Before we start addressing the text itself, I want to spend some time on the Sermon as a whole. It’s Jesus’ longest recorded sermon and, in my humble opinion, chock full o’ good stuff. However some people disagree with the validity of this portion of Scripture. There are several arguments but two of the biggest are:
- Jesus seems to be changing the Old Testament law.
- This seems to be a list of things to do to find life.
Let’s take the first statement: Jesus seems to be changing the Old Testament law. Jesus uses the phrase formula, “You have heard x but I tell you y,” six times (Matthew 5:21-48). The x being something that was considered law in the old testament and the y being Jesus’ new commandment. And if you take this section out of the Bible and read it alone and not in context with anything else, I could see where some people could be critical. It does appear that Jesus is changing the law BUT this is not what Jesus is doing here. In fact, right before this passage of Scripture he says,
“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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 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. (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)
In light that Jesus introduces that section with this disclaimer, if you will, I believe that we are to see him not as changing the law but instead expounding on it. Some Jews, the Pharisees and teachers of the law especially, had made it so important that people keep the law exactly the way it was written that they forgot the spirit with which it was given. I’ll unpack this more when we get to this section of the Sermon but suffice it to say that following the letter of the law without being mindful of the intent behind it is not honoring to God. Here we see Jesus taking the laws and not changing them, but revealing that intent.
The other “problem” some people criticize the Sermon for is that it is a list of works that must be done to gain eternal life. This is problematic because Paul teaches against a works-based faith. Just read the third chapter of Romans and you will quickly learn that works are not a means to eternal life. But I suggest that Jesus isn’t listing a bunch of stuff to do to be saved, rather a person who has been saved does these things out of love for God. No, Jesus does not intend to provide a list of things to perform to get into heaven, rather he describes what a person who has eternal life looks like. So things like praying, fasting, and not worrying aren’t things to do to receive eternal life. It’s what you do because you have eternal life. It would be like me volunteering in a homeless shelter. Doing that isn’t going to get me into the Kingdom of God, but because I am already a citizen of the Kingdom, I want to love on those who are important to God.
So what does all of this mean to me? There will always be someone who disagrees with the validity of Scripture or challenge you on what it says. That is why it is important to educate yourself about these things. Even Satan knows the Bible and what it says. And, btw, God did not give us brains and the capability to reason and think just to throw it aside and accept whatever people tell you. Read the Bible, and study for yourself! Don’t accept the lie that we have to have faith or reason and not both! One of the reasons I love writing this blog is because it forces me to read, research, reread, and think about what I believe! Not everyone needs to write a blog but you should be studying some stuff on your own, just saying’.
Next time we will focus in on the first part of the Sermon itself, the section known as The Beatitudes. I am looking forward to sharing with you what I have learned, which was a lot. Until next time this is…