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THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
When people enter Jesus’ kingdom they enter a new life. They come under the rule of Jesus and, as his disciples, listen to his teaching and put it into practice. Their behaviour is not governed by a set of rules such as the law of Moses, but by the character of Jesus, who wants to reproduce that character in them. The collection of Jesus’ teachings commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount deals with the attitudes, behaviour and responsibilities of those who have come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
37. Citizens of the kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-26)
The section opens with a series of short two-line statements commonly known as Beatitudes (from the Latin word for ‘blessed’). In present-day English ‘blessed’ is probably not as good a translation as ‘happy’ (GNB). Jesus is not making a formal declaration of divine favour, but announcing the true happiness of those who live according to the life of the kingdom. For example, those who humbly acknowledge that they need God’s help in everything will enjoy God’s kingdom, for it was made for such people. In that kingdom there is no room for those who are proudly self-sufficient (Matthew 5:1-3).
Those who sorrow because of the power of sin in the world will have their sorrow turned to joy when they see sin finally destroyed. God will remove the arrogant from the earth and give it as a dwelling place to the truly humble. The people who in the end will be fully satisfied are not those who selfishly pursue their own ambitions, but those who long to do what God wants and to see his will done in the world around them (Matthew 5:4-6).
When people realize the greatness of God’s mercy to them, they will be more merciful to others. In return they will receive yet more mercy from God. If, with a pure heart, they try to please God and not themselves, they will be fittingly rewarded with a vision of God himself (Matthew 5:7-8). God’s children reflect the true character of their Father when they help those who have quarrelled to become friends again. They prove themselves to be worthy citizens of God’s kingdom when they stand for him against wrongdoing, even though they may suffer as a result (Matthew 5:9-10). When persecuted for Christ’s sake they rejoice, knowing that they are thereby united with God’s true people of former days (Matthew 5:11-12).
In contrast to those who put God’s interests first, some people direct all their efforts towards making life better for themselves. They may have much success at accumulating wealth, building a comfortable life and gaining popularity, but that is all the success they will ever have. The future will bring them disappointment, sorrow and eternal loss (Luke 6:20-26).
38. Christ’s people in the world (Matthew 5:13-16)
Salt can be used to preserve food from decay and to give food flavour. Christ’s people should have a similar effect upon the world, as they resist the corrupting effects of sin and help make the world a better place to live. But if they do not discipline themselves to develop and maintain this salt-like quality, they will be of no use for God (Matthew 5:13-14).
The followers of Jesus are lights for God in a dark world. Like a city on a hill they will be noticed by all; like a candle on a stand they will give light to others. Just as a candle is not hidden but is put in a place where it gives light, so Christians will not hide themselves but will live and work in places where they can bring people to know and worship God (Matthew 5:15-16).
39. A right attitude to the law (Matthew 5:17-20)
In a lengthy section that runs through to the end of the chapter, Jesus points out that it is not good enough merely to follow the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. Realizing that people may think he is in some way opposed to the law of Moses, Jesus explains at the outset that this is not so. He does not abolish the Old Testament or overthrow its authority. On the contrary he gives it fuller meaning. He is its goal, and it finds its fulfilment in him (Matthew 5:17-18).
Jesus does not teach anyone to ignore the instruction of the Old Testament, but he makes it clear that even if they keep all the commandments (as the Pharisees claimed to do), they still will not gain entrance into the kingdom of God. Salvation is not by works. The righteousness that God desires cannot be achieved by keeping rules and regulations. It can result only from an inward change that starts with faith and repentance and is developed through genuine love and submission to Jesus (Matthew 5:19-20).
40. Legal obedience is not enough (Matthew 5:21-48; Luke 6:27-36; Luke 12:57-59)
After his explanation concerning right and wrong attitudes to the law, Jesus gives a number of examples. He introduces these examples with statements such as ‘You have heard that it was said in the past’. This is not the same as ‘It is written’. Jesus is not quoting from the Old Testament but from the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. He is not contradicting the law but the interpretations of the law that the scribes taught. In so doing he explains the real meaning of the law and the necessity for more than mere legal obedience. He is not writing a new law, but showing his people that they must have a new attitude. The Jewish religious leaders used the law to govern outward actions, but Jesus wants to control the heart.
In his first example Jesus shows that to refrain from murder is not enough. The spirit of anger and revenge that leads to murder must be removed from the heart (Matthew 5:21-22). Besides controlling their anger, disciples of Jesus should try to make peace with those who are angry with them. Even in worldly affairs an offender would be wise to reach agreement with his opponent quickly. Otherwise he may find himself in worse circumstances by receiving an unfavourable judgment in court (Matthew 5:23-26).
Like murder, adultery is the final fruit of wrong thoughts and uncontrolled feelings. The eye sees, the mind desires and the body acts. Therefore, the eye, as well as the rest of the body, must be brought under control, whatever the cost. Temptation must be cut at the source (Matthew 5:27-30).
Another common sin that resulted from a misunderstanding of the law was divorce. In a time of widespread social disorder, Moses had introduced a law to prevent easy divorce and protect innocent partners (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Certain teachers then twisted the meaning of Moses’ law to allow easy divorce. Jesus rejected such use of the law and referred them back to God’s original standard (Matthew 5:31-32).
Many Jews considered that if, in swearing an oath, they did not use God’s name, they were not bound by that oath. If they swore ‘by heaven’, ‘by earth’, ‘by Jerusalem’ or ‘by the head’ and then broke their oath, they felt no guilt, because such oaths did not use the name of God. Jesus says they should not need to swear oaths at all. Everything they say should be true, honest and straightforward (Matthew 5:33-37).
When Moses laid down a law code for civil governments, he established the principle that the punishment had to fit the crime. ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a scratch for a scratch’ meant that there had to be a heavy punishment for a major offence, and a light punishment for a minor offence (Exodus 21:23-25). But once again people took a legal regulation of civil government and twisted it to suit their purposes. They now felt free to take personal revenge on anyone who did them wrong. Jesus shows that his followers must not demand their rights every time they are wronged, but show loving forgiveness (attitudes that also were taught in the law of Moses; Exodus 23:4-5; Leviticus 19:17-18). The spirit that rules in their hearts must not be the same as that which rules in the code of legal justice (Matthew 5:38-42).
The saying that encouraged Jews to hate their enemies did not come from the law of Moses, as the above Old Testament references clearly show. It came from the traditions of the scribes. God’s people must love their enemies. They are doing nothing exceptional if they love only those who are friends, for even the ungodly do that. The Christians’ example is found in God, who gives rain and food to those who love him and those who hate him. He makes no distinctions, and as Christians follow his example, their character will become increasingly like his (Matthew 5:43-48).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34