If Yeshua really did make it possible to understand and live out God’s commandments (Torah) as our Creator originally intended, then we would expect Him to give us a few examples. And in fact He did. It’s all a matter of going beyond the “letter of the Law” and getting to the Spirit behind it. Consider what Yeshua said right after He told His audience that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV)
Notice that Yeshua referred directly to what God commanded in the Torah about murder, both at Mount Sinai and in Moses’ farewell speech to Israel. He did not say that the commandment no longer applies, but rather went to the root of the commandment to explain what God meant by it. This should be easy enough to understand: murder is the logical outcome of anger without cause. Anger in itself is not sin, as the Apostle Paul explains, but it is interesting to note that when Paul said, “Be angry, and do not sin”, he was quoting from Psalm 4, which says:
Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord. (Psalm 4:4-5 NKJV)
The Apostle John also commented on this, saying
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (I John 3:15 NKJV)
We have plenty of examples to show the truth of this connection between hate and murder. In fact, we can take it back even further than hate. How about dislike and distrust? How about idle words on the playground when we were children? It may seem innocent enough when children say things like, “I wish you would go away and die”, but those words reflect attitudes of the heart that spring from the bad seed of our sin. If that seed is allowed to grow, it turns into all kinds of wicked things, including murder.
So the connection Yeshua draws between thought and action is easy enough to understand, but there is something else He says that is not clear at first hearing – or at least not to a Jewish listener. When He talks about bringing our gift to the altar, He is talking about bringing a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem. Why would He say such a thing if Temple sacrifices were no longer something God wanted to happen? Sure, there is no Temple now, but there will be one day, and Yeshua Himself will lead the sacrificial worship. Which means that the so-called “ceremonial law” of the Torah really is something we should learn about, if for no other reason than to learn what kind of gifts God expects us to bring Him. And that, too, is exactly what Yeshua is saying here. In this case, He refers to things that David and Micah told us:
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; my ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8 NKJV)
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar. (Psalm 51:16-19 NKJV)
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:7-8 NKJV)
It’s not that the Lord doesn’t want sacrificial offerings. It’s that He wants our offerings presented with pure hearts. If we don’t have pure hearts before Him, then our gifts and offerings are worse than meaningless. All we are doing is going through the motions to please God, while in reality we are just waiting for the chance to act on the evil desires inside of us.
Haven’t we heard something like this before? Yes indeed. What Yeshua tells us in the Sermon on the Mount is exactly what the Lord God told Cain:
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV)
We know what happened next: Cain acted on the hate in his heart and murdered his brother.
Come to think of it, that Cain and Abel story was also about sacrifices and offerings. Maybe all this time without a Temple and an altar is meant to show us what exactly God wants so that we get it right when His Temple is rebuilt.
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3:4-5 NKJV)