March 12, 2012: The Nineteenth Day of Lent

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

~ Matthew 5.17 ~

In this section of teaching, Jesus changes gears somewhat. Having spoken about the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Beatitudes and also the role of his disciples in the world, he now turns his attention to the Hebrew Law. In the Gospels, we can see that Jesus’ opponents among the religious elite often criticize him for not following the Law or for not interpreting it “correctly.” Christ is going to take advantage of this opportunity to describe his relation to the Law in the verses that follow.

Also, a perspective on Matthew’s aims as the writer of this Gospel can help us here as well. Matthew wrote his Gospel for a Jewish audience; he’s going to tell the story of Christ and his ministry in such a way that Jews will not only understand it, but so that they will also be compelled to belief by it. The question of Jesus’ relation to the Law of Moses would be a central question in the Jewish mindset. Matthew addresses this topic early in his Gospel; the Sermon on the Mount is the first large block of teaching within the book.

So what is Jesus saying? We must remember that Christ himself was a Jew, and faithfully lived as one. The Hebrew Scriptures and the Law of Moses were the scriptures he read and the Law he kept. He did not come to erase it. He did not come to make it null and void. Rather, he came to build upon it, to take it to the next level.

James Shelton says this: “Here Jesus makes it clear that he is not out to destroy the law but to fulfill it and even intensify it. He sets higher standards. His major concern is why a law exists; he insists that keeping of law begins with the attitude of the heart. By this principle Jesus simultaneously affirms the value of the people and the law. In this respect he fulfills the law as anticipated by Jeremiah: ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ (Jer. 31:33b)” (LitSNTC, pg. 158)

Many of the upcoming verses will illustrate how Christ intensifies the Law. However, it helps to remember the Beatitudes here; these are the foundation. In the upcoming verses, we will see the Law of the Kingdom illustrated. Christ has no interest in rules for rules’ sake. Rather, he cares about proper relationship; between God and creation, between one person and another. Following a code of law is not the desired endpoint; instead, Christ desires proper relationships.

How do you see your faith? Do you make decisions based upon your understanding of what a Christian should and shouldn’t do? We can easily wind up here if we make our faith into a list of attributes or behaviors that “all good Christians” have and do. But Christ calls us to something different: he calls us to leave our checklists and preconceptions behind, and let our lives be guided and energized by the overflow of our relationship with him. There is simply no substitute for time spent in God’s presence, for it is in those moments that he writes his law upon your heart.

Lord Christ, I would rather have your fulfilled law than my misunderstandings. I confess that I have not spent the time with you that our relationship needs. Remind me of the importance of this, Lord. Please bring about renewed relationships; show me what’s really important when I interact with you and others. Amen. 

Quote taken from Dr. James B. Shelton’s contribution on the Gospel of Matthew to The Life in the Spirit New Testament CommentaryEdited by French L. Arrington and Roger Stronstad. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

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