saying, it didn’t become a spire way up there as a final afterthought, but it was a spire in the mind of the architect and on the blueprint of the contractor, and it was going to be a spire from the day they started to erect that building.
That is exactly what the gospel message is in the Son of God. From the beginning, every syllable, and every law, and every ordinance, and every picture, and every prophecy concerned our great and living Christ! "He is coming," they said, "and this is the picture." And when the Lord came, He fulfilled all of those words, and all those syllables, and all those ordinances, and all of those laws [Matthew 5:17]. "This is what I was talking about," said the Law. "This is what I was talking about," said the ordinance. "This is what I was preaching about," says the prophet, "this is He, this is He!" "Not to destroy, but to fulfill" [Matthew 5:17].
May I give another illustration of that? For these things are so apparent and so important for our understanding of the Bible. A great tree or any kind of a plant; that plant or that tree was struggling to be a plant or a tree in the little seed, in the little seed. And as the seed was buried in the ground; maybe an acorn fell off of a branch, and maybe the wheel of a wagon ran over it and pushed it into the ground. And then the showers fell upon it, and then the warm sun kissed it, and it began to come upward. And it struggled out of the shell. And then it grew to be a little blade, and had some leaves on it, and then a little stem and going up and growing upward. It is a tree from the beginning, striving upward! And the consummation, the fulfillment of its struggle is when it rises to its great spreading grandeur, the majestic oak. Every plant is that way. It’s in the seed, and the seed struggles to that consummation, to that fulfillment.
So our Lord and this Holy Word. All of it is a-reaching upward to Him. And the noonday fulfills the dawn; and then the summer fulfills the spring. And the mature man fulfills the child that is born, reaching upward. That’s God, and that’s God’s Book, and that’s God’s revelation. All of it reaching toward Christ and fulfilled in Him. "Not I," said Moses, "but the One that comes after me" [Deuteronomy 18:15]. "Not I," said John the Baptist, "but the One that comes after me" [Matthew 3:11-12]. "Not I," says the law. "Not I," says the prophet. "Not I," says the psalmist, "but there is coming One after me." And all of it is fulfilled in our blessed Lord Jesus [Matthew 5:17].
All right, another word about that. This is an answer to that oft-asked question; how were the people in the Old Bible saved? How were people converted in the Old Testament? How were people saved in the long ago? This answers it. There has never from the beginning been but one way to be saved, just one – whether it be the gospel, a promissory note in the Old Testament, or whether it be the gospel of having found the Lord in the New Testament. "Come and see," said Andrew to his brother. "Come and see," said Philip to Nathanael, "we have found Him" [John 1:40-45]. Whether it is Isaiah, looking to the years that come, or whether it is an Andrew or a Philip saying, "Come and look for yourself" [John 1:46]. Or whether it is the pastor of this church preaching tonight, "Look to the Lord, the Crucified One."
Whether it is they back yonder, whether it is they who lived in the days of His flesh, or whether it is I who live in this present age and dispensation of grace and the Holy Spirit, all of us are saved alike – looking to Jesus, the gospel of the Son of God, all of us alike. The law was to point out our sin. And every ordinance was to picture how we could be forgiven in atoning blood and sacrifice, and all of it fulfilled in Jesus our Lord [Matthew 5:17].
Don’t you ever think that a man’s sin could be forgiven by blood of bulls and goats [Hebrews 10:4]. And don’t you ever think that a man could find peace and reconciliation with God by sacrificing an animal. It never was that way, but every animal that was sacrificed, every drop of blood that was spilled out, was a promissory note! Someday, someday, He is coming who will be the real and actual and fulfilled expiation for our sins. And in the Old Testament, as in the New Testament, as forever, we are saved by casting ourselves upon the mercies of God [Titus 3:5]. And it is the blood of the Crucified One that avails to wash our sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].
Look at this: the fifty-first, the penitential psalm of David. David seeks reconciliation with God and the expiation and atonement of his sins. And he is the king of Israel. What does he do? What could he do? Why, being the king, he could have commanded all of the sheep in Israel to be offered as a sacrifice for his sin, or gathered all the oxen, gathered all of the fruits for libation and offering and atonement. Being the king he could have commanded the resources of the whole nation and offered it to God for sin. But what does he do? Listen to him as he cried:
O Lord, O God, have mercy upon me according to Thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
How does God wash away sin? By the blood of the Crucified One! [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].
God wash me, wash me from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
Purge me, cleanse me: Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
[Psalm 51:2, 16-17, 7]
Why, you would think that he was a New Testament saint! Brother, he was, he was! There are not any saints but Jesus’ saints, saints washed in the blood of the Crucified One. The Law and the Prophets, all that they were talking about, all that they pictured is fulfilled – finds its reality and its consummation in our blessed Lord Jesus [Matthew 5:17].
We must hasten. The next verse, "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled" [Matthew 5:18]. Wonder what a man does who stands up in his pulpit, and he says, "I don’t believe in the inspiration of Scripture. Why, I believe half of it is myth and the other half is legend. And it bears witness to the Word of God, but it’s not the Word of God." What do those men think when they read when Jesus will say, "Every jot and every tittle?" [Matthew 5:18]. The Greek is "every iōta," that little bitty curve, little bitty thing, an iōta, an "i," a little iōta, every iota and every keraia. The actual meaning of keraia is "a horn, a little horn, a little horn."
And what they used the word for keraia was in writing Hebrew. Some of the little things they use in the Hebrew language to change a letter say from a "d" to an "r" is just a little turn, a little tiny turn, a teensy weensy minutiae of a turn, a little turn, a little, little turn! Our Lord is saying, we have it translated "not one jot" [Matthew 5:18]. Sometimes we say, not one dotting of an "i," not one crossing of a "t," but the emphasis is very emphatic. "Not one little teensy, weensy, teensy dot will ever fall to the ground until all of it be fulfilled," every syllable, every sentence, every word, and every letter, and every jot, and every tittle.
That’s what Jesus thought about what God had written in the Old Covenant. And that’s one of the things that makes me believe that the promises that God made to His people Israel in the Old Testament that have never been fulfilled; they have not even approximately been fulfilled. Someday, God will remember those promises. Someday, someday, in the great and final and consummating day, God will remember every word that He said, and every promise that He has written, and every prophecy that was delivered. And it will be fulfilled gloriously and wondrously and triumphantly in God’s day, in God’s day. Not a jot, not a tittle shall in anywise pass from that Old Book until all of it be fulfilled. Jesus will do that in the power of the Lord.
Now our last verse: "Whosoever therefore," He says, "shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, that one shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" [Matthew 5:19]. Those Jewish rabbis, all the things that they did – they wrote a gemara, and they filled it with halakha, and haggadah, and had a mishna on that. And they had all kinds of words and all kinds of traditions and all kinds of things. And so much of it grew to be antithetical to the spirit of the Bible and to the intent and purpose of those great revelations in the Old Covenant. And as time went on, they finally came to say, "The words of the law of Moses are silver, but the words of the oral law of the elders is golden!"
And then they began to weigh all of that multitude of halakha, of commandments and rules and regulations. And some of them, they said, "These are light." And some of them, they said, "These are heavy." These that are light, a man could disobey them, and it would be just the same, he would be all right, he’d be saved, he would go to heaven when he died. But these heavy commandments, if a man were to disobey them, why, he’d be doomed and damned. So they took God’s Word, and they juggled it around, and some of it was important, and some of it they said was not important; even what God had commanded.
That is why, that is the background of the lawyer who stood up and said to Jesus, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" All the days of his life he’d been listening to arguments. "Now you do this and you’ll be saved; but you don’t have to do this, and this, and this, and this, even though God said it. These are mortal sins. You do them and you’ll be dead. These are menial sins. You can do them and be all right." They divided up what God said.
Well, that lawyer had a background like that. And when he stood in the presence of the Lord Jesus and said, "Which is the great commandment?" [Mark 12:28]. Why, he meant to involve Jesus in that immensity of bulk and discussion and morass of theological casuistry. That’s what he meant to do. But our Lord, O, no wonder they said, "Never a man spake like that Man" [John 7:46], the Lord looked at that lawyer and said, "The great commandment is to love God with all your soul, and strength, and life. And the next one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself" [Mark 12: 31]. And the lawyer looked back at the Lord and said, under the convicting power of God, "Master, that is right, that is right. To love God with all the soul and life and to love a man’s neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offering and sacrifice." And the Lord looked back at him and said, "You are not far from the kingdom of heaven. You are not far" [Mark 12:32-34]. Don’t you pray, don’t you hope there was a day when he went all the way? "Lord, I believe all of these commandments and all of these laws, and all of these pictures, and all of these ordinances; I believe all of them are fulfilled in Thee [Matthew 11:29]. And as a pupil, I enroll in Thy school, and take Thy yoke upon me, and sit down at Thy feet to learn of Thee." Don’t you wish it? Don’t you wish it?
Now what He is saying here is in God’s kingdom, and in God’s world, and in God’s sight, all that the Lord hath spoken to us is important, all of it. There’s nothing – superfluous, nothing – and when the Lord speaks of us of these things, God means for us to take them to heart. And when God speaks of these other things, and when God adds these other things, and when God adds these still other things, all of them are important. And the true servant of Jesus, the one called great in the kingdom, is he who listens to the voice of God and faithfully does and faithfully teaches the commandments and the revelations of our Savior [Matthew 5:19]. Oh, what a blessedness. "All authority is given unto Me," He said, "in heaven and in earth [Matthew 28:18]. Go ye therefore," on that account, with that assurance, "and make disciples of all the nations," winning them to faith in Jesus:
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I with you alway, even unto the end of the age.
I heard one of our Baptist leaders of world renowned, say, "I believe in the Sermon on the Mount, and I believe in the Golden Rule, and that’s the sum of my religion." I thought, "Oh, my soul, my soul! There’s not a Rotarian in the world, but could say that. There’s not a Mohammedan in the world but could say that. There’s not a Buddhist in the world but that could say that. There’s not an ethical philosopher in the world but could but say that. There’s not a religion in the world but that has some kind of a golden rule in it. And though they don’t arise to the marvelous expressions of the Sermon on the Mount, every religion in the world has some ethical content. Oh, my soul! What the Lord hath said and done over and beyond any golden rule or any ethical presentation!"
And to love the Lord with all the heart and soul, and to give ourselves for the mediation of that truth to all who need Jesus, and that’s the world. That is more than ritual, and more than genuflection, and more than form and ceremony. For we have the life and the reality in our risen Savior Himself. This is it. What are we preaching about? There He is, Jesus. What are these ordinances portraying? They’re in Him. They’re talking about Jesus. And what are all these sermons? They’re to flow to the glory of Jesus. And what are all these commandments, and revelations, and prophecies, and all and all in the beginning and end of the Book? It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus. Everything is Jesus.
I dreamed that hoary time had fled,
The earth and sea gave up their dead,
A fire dissolved this ball;
I saw the church’s ransomed throng,
I caught the burden of their song,
It is this: our Lord Jesus is all in all and in all.
["Christ is All in All," by W.A. Williams]
And everything in it, is a picture of our blessed Savior. And all life and history, theological and secular, flow toward His mighty crowning and coronation and consummation:
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all.
["All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name," by Edward Perronet]
That’s it. That’s it. And if you know that, you know the Law and the Prophets and the gospel; amen and amen.
Now, we must close. While we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself to the faith of our blessed Lord. "Lord, in confession of my sins, in turning, in looking, in believing, Lord, here I come, here I come." To put your life in the fellowship of this precious church; a family, a couple, a child, a youth, somebody you, while we sing this appeal, make it now, make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.
AND THE PROPHETS
What about the Old Testament?
A. "Think not that I have come to
destroy the law or the prophets"
B. "I have come to fulfill the law"
1. What the law
aimed at, Christ brought into reality
upward toward gospel from the beginning
C. The systems not unrelated but integrated
parts of the whole
D. Old Testament saints saved alike;
the plan never changed (John 1:40-45, Psalm
"Jot and tittle" (Matthew 5:18)
A. Nothing superfluous
in all the works of God
B. It will all be
fulfilled in God’s day
The call of Jesus back to the Word (Matthew
A. Jewish leaders added rules,
B. Arguments over which commandments
1. Lawyer asked
Jesus which was greatest (John 7:46, Mark
Word is more than ritual, genuflection