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The Law and the Prophets

March 6, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Matthew 22:34-46) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Matthew
Preached at a Ash Wednesday service

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Title: The Law and the Prophets
Date: 06 March 2019
Preacher: Rev Wong Siow Hwee

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We started having Ash Wed service in 2011, and this is the 9th year we have been having this tradition. “Churches use this service to prepare church members to better appreciate the death and resurrection of Christ through self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial. Ashes from the burned palms of the preceding year's Palm Sunday are blessed. With these ashes, the priest marks a cross on the foreheads of worshipers, saying, "Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19 KJV). Besides showing sorrow for their sins, those who honor Ash Wednesday add an additional meaning; the need to prepare for a holy death.” In Jubilee Church, even though we don’t go through the typical rituals with the ashes, (even our burying of the alleluia is symbolic), our intention to observe the meaning of Ash Wed is the same. As Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus has become a part of our lives. As Paul reminded us in Romans 6: 3 Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. We are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. As Christians, we must face death honestly, so we can live a new and resurrected life faithfully.

Today’s passage is yet another episode between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. There are a few ways to understand the passage. We could talk about religious politics and how Jesus’ confrontation led to his persecution and death. We could also contrast the different rabbinic schools of thought on the three Old Testament passages quoted by Jesus. Both of these approaches would be the typical way I would share the sermon, because I love to do geopolitical and literary analysis. But because today is Ash Wed, I will be speaking less about Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish religious authorities. That portion will be covered in subsequent Lent sermons and devotional materials. Instead, I want to focus on the significance of the three Old Testament passages on Jesus alone.

What is the greatest commandment in the Law? 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” When Matthew included this story from Mark into his Gospel, he added verse 40. I wondered, is there any special reason why he wanted to mention ‘the Law and the Prophets’? And so I did a survey of ‘the Law and the Prophets’ and the phrase also appeared exclusively in Matthew in three other instances. This is not a coincidence. This phrase is like a trail of breadcrumbs to lead us to the full identity of Jesus. Let us look through each one of them carefully.

Matthew 5: 17 “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. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the first instance the phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ appeared, it seems like Jesus has given us an impossible mission. We must practice and teach everything in the Law. Our righteousness must surpass the Pharisees who not only followed the 600+ laws of Moses, they even added many more traditions of their own over hundreds of years. Is it really mission impossible? Jesus has given us an important clue here. He says he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
1st Instruction: The Law and Prophets must be practiced and taught by those in the kingdom of heaven.
1st Promise: Jesus came to fulfil the Law and Prophets.

Matthew 7: 7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

In the second instance the phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ appeared, it comes with the famous Golden Rule “do to others what you would have them do to you”. The Golden Rule is very similar to our passage today to love your neighbor as yourself. What is interesting is that this Golden Rule is given within the same context of asking God, seeking and knocking. Very often, when this passage is taken out of context, we assume that it is about God answering our prayers for our personal needs. Ask and it will be given, seek and you shall find. But now that we see it within the same context of the Golden Rule, we realize that our asking, seeking and knocking is about God’s grace that we desire for others, just as how we desire God’s grace upon ourselves.
2nd Instruction: The Law and Prophets is about doing good to others.
2nd Promise: God will answer our prayers for God’s grace.

Matthew 11: 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

The third instance the phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ appeared is the hardest to understand. It is placed within the context of persecution. John the Baptist was a prophet as great as Elijah, who prepared the way for the kingdom of heaven. But it was a mission that faced violent opposition. Elijah had to face King Ahab and Jezebel. John the Baptist had to face King Herod and Herodias (Matthew 14). But those who are willing to listen and obey the mission will be counted as great in the kingdom of heaven. Unlike all men on earth who are born of women, they are born again after hearing the gospel.
3rd Instruction: The Law and Prophets had faced and will face violent opposition.
3rd Promise: Those born in the gospel will be great in the kingdom of heaven.

1st Instruction: The Law and Prophets must be practiced and taught by those in the kingdom of heaven.
2nd Instruction: The Law and Prophets is about doing good to others.
3rd Instruction: The Law and Prophets had faced and will face violent opposition.
1st Promise: Jesus came to fulfil the Law and Prophets.
2nd Promise: God will answer our prayers for God’s grace.
3rd Promise: Those born in the gospel will be great in the kingdom of heaven.

You may have realized that each passage with the phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ comes with an instruction but also with a promise. The instruction is that the mission of the kingdom of God is tied closely with the Law and the Prophets. It is practicing and teaching about loving your neighbors. It would not be easy, there will be confrontations with those who are evil. But the instructions come with divine promises. God will answer to our needs as long as we listen and obey. Most importantly, Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, which means that we are not doing this alone. We are doing this mission through Jesus Christ.

Our passage today highlights ‘the Law and the Prophets’. The first two Old Testament passages are instructions. 37 ‘ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  39  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The third Old Testament passage is a promise from Psalm 110:1. 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:     “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies     under your feet.”’
Psalm 110 is the most quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament, reflecting its importance for the early Christians. The early church saw Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the Lordship in Psalm 110. When David prophesized that ‘the Lord said to my lord’, David’s lord was Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:34-36) If the Messiah is only the son of David, then the Messiah that the Jews are waiting for is just an earthly king. But Jesus confounded the Pharisees by asking them about Psalm 110. How can the son of David become David’s Lord? That seemed illogical until the prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus was the son of David. But he went beyond that in his death and resurrection and ascension. Jesus took on the role of the eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus is also sitting at the right hand of God to judge nations and kings. The son of David became the Lord of David because Jesus’ kingdom is not just an earthly kingdom but the kingdom of heaven.

Tonight, for reflection at this Ash Wed service, I don’t think I need to speak any more about loving God and loving others. Every Christian should know that as our basic commandments. What I do wish to remind us is that the mission comes with promises, and these promises are fulfilled through Jesus Christ becoming our Lord and King. Jesus is the gospel to a new life. Jesus is the answer to our prayers when we find it difficult to do good to others. Matthew 7: 7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. The promise has been fulfilled because Jesus is now our Lord and King. So in this period of Lent, let’s reflect on what the lordship of Jesus means to us. Are we fighting alongside him? Or are we fighting against him with our selfish desires and ambitions? Let this period of Lent be a time of surrender and submission to Jesus. Let his death become the death of our old self, so that we may be restored into a new self in our resurrection with Jesus.

Matthew 22:34–46 (Listen)

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44   “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
  “Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

(ESV)