Every jot and tittle
Galatians 3:26-4:7; Matthew 5:17-20
We might say “He dotted every i and crossed every t”. A Hebrew speaker would say “He swished every jot and swirled every tittle.”
“Jot” was the smallest Hebrew letter (the letter yod). “Tittle” was the smallest stroke of a pen – a tiny flourish that was the only distinguishing mark between the two most similar Hebrew letters. And Jesus says, when it comes to the law, He is an absolute stickler for every word, every letter, every speck of Moses.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
Notice that Jesus does not say that He is a law keeper. No, He is much more than that. He is the law-fulfiller. He doesn’t merely abide by it. He fills it full. What does that mean?
Well, imagine that we go to the pub. We stand at the bar and you hand me a pint glass. That could mean one of two things depending on whether or not the glass was full. If you hand me an empty glass then I know you’re making a demand, it must be my round. I have to pay to fill up your glass.
But if you hand me a full glass, then that’s a gift for me to enjoy. With a full glass I take it within myself and enjoy its benefits.
It’s the same with the law. Jesus has not come not to abolish the law. Through baptism and temptation Jesus has stepped into our shoes to repent and believe at our Head. He has come as the true Israel to live the life of faith and obedience in our place and on our behalf. He does the very opposite of abolishing the law. He submits Himself to it in every way and He hammers out in His flesh a perfect legal obedience. Here is the Lord of Moses coming under the law of Moses and doing it right – filling it full.
This is vital to understand. Because Jesus is about to preach His interpretation of the law and it is pure, concentrated legal perfection (Matthew 5:17-48). What are we meant to do when Jesus turns up the heat on the old standards? He says, Don’t just refrain from homicide – never hate. He says, Don’t just refrain from adultery – never lust. He says, Be perfect just as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Do we try to be sticklers for this law? Fastidious keepers of “every jot and tittle”? Well, Jesus is calling us to more than this, not less. Jesus is handing us law. But it is law that is brim-full with His finished work. His peace and purity and perfection fills up and fills out every demand.
If it came from Moses’ hand it could only condemn us. If we take it as our demand, it will only kill us. But it comes from the hand of Jesus who has filled the law full with His own spotless life and death.
Now we receive it from Jesus as the gift of righteous living to be received by faith. Here is the righteousness that fills we thirsty souls (Matthew 5:6). He fills every demand and overflows to us in grace.
As the Apostle Paul says:
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:4-7)