Fulfilling the Law
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says that he’s not come to set aside the law and the prophecies—to loose, destroy, or abolish them—but to fulfill them.
On the one hand we want to be careful when we talk about the Ten Commandments so that we don’t make them sound like the opposite of what Jesus said, saying, You know the Ten Commandments are not important anymore. We can cross out big parts of the Mosaic Covenant because that’s not our covenant any longer. That’s precisely what Jesus is arguing against. He didn’t come to say, You know what? Forget about that; it doesn’t matter. But he did fulfill it so there is something on the other side of the cross and the incarnation that transforms our understanding of the Ten Commandments.
We certainly don’t want to set aside the Ten Commandments. Jesus didn’t set them aside; he fulfilled them.
It’s instructive for us when we see Jesus and the rich young ruler, who comes to him and wants to know about what he must do to be a good person and to inherit eternal life. Jesus starts talking about obeying the commandments.
And he goes to the second table of the law. “Honor your father and mother and do not murder and do not commit adultery.” He conveniently and intentionally leaves out “do not covet” because he’s sort of laying a trap for the man to get at his heart—because he knows that he’s in love with his possessions.
In a Different Key
It’s instructive for us that when Jesus has to reach for a convenient summary of obedience to God, he goes to the Ten Commandments. We see similar things from the Apostle Paul. So we certainly don’t want to set aside the Ten Commandments. Jesus didn’t set them aside; he fulfilled them.
I like the analogy many people have used of a piece of music that you transpose to a different key. It’s the same melody you’re playing—the same piece of music—but now on the other side of the incarnation, it’s transposed and there’s a different key to it.
And so each of the Ten Commandments now finds a fuller fulfillment in Christ. They don’t become less than what they were, but now with the advent of Christ, they become much more in how we fulfill them and how we obey them.
God gave the commandments that they might be obeyed—not to earn salvation but because of who we are, who God is in himself, who he is to us, where we are, and what he has done.
There are many people inside the church—and especially outside the church—who would say the Ten Commandments are irrelevant or antiquated.
There have been three items that have formed the backbone of the church’s catechesis: the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.