Law and Freedom


This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: Matthew 4:23 - 5:20

Author: Rev. Paul D. Stadt, Chatham, Ontario

Somehow by putting together the words law and freedom, there is inside of us a sense of contradiction and frustration. Take the issue of seat belts. The law says you shall wear a seat belt when you are driving down the road in your car. There are people who still feel that the law for seat belts takes away their freedom. It’s my freedom to decide for myself if I want to wear a seat belt or not. There are many issues of the law- bike helmets, speed on the road, parking in spots reserved for handicapped that many feel take away their freedom. The issue of pit bulls is also for many an issue of freedom. For many their idea of freedom is tied to their view of themselves as autonomous persons, free agents. The word auto in automatic or autonomous or automobile means it can run on its own. For an automatic washer you put the clothes in the machine turn the dial and walk away. It runs on its own. An autonomous person has run away from God and from any law and says I am a law unto myself. I run on my own – automatically. I am a free agent to do my own thing as I see fit. The idea that I am a law unto myself is not freedom. Real freedom is to belong to Jesus and in the power of His Spirit to do His law of love. In Jesus freedom and law and love go together.

What Jesus says about law and freedom is very often misunderstood even in the church. Many say the Bible teaches we are free from the law. They often mean by law only the Ten Commandments. For many in the church the ten words of the covenant don’t function in their life style anymore. A dispensational view of history taught in many evangelical churches believes the dispensation of law is past; we are now in the dispensation of grace where the law doesn’t function anymore.

Lets listen to Jesus Himself tell us about how our freedom in Him should function in our lives. When we carefully look at the Beatitudes, we see the blessings that come to us through Jesus. We are blessed with His kingship, with comfort in sorrow, inheritance of the earth, blessed with hunger for righteousness, with mercy. Our blessings come from Jesus who is restoring to us what it means to be human. In sin our humanity is distorted. In sin we have lost our sense of what real freedom is. When Jesus blesses us He is restoring our true sense of freedom and humanity. He blesses us with His law of freedom.

In verse 16 Jesus said let your light so shine before men, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in the heavens – the One who created the heavens and the earth and owns them. Then Jesus says: Don’t think or believe that I have come to do away with, abolish the law and the prophets. Why would Jesus have to say that so bluntly to the crowd sitting there listening to Him? In His sermon He would be quite critical of the way some of the church leaders handled and played around with the law and the prophets. Many church leaders had dismissed Jesus as a liberal when it came to the law. Many had cut God out of their lives and lived almost autonomous lives even though they considered  themselves church members. They would twist and turn the Word of God so that it fit their own view of things. They considered themselves very religious as they tried to fit God’s Word to their life style rather than submit to God’s Word to lead and guide their life style. The people who were listening to Jesus were just ordinary people like us who wanted to learn and trusted Jesus to be a good and reliable teacher sent from God.

To clear up any misunderstanding about what He said being critical at times of the way people handled the law Jesus says don’t think that I have come to do away with the law and prophets. Jesus is talking about God’s revelation in the Old Testament. The first five books are the law in the Bible, then the big section of the prophets and here He is including the wisdom literature like Psalms, Job and Proverbs. I did not come to throw the Old Testament revelation out the window. On Resurrection Sunday we hear Jesus tell the men going to Emmaus that all of the Old Testament points to him. And here he says, I have not come to abolish but to fulfill, make full the law and the prophets. How should we understand fulfill? Some have taken fulfill to mean the Old Testament is no longer useful and relevant for today. For many people the law has been fulfilled, it is now the age of the gospel and grace. But the law is good news gospel. God is Creator. H e created a lawful universe where His law holds. Walk off your roof and you will go down to the ground. That is God’s law of gravity that holds today for His creation. Jesus makes the law full for the creation we live in and the way we live in it. In His covenant law for our life style Jesus summarized the law – love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. That direction still holds today. Jesus says the whole law and the prophets hang on these two words- love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. In Jesus, the master teacher, the law and the prophets find their full meaning: Jesus Savior and King.

He tells us that until heaven and earth come to an end not the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, not a stroke of a pen will by any means disappear until everything is done, accomplished. How can Jesus say these things? He can say them because He is Savior and Lord. He has come to work into our lives His law and prophets for our freedom. Everything in God’s Word holds for everything in our lives. In every room in God’s good creation the good news that Jesus is Savior and King and His law holds as direction for everything is maintained.

In reformed churches we believe the Bible is an historical redemptive direction for our lives. The Bible records history- events and persons along the way toward the new earth- with a focus on redemption. God is restoring in Christ a fallen creation and humanity because of sin, so everything gives glory to God and we have enjoyment with God and each other. God doesn’t do everything at once. He works from period to period. His people for a period turn away from Him and God comes picking up the pieces. We need to read the law and the prophets redemptively and covenantally. God is at work in Christ restoring life for His glory and our enjoyment. God makes promises on the way to Christ’s coming to earth in a manger. There are two important texts in the Old Testament that help us see what Jesus is talking about in terms of filling up. One is Jeremiah 31:31,32. This text is included in the baptism form. “The time is coming declares the Lord when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah. Verse 33 says “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will by my people.” God is writing His law on our minds and on our hearts in Jesus. How does God write His law on our hearts? Ezekiel 36:27 reads” And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

If we belong to Jesus Christ we have His Spirit in us. The Spirit takes the laws of God- love God above all and neighbor as you love yourselves and writes them on our hearts. We are covenantal people- God is our God and we are His people. We need to ask ourselves “who are we and what are we doing with that law the Holy Spirit has written on our hearts? Are we grieving the Spirit or quenching His work on our hearts?”

In verse 19 Jesus goes on- Anyone then who breaks, loosens up one of these commandments the least one and teaches others to loosen up on God’s commands will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens. Jesus is saying don’t play around with my commands of love by saying this one is O.K. for me. I will do that one. The other one I don’t think is so important and I don’t like it any way I will strike that command out of my life. Jesus says don’t play around with my Word like that. Who then, Jesus says, does and teaches these commands, the same will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. We have the Spirit of Jesus and we have His Word and can do it.

All of this leaves us with a powerful challenge. Truly, says Jesus, I say to you that if your righteousness- your right relationship with God and your doing His Word and law -- is not greater than the law teachers and the Pharisees, you will not even enter the kingdom of the heavens. The scribes and Pharisees were among the church leaders and the theological conservatives in the church, but they were blind to the path Jesus was pointing to. You must outshine them, says Jesus. Or else you can’t come into the kingdom of the heavens. The scribes and Pharisees refused to acknowledge Jesus as the way to God, the truth, the life. This was the essence of their error: they preached righteousness but they anchored it in their own achievements, themselves. That’s fatal, says Jesus. Do that, and you’re shutting yourself out of the kingdom of the Lord.

We have been offered something greater, better, much greater and much better. We have received the righteousness of Jesus, and in the freedom we have in him—living in a right relationship with him – our righteousness will exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.


Order of Service

Call to Worship- Psalm 119:1,2

Silent Prayer

Hymn 625


Hymn 234

Prayer of confession

Assurance of pardon- Romans 8:1-4

Hymn 254

Law of God –Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Hymn 119:1,4,5,6

Children’s hymn 197

Prayer for illumination

Scripture reading Matthew 4:23-5:20

Text Matthew 5:17-20

Theme: Law and Freedom

Hymn 419

Congregational prayer


Offertory prayer

Hymn 555


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