First, in personal life, we are to examine ourselves. Examine? I thought we were to never doubt, never question and always have faith. I have assurance of salvation. I cried in junior high during a retreat so I’m set. Why do I need to examine? Because our heart is deceitful. We can be sincere, but we can be sincerely wrong. And when it comes to heaven and hell, this is one examination you don’t want to fail. Countless times in these 3 chapters, Jesus gives us concrete verses that we can use to examine ourselves, to put our lives up against the mirror of God’s Word, to see if we are truly in the faith.
Turn with me to chapter 5:3. The Sermon on the Mount begins in chapter 5 with the Beatitudes. Jesus begins by defining what a Christian is. A Christian is one who possesses certain personal traits and relational traits.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit… [personal trait]
4 Blessed are those who mourn… [personal trait]
5 Blessed are the meek… [relational trait]
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… [personal trait]
7 Blessed are the merciful… [relational trait]
8 Blessed are the pure in heart… [personal trait]
9 Blessed are the peacemakers… [relational trait]
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… [relational trait]
How does your life stack up to these verses? Faithful attendance at church is important. Increasing in Bible knowledge is important. Serving others with greater regularity is a great thing. Growing in your commitment to others in a community of faith is good. But, these are not the measuring stick of authentic faith in Christ.
Instead, is there a growing sense of your own spiritual poverty? A humility. A brokenness. A spirit in you which says, I’m running on empty, I’m poor, I’m bankrupt. Jesus, if you don’t fill me today, I might not make it. Or, do you have everything figured out. You always have all the right answers. You never had a bad day in your life.
Related to this, do you mourn today more than you did when you were first saved? Do you mourn over personal sin more today than you did when you first began to follow Jesus? Do you mourn over the brokenness that you see in the world, the brokenness in the person sitting right next to you at school or work or someone within your family? Or, have your tears dried up?
Has your hunger and thirst for righteousness grown over the years that you have been walking with Jesus? This relates to personal righteousness and personal holiness, to be in right standing before God. But this also relates to a desire to see God’s righteous ways expressed in the world–his justice, fairness, equality, do you want the world in which we live to reflect who God is, His ways and His character? Do you care about things like inequality and poverty and racism in the world or are those things irrelevant to you as long as your little cocoon of a life is going well?
Are you pure in heart? Pure in terms of morality. But also pure in terms of being single minded and focused in living for God, having no other agenda in your life than to see God’s glory, having no other gods before the one true God. No idols. You’ve put all your eggs in this one basket called faith. Or do you have backup plans, alternatives, Plans B and C if this faith experiment doesn’t work out? If so, then, you lack purity of heart.
Put these words of Jesus into practice. Examine your personal life. Also, examine your relationships. Are you meek, are you merciful? It’s hard to know if you are meek or merciful when things are going well and people are nice to you and you are well respected. But when someone wrongs you, or mistreats you, or slanders you, or persecutes you, through your reaction to them, you get to see who you really are. You get to see what lurks beneath the thin veneer of civility. If you are a victim of wrongdoing and you can still be meek and merciful, then you’re truly meek and merciful.
Are you a peacemaker? A peacemaker when it comes to lost sinners who need to hear the gospel. But also a peacemaker with other Christians whenever there is a conflict. Our reactions and our responses often reveal what’s inside our hearts. How did you respond when you were persecuted? Did you lash out, did you say, well, forget you, good riddance, I never liked you anyway! Put these words of Jesus into practice. Examine your relational life. Would others call you meek and merciful? Not just your friends, but would your enemies call you meek and merciful? You might get a more accurate assessment about yourself from your enemies than your closest friends.
Starting in v17, Jesus further instructs us to examine ourselves regarding the Law. Jesus didn’t come to replace the Law or to abolish the Law. Rather, he came to fulfill the Law. Meaning, nothing can be added to what has been written down already, nothing can be taken away, not a letter, nor even the smallest stroke of a pen should be ignored because every single thing in Scripture will be accomplished just like it says. There are many things in Scripture that we don’t understand, but one day, all will be explained. And I’m sure our jaws will drop. No way, Lord! Wow, is that what this verse meant. It’s going to awesome when he explains everything to us on that day.
In the midst of these verses, Jesus makes a startling statement 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.
We read that and think, how is that possible? The Pharisees obeyed the law to the tee and we are supposed to surpass them? And herein Jesus is giving us insight into the power of true conversion. You can change the outside of a man. You can clean him up. You can moralize a man. Give him some rules to follow and with some help from a strong community and with a decent amount of willpower, you can turn someone into a religious person who doesn’t swear and who gives money to the poor. It’s not that hard to modify one’s behavior. Put him in the right setting and give him enough incentive and we can all change our behavior.
But authentic faith leading to salvation is something entirely different. It’s a change from within. A change so deep that the righteousness that flows out from one’s life is qualitatively different from that of a religious person.
Jesus gives several examples. The example of following the law, do not murder, in v21. Instead, we are not to be angry. Because anger is the root which leads to murder. Which one is harder to obey? Do not murder or do not be angry? I doubt if there are any murderers in this room. If there are, we welcome you in the Lord and I am a black belt and I have a bodyguard named JohnU in the balcony so be warned. It’s obvious–not being angry is infinitely harder to obey than do not murder. Put this into practice. Do you have a temper? Do you find yourself getting angry easily?
Jesus gives another example. The law says, do not commit adultery, in v27. Not being an adulterer is doable. But have you lusted? If so, then you are a lawbreaker, you’ve sinned. Because lust is at the root of adultery. Put this into practice. Examine your heart.
Third, the law says, if you want to divorce, all you need to do is to give your spouse a certificate of divorce in v31. The law regarding divorce is very open. As long as you have a sheet of paper, you’re good. You can divorce, but it doesn’t say why the husband filed for a certificate in the first place. Maybe he got tired of his wife, she put on some pounds or she burnt the manna toast for breakfast, it could be anything. Maybe he wanted a newer, younger wife, or maybe he wanted an upgrade, any number of reasons could have been given. But Jesus raises the bar in v32 – you may not divorce except under one circumstance–in cases of marital unfaithfulness, then you may divorce, but no other reason is valid.
Fourth, the law of keeping oaths. The law says you only have to keep oaths made before the Lord. But Jesus says, keep all oaths that you made with anyone, not just the ones you made before the Lord.
Fifth, in v38, the eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth law regarding harm done unto you. You lost an eye or a tooth, then you have the right to inflict the same damage on the person who hurt you. That’s not hard to obey. If you’re the victim of violence, then go and be violent in return. Have at it. This allows for our primal, human instinct. But Jesus says in v39–
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. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Being violent is so natural. Being angry is so natural. When someone takes out an eye, we want revenge. We want to get even. But getting even is not satisfying enough. If we lost one eye, then we want to take out both their eyes and knock out all their teeth and then why not wipe out their entire clan in the process? We want to stick up for ourselves. We don’t want to be wimps, yet according to Jesus, true courage and true strength is having the ability to seek vengeance but choosing not to. That’s true strength.
Are you seeing a pattern? Observing some of the law literally, at face value, is possible, it’s doable. But obeying the commands of Jesus are impossible on human effort. Because he is getting at the root, the basis for why these laws were put into place. Obeying these laws all the way down to its root requires a deeper work of transformation in our hearts.
v43 – we are to love our neighbor. No one would argue about this, but the second half of the verse is a distortion. Nowhere in the Bible does it give us permission to hate our enemy. In fact, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, even if our neighbor happens to be our enemy. Loving a friend, a family member, a loved one, loving someone whom you like and who loves you in return, that’s easy. You don’t have to be a Christian to demonstrate a love like that. But to love an enemy requires love that can only come from the Holy Spirit. It requires a Spirit-generated love for an enemy, which is only possible when we realize the immense debt that we have been forgiven by God through Christ’s death on the cross. And so when an enemy wrongs us, we actually have the roominess of heart to forgive that person. The same way Jesus forgave us while we were yet enemies of God.
Put these verses into practice and you will realize that these are not simple things that we can check off a list. It’s not like, did you go to church? Check. Did you read your Bible? Check. If you sincerely meditate on these verses and try to put them into practice, you will quickly realize that you can’t do it on your own strength. You will be forced to go to Jesus in brokenness. To wrestle at the foot of the cross with your own desire to take matters of justice into your own hands and punish others. You will have to wrestle with a heart that is quick to lash out but extremely slow to forgive. You will have to die to yourself as you put these words into practice. In your humility, you will ask the Holy Spirit for help because you acknowledge that only He can change you from the core.