Matthew 5 Commentary
The Beatitudes | Matthew 5:1-12
Matthew 5:1-12 Commentary
Many unsuspecting Christians approach the Beatitudes as they would a personality test. Though they may not be poor in spirit or pure in heart, they are delighted and relieved when they think that they possess one traits they believe qualifies them for the Kingdom of God. But Jesus is not giving descriptions about those who will enter his Kingdom, but a single description. He is not describing qualities that some of his people may posses and that others will not. Jesus is giving a description of the attributes of the most plain, most ordinary Christian who will spend eternity with him.
The average Christian is humble, but they also mourn over their sin. They are gentle, but they thirst to know Jesus more through the Scriptures. They hunger to do the righteousness Jesus teaches them and they pray with meekness. Christians are a merciful people, but they are also unselfishly caring without an agenda. They are a people who seek peace, but they expect persecution because their character stands so opposite of the world.
Jesus opened his famous sermon describing what his people will look like, must look like, because he was describing himself. Since the Christian has Jesus living inside them, it is only natural that they look like him in every respect. They do not have just one or two of his qualities they have all of them. So the Beatitudes describe the Christian fully and they serve as warning for all pretenders. They are not perfect people. They are not perfectly humble, seekers of righteousness and peace, and persecuted for his name’s sake. But they do possess faith, which slowly leads them down the paths of righteousness that swallows them up, day by day, into Christ’s perfect character. The Beatitudes show the goodness of Christ’s heart and the heart he offers us if we would place our hope and trust in him.
Salt & Light | Matthew 5:13-16
Matthew 5:13-16 Commentary
There is no hope for the world beyond Christ. The Scriptures tell us that the world was made for Jesus and through Jesus and it is completely dependent on him. And Christ is carried around by those who believe in him. They have his goodness, his beauty and his love. They have his peace and joy. They have his Gospel.
If any of Christ’s people were to lose him, they would be like like salt that loses its “saltiness.” They would be worthless and good for nothing and thrown out.
The same is true if his people were to hide his light. Take a light into a completely dark room and it illuminates whatever is there according to its strength. And though some lights do a better job at showing you the contents of a room, even a dim light is far more useful than a burned out or covered light bulb.
While Jesus is preparing for his return, his true disciples are charged with displaying their faith openly and plainly for the world to see. They do this by happily preaching the Gospel and allowing his righteousness to shine out through them. The true Christian cannot hide their joy and love for Christ anymore than sports fans can hide their love of teams or mothers can hide their love of their children. If the Light of Life truly lives inside someone, it will not be hidden. It will always get out.
Jesus’ message here is just as much warning as it is an illustration. Christians must let their light shine from the best spot in the room, the highest point possible. For if Christians do not preach the Word, no one will. If they do not show the righteousness of Christ by their life, then no one will see it. No will be warned of God’s coming wrath. No one will be told of the peace and joy that is found in Jesus. Christians are the means by which Jesus is revealed in world today. They are the hands and feet by which the words of Scripture leap from the pages of the Great Book into everyday life. They alone are the light of the world, and there is no hope for the world without their seasoning and light.
“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.” It is easy to lock onto the last part of this verse and believe that Jesus meant that he set aside the Law so that we could live as we please. It is also just as easy to emphasize the first part of the verse and believe that Jesus meant that we are to strictly adhere to the rules and regulations that fill the pages of the Old Testament. For 2,000 years, Christians have wrestled over what faith and obedience really means – where faith ends and obedience begins or where obedience begins and faith ends. And for 2,000 years we have certainly made a mess of things.
But Jesus favors neither of these interpretations. First, he is emphatic in the passage that the Law will not disappear. The law is eternal because the law reflects the heart of God. Second, Jesus not only praises the law, he says that we must rise above it. We must be perfect as God is perfect .
But if the greatest of all rule keepers fall short of God’s glory, what hope is there for anyone if we must transcend all of God’s rules?
The Law of God was given to show fallen humanity that it can never measure up to God. Only God is able to keep his own rules and only the Godman was able keep them in human flesh. In Jesus, the Law was fulfilled. It was perfectly kept for 33 years and then nailed to a cross; not to abolish it but provide an escape from it by paving a way through it. A way that passes through Jesus himself.
The Law is the cultural norm of Kingdom people. It is the ethical essence of heaven, the ethos of God’s transcendent world.
Faith in Jesus grants us access to this transcendence. In Jesus, we walk into the Law because of the One who fulfilled it. When we become transformed through Jesus by faith we also become transformed to the Law. We do not become rule keepers. We become expressors of the Law, we uphold the law, because it now lives inside of us because Jesus lives inside of us.
A Higher Law | Matthew 5:21-26
All of our sins are the ugly expressions of our root unbelief in Jesus. When we sin, we set in motion our unbelief which stirs God’s anger more than anything. Every sin, great or small, is a willful, rebellious act that is punishable in the eternal realm – a realm where but “a moment” is eternity itself.
But our outward sins are small compared to the sin that lies within us. Our hearts store up and house more sin than even we can imagine. This critical truth is one we need to grasp if we would avoid the same trap the scribes and pharisees had fallen into. Working feverishly to kill our outward sins accomplishes nothing. Like pulled weeds were the root has been left, sins will grow back and flourish unless they are killed from within.
This is why Jesus explained the Law to us as a thing that could not be grasped. Sin doesn’t begin when we let evil things slip out, it is born in our hearts with evil desires. So it is one thing to have the Law tell us what sin looks like in the world, but it was another entirely to hear Jesus then take the Law and elevate it to the feelings and motives of the heart. Suddenly, adultery is not merely sleeping with another man’s wife, it was simply looking at her from a distance and undressing her with your eyes. Murder isn’t simply taking a man’s life through revenge or greed, but wishing him dead in your heart.
Jesus reinforced that his mission was to come and fulfill the law when he sacrificed himself on a cross. His sacrifice demonstrated that through his shed blood an escape for all sins committed under the Law could be found. His work on the cross showed that true righteousness could be grasped through him.
Yet no one will ever take hold of a remedy if they are not first shown the dangers that lurk by ignoring it. And here Jesus unveils the full reach of the Law and the depths of the obedience that it requires. The Pharisees tried to climb these cliffs without so much as a rope. But by faith in Jesus we have a guide who will help us navigate the steep clifs, and who will even carry us when we are weak. Christ see us through the most perilous stretches of te Law that can never be climbed by human will, strength or understanding.
A Higher Law II | Matthew 5:27-37
As Jesus progresses through his Sermon on the Mount, his conscience crippling deconstruction of the law continues. Instead of being told that you must obey the law as the current tradition had taught, Jesus’ teaching so raised the bar that no honest soul on earth could ever boast of their own righteousness again. Beginning with “You have heard it said…”, Jesus recounts the modern interpretation of the most serious breaches of the Law only to suddenly shift to his devastating “But I say…” as he unfolds the unattainable heights of the Law’s demands in order to show his listeners how it condemns everyone.
To the first-century hearer, Jesus’ message must have been astonishing. It’s one thing to restrain oneself from adultery, lying, or taking murderous revenge on one’s neighbor, but it is another thing entirely to be told that the very thoughts of the heart are moral equivalents to the outward act itself. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. To reinforce his points, he goes further, by trying to instill the sense of urgency, fervency and the desperation that one should have in ridding themselves of all sin. To draw attention to the danger, Jesus sprinkles in shocking metaphors about tearing out eyes and sawing off limbs. He grabs their attention by casting down blasphemous superstitions about modern day oath taking and the injustice of the divorce certificate that revealed the hardness of the modern man’s heart.
The Sermon on the Mount proves that Jesus was anything but soft on sin and careless with the requirements of the law. In fact, Jesus was far tougher than his contemporaries – even in the strictest legal sense. And why not? It was God interpreting God’s law. It was God unveiling the depth of his requirements and the heights of his demands.
If any of Jesus’ hearers took these words at face value, while dismissing the hope of the Good News, there would be cause for hopeless despair. Yet this passage represents the heart of the Gospel and the heights of Jesus’ compassion. He is not sugar-coating the Good News for us. Instead, Jesus is elevating its great need by showing how futile rule keeping is one’s own strength. And Jesus is not over-embellishing the serious spiritual danger that his hearers are in, nor is he hiding it. Jesus is trying to bring stiff necks and hard hearts to their knees in order that they might look away from themselves and look to him in faith.
The Law is a necessary light that needs to be shone on us, but it is not a comforter. It can act as a guide or a measuring stick, but it offers us no peace without Jesus. Having Jesus in faith will give us comfort as we read the Law, and it will bring us joy knowing that as we obey it trusting in him it will please him through out faith. But the Law cannot save us without God’s help, and by elevating the demands of the Law, Jesus is trying to show us our futility in trying face the law in our own strength.
Love Your Enemies | Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus’ characterization of the Law has hit its apex. It wasn’t enough to describe the perfect Kingdom worker in a way that no one qualifies, and it wasn’t enough to reveal that the Law condemns the thoughts and intentions of the heart on equal terms with outward actions. Now Jesus has lead us to the summit of the Law’s perfection: loving one’s enemies.
Not being immersed in first-century Judea, it’s hard to imagine the level of hatred the Jews had for the Samaritans, or the contempt they had for the Romans or Gentile pagans living in and around Jerusalem. I suppose in modern terms, it could be described as hating a person of an opposing political ideology, religion or race. But the Jews hatred went beyond our contemporary bigotries or mere theological snobbery. The Jews hatred was on par with the ethnic hatred that plagues the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia today. It was a hatred that spanned hundreds of years and was deeply and culturally ingrained.
Jesus tells his hearers that they must love their enemies in order to fulfill the requirements of the Law, and he reminds them that this is the very heart of their religion. He says that it’s not enough to be simply tolerant, you must love your adversary as you would an old friend, and that you must love your critics as a dear relative. And what’s more, Jesus tells us that you must embrace the insults of your enemies was cheer and welcome their demands by exceeding their expectations.
To a first-century zealot this would have been devastating news. “I have to give double what my enemy asks of me? He persecutes me all day long, then asks me to walk a mile with him, and now I have to go with him two miles? My adversary sues me for my tunic, for no good reason, and I have to give him my cloak as well? Why should I bless this godless pagan who’d just as soon see me dead?”
But when Jesus began recounting that the Father allows the sun to rise and the rain to fall on both the just and unjust, and that to welcome an enemy is to be “perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” Jesus reminds us how we are no better than they and he was describing what the Father has already done for us. As breakers of God’s perfect law, each of us are enemies of the Kingdom of God. God has already shown us undeserved mercy and love, even while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). So in order for us conform to the Law through faith in Jesus, we must love our enemies in the same way we have been loved by God. This is a sure sign of faith, because such a sign shows that the Jesus who loves his enemies happily resides in the one who imitates him by faith from the heart.