“I tell you the truth, 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.”
There are letters in Hebrew that can be changed by a dot. Other letters are differentiated by a little mark of the pen. We have the same in English. Take a vertical stroke. If you put a line through it, it becomes a “t”. If you put a dot over it, it is an “i”. Remove a line from an “E” and you get and “F”. Or add a line to the side of an “F” and it can look like an “A”. This is an old trick for changing report cards.
Jesus’ point is that down to the dots and strokes of letters, every bit of the Old Testament will find its intended fulfillment. Nothing will be left un done.
Think of the Old Testament as a grocery list. When I take a list to the store, I check off the items I have found. If something is missing from the store, I circle it. So I can say, “I guess we will change the menu because they were out of Brussels sprouts today.”
Jesus said that all the Old Testament will be checked off. Nothing will be circled or erased.
We have been exploring interpreters and found these varying interpretations.
St. Augustine wrote a book on Matthew 5-7 between the year 393 and 396 AD. It was Augustine who first called this the Sermon on the Mount. St. Augustine says that the salt and the light refers to the fearless attitude Christians should have who face persecution. Rather than cover ourselves with the comforts of this life, we ought to risk everything to identify with Jesus before a hostile world.
Augustine wrote in a time where the persecutions of the early church were a living memory.
About the year 1528, Martin Luther took over the pulpit of another pastor in the city of Wittenberg, Germany. The text was Matthew 5-7. So in his weekly Wednesday messages, Luther preached from these two chapters. You should be happy that I will take a mere 3 months to do what Martin Luther took 18 months to do.
Luther’s message was that the preachers of the Gospel need to be committed to both the kind and the rough parts of the Gospel. He said we ought to preach against sin as though we rub salt in a wound. We ought to preach Christ as the Light of the world. Luther preached in a time when the Gospel had been forgotten by the Church in its love of tradition, ritual and political power.
About 25 Years ago, the British pastor and author John Stott wrote a very good book on the Sermon. He says that the Sermon on the Mount contains the most complete description of how Christians ought to live. That in fact we are a Christian Counter-Culture. John Stott said that Salt represents the social involvement we should have in the world. Just as salt is used to stop the corruption of meat, when we make pork into ham, so Christians should do good works to help preserve the culture we live in from sliding further into decay. He said that the Light represents the message of Jesus. We should balance our social concern with a strong commitment to preaching the Gospel of Jesus. This is exactly the kind of thing that Christians were talking about 25 years ago.
So Augustine said fearlessness before persecution. Luther saw boldness in preaching and Stott sees social involvement and gospel preaching in these verses. Each man faithfully sought to apply these verses in his own time. The truth of the verses is not changing, but how they apply does change.
From January to April we will be posting on the “Sermon on the Mount” which is found in Matthew 5-7. This text contains a number of familiar passages such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Golden Rule, the Beatitudes, and much more that is familiar.
This will help us put the Fresh in Fresh Read. Again, our purpose is to read the text freshly, with all the appropriate tools and with care, but ultimately through our own eyes, not through the eyes of previous readers.
So as we begin, pull out the text and read it through. You will find it a passage worth the time to savor.