Sermon on the Mount

Law

This devotional is written by Phil Hoyle.

Matthew 5:17-20

17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection

This passage concerns one of the classic questions of Christian faith - ‘How does the Old Testament law relate to us as followers of Jesus’?
Let me suggest three pictures -

Firstly, the moon gives light in the darkness, but it has no light of its own. Instead, it reflects the light of the Sun. When the Sun rises, there is no need for us to rely on the moon for light.

Secondly, a signpost is not the destination, but shows us the way. When we arrive at our destination, the signpost is still there, but we don’t look to it anymore.

Thirdly, The ‘Three Paths’ set piece at the end of the movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is one of my favourites. The idea is that to reach the Holy Grail, the archeologist and adventurer has to complete 3 tests. Each one is deadly, and requires Indy to know Latin, specific portions of the Bible, and ultimately step out from a sheer cliff edge on faith alone.

As Indy moves through these challenges, others are following him. However, because he has already completed the tests, they hold no threat for those behind.

In this passage, Jesus says emphatically that he has not abolished the law, but rather that he has fulfilled it: The Law and the Prophets gave light and now the true light of the world is here. The Law and Prophets showed the way to God, but now God himself is here, so their task is fulfilled. Jesus has kept the law perfectly, has ‘passed the test’, and now we, following him, don’t have to do it ourselves.

As Jesus says, the law remains in place and is still the benchmark for righteousness, but through his faithfulness, it is fulfilled, so we are now free in him.

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