Our reading today comes from Matthew 5, which is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is shifting into His public ministry and is preparing His disciples for all the ways they are to be set apart from the the scribes, Pharisees, and Gentiles. Jesus focuses on the disciple’s character in verses 1-12 (the Beatitudes), their influence in verses 13-16 (salt and light), and their righteousness in verses 17-48 (right relationship to God and right conduct).
Jesus is quick to point out that He has not come to cancel the Law, but to fulfill it. In fact, He repeats Himself twice in verse 17 to help get His point across:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17
Have you ever read a book (especially non-fiction) and noticed that the writer seemed to repeat their key points several times over several chapters? Repetition is a literary device to help readers know when to pay attention because something significant is about to be said. It’s like a literary blinking arrow that says, “Hey! This is important! Get out the highlighter!”
Maybe you’ve found yourself with a particularly catchy worship song in your head and you wonder why the lyrics are so easy to remember. Repetition in song lyrics helps even non-musical listeners find familiarity and creates an opportunity for the song to be easily imprinted on our minds.
In my marketing and communication background I’m very aware that repetition is key when it comes to awareness. It takes hearing or seeing the same message seven times before we can remember it (and in our busy, noisy world, that number can actually be larger). If you’re trying to spread the word about something you have that your audience needs (a book, your business, your new course, the book club you’re starting) plan to talk about it until you’re tired of hearing about it – and then watch as your audience FINALLY starts to pay attention.
Jesus wanted no misunderstanding when it came to this point: He was not there to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Layman’s New Testament Commentary points out that, “the word translated “fulfill” can mean to accomplish, to complete, to finish, to bring to an end, to validate, to confirm, to establish, to uphold, or to bring out the intended meaning.” Jesus, in His teaching, further explained the intended meaning of the Law by addressing for His disciples the deeper matters, the root issues the Law was meant to deal with but that the Pharisees and other religious leaders were skimming over.
Jesus is the covenant-fullfiller, not a promise-breaker. He is the only One who was ever meant to accomplish, complete, finish, validate, confirm, establish, and uphold the promises God made. We go on to read in chapter 5 that Jesus not only told His audience (twice) that He was not there to abolish the Law, but that heaven and earth will have to pass away before He removes even the tiniest point of punctuation from the Law.
Jesus not only came to fulfill the Law, but to do so in exactly the way God planned from the very beginning. You and I can rest knowing God is the perfect promise keeper.
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