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Understanding the Scriptures

by Michelle Wilson on July 29, 2022

Dear Friends,

Often when I read the Bible, everything Jesus says seems very simple and clear. Other times, I wrestle and wrestle with the words and go away still puzzled. This is a passage that always puzzles me.

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. 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. 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. 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.                                    

- Matt. 5:17-20 (NIV)

Paul makes it abundantly clear that those of us who are in Jesus are not under the law, so I feel confident I am not under the law. And yet here, Jesus seems to be passionately upholding the continuing importance of teaching and following the law, at least until “everything has been accomplished” and “heaven and earth disappear.” I find myself wondering if he means his followers should obey the law until his death on the cross, when he declares his work to be finished. But heaven and earth did not pass away at that time, so that doesn’t quite work. I wonder if ethinic Jews, to whom the law was originally given, should follow the law even if they are in Christ, but gentiles who are in Christ should not. But this doesn’t seem like real freedom for everyone. Nor does it seem consistent with the oneness the body of Christ has been called to. 

I find that it is important not to be threatened by things I don’t understand but to wrestle with them from a place of wonder, trust, and desire to obey. There’s a lot here I don’t understand. But there’s also a lot I do understand. I understand that Jesus is saying he didn’t come to reject the law as a bad thing but to bring the good work that the law was designed to do to completion. I understand that Jesus is saying he came to fulfill all that was promised by the prophets. And I understand that I need a righteousness that is greater than the righteousness of people who spent their whole lives pursuing righteousness. The Pharisees and teachers of the law often get a bad rap in Christian sermons and reflections. But it’s important to note that, despite their flaws, these were the people who, in Jesus’ day, were at least trying to pursue obedience to God as the centerpiece of their lives. They were getting a lot wrong. But they were trying to pursue God, and they were very serious and passionate about it. And yet Jesus tells us their righteousness was not enough. This leaves me with a choice between trying to be even more righteous than the Pharisees on my own, a plan certain to fail, or to depend entirely on the righteousness of Jesus. 

Whenever I struggle to understand the scriptures, I find myself falling back to this same place. At the end of the day, I need Jesus. I need his life, his love, his forgiveness, his righteousness, and his Spirit. Because on my own, I have nothing. If we understand nothing else, let’s hang onto Jesus and our total dependence on him. Because at the end of the day, this is all we can do and all we truly need. 

If you’d like, pray this prayer with me:

Lord Jesus, my ability to understand even the simplest things is so small. My attempts at righteousness are hopelessly inadequate. I need you desperately. Come and rescue me. Come be with me and give me your love and your grace. You are my only hope. I put my trust in you today and always, knowing that you alone are faithful and that you will be with me to the end and take me home with you.

Love in Christ,


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