This week we arrive at Jesus’ first preaching scene in Matthew chapter 5.
(If you are now joining in this study you can read Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1 here).
So far we have read about Jesus’ ancestral background in chapter 1, birth in chapter 2, baptism in chapter 3 and preparation through Satan’s temptation in chapter 4. As chapter 4 ended Jesus already accumulated a crowd of followers. Now as we begin chapter 5 the crowds remain and Jesus decides to go up on a mountain to teach. This would have made it easier for the crowds below to hear Him as His voice would be carried downwind.
Last week, we talked about the goal of repentance in both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ preaching.
This week we read about Jesus’ approach in bringing people to repentance.
And Jesus’ message is quite different from what other teachers or rabbis were teaching the Jews.
He doesn’t begin with a methodical rule-keeping seminar or a briefing of the Torah. He doesn’t begin criticizing those who break the law. He doesn’t extol them to try harder and do better. He doesn’t do any of this.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth are encouraging affirmations over the people. Jesus declares, “blessed are those who…for they will…” in verse 3 -11, reassuring those who follow God wholeheartedly of a future hope amidst their current situation. Promising the kingdom of God. Promising access to God.
However, this opening pattern of blessing and promise affirmations isn’t meant to ease the crowd into complacency or self-assurance but rather to set the tone for what Jesus is about to teach.
Jesus reminds the crowd of a future hope in God before He drops the weighty realization on them that the law cannot save them.
He continues to encourage His listeners, comparing their roles to the functions of salt and light in verses 13-16. Jesus declares “You are the salt of the earth…” and “You are the light of the world…” in verses 13 & 14, reaffirming their identity in God so that it may work for the benefit of others and to God’s glory as it says in verse 16 (emphasis mine). So from the beginning in verse 3 all the way to verse 16 Jesus preaches words of encouragement, blessing, comfort, identity, and affirmation over the crowd.
Then in verse 17 Jesus’ tone shifts.
After encouraging them with all of these affirmative blessings of a future hope He addresses the problem of the law.
Initially, He transitions by telling the crowd that He has not come to abolish the law or the Prophets in verse 17, but has come “to fulfill them.”
So if I’m trying to read Jesus’ words in the way that a 1st century Jew would have heard it, this is the point in the sermon where my questions are starting to get answered. A 1st century Jew would’ve been listening to Jesus’ message wondering why Jesus had not yet mentioned the law in His teaching. Why is He going on and on about blessing and salt and light…why isn’t He telling us how we can be a better Jew like all of the other scribes and teachers, one might have thought.
But this is why Jesus is so different.
While He does mention that the law must be respected and that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” in verse 18, Jesus has not come to endorse the law. This is not His purpose.
Jesus has come to illuminate the ineffectiveness of the law to produce what the people think it will produce.
Jesus has come to teach the people that the law cannot save them.
Jesus has rather come to fulfill the law.
Before when I used to read this passage I would be confused with this wording of Jesus fulfilling the law. I don’t understand how a law can be fulfilled because I usually think of a law as something already clearly mandated and complete without any room for variance. It makes more sense to say that a hope is fulfilled or a dream fulfilled or a promise fulfilled…but a law fulfilled? It doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. But as I keep reading in chapter 5, I’m starting to get what Jesus is saying. There is a need for something more than the law.
This law that was given by God to Moses could not save Israel and was never meant to. I’ve been reading from Genesis to Deuteronomy in class and we’ve been seeing how Israel clearly manifests the need for a new heart. So while Israel has the law, it is not producing righteousness in them at all. It’s not cultivating a heart change at all. Rather, the law illuminates their inadequacies and inability to do anything right. So the whole point of the law was not to make Israel righteous but was rather a means by which to keep them separate from all of the other nations so that God could bless the world through Israel, this chosen people.
So now as Jesus has come on the scene in Matthew’s gospel, this is the point in the whole story of the Bible where we finally have some hope for the law becoming profitable.
Jesus has come to fulfill the law, meaning that He will complete what the law is lacking. He is the one that changes the game. He is the one that fixes the problem of the law. Now this phrasing is starting to make more sense. Jesus will render righteousness where the law could not. Jesus will save where the law could not. What a relief.
Instead of endorsing law-keeping for the pursuit of righteousness like the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus plainly states that one’s righteousness must “exceed” that of the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven in verse 21. What an incredibly high expectation. Nobody would have been to achieve this. Nobody would have understood how to go about pursuing it. And Jesus knows it. Yet He doesn’t stop to explain how this is actually accomplished. At least not yet. Rather He goes on to confront the root of sin from verse 21 through the end of the chapter 5.
Jesus knows what He’s doing. Before He provides the solution for their sin, He reveals to them just how sinful they really are by uncovering the wickedness beneath their transgressions of the law…the sin within the heart.
Jesus teaches this through a series of “You have heard…but I say to you…” statements from verses 21-45.
With each statement He reminds the crowd of what they have been taught not to do, but then challenges them to consider the heart as the real law-breaker. In other words, what they have previously heard has not penetrated their hearts. Jesus wants them to hear His words now because His words have come to fulfill the law in a way that the law by itself could not. They need to hear afresh. And Jesus has come to open their ears to this message so that they might repent.
He points out that the heart cultivates an unseen sinful thought, emotion or reaction and is just as faulty as the visible transgression. Through this repetition of “You have heard…but I say to you…” statements, Jesus helps them to realize just how impossible it is to keep the law. And how imperative it is for them to hear His words over the words of everyone else. And He is making it more and more clear with every statement, as He addresses the outward sinful act and the inward, sinful root. Jesus digs down beneath the sin to reveal the heart issue beneath every sin. He reveals that it’s not behavior that matters…it’s the heart. The heart steers. Behaviors and actions are just a manifestation of what’s in the heart.
And through this Jesus is revealing the reality of mankind’s problem: we are polluted by sin and we can’t achieve righteousness through the law.
Yet Jesus demands perfection as verse 48 says, “You therefore must be perfect as Your Father in heaven is perfect.”
When I’m reading this, I’m thinking how is it remotely possible to be perfect in light of what Jesus has just preached? How can we be perfect if we have to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and must be sure to eradicate every sneaky sin that pollutes our hearts? But I think this is the point Jesus wants His listeners to reach.
Jesus wants the people to stop and realize the severity of their sinful condition in contrast with God’s holy expectation of perfection.
Hearing Jesus teach, I think many of the listeners probably understood for the first time how the law could not save them. After a whole life of keeping the law, and hearing the scribes and teachers of the law teaching them how to try and be perfect by following all of the rules, this would have been monumental to realize that all of the rules are meaningless…and that righteousness through the law is a vain pursuit. Nobody was teaching this. It was only Jesus.
Jesus was helping the people to reach this point, where they started to develop a desire to know the solution for sin. Their ears were being opened. Their hearts were being made receptive to Jesus’ message. And as Jesus keeps preaching, doing miracles and talking with people in this gospel, we see the ones who come to Jesus and respond out of this desire. They repent and know that they need a solution for their sin.
Jesus claims to be the solution to the problem. And we will see how He backs it up. Through what He does and the role He assumes in swallowing up the wrath of God, righteousness is made possible for the Jews and for everyone else. Through faith. Through Christ. By God. We will read about this towards the end of Matthew.
Let us soak up these words of Jesus Christ as recorded by Matthew in chapter 5 of this gospel. May we read carefully and try to understand His message in light of the day it was preached and the purpose of Christ to cultivate hearts of repentance. May we get to know Jesus better, seeing His love for people and His unique balance of gentleness and boldness to both encourage His hearers and challenge their hearts.
Summary of Matthew 5
Jesus sees the crowds and goes up on a mountain, (near the sea of Galilee and Capernaum but the exact location is not specified); His disciples follow Him up on the mountain; Jesus begins to teach the crowds employing many “Blessed are the…for they…” statements; Jesus teaches the crowds utilizing metaphors of salt and light as how they are to be in the world; Jesus teaches that He has not come to abolish the law given to the Jews from God, but rather has come to fulfill the whole purpose of the law; Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven; Jesus teaches the crowds on topics of murder, anger, adultery, lust, divorce, oaths, revenge, and love while utilizing many “You have heard…but I say to you…” statements, getting to the root and purpose underneath God’s laws; Jesus teaches them that they are to be perfect just as God is perfect.
Jesus in Matthew 5
Jesus sees the crowds (v. 1)
Jesus goes up on a mountain (v. 1)
Jesus sits down (v. 1)
Jesus’ disciples follow Him up on the mountain (v. 1)
Jesus sets the example (v. 1)
Jesus leads (v. 1)
Jesus teaches the people (v. 2)
Jesus blesses the poor (v. 3)
Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (v. 3)
Jesus blesses those who mourn (v. 4)
Jesus promises comfort to those who mourn (v. 4)
Jesus blesses the meek (v. 5)
Jesus promises the earth as an inheritance to the meek (v. 5)
Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v. 6)
Jesus promises satisfaction to those who hunger and thirst for rightness (v. 6)
Jesus blesses the merciful (v. 7)
Jesus promises mercy to the merciful (v. 7)
Jesus blesses the pure in heart (v. 8)
Jesus promises seeing God to the pure in heart (v. 8)
Jesus blesses the peacemakers (v. 9)
Jesus promises the name “sons of god” to the peacemakers (v. 9)
Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness (v. 10)
Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven to those who are persecute for righteousness (v. 10)
Jesus blesses those who are reviled and spoken of falsely by others (v. 11)
Jesus exhorts those who are reviled and spoken of falsely to rejoice (v. 12)
Jesus exhorts those who are reviled and spoken of falsely to be glad (v. 12)
Jesus promises a great reward in heaven for those who are reviled and spoken of falsely (v. 12)
Jesus reminds them that the prophets who came before them were also persecuted (v. 12)
Jesus proclaims to the crowd that they are the salt of the earth (v. 13)
Jesus proclaims to the crowd that they are the light of the world (v. 14)
Jesus commands them to shine before others (v. 16)
Jesus wants their light to reveal their good works (v. 16)
Jesus wants their light to point others to God (v. 16)
Jesus wants their light to bring glory to God (v. 16)
Jesus has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (v. 17)
Jesus has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (v. 17)
Jesus tells them that the Law will not pass away until all is accomplished (v. 18)
Jesus discourages taking these commandments lightly (v. 19)
Jesus discourages teaching others to take these commandments lightly (v. 19)
Jesus encourages doing these commands (v. 19
Jesus encourages teaching these commands (v. 19)
Jesus promises those who do and teach these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (v. 19)
Jesus declares that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter in to the kingdom of heaven (v. 20)
Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you shall not murder” (v. 21)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “you must not be angry” (v. 22)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “you must not insult” (v. 22)
Jesus uncovers the root of the offense (v. 22)
Jesus encourages reconciliation over offering gifts to God (v. 23-24)
Jesus encourages reconciliation with one who has accused you (v. 25-26)
Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you shall not commit adultery” (v. 27)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “you must not lust” (v. 28)
Jesus exhorts them to cut off what causes them to sin (v. 29-30)
Jesus acknowledges that they have heard it is okay to divorce (v. 31)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying divorce makes one commit adultery (v. 32)
Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you must not swear falsely” (v. 33)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “don’t take an oath at all” (v. 34)
Jesus specifies that one must not take on oath by heaven, by earth or by Jerusalem (v. 34-36)
Jesus exhorts them to answer a straight yes or no (v. 37)
Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “an eye for an eye” (v. 38)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying don’t seek retribution (v. 39)
Jesus exhorts them to turn the other cheek to their persecutor (v. 39)
Jesus exhorts them to give to the one who steals from you (v. 40)
Jesus exhorts them to yield to the one who takes advantage of you (v. 41-42)
Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you love your neighbors and hate your enemy” (v. 43)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “love your enemies” (v. 44)
Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44)
Jesus commands these things so that they may be sons of the Father in heaven (v. 45)
Jesus acknowledges God as the one who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good (v. 45)
Jesus acknowledges God as the one who sends rain on the unjust and just (v. 45)
Jesus reminds them that loving the lovable has no reward (v. 46-47)
Jesus commands them to be perfect as the Father is perfect (v. 48)
Jesus demands perfection (v. 48)
“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.” -Matthew 5:17-
Questions for Today:
- How is Jesus’ teaching different from the scribes and teachers of the law?
- When does Jesus’ tone shift in this sermon and why?
- Why does Jesus say that He has come to fulfill the law?
- What was the law actually meant for?
- Why does Jesus demand perfection?
- How am I learning more about Jesus in Matthew chapter 5?
“Look Upon the Lord” by Kari Jobe