“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Matthew’s Gospel starts out with strong connections to Old Testament prophecy. Multiple times, Matthew directly quotes from ancient writers as he lays the foundation for Jesus’ arrival and ministry. As the book unfolds, Jesus comes alive through miraculous conception, flees to Egypt because of political cruelty, passes through the waters of baptism, enters the wilderness of temptation, and climbs a mountain to teach a new law under the Kingdom of Heaven. The imagery drips with familiarity to an Old Testament story that’s been celebrated year after year within first century Judaism. Jesus arrives as a new and better Moses.
Jesus says it himself. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Old Testament law, received on the Mount Sinai, established a set-apart way of living for the Israelites in the wilderness and as they set up their kingdom in the promise land, much like Jesus’ teaching establishes a set-apart way of living for his disciples both in the present kingdom on earth and for the promised kingdom to come. When Jesus says he comes to fulfill the law and to make it better by showing us a new way to obey it.
Jesus’ path toward obedience is through his message of repentance. Matthew records Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) The term “repentance” has been misused and undermined by many claiming to be Christ-followers, but this word was never designed for heavy-handed submission. When Jesus tells his disciples to “repent,” this message was packed with hope, because it was a simple path to righteousness. “Repent” simply means “change your mind” or “turn.” Jesus fulfills the law by offering himself as a substitute for sin’s consequence, and when we agree with him that Jesus is the acceptable substitution for our sin, this truth is packed with hope for us too.
Turning toward Jesus’ new and better way is simple, though changing your mind may feel difficult. The good news is simply accepting grace. So, as you imagine yourself sitting in the crowd awaiting Jesus’ Sermon of a new and better way, take your spiritual pulse by asking yourself, “How open am I to agreeing with Jesus’ message of grace? Is my heart ready to turn and do whatever he asks of me to step further into his grace today?”
By Yvonne Biel