It’s Easter and Christians across the globe mourn Jesus’ crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection. It is the signature event at the core of the rise and spread of Christianity. Wrapping our heads around the scriptural specifics is challenging. Discerning its impact is a matter of debate and sometimes conflict in the body.
For me, years of teaching adult Sunday school classes included many salvation debates pitting works against grace. Misunderstanding Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” regarding fulfillment of the law often made the resolution of those disagreements significantly more difficult.
Matthew 5:17-18 (NASB) quotes Jesus, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Is it possible that Jesus went forth from there teaching a different, entirely irreconcilable message? Don’t judge and you won’t be judged; don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven. He taught that love covers a multitude of sins and that he desires mercy not sacrifice.
According to Paul, Christ cancelled the law, nailing it to the cross and that Jesus became our peace by uniting Jews and Gentiles and setting aside the law with its commands and regulations (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:14-15).
As I write, it is clear that heaven and earth are still in their places yet not only the smallest letter or stroke, but the entirety of the law, is said to have been abolished. How can this be? Did anything really change when Christ died on that cross? The answer is that EVERYTHING changed and it changed forever. The key to unraveling this conundrum is found in the second “until” statement in Matthew 5:18, “until all is accomplished”. Had “all” actually been accomplished? Jesus says yes! Nailed to the cross and in physical agony, Jesus was still attentive to providing for Mary’s welfare and counting down the cumulative fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.
John 19:28-30 (NASB) reads; “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to his mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished!’ And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
It is essential for us to know that Jesus’ spirit was not forcibly taken from him but lovingly given. He sent it out to keep a covenant made with his disciples and with us. “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, if I do not go away, the advocate will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Often, and without further qualification, Jesus said (and other New Testament writers affirmed) that whomever believed in him would have eternal life. I pray that we, corporately and individually, will embrace and share the spiritual gift of grace to love one another as Christ loves every one of us.
The teacher is present still.