What is the purpose of a stop sign? Let’s imagine a stop sign at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. For half a minute before approaching the stop sign someone could easily see whether or not there was traffic coming from the left or the right. Imagine a police officer on the side of the road watching the intersection. Will you stop completely or slowly roll on through the stop sign? If the officer operates on the letter of the law, he may ticket you. If he operates on the spirit of the law, he may realize that you drove in a completely safe manner and let you go. In Matthew 5:13-20 Jesus began such a discussion on the law. Which is better, a burdensome, legalistic interpretation, or a spiritual approach which understands the purpose of the law?
Christians hold varying opinions about which Old Testament laws to obey. Laws like making a burnt offering twice a day, sounding silver trumpets at feasts, making an offering after childbirth, leaving field corners unharvested for the poor, resting farmland every seventh year, observing the new moons, building booths for the feast of tabernacles, building guard rails on flat-roofed homes, paying wages daily, circumcising all males, using no leaven at Easter, using a second tithe for feasts and no tale-bearing are usually ignored. In Matthew 5:13-20 Jesus said that even the least laws would remain as long as heaven an earth do. How do we obey them? Jesus taught the law in a transformed manner, in the spirit and not the letter. Rather than a simplistic, literal understanding of the law, an era of a deeper, spiritual application had begun.
The Old Testament law is variously understood by Christians. Jesus gave his interpretation in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:13-20 he began to touch on that topic. Jesus did not say that obedience to the law is no longer required because of faith. He did later explain how some of those laws should be applied. Yet, almost no Christian sacrifices animals or mandates circumcision. Should we? Did Jesus divide his commentary into defunct ceremonial versus still binding moral laws? No. He spoke of the law as a unit, and that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Until heaven and earth disappear, the law applies. How can our righteousness be greater than that of devout Jews? In the Church, we obey the law on a higher plane in a temple not made with human hands.