The Greatest Sermon in History Part 6
The Spirit of the Law
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 15, 2004


Main Passage: Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT)


VIDEO CLIP – Odd Laws section on Bloopers, Blunders and Best Intentions

I love this kind of stuff. I’m fascinated with finding out about strange laws that are still on the books which make no sense. Here are some more that I found out about on the Internet…

  • In Canada, it is illegal to kill a sick person by frightening them.
  • In British Columbia, it is illegal to kill a Sasquatch.
  • In Alberta, businesses must provide rails for tying up horses.
  • The city of Guelph is classified as a no-pee zone.
  • In Toronto, it is illegal to drag a dead horse down Yonge Street on a Sunday.
  • In Alberta, It is illegal to set fire to the wooden leg of a wooden legged man.
  • In Texas, it's against the law for anyone to have a pair of pliers in his or her possession.
  • Alaska law says that you can't look at a moose from an airplane.
  • It is against the law to mispronounce the name of the State of Arkansas in that State.
  • In Memphis, Tennessee, a woman is not to drive a car unless a man warns approaching motorists or pedestrians by walking in front of the car that is being driven.
  • In Tennessee, it is against the law to drive a car while sleeping.
  • In West Virginia, only babies can ride in a baby carriage.
  • In Kentucky, it's the law that a person must take a bath once a year.
  • In the State of Kansas, you're not allowed to drive a buffalo through a street.
  • In Massachusetts, it is against the law to put tomatoes in clam chowder.
  • The law states that more than 3000 sheep cannot be herded down Hollywood Blvd. at any one time.
  • In Carmel, N.Y., a man can't go outside while wearing a jacket and pants that do not match.
  • In Nicholas County, W. Va., no member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit during a church service.
  • In Kansas there is a law which reads: "When trains meet at a crossing, both shall come to a full stop and neither shall proceed until the other has gone."
  • In Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, anyone caught drinking coffee was put to death.
  • In Madagascar, it is illegal for pregnant women to wear hats or eat eels.
  • Dueling is illegal in Uruguay -- unless both parties are registered blood donors. In this case it is encouraged.
  • In Australia, a life sentence is 200 years.
  • In Malaya, it is against the law to dance on the backs of turtles.


Those are some of the odd laws you’ll find around the world. But you know, even in the Church we’ve managed to come up with some rather strange laws… laws which aren’t necessarily found in the Bible but that we sometimes take just as seriously. What are some laws (rules or expectations) that you can find in churches which really have no Biblical precedent?

(No food in the sanctuary, got to preach from behind a pulpit, clergy must be referred to as Pastor or Rev., Dressing up, wearing a tie, services held Sundays at 11:00 a.m., King James Version only, got to sing hymns…)

I was in Tim Horton’s the other day and heard someone talk about a church that was offering golf lessons as a way to reach their community with the love of God. I’m sitting there thinking, “What a great idea,” and then the guy goes on to talk about how upset he is that a church would resort to such a superficial and irreligious tactic. How sacrilegious to hold golf lessons in a church building. Heaven forbid that someone actually come to know Jesus because on golf lessons. Personally, I love the idea. Anything that reaches people where they’re at and opens doors to share the love of God.

Somehow religion has a way of taking the basic principles taught in God’s Word and adding all kind of our own rules and restrictions to it. “You’ve got to wear a suit and tie, you’ve got to sing only hymns, you’ve got to use the King James Version of the Bible…” That’s why at Sunrise we choose to focus on the fact that Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion. It’s about knowing Jesus Christ personally, not following a specific code of conduct. But this problem of adding extra rules and regulations is not unique to the church today… way back when Jesus was walking the earth, the religious leaders of the day had taken the Old Testament and added their own rules to it. For example, a great principle found in the Ten Commandments is to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Here’s the though process… “We’re supposed to keep the Sabbath holy… okay, what does that mean? It means we’re not supposed to work. What does it mean to work? It means to carry a burden. What’s a burden?” Well the Rabbis described a burden with this description:

“Less than a burden is food equal to a dried fig, enough wine to fill a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put on a wound and enough oil to anoint a small member.” What doesn’t fit into this category and thus would be considered illegal to carry on the Sabbath by Rabbinical law would be to wear an artificial limb, a broach, or false teeth. You couldn’t even spit on the ground because that would be tilling the soil.

The Jewish religious leaders had all sorts of these oral traditions and rituals that they held up as just as important as God’s Word… maybe even more important. And they expanded on everything. In fact, these oral traditions and scribal laws were later compiled in a book called the Mishnah which is 800 pages long in its English translation. And then a commentary was written on them called the Talmud, which contains 72 volumes!

So along comes Jesus. And he actually heals people on the Sabbath! That was work! That was against the law. And he allowed His disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath. That was also against their law. So they had it in their minds that Jesus was out to destroy everything they held dear… all the laws they strived to uphold. It was a matter of pride for them… after all, most of the people of the day had no chance of knowing all the laws, much less keeping them. Jesus threatened their prestige and He threatened their position in society. So they saw Him as an Anarchist… out to destroy the law.

Over the last several weeks we’ve been working our way through the Greatest Sermon in History… the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Jesus has been teaching His disciples and the crowds that have come to see Him that entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is not dependent on how good they could be or what they could do… it’s meant for all who will come to God meekly and humbly to apologize for the things they have done that have hurt Him and who enter into a relationship with Him. And for many in the crowd, this would have been an eye-opening inspirational message. But I’m sure that also gathered in that crowd would be some Scribes and Pharisees… the teachers of religious law… who were getting a mite bit upset. They were ticked off. Jesus was dismissing and ignoring their very detailed extrapolations and additions to the law! They were probably giving Jesus the kind of look that says, “I even hate your mother!”

And in the face of this, Jesus says…

Matthew 5:17 (NLT)
“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 fulfill them. I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved.”

What was Jesus saying? He was saying, “I value the books of the law of God written by Moses… Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy… and I value the later writings of the prophets… basically the rest of the Old Testament. But what I don’t value is all the meaningless rules and restrictions you have added to the law. I want to get back to what the Law was meant to be.”

For us this morning to understand what the law was meant to be and how the laws found in the Old Testament are meant to be taken, we need to understand that there are really three categories of laws you will find there. In your notes…


Three Categories of Old Testament Laws:


a. Ceremonial Laws

These laws would often foreshadow the coming of Jesus. They would point to His sacrifice on the cross and the life that He offers us as a result. These laws would relate to worship, and while we may not do everything exactly the same because their purpose has been achieved, the principles of these laws still apply.

An example can be found in Leviticus 1:2-3…

Leviticus 1:2-5 (NLT)
"Give the following instructions to the Israelites: Whenever you present offerings to the LORD, you must bring animals from your flocks and herds.
"If your sacrifice for a whole burnt offering is from the herd, bring a bull with no physical defects to the entrance of the Tabernacle so it will be accepted by the LORD. Lay your hand on its head so the LORD will accept it as your substitute, thus making atonement for you. Then slaughter the animal in the LORD's presence…”

Jesus became our substitute. And He was perfect… He had no defects. And He was slaughtered for me and for you. So the animal sacrifices foreshadowed His death. Now the sacrifice is made once and for all. So we don’t need to make animal sacrifices anymore… it’s all been taken care of. But what we do need to do is identify ourselves with His death, accepting that His did it for me and for you, and choose to live a life of worship from this point on.


b. Civil Laws

These would be laws that would relate to daily living in Israeli culture. They were necessary for their time period, for their geographic position, for their social realities…

We talked about odd laws earlier. 150 years ago, it would have made great sense for Alberta to have a law stating that all businesses needed to provide a rail for people to tie up their horses. Today, not so much. Just like 100 years ago it wouldn’t have made any sense at all to have laws against the downloading of music or against computer hacking.

Here’s an example:

Deuteronomy 23:12-13 (NLT)
“Mark off an area outside the camp for a latrine. Each of you must have a spade as part of your equipment. Whenever you relieve yourself, you must dig a hole with the spade and cover the excrement.”

Hey, it’s in the Bible. I’m not making this stuff up. Made great sense in the day, but would seem pretty strange to see me heading into the backyard with a shovel today.


c. Moral Laws

These kinds of laws would include, say, the Ten Commandments. They’re laws that reveal the nature and will of God. They’re rules of relationship, they help us to live with each other and live God honouring lives. And they still apply today.

Here’s a section of the Ten Commandments…

Exodus 20:13-16 (NLT)
Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify falsely against your neighbour.

So Jesus tells the people that He’s not out to do away with these laws found in the Old Testament. In fact, He says these laws and the importance of them will not change in the least detail until their purpose is complete.

Then He goes on, and He says…

Matthew 5:20 (NLT)
“But I warn you—unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!”


Now, you’ve got to remember something. These religious leaders were held in high esteem. They had raised the righteousness bar high and were able to clear it every time. People respected them. They envied them. They saw them as spiritually superior beings. And Jesus tells the people that they have to be more righteous than them?

Last weekend I watched some of the NHL’s all-star’s skills competition. They have one event where the contestants have to shoot pucks at four targets and try to hit all four. Jeremy Roenick did it with only four shots. A perfect score. Now imagine if someone handed you the stick and told you that you had to accomplish the same thing with only one shot. How would you feel? It just can’t be done.

But Jesus tells the people that they have to obey God better than the religious experts. How is that possible? I think we need to understand that there are two different levels of obedience.


Two Levels of Obedience:


1. In Our Actions

The Pharisees were pretty good at this. In fact, nobody else could even compete with them. They were out of their league. And they made sure everybody knew it. They would go to the busiest part of town, stand on the street corner and pray in a loud voice just to show people how righteous they were. And they were righteous… at least, in their actions.

But that’s not the kind of righteousness Jesus was talking about. It wasn’t the kind of obedience He was looking for. Catch what Jesus said to these religious leaders later on in the same book of Matthew…

Matthew 23:23-28 (NLT)
“How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won't accidentally swallow a gnat; then you swallow a camel!
“How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too.
“How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. You try to look like upright people outwardly, but inside your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Jesus says, “Yes, following God’s instructions would be nice. But doing everything right down to the letter is not the most important part of obedience. The most important part of obedience is that it comes from your very core… from your heart.”

And that the second level of obedience…


2. From Our Hearts

Our obedience to God must flow out of a heart that is completely His… a heart that honours Him and that is filled with love and compassion.

I read a story about a boy named Sammy. Sammy is riding along in the car with his mother. Sammy is in the backseat, and he keeps taking off his seatbelt, standing up and leaning over the front seat. His mother keeps telling him, “Sammy sit down and put on your seatbelt.” Sammy doesn’t sit down. “Sammy, sit down and put on your seatbelt or we might get in an accident and you’ll get hurt.” Sammy still refuses to sit down. Finally, the mother reaches over the back seat and pushes him down and says, “Now stay there, or I’ll stop the car and spank you!” Sammy sat there with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. After several minutes, Sammy declared, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

It took a while, but Sammy finally got around to obeying his mother, at least on the outside. But he never obeyed his mother on the inside. He never obeyed her from his heart.

Jesus calls you and me to do better than the Scribes and the Pharisees. They were able to obey God on the outside, but Jesus calls us to obey Him on the inside, where it really counts.

I found some notes in the NLT Life Application Bible which I know some of you use. I thought they were pretty good, so I want to give them to you this morning.


Our Obedience Must:


  • Come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves.

    The Pharisees tried to follow the law of God by themselves, but never allowed God to change their hearts.
  • Be God-centered, not self-centered.

    We talked before about how most people are tuned into WIIFM… What’s In It For Me. Don’t obey God just because of what’s in it for you, do it to please Him.
  • Be based on reverence for God, not approval from people.

    We’re not out to impress the masses, we perform for an audience of One.
  • Go beyond keeping the Law to living the principles behind the Law.

    The law is, “Don’t throw rocks at your sister.” What’s the principle behind it?

    (respect, do unto others, be kind)

    The law is, “Drive the speed limit.” What’s the principle behind it?

    (safety first)

    The law is, “Eat together as a family.” What’s the principle behind it?

    (do things that strengthen and build the family)

    The law is, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” What’s the principle behind it?

    (Regular worship)

    The law is, “Celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Communion).” What’s the principle behind it?

    (remember and be thankful)


Jesus goes on in the next several sections and makes some very practical application. He helps us get beyond what the law says to what it means. We’ll get to that in future weeks.

Right now, Robin’s going to come back up and lead us in a song. It’s a new one for us, but one we’ll be doing regularly. And it talks about honouring God from our hearts.

ROBIN WHITE – May the Words of My Mouth by Tim Hughes





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