So last week I think we really started to hit our stride in this study of Jesus’ very famous Sermon on the Mount and that is really going to continue today. So by this fourth week of the series it’s probably becoming pretty apparent to you that Jesus is really pushing in hard on us and how we live. Jesus has a way of thinking and living that is just completely opposite than the way we humans think and live. It comes out in His teaching, and it also comes out in the way He lived His life while He was on this Earth…which should and hopefully is becoming a big wake up call for those of us inside the church.
I also think last week was good for me, because I was able to be pretty transparent with you about something that has really challenged me over the years… I joked that maybe you guys were just my therapy session last week but I think it’s bigger than that. Last week we talked about the idea that Jesus calls us to be salt and light and if you remember that led me to ask you the biggest question I have when it comes to us Christian’s and those of us inside a church setting today and it’s this…
If Jesus calls us to be salt and light, literally to bring God-flavor and God-light to this world. Why aren’t we doing this? Why does this seem to be the last thing on Christian’s minds when it comes to church? This has been my challenge both as a Pastor’s kid growing up reading the Bible and listening to teaching’s on Jesus and the greater mission we have been called into, and now as a Pastor trying to lead a church where there are expectations on the church to create environments for Christian’s to learn, to have community, to grow…and it creates a tension in my heart that I really struggle with because I do believe there is a place for Christian programming and bible studies, picnics, and the like…but this also to me looks like me bringing my light to the lightest places which wouldn’t necessarily be where Jesus asked me to take my light…I see many inside the church turn inward while just outside our church walls there are people who are dying and going to hell each and every day…and that isn’t ok. So maybe last week was just a therapy session for me, but I think it’s bigger than that and it was my hope that in all we do we would not lose sight of the fact that there are people all around us each and every day who need to know Jesus, the way we know Jesus. Remember how that was worded in the Message version?
Matthew 5:13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. 14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.” MSG
Jesus says, let me tell you why you are here. So I would read that over the years and think that Jesus is literally trying to tell me why I am here, and why is it that we are here according to Jesus Christ? We are here to bring God to those who don’t know Him! This is so clear to me, and the tragedy becomes that this very simple, very popular verse that we see on t-shirts and coffee cups and posters becomes the last thing many Christian’s would ever do. Why? Well because they jump into a church setting and turn inward. Interesting isn’t it? Everything Jesus teaches seems to push us to think and focus outward, if we continue to focus inward we are not doing the very thing Jesus asked us to do which is to be the salt and light of the world. I know it looks good on the poster in our office or on the snazzy t-shirt but this is more than a catch phrase to me it’s Jesus literally saying this is why we are here to be the light of the world.
So here we are four weeks into this series and we haven’t traveled really all that far have we? I mean we have only made it about 16 verses into this sermon! Well today we are going to cover a lot of ground which I’m excited about but before we do, I once again want to remind you of a couple of things.
The first thing that is really important to focus on as we study and personalize this teaching from Jesus is to remember who He is talking to, which takes us back to week one of the series.
Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. MSG
Jesus is speaking very specifically to His followers. He is speaking to us Christian’s. I love the idea that the committed climbed with Him…but I also see this as something to really keep in mind. Jesus is speaking very specifically to us who follow Him…so I would say it this way, He is talking to us church people or Christian’s.
The second thing to remember is that Jesus isn’t really messing around here. He starts by pushing in on us Christian’s hard with 8 statements about being blessed that are very opposite of the way we humans would feel blessed. He talks of pain, of persecution, of adversity and says that all of those things can literally push us deeper into God’s kingdom and allow us to center more and more on Him (and not us)…which would allow us to be blessed in all circumstances not just when we get the new car, or the nice beach house for vacation. We learned as we studied that section just how opposite Jesus thinks.
Then last week we say the third thing to remember. Jesus literally explains that we are here on this planet with a greater purpose than just crossing days off of a calendar until we go party in heaven for all of eternity…we are actually here to take God to those in this world who need Him! So you may be thinking well when does Jesus let up on us who follow Him in this teaching? Well, let’s just say that it won’t be today. Ha! Today we are going to see Jesus press in on the one area that is hardest to receive for so many us. It’s the heart. Jesus will really be pressing in on the heart. So he talks about being salt and light and what that looks like and then he says something very interesting next…
Matthew 5:17 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures — either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. 19 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. 20 Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.” MSG
So let’s stop here and look at some of what Jesus is saying here because it is very important. Jesus starts by saying this in verse 17. I love looking at this verse in the NIV because it comes out even stronger.
Matthew 5:17 “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. NIV
So let’s try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people of this time. They have grown up in a very complicated, rule dominated system of religion. They would have been brought up in it, with rules, traditions, and very customary things to do. So if you think about it, they had a way of doing church. They had a way of worshiping God. And Jesus bursts onto the scene and is literally pushing against all they know and believe. He is pushing against their religious leaders isn’t he? I mean he is in constant confrontation with the religious leaders of that time. He seems to think, and teach so differently…think of how controversial the things Jesus is saying and doing would really be…and what is he telling his disciples here? He is saying, I haven’t come to abolish the Scriptures, I’m here to fulfill it all. WOW! I think this is very important. I often tell you when Jesus tells you why He has come to this Earth we should listen right? Well here we see that Jesus is explaining that He has come to fulfill all that the Old Testament said would happen! This would be big for His disciples to understand. Don’t you think it would be easy for them to think they were a group of rebels who were there to ignore God’s law and do their own thing…nope. Jesus is letting them know why He has come and it wasn’t to rebel against God’s law…but to literally fulfill it…ALL OF IT! I love this in the Message…
“I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. 19 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom.” -Jesus
This is so beautifully written, and it’s important to see. Jesus starts talking about God’s law here, and then He points to the Pharisees, which seems to always be who is in conflict with, but while it looks like He is taking a bit of a cheap shot at them, I don’t think that is it at all. I actually think He is pointing out something important here….and I’m sure He had a little fun hitting the religious nerve again too, but there is something important to see in this verse, because this really starts to raise the intensity a bit here…
(Vs 20) “Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.” MSG
So we talk about these guys a lot right? The Pharisees are the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. These are the guys that Jesus seems to be in constant confrontation with, and well in moments like this it’s pretty easy to see why. But think about who these guys are. They are the leaders who would be in charge of enforcing all the rules of religion from that time…and what is Jesus saying here? We must take God’s law seriously, so seriously that we need to literally do better than the Pharisees at following God’s law, who to the people of Jesus’ time would have been following the rules to perfection, well, atleast from their perspective. So Jesus is pressing in on their religious system pretty hard here and he is building into something that I really want us to be able to grab hold of here today…so Jesus tells us here is not here to abolish the law but to complete it…then He begins to push in on how important it is to follow God’s law…by picking at His buddies the Pharisees some, and then He really goes for it here by going into some of the commandments and literally raising the bar on all of what they would have already known as difficult to follow and live out. So over the next portion of the sermon we see Jesus start to hit these different commandments. You will see a lot of this over the next two weeks, but I want you to see something very important. Remember these followers of Jesus had grown up in a very religious system that Jesus seems to be challenging in so many ways. He then makes a startling statement about fulfilling the law not abolishing it…which may have caused some confusion. And if that didn’t have people wondering what Jesus was up to, this next section must have.
So there is a lot going on here, and we could work our way through this line by line but I want you to see the greater theme going on here from a bigger perspective. Jesus says He has come to complete God’s law. He says we need to be better at following it than even the Pharisees who to the people Jesus is talking to would be the best at following these rules and then He starts working His way through some of the commandments. Basically Jesus makes a bunch of really intense statements here about the law as they know it, and then He raises the bar on it. He makes it even more difficult to follow than what they already would have known to be very difficult. In the NIV he works through them with this phrasing six times he goes with this… “You have heard that it was said ________ but I tell you _______.” This is so interesting. Let’s look at them again here in the NIV…
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. NIV
So if you were sitting on the hillside listening to this teaching this would be the time where you start to get more than a little uncomfortable. These people would have grown up in a religious system and they would have been very aware of the commandments. These rules would not only have made sense to them, but they also would have been the thing that they were constantly working to follow and what does Jesus do? He takes the rules as they know them and makes them even more difficult to follow. So what is that all about! I think this is exactly what we need to be thinking through here today. So imagine growing up in the religious system of that time, and genuinely wanting to commit to and follow Jesus. This would be tough stuff to hear right? I mean isn’t it tough for you and I to hear today? For so many of us we find a list of things to do or not do kind of nice to have right? It makes sense! Just give me the list of do’s and I will do them. Give me the list of don’t do’s and I will do my best to not do them. I think this is where most of us kind of line up with church even today right? Just give me the list and I will do my best to live it out. Then I can stand before the gates of heaven someday and say well I didn’t kill anyone or cheat on my wife. But our spiritual journey is so much deeper than just following a list of do’s and don’t do’s and that is what Jesus is getting at.
He takes things like murder…which most of us are doing a pretty good job of following and what does He say?
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
He takes things like adultery, and we would say we are doing good there but Jesus takes it a step farther…
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Why would Jesus do this? Well this becomes a really important question and something that we need to talk about…Jesus isn’t just interested in outward behaviors. Jesus is interested in what is going on in our hearts. Remember I told you a couple of weeks ago as we worked through ‘The Beattitudes’ that I think nothing caused Jesus more confrontation and arguments with the religious people of His time than this idea of the heart. Internal issues compared to our outward appearances. Remember this one?
Matthew 5:8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world — your mind and heart — put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” MSG
So this is a big deal, and it becomes the real hot button issue between Jesus and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law. They were great at all the external behaviors of religion, and Jesus said that you can’t argue with what they know…their knowledge was great…the issue wasn’t their head knowledge or their religious activity or traditions, they had that stuff down…the issue was their hearts. Over and over and over again Jesus pushes in hard on the religious about what was going on, on the inside.
This is the challenge that Jesus brings to us all. He doesn’t want our spiritual journey to be a robotic follow this rule and you will be good idea…because He knows that we can do everything right in the area of rule following while never seeing our hearts truly changed and that is what matters to Jesus. True life change, where our inside worlds and our outside worlds line up! For so many Christian’s (which remember is who Jesus is talking to in this Sermon on the Mount) we find the rules pretty easy to follow, and we can look the part of a good Christian…but Jesus loves us enough to want us to be deeply and fully transformed from the inside out. This is what it truly means to be His disciple…and why He would say you are truly blessed when your heart and mind are right. It’s one thing to follow rules, it is another thing to have God’s love consuming you and pouring out of you the way Jesus wants for each and every one of us.
I love this about Jesus. Jesus came to this Earth and takes all the complexities of spirituality and simplifies it so that it is very clear, and very simple to understand. I have been saying this to you a lot lately haven’t I? Well while He does make it clear, and simple to understand I actually think it is important for us to look at Scripture like we see today and realize something very important. That Jesus raises the bar when it comes to trying to live this stuff out to a place where it seems almost impossible doesn’t it? And I truly believe that is the point…without Him it is impossible. Jesus says this…
Vs 17 “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. NIV
And then follows out that strong statement by pointing out that we need to be better at following the rules than the people who were best at following the rules…
Vs 20 “Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.” MSG
Then He takes it a step further taking things like murder and adultery and raising the bar on them to a level where it seems really hard to live out…and here’s the point. We can’t live this stuff out without Jesus in our lives. We will not get this done without Him. We need Him to fulfill the law for us. He gets it done we don’t. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? Do you see what this can mean for you and I? Jesus is taking all we look at and know, which is religious rule following, things that stay shallow and on the outside and He is literally introducing a new way to live, and that would be us leaning on and depending on Him to fulfill the very things that He is showing us that we can’t get done in our own strength. He is saying, let me take the weight of life and sin and rules from you. You can’t do this, but I can. I hope you are hearing me because I think this is what it’s all about. Yes we are pursuing holiness each and every day as Christian’s but we can’t live a perfect sinless life on our own. We need Jesus living and active in our lives. We believe in Jesus and ask Him to forgive us and love us. This is what Jesus is doing here, he is taking this whole rule dominated way of living and exposing it, and showing how it can’t work without Him in it. This is all about our great need of God in our lives…which if you think about it, everything Jesus has taught on so far in this sermon has taken us back to us needing and focusing and desiring Him in our hearts. It’s about surrender. It’s about you and I giving Him our hearts which for many is the last thing we are willing to give to God.
So why does Jesus make spirituality so easy to understand yet so hard to live out? Because it proves how much we need Him in our lives. The sooner we get to the place where we recognize this fact the better off we will be.