Please turn with me to Matthew 5:43-48.
We began a few weeks ago with the first section of the Sermon on the Mount, known as the Beatitudes, which describe the traits of a true, born again Christian. Jesus begins his very first sermon by defining what a Christian is. Notice – he doesn’t say, a Christian is a somebody who attends the temple every week, or somebody who never drinks or smokes or curses, one who boycots Disney, or other things that we might equate with a “Christian” in our modern context.
Jesus is not talking about religious life at all. He is talking about a change so deep that you are no longer the same person you once were. Your core, your essence has changed.
v1-12 – describe the blessed life of a Christian
v13-16 – discuss the influence of a Christian in the world as salt and light
v17-48 – talk about the various moral issues, which we will cover today
To me, verses 43-48 are the true litmus test for the type of deep, internal change that Jesus is talking about. Love for one’s enemies is the litmus test – you pass this test, then, you can say, there is ample evidence that I am born again. Or born of the Spirit as a child of God.
We are going to do a broad sweep over the rest of this chapter, v17-48. But our focus will be v43-48. Let’s read those verses.
Verses 17-20 discuss how Jesus came to fulfill the Law or the Prophets from the Old Testament. I think there is considerable misconception between the relationship of the OT and the NT. Did Jesus fulfill the OT law in the sense that he came to replace it? Which means, we don’t really have to teach from the OT because it’s all out-dated, obsolete anyway. Is that what Jesus fulfilling the OT law means? The answer is a resounding “No.” Read v17–
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.”
Then, Jesus goes on to explain how nothing must be removed from the law, even the smallest stroke of a pen, to that level of precision, the Word of God is exactly the way God wanted it to be. No errors, no fluff, nothing unimportant that you can gloss over. The whole counsel of God needs to be studied, Old and New Testaments.
You hear this and a question might come to mind – wait a minute, I thought that Jesus condemned religious-minded, law abiding Pharisees and scribes so why would we be bound to rules from the Old Testament?
This is the question that came to mind as I was studying this section. Jesus did not criticize the Jewish religious leaders for trying to uphold the Law itself. He was critical of their distortion of the Law, their wrong interpretation of the Law which led to some rather self-centered, uncaring behavior. Like being more concerned about keeping the Sabbath law, which is a good thing–resting and focusing on the Lord–yet they were more concerned about not working on the Sabbath than having compassion on someone who was sick and needed help on the Sabbath. This is a distortion of the Law. Or, the importance of holiness from the pagan nations, which is a good thing, but instead of this driving them to be a light to the other nations, this call to holiness became distorted and warped so that Israel grew into a monster who felt pride and superiority over the other nations. This is a wrong interpretation of the Law.
Jesus did not come to replace the Law. He came to interpret the Law correctly. God is the same as he was yesterday, today, and forever more. From the beginning of time until now, He has not changed. Interpretations can change, but the Law itself never changes. Therefore, Jesus came, not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it and to explain it correctly.
This is why Jesus can say in v20 —
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
In the OT law, there are 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions. Certainly, Jesus cannot mean that there is a heavenly point system and we have to score a 230 out of 248, or score higher than the Pharisees in keeping the commandments and prohibitions in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Remember, the key is proper interpretation. Jesus takes the flawed interpretations taught by the Pharisees and He sets before us the correct interpretation and the proper intent of the Law that should have been understood from the very beginning.
I think we will learn something very important by studying for a moment the mentality that led to the distortion of the Law so that we can catch ourselves from falling into the same trap.