We’ve been reading through Matthew in our Sunday School class the last few weeks and this week we were in chapter five. Many of you Bible readers out there know this is the beginning of what is commonly known as Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It starts with what is usually called the Beatitudes such as “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, those who have been persecuted for righteousness sake” and all that are called many mean and nasty things. Okay so that last part was mine. The point is only the ones who recognize they are in a position of need will be open to receive from God.
Jesus then moves on to tell us he didn’t come to abolish or do away with the Law rather he came to fulfill it. He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now that’s some pretty stout words don’t you think? If you were one of those standing there hearing this from Jesus’ own mouth that day you would probably be thinking to yourself “Who possibly stands a chance then?” The religious leaders were looked up to by the common man as the standard for God’s holiness and they were a step above the average guy. Jesus was making what seemed to be an impossible demand but was it?
If you jump ahead for a second and look at the last verse of Matthew five you will read where Jesus summed up this part of the sermon with “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” After he walked them through the “You have heard it was said”…statements of “Do not commit murder but I say, everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty.” Followed by you’ve heard “Do not commit adultery, but I say don’t lust in your heart.” Then on to the severity of keeping the union of marriage intact and keeping your word. He also told us not to resist an evil person, love not only your neighbor but your enemy too.”
The main point of this sermon was for Jesus to show them and us that we absolutely have no ability in our selves to keep the law of God. The scribes and pharisees thought they were doing a pretty good job but Jesus was showing us not only what the Law said but the Spirit in which it was intended. Ultimately the Law of God tells us perfection is demanded of us and rightly so. After all we are talking about a perfect God aren’t we?
Forgive me for jumping out of Matthew for a moment to look at what the Apostle Paul told us in Romans seven but I think it applies here. In Romans seven Paul recorded for us his very own struggle with covetousness. He says, “I wouldn’t have known what coveting was if the Law hadn’t said, “Do not covet.” He then goes on to tell us the more he tried not to covet the more he coveted. At first it seems like the Law is the problem then but Paul quickly says that isn’t the case. He says, “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Once he reminds himself the Law isn’t his problem he moves on to see that there is something wrong in him. Although the commandment is good there is something within him that isn’t allowing him to obey it. He finally cries out saying “Who will deliver me?” Then we read “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord?” Paul walked us through his struggle with his efforts to be perfect as God and his Law demands in order to show us Jesus Christ is the only perfect one, and if the Law is going to be fulfilled in him, and us, Christ in us is our only hope!
So, when Jesus preaches in Matthew five, making what sounds like impossible demands, it is his attempt to get his audience, and we the reader, to see that in and of ourselves or in our flesh we cannot please God. Jesus is preaching the fullness of what the Law is really telling us so we might be driven to cry out just as the Apostle Paul did at the end of Romans seven. If we could ever really see that God is perfect, he demands perfection, and we have no hope of achieving it on our own we just might come to understand the mystery Paul so frequently shared which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
“What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4 NASB