Matthew 5:17-20: The Law Fulfilled

Read: Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus explicitly proclaims that he did not come to abolish the law, so why is it that Christians are required to give sacrifices at the temple and follow a myriad of other such laws relating to sacrifices, what rituals one should follow to be ceremonially clean, and how the priests were suppose to act? In the same breath, Jesus says that he also came to “fulfill the law”.

So what did Jesus actually fulfill? There aren’t pat answers that can be given to answer this question, but it can be generally addressed by seeing the all the laws in the Old Testament were seen as falling into one or two categories: ceremonially laws and moral laws. Ceremonially laws were seen as those which related to all the ceremonially practices and requirements related to sacrifice, the priesthood, who is and isn’t ceremonially clean, clean and unclean foods, the process for becoming ceremonially clean for various conditions, among many others. The moral laws were those that related to the do’s and don’ts, such as not stealing, not lying, not murdering, and giving the poor, taking care of widows, and being kind for foreigners. All these laws were either dealing with practical and civil relationships between various people or matters of personal holiness. While these two categories exist, there were still some questions lingering in the minds of new believers even after Jesus ascended into heaven. Many new Christians that came out of Judaism, for instance, wanted to maintain portions of the Old Testament law such as circumcision. Large sections of the New Testament, such as much of Galatians, are dedicate to Paul and the other apostles addressing this very issue.

The book of Hebrews unpacks how Jesus fulfills the ceremonially laws by becoming the high priest (Hebrews 7) and being the sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18). It also explains how the temple and the tabernacle were “copies” of things in heaven that pointed to the perfect temple and what it contained. Jesus himself is both the priest forever and one and for all sacrifice, so there is no need for daily and yearly sacrifices, priests to offer them, or temple with its altar to offer them on. In doing so, Jesus fulfills the ceremonially law for all times so Christians don’t have to offer sacrifices anymore. With this being fulfilled, what’s left is the moral laws, and the New Testament has many lists of what one might consider moral right or wrong. Even with much of the New Testament dedicated to helping Christians understand what is and isn’t fulfilled in Jesus in the Bible, it’s not always as crystal clear as one would like to it to be. For instance, some Christians object to tattoos on moral grounds while others do not, claiming that the Law forbade tattoos because of the ceremonially law. Some Christians think that others shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it is rooted in pagan traditions while other Christians don’t have a problem with it. Paul in light of this gives practical advice concerning this conflict in Romans 14, with what has become known as the “principle of conscience”. Paul says to this matter that one should not become a stumbling block to another by trying to impose such morality that isn’t otherwise explicitly addressed on another as being morally binding.

One thing is clear: righteousness does not come from following the law, rather righteousness comes by faith in Jesus. The Pharisees, however, believed that righteousness could come through following the law and made painstaking efforts to abide by the ceremonial law. Their problem was that they were not following the moral laws. Righteousness comes from faith in Jesus, believing that he is the once and for all sacrifice for sin. When one is made clean by Jesus, he or she is freed up to live a life free from the bondage of the Law and bondage to sin and can pursue holiness not as means to obtain righteousness, rather as response to the great love that God has lavished on it all believers. In doing so believers obey the moral laws and love God at the same time!

Lord, you fulfilled the law for me when I could not! All I can do is love your in return!

Matthew 5:14-16: Light of the World

Read: Matthew 5:14-16

The use of light to describe truth and righteousness in is a common thought among virtually all ancient cultures. For his hearers, Jesus is declaring that they were the light bearers that bring light to the world. He uses two metaphors to describe the positions of such people, one being a light on a stand in the middle of the room and one being a city on a hill. Lamps were placed on lamp stands in the middle of a room or house to illuminate the whole room, as most houses in that day and time were one room homes, one lamp was sufficient for the entire home. Likewise, a city was placed on a hill usually because it was easier to defend from an attack, but also gave it high visibility. In ancient Israel, building were made from white limestone that was highly reflective. A city could be seen from miles away even at night because of this. Both of these communicate the idea of high visibility.

Throughout the Old Testament, God wanted to bless Israel so that they would be the light bearers on earth. His purpose was to use Israel to draw all nations to himself. Deuteronomy 28:1 declares that if Israel would obey God’s law, that they would be set high above the nations of the earth. Psalm 67, often times called the “Missionary Psalm”, makes a similar declaration where God would shine on Israel so that the nations would know the ways and salvation of God. This theme is also found in the prophets too. Isaiah on multiple occasions uses the same metaphor of light to talk about God’s salvation being brought to the earth (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 60:3). Ezekiel 36:16-37 describes how God wanted to bless Israel so that his name would be made known among the nations.

For the Christian, the same is true. God wants to use Christians a way of making himself known among the nations. Jesus also calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12). While Christians are not the Christ, they are like him in that they bear his image and spread his truth. The call to actions is twofold then: Christians are not to hide rather to be seen by the world. This is not for the purpose of self-promotion, rather for pointing people to God. Jesus says that the purpose of good deeds was so that people would praise God in heaven, not the man performing the deeds. By doing what is right and good, the world can see God and give him the praise for it.

Lord, help my light shine before all men!

Matthew 5:13: Salt of the Earth

Read: Matthew 5:13

Salt had many uses in the ancient world. It was used to purify food, as a catalyst in fire, as a preservative for food, for the processing of leather, mummification, smelting metals, medicines, and as a way to make food more savory. While salt was a highly useful commodity, it was also hard to come by in some parts of the world so it also made it a valuable commodity. Interestingly, the word salt in English comes from the Latin word for money that was used to pay soldiers, which was salt. The phrase “worth his salt” has its origins in the practice of paying soldiers in salt. It was often widely traded from parts of the world that had a more abundant supply of salt with areas of the world that did not have as much salt. Israel with its proximity to the Dead Sea made it a supplier of salt, where it can literally be picked up off the ground.

The Old Testament underscores the use of salt as a preserving and purifying agent too. The Law prescribed it as an ingredient in sacrifices made to God as symbols of purity (Leviticus 2:13 , Exodus 30:34-38, Ezekiel 43:18-27). Elisha also used salt as an agent in his miracle when he purified water (2 Kings 2:19-22). The Old Testament on a few occasions mentions a “covenant of salt” (Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19, 2 Chronicles 13:5). Given that salt was used daily in food preparation, in sacrifices, and also as a preservative, these covenants of salt were by implication enduring and perpetual covenants that God had made.

When Jesus declares that his hearers are the salt of the earth, it is hard to know to exactly what Jesus was referring. But against the backdrop of the Old Testament he was probably talking about the useful, preserving nature of salt. Jesus adds to this, saying that when salt loses its saltiness, it it is thrown out and trampled in. Salt ancient times had a number of other minerals mixed with it, and when the actual salt was dissolved by water, it would leave a chalky residue, which as the salt without its saltiness. It was discarded because it wasn’t good for anything.

Jesus is saying that people that live according to his ways are like salt in that they have an enduring, purifying, preserving effect on the world, but those that reject his ways are of no use. Christians in light of this are called to be preserving and purifying agents in the cultures in which they live. Often times Christians want to retreat because of the evil around them and isolate themselves from the world, but the call is to be in the world proclaiming the good news of Jesus, doing good deeds (this is the point of the parable concerning light!) , and shaping the culture to reflect Christian values.

Lord, help me to be the salt of the earth where I live!

Matthew 5:2-12: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 3)

Continued from Part 2

  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Looking on God meant one thing to the hearers of this beatitude: death. Nevertheless, here Jesus says that the ones who are pure in heart will be able to see God. Moses asked God to see his glory, but God tells him that no one can look on God and live (Exodus 33:18-23). The ability to be pure in heart is not something at man can do on his own accord, rather requires the forgiveness of God. Isaiah recognized this when he encountered God (Isaiah 6:1-8). He recognized his sin and repented, and it was at this point that the angel touched his lips with a coal that symbolically purged him. In the same way, when one comes to God in a repentant heart, he or she can also see God because God makes the heart pure. This idea is like a hand in glove along with meekness before God, because both require one to be humble and pure for God to exalt them (James 4:7-10).
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. If there ever was an ultimate peacemaker, it is God himself. Psalm 46 describe God as being the one who will put an end to wars and conflicts on the earth even though they are in uproar. In a manner of speaking, those that do the same on a less cosmic scale are like God in that respect when they make help broker peace. James describes selfishness as the cause of strife, yet righteousness begets peace (James 3:16-18). Righteousness comes when one comes to the end of oneself and find God there waiting with arms wide open to with forgiveness to those that will receive it by faith, and peace is made with God (Romans 5:1). When one becomes a Christian, he or she becomes Christlike, who is the Son of God, and help broker peace among men and peace between God and men.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The psalmist in Psalm 140 though feels the expresses great angst because of the wickedness that is being inflicted upon. Yet while he feels this angst, he also understands that God is his strength and refuge. There are a few things in the Bible that are assured, and persecution is one of them. Paul summarily says that all that desire to live a godly life will be persecuted, plain and simple (2 Timothy 3:12). While persecution isn’t easy, there is a reward, and Jesus promises this. James 1:2-5 opens his epistle with a supplication to encourage his readers to press on, because persecution does bring about perfection. While persecution is guaranteed for Christians, it is far better to know Christ and endure for his sake it than to not know Christ. The rewards for it may not be seen this side of heaven, but the benefits can be when one is strengthened in his or her character and ultimately can praise God for it.

Lord, help me to pursue you so I can find happiness!

Matthew 5:2-12: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Meek” is not a common word in modern language, and usually it has the connotation of weak and submissive. Meekness in the context of the kingdom of God though goes right back to the first beatitude about being poor in spirit. This beatitude makes a reference to Psalm 37:11 which contains a very similar phrase. In the context of Psalm 37, the psalmist lays out a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. While the former plots against the righteous, the Lord laughs at them because they are no match for the and the Lord will fight on behalf of the righteous and deliver them. James 1:20-12 has a similar contrast between meekness and wickedness. He says put away wickedness and take on “with meekness” the implanted word, which was made known through Jesus. James injects this quality because meekness stands in contrast to wickedness, which is prideful and selfish. Submission to the will and word of God requires meekness, and these will be the ones who will inherit the “earth” which is a metaphor taken from the psalm as an allusion to the inheritance that was promised Israel but is made available to all those who believe.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Psalm 42 and Psalm 63 describe one who desires to be in the presence of the Lord like one who is dying of thirst in a dry land. They feels as if they are living in a place where God’s presence is removed and and they long to be where it is. Such is the way one who follows God ought to. Righteousness though on one’s own is impossible, and this is what the Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. While is is sufficient for justification before God, one ought to put away sin and desire righteousness as one contends with the two natures this side of heaven, knowing that one day the desire for righteousness will be filled in the kingdom of God.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Hosea’s life is a picture of God’s story of redemption for his people. Hosea takes a wife, but she has an affair that brings children. One of those children is named “No Mercy”. Yet in this, God gives mercy to the one who was called “No Mercy”. God in his righteousness has every right to condemn sinners for being unfaithful to him, but he chooses to give mercy to those that don’t deserve it. Later in the sermon, Jesus speaks to this same truth and applies to those who who forgive others (Matthew 6:14-16). The truth of the matter is that every person owes God more than any single person owes another. Matthew illustrates this with a parable in Matthew 18:21-25, where Jesus describes one with a servant who owed an insurmountable debt that his master forgives, but who is unwilling to forgive a debt that is substantially less to another servant. God wants Christians to model his own mercy, being quick to forgive before condemnation.

To Be Continued…

Matthew 5:2-12: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 1)

Read: Matthew 5:2-12

If one were to ask any random person about what he or she wants out of life, without fail that person will probably give some answer about wanting to be happy. Humanity values happiness, so they pursues it and go through great lengths to find it. The founding fathers of the United States recognized this fundamental value and baked and even used it as a basic premise in the Declaration of Independence as a self-evident truth.

Happiness is also expressed a number of ways in the Bible. The word translated “blessed” in the Greek simply means “happy” and the word “beatitude” underscores this, as it is taken from the Latin word for happiness. Paradoxically though, the beatitudes in many cases describe circumstances that seem contrary to what one might consider an intuitive pathway to happiness, like mourning and persecution. While the word “blessed” simply means happy, the kind of happiness that Jesus is trying to teach about here is not conventional happiness, rather happiness in spite of adversity because the happiness does not come from the circumstances, but from the things of God. The beatitudes of Jesus are a collection of sayings about happiness, but they each stand on their own. The understanding and application of each one of these then should follow suit.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Being “poor in spirit” is not to be understood as being lacking in spirit, rather one who comes to God with no perceived righteousness of his or her own. Isaiah 61:1 speaks to those who are in a similar state. When such people have nothing to offer God spiritually, then God has everything to offer them and they can receive it. This is why the promise to the poor in spirit is the kingdom of heaven. To be a Christians, being poor in spirit is a virtually requirement: one has to realize that he or she has nothing to offer God in way of his or her own righteousness rather one depends on the righteousness of Jesus which is imbued on believers at the moment they trust Jesus for salvation. Jesus himself says that unless one must become like a humble child to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4).
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Again, Isaiah 61:2-4 speaks to those who mourn. The mourning here is for the great loss of Jerusalem that was torn down. The promise though is that the “ancient ruins” will be rebuilt, a promise of restoration and future glory that will come. A similar theme is found in Isaiah 40:1, where the prophet declares “comfort, comfort” to the people. This same chapter is applied to John the Baptist who is the voice calling out in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. The comfort the hearer finds in the restoration of life toward the end of the chapter where exaltation and limitless strength and vigor are found (Isaiah 40:28-31). James 4:9-10 echos this idea of those who mourn being exalted. While this verse certainly has application to those who mourn the loss of a loved one, the more pointed application is for those who see the evil and destruction world such as abortion, racism, starvation, poverty, homelessness, sickness, orphans, and refugees, and mourns for the world because it isn’t right. Such people God will comfort because he is bringing redemption and restoration with the kingdom.

To Be Continued…

Matthew 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29: The Wise Builder

Read: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous sermons of all times and the most well known texts in the Bible, chock full of nuggets and saying that are immediately identifiable with Jesus. Categorically speaking, the Sermon on the Mount is wisdom literature similar to the Old Testament genre exemplified by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job. Wisdom literature was seen as a commentary on the Old Testament law that helped one live out the Old Testament law “skillfully”. In fact, the Hebrew for wisdom mean just that: skillful. Jesus ends the Sermon with a parable concerning two men, one foolish and one wise. The wise man builds his house on the rock and it stands while the other builds his house on sand. Jesus likens the rock to his teachings, saying the one who puts into practice what he says is wise and his house (that is his life) will stand against the metaphorical storms.

Matthew notes that what got people’s attention in the sermon though was the way he taught. Traditionally, the scribes would make lengthy appeals to respected rabbis in their sermons to give authority to the message. Jesus was not appealing to anyone else, rather something entirely different. He says a number of times “You have heard…”, then follows it with “But I say…” (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:27, Matthew 5:33, Matthew 5:38, Matthew 5:43). Jesus was speaking against many of the traditions that had been given to the people by the scribes and he was doing so on his own authority.

One of the struggles in the Sermon though is the relationship of the Sermon to the Law. Some of what Jesus says seems to abrogate what the Law says while other things he says seems to uphold to the Law in its entirety. Knowing that this tension exists, it is probably best to handle each topic in the Sermon on a case-by-case basis with full understanding that Jesus himself says in the Sermon that he came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). A close examination will show each in light of this statement and how the it applies to the life of the believer today.

The Sermon and the closing remarks on the sermon echo the Old Testament of how righteousness leads to a fruitful life. Psalm 1 speaks to one who meditates on the Law being as one planted by a stream and all that he does prospering. Christians therefore do well to understand the Sermon and how it relates to the Law and apply to their lives so that they may prosper and be like the wise builder!

Lord, let me build my life on what you say!

Matthew 4:12-25: Only One Gospel

Read: Matthew 4:12-25

Matthew invokes Isaiah 9:1-2 as being fulfilled by Jesus’ itinerant preaching ministry. Jesus travels through the regions that were historically occupied by the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali and adds how Jesus will honor the “Way of the Sea”, the gentile Galilee, and beyond the Jordan – all places that Jesus had been. Matthew 4:25 lists the first century names of the places that the Isaiah prophecy lists. Jesus’ fame spread the more broadly he traveled and the people, both Jews and gentiles, came from all over to hear him preach and be healed of their infirmities.

Matthew notes that Jesus preaches the same gospel as John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2). This message is what Matthew also calls the “gospel of the kingdom” in verse 23. In a manner of speaking, this is showing that Jesus’ message and John were preaching about the same thing, which was about the coming Messiah. The main difference was that Jesus is the Messiah and John was his prophet. Interestingly, interspersed between summary statements about the message that Jesus was preaching is the calling of the first disciples. Here, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James (John’s brother), and John to be his followers, and he declares that he will make them “fishers of men”. They too would become evangelists in the same manner as Jesus and John were. The fulfillment of this is seen in the book of Acts and even beyond Acts as the gospel has been carried to the ends of the earth.

The unity of the message that John and Jesus preached is also underscored by the message that Paul preached too. In Galatians 1:6-24, Paul says there is but one gospel, and Paul himself claims to have received this gospel by direct revelation from Jesus himself before he started to preach. He later came in contact with Peter and James (Jesus’ brother), two of the leaders in the church in Jerusalem. Paul preached this gospel for 14 years then went back to Jerusalem where Peter, James, and John all affirmed the gospel that Paul preached and appointed him as the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter and John were both present that day when Jesus called them from fishing and heard him preach the same gospel John did (Galatians 2:1-10).

The biggest difference between what John preached, what Jesus preached, and what the apostles went out and preached was tense: John was looking forward to the Messiah, Jesus is the Messiah, and the apostles were looking back Jesus. In all cases though, they were all looking forward to the second coming of Christ when Jesus will come in glory, as Isaiah proclaims in Isaiah 9. He will be on David’s throne and will be given titles of honor and praise like “Prince of Peace” and “Wonderful Counselor”. Christians today are in the same boat as the apostles were, looking back to Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. If one is a Christian, then one is a “fisher of men” who is a gospel proclaimer sharing the same message that has been passed down through the ages and the future of hope eternal life. Christians thereby should be about the task of fishing for men so that even more can come to know the one gospel Jesus proclaimed and be saved!

Lord, make me a fisher of men!

Matthew 4:1-11: Temptations

Read: Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus’ temptation is an interesting episode in the scriptures. This sojourn in the wilderness is in many ways in keeping with Matthew’s theme of showing that Jesus is the Messiah. He us fulfilling all reghteousness and obedience here by doing what Israel could not do while they were in the wilderness.

First, Satan comes to Jesus while Jesus was in the wilderness fasting for 40 days, which resulted in hunger. Satan tempts Jesus with food to appease his hunger, but Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In the context of Deuteronomy, Moses is reminding Israel of the testing that they went through in the wilderness for 40 years after the Exodus. God used this time to shape Israel such that they realized in their humility that they were utterly dependent upon God for their well being – even something as simple as food. It was God that provided manna everyday for Israel. When Jesus came to earth, he submitted himself to the will of the Father and became obedient to God’s will (Philippians 2:1-11). While he was more than capable of turning stones to bread, he chose not to out of a desire to remain humble.

For his second temptation, Satan tempts Jesus by taking him to the pinnacle of the temple to where he says that Jesus should throw himself off so that the angles would catch break his fall. This time though, Satan quotes from Psalm 91, which speaks of God as a refuge and how God will protect those who love him. Jesus replies again quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16. The context here follows from where Jesus previously quoted on the second temptation about worshiping God alone. Here, Moses is reminding Israel not to test God as they did as Massah, where they grumbled against God because they had no water. God miraculously provided water from a rock for them (Exodus 17:1-7). Satan was correct in quoting from Psalm, but he twisted the scripture, wanting Jesus to demand that God do a miracle instead of resting in God’s providential care.

For his third, Satan takes Jesus to a high place and shows him all the kingdoms of the earth and says that he will give them to Jesus if Jesus were to bow down and worship Satan. Here, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13, which speaks of the jealousy of God for his people. He commanded the exclusive worship of the people of Israel. The irony of the situation is that Jesus is divine, and would one day rule the nations (Revelation 21) and Satan would be subjugated (Revelation 20:7-10). The temptation here again is showing the humanity and humility of Jesus. Jesus refused circuit what would be his anyways after his death, burial, resurrection and ascension so that he could fulfill his mission and defeat death and Satan and redeem humanity.

Jesus was tempted in every way that Christians today are. And because Jesus was tempted, he is able to empathize with all humanity, yet he did not sin This makes Jesus the perfect great high priest that can help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). James 4 speaks to sin among believers and says that the remedy for it this is submission to God and resisting the devil. This is precisely what Jesus did: he stayed humble and obedient to God and Satan was unable to gain a foothold. With Jesus’ help, believers can overcome temptation and do so triumphantly. To do this though, when needs to know what God’s word says concerning sin so that when temptation does come ones way, he or she will not fall prey to temptation (Psalm 119:11).

Lord, help me to stay humble and obedient so that I may resist temptation!

Matthew 3:13-17: “To Fulfill All Righteousness”

Read: Matthew 3:13-17

Up to this point in his Gospel, Matthew has been building a case for Jesus based on who he was and where he came from with a particular emphasis on prophecies. Here, Matthew switches to Jesus’ adult ministry and life with his baptism being the first episode in the gospel with Jesus as an adult. It serves as a bookend to Jesus’ ministry, with the other bookend being the Great Commission. The connection between Jesus’ baptism and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is uncanny. In both texts we see a reference to obedience, all members of the Trinity, and a reference to baptism. When Jesus starts his ministry, he comes to John asking for baptism of repentance, rather so he could “fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was to save people from their sins, but in order to do so he had to do what they could not: live a perfect life in obedience to the law. The first act of obedience that is recorded in Matthew is baptism. Jesus had nothing to repent of, but it serves to show that he was in submission to the will of the father willing to do deeds in accordance with righteousness.

A key difference here though is that all the members of the Trinity are present at the event. Jesus is being baptized, the Spirit is descending like a dove, and the Father is speaking from heaven. The Father’s statement by themselves underscore Jesus ministry if nothing else won’t. These same words are spoken in Matthew 17 at the transfiguration of Christ which Peter also recalls in his 2 epistle (2 Peter 1:17). The transfiguration account however tags the remarks with “Listen to him”. In both instances though, the Father is acknowledging the Son before people so that they too will listen to Jesus and his message of salvation.

When Jesus ended his ministry on earth, he was not one under authority, rather one with all authority. He acknowledges this fact in verse 16 in the Great Commission, then offers a command for his disciples to make disciples of all nations. Jesus is commanding the disciples to teach others to obey the commands that he had them to follow. The same commission goes out to all those that followed too. Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 tells Timothy to teach what he had learned to others who could teach it. By implication, there are 5 generations: Those that taught Paul, Paul himself, Timothy, those that Timothy would teach, then those who who be taught by Timothy’s learners. Christians today stand on the authority of Christ and are commanded to do no less than the disciples did: make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey the things God commanded, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Lord, all authority has been given to you so help me to obey you by making disciples of all nations!

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