Many people are turned away from the law of God because they think it focuses too much on behavior, and they like to think of their religion as coming from the heart only. Well, Jesus rocked their world back then and even ours now by announcing that our behavior AND our motives of the heart are what matter to God. Indeed both seem to be important as we study the Sermon on the Mount this week.
A few years back I felt it might be nice to memorize the Sermon on the Mount; after all, Abraham Lincoln and supposedly many others have done it. But I was surprised to find it takes up three long chapters in Matthew! I’m still working on this little project of mine. But the Beatitudes weren’t too daunting, so I’ve at least gotten that far. Here are the sections of the Sermon, after the Beatitudes, that are left for my attention:
- Matthew 5:13-16 …where Jesus compares Christians to light and salt
- Matthew 5:17-48 …where Jesus reveals a deeper perspective on the law
- Matthew 6:1-7:23 …where Jesus gives us clear teaching on Christian behavior
Then Jesus ends with the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27).
Obviously we will focus on Christ’s teaching on the law this week, found in the latter part of chapter 5.
Key Text: “‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets, I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot, or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.'” Matthew 5:17, 18 NKJV
Other translations render “not an iota, not a dot” RSV, “not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen” NIV. What an emphasis here on not changing the law or Scriptures! Jesus doesn’t leave us any guess work about His feeling about His law and the Old Testament. And if someone says that it was all fulfilled at the cross, they must be forgetting the Second Coming and the heavenly mansions that we will inhabit someday. See John 14:1-3.
Sunday: “One Jot or Tittle”
Aptly, Jesus began His preaching on the law by proclaiming that He had no intention of changing or doing away with the Law or the Prophets, a phrase commonly referring to the entire Old Testament, the only Scriptures up to that time.
Romans 10:4 is a companion text for Matthew 5:17. See how they compare:
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Romans 10:4 KJV
“Think nor that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17 KJV
To me, these verses mean that Christ is the end result and only with Him does the law have meaning and purpose for us. He becomes the fulfillment of the law, when we keep it through our faith in Him. This elevates the law, because it brings us closer to Him.
Let’s continue to look at v. 19 and 20 in Matthew 5:
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” KJV
Last week we looked at how our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes’ and Pharisees’. So, we are looking at two kinds of righteousness, as it relates to the law:
- an empty righteousness that comes from keeping the law apart from God, called self-righteousness
- the full righteousness that comes from keeping it with a heart that loves God and seeks to do His will, referred to as righteousness by faith
Discussion Question: We can see how Christ would be the fulfillment of the law by showing us how it should be kept, but how would Christ also be the fulfillment of ALL Scripture? Read John 5:39 (“Search the scriptures…they are they which testify of me”) and Luke 24:27 (“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets…the things concerning himself”).
Jesus begins with the sixth commandment, a small one and probably one that most of us feel we are beyond ever breaking. “Thou shalt not kill” should be an easy commandment to keep; few of us would call ourselves murderers. And yet, Jesus expanded its meaning to include all our feelings of hatred or ill will against our neighbor. It’s not just the act itself, but the motives of the heart.
Since we serve a God of love, and Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that on love hangs all the commandments, it would make sense that Jesus would begin His sermon with this pivotal commandment. This is His first example of how breaking “one of the least of these commandments” is right on target. Anything not of love, is denying God Himself, “for God is love” I John 4:8.
John, whom Jesus especially loved (John sat next to Him and even leaned on Him at the Last Supper–John 13:23), agreed with Jesus’ assessment of the seriousness of the sixth commandment. I John 3:15 says:
“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” KJV
It may come as a shock to some of us, but Jesus was not preaching anything new or unusual here. It says also in Leviticus 19:17-18 that “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.”
Discussion Questions: Using these texts from the Old and New Testaments, how would you now define murder? Why is it difficult for man to inflict penalties for this expanded definition of the crime?
If sin goes beyond the deed, but begins in the mind, when does temptation become a sin?
How is Jesus implying that we should keep this commandment? It seems beyond our ability to comply with it in our own human condition, so what is the only answer to this dilemma? [We must have God’s help…]
Jesus then takes up the topic of adultery. Once again, a sin that most of us feel we are not likely to find ourselves engaged in. But Jesus includes lusting after a woman (or man) as having committed it already in our mind.
This time, Jesus also gives us a remedy. He says in Matthew 5:29-30:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” NKJV
Anyone who has been caught up in an addiction can relate to this message. That’s exactly how it must feel to break free from the bonds of any kind of addiction–like losing a part of yourself. But it’s really the only way to be free…to stop the behavior, to totally leave the substance behind, and not take it up again.
How in tune Jesus was with the human psyche. It’s only been in recent times that we’ve come to recognize the addictive nature of pornography and sex crimes. Jesus not only has the cure, but He IS the cure for addictions of any kind.
Paul tells us in Romans 7:24-25:
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” KJV
Jesus then goes on in His sermon to mention divorce and the fact that marrying someone who was not truly divorced is committing adultery as well. God’s intent was that marriages would never end; it was only the hardness of their hearts that caused God to permit divorce under certain circumstances. Women in that culture needed male protection; it was their best hope of survival, and that was what Moses was trying to ensure. (Notice that Jesus even requested the disciple John to take care of His mother after His death.)
Discussion Questions: How would plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand be a reference to surrender of the will? How does that surrender relate to addictions? Discuss this quote from Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing:
“The surrender of the will is represented as plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand. Often it seems to us that to surrender the will to God is to consent to go through life maimed or crippled. But it is better, says Christ, for self to be maimed, wounded, or crippled, if thus you may enter into life. That which you look upon as disaster is the door to highest benefit.” ~ p. 61
Wednesday: Promises, Promises…
Our first two antitheses (cases of sharp contrasts) were murder and adultery, directly related to the Ten Commandments. But Jesus doesn’t neglect areas that pertain to parts of the Mosaic law. Divorce and now false oaths are addressed.
Leviticus 19:11-13 reveal a part of Mosaic law that pertains to personal conduct. It tells us:
“Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord. Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.” KJV
Notice how the Ten Commandments are linked here, the third (taking the Lord’s name in vain), and the eighth and ninth ones (not stealing or lying).
Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 5:33-37 about making oaths may seem fuzzy to us, unless we recognize that Jesus is concerned with any intent to deceive, whether it be deceiving God or man. Making promises you have no power to keep is deceptive.
Discussion Questions: How is taking the Lord’s name in vain related to lying and stealing?
What does the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) tell us about the seriousness of these commandments? Why was the punishment from God so severe?
There were also severe punishments for sin when the Israelites were in the wilderness. How do these times relate? [God was very close to them at the start of these two movements for establishing God’s people and sin cannot exist in the presence of God.]
Thursday: Lex Talionis
This is a Latin term meaning “law of retaliation”. The “eye for an eye” principle of justice is one many ancient civilizations utilized. Jesus greatly expanded its meaning though in Matthew 5:38-48, when He talked about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies.
We quickly come to realize that this principle of “an eye for an eye” is actually meant to limit retaliation. Rather than looking for ways to avenge a wrong deed, we should retaliate with kindness. Of course, as with the other themes Jesus preached about, they saw that only the power of the grace of God could make this kind of forgiveness and limited retaliation possible.
Once again, the Mosaic law expressed almost the same sentiments. “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18 KJV
Discussion Question: Jesus’ mandate at the end of this discussion about the law in Matthew 5 is to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” v. 48. How can we be perfect when we are told in Isaiah 64:6 that “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…”?
In a world filled with violent crimes, domestic violence, and child abuse, how does one apply this law of retaliating with kindness and forgiveness, “turning the other cheek”? In other words, just how far are Christians allowed to protect and defend themselves?
Some find it hard to find love in the Law, but Friday’s lesson put it well:
“Love is the binding principle in God’s law. In each of the antitheses, Jesus elevates the principle of love: love keeps a person from harboring hatred toward her sister; love keeps a husband and wife together; love challenges the Christian to be always honest in his dealings with others and God; love allows a person to react in kindness when he has been wronged; and love empowers the individual to treat the enemy as he himself would like to be treated.”
The only way to have this kind of love and perfect obedience is “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” John 17:23 NKJV It has to be Christ working in us. We are one with Him and that makes us “perfect”, as He charged us to be in Matthew 5:48.
Find a neighbor, co-worker, or someone you may have had problems with in the past and try to show them love in a tangible way this week.
Pray for your least favorite person in the world. (even if it’s a person on television or some famous person, but better if it’s someone you know personally)
Remember that God doesn’t care how much we love our friends, but how much we love our enemies!