**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible. You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts. Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**
Welcome to Lambtheology.com! I am excited to write again after not posting in several days! Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!
Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world. We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus. While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage, we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast. In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today? I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.
Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.
Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time. In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!
Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger. The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc.. To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.
Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.
Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right? We do that all the time!”. After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.” All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust. When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over? It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.
When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first. Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.
The topic of divorce is touchy. We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce. This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take. I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own. With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.
Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous. Why would this be? Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.
In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely. Again, Jesus took it one step further. He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35). We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does. Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken.
It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount. Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.
Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also. Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back. But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar. Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.
Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).
The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives. We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies. What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching? Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?
I’ll leave you with that. I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.
Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us. It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.
Are we willing to follow?
Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds. Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.