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“It doesn’t matter...”

“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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 17-20
 

There are two ways of forgiving those who have wronged us. One way is to say (and mean), “It doesn’t matter, it’s OK.” The other way is to say (and mean), “It does matter. I have been hurt and I have suffered loss - but I forgive you nevertheless.”

There are also two ways in which Almighty God might forgive his creatures for rebelling against him. He might say, “It doesn’t matter.” This is a message which we’d all like to hear. And it’s a message which we do, repeatedly, hear.

It’s also a message which wrongdoers require from churches and from Christians. More than once folk have written to The Times to say something like this, “I’m surprised that Christians/ the Church are condemning folk who do this sort of thing. After all, God is love. These Christians/ these Churches should be more tolerant – as was Jesus.”

The question is, “Does it matter – or not?” To find out the answer one ought to ask a victim as well as a perpetrator. The mother of murdered Fusilier Paul Rigby will almost certainly say, “It does matter”, whilst Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale will have a different view.
 
 
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‘The punishment of sin is sin.’ (Augustine of Hippo, Christian teacher, 354-430)
At the very beginning of his public life, Jesus Christ gave a Keynote Address to his disciples. The words in bold above set out his views on whether it matters or not. “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.” The Law and the Prophets do matter.

What did Jesus mean by “the Law and the Prophets”? Well, the Ten Commandments are a key part of the Law in the Bible’s Old Testament. The brave statements of the Prophets (before Jesus came), who pointed out the widespread failures of God’s own people to keep his commandments, are also on record in the Old Testament.

But did you notice that Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”? Did you notice too that he added, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”? What on earth did he mean?

He seems to be saying that he personally will fulfill every iota and dot of God’s Law and Prophets, will accomplish all. To Jesus, these did matter – every comma mattered.

In his first Keynote Address on earth Jesus also wanted his followers to know that their own attitude towards God’s commandments also mattered. “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” They needed to know that their position in God’s kingdom depended upon whether or not they later taught “It doesn’t matter”. Either way there would be consequences for them in that realm above.

Why, in that case, does it matter when Jesus’ followers teach others that “It doesn’t matter”? Jesus gave the reason in his Keynote address (see bold above). “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 
 
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‘Because the sinless Saviour died,/ My sinful soul is counted free;/ For God the Just is satisfied/ To look on him, and pardon me.’ (Charitie Lees Smith, hymn writer, 1841–1923)

That’s a very clear reason, isn’t it? The requirement for a person to have “righteousness” is no joke. The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous in their open righteousness. They were outwardly very holy. They taught and acted so as to make it clear that “It does matter”. But that definitely wasn’t enough (in Jesus’ clear Keynote Address) to enable the scribes and Pharisees to enter heaven. More righteousness than theirs was required.

I must either turn up the volume of “It doesn’t matter” or look for a source of righteousness other than my own attempts. I think I may have found that source in Jesus who fulfilled and accomplished all righteousness – for me.
 
 
Richard Syvret

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