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Day 238 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Matthew.
Matthew 5 – Jesus has just called His first disciples to follow Him (4:19, 21), and they have enthusiastically responded to His call to join Him in gathering people into the kingdom in the same way they once gathered fish from the sea (4:19; 13:47). Now Jesus begins to teach His disciples how their own lives can serve as examples to others of what the kingdom of God will look like when it comes (5:1–7:29).
“The Sermon on the Mount” (chapters 5–7) is structurally similar to the Mosaic law. Like the Mosaic law, it begins with a reminder of God’s blessing and grace. The first five beatitudes emphasize that God’s blessing comes to those who understand their need of His mercy, just as the Mosaic law begins with a reminder of God’s gracious rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 19:4; 20:2). Also like the Mosaic law, the Sermon on the Mount describes the way of life that God calls His people to display as a means of showing the world the character of its Creator. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests, mediating God’s character and will for the rest of humanity to all the earth (Exodus 19:5–6). Jesus’ followers are to be salt and light in the world so that it might see their good works and glorify God. In addition, both the Mosaic law and the Sermon on the Mount end with a description of the blessing that comes to those who follow their teaching and the trouble that comes to those who disobey (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28–30; Matthew 7:24–27).
It is important to avoid two errors in interpreting the “Sermon on the Mount.” First, it is not a description of the requirements for entering the kingdom of God. Jesus taught this material to those who had already responded to His call to follow Him (4:18–22; 5:1). Second, it is not an idealistic description of the way life will function after God has fully established His kingdom in the future. In that day, there will be no need to turn the other cheek.Rather, they are about living as ambassadors of God’s kingdom in a foreign land. In short, the Sermon shows us what life looks like for a heart that has been melted and transformed by the gospel of grace, while also making clear the true nature of God’s standards of righteousness—high standards which mean that our right standing with God is ultimately dependent on the grace of the One who tells us of them.
These first five blessings affirm an important principle for understanding the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is not an instruction manual for winning God’s favor. Rather, it describes how God wants those to live who have already been transformed by his grace because they have understood their weakness and need for His mercy. The “poor in spirit” are those who know that they, as sinners, do not have the spiritual resources necessary to carry out God’s demands. “Those who mourn” and who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” have experienced the disaster that disobedience to God has brought to the world. Because they understand their true position of weakness before God, the “meek” have a humility that translates into treating others with kindness. The “merciful” are those who understand their own need for God’s mercy.
The Sermon on the Mount describes how those who have already decided to follow Jesus (4:18–22; 5:1) get to demonstrate the character of God and His kingdom through the character of their lives.
The Mosaic law is God’s truthful, eternal word that continues to stand as a witness to His character and His gracious, redemptive work among His people (Psalm 19:7–11; 119; Romans 7:12). This does not mean, however, that it is to be observed by God’s people after Jesus’ coming in the same way that it was observed among his people before Jesus came. When Jesus says that He came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets, He means that both the Law and the Prophets pointed forward to His teaching. They brought the purposes of God to a certain point in the story of God’s redemptive work among His people, and Jesus’ teaching then picked up their message and completed it.
The Mosaic law was intended to govern Israelite society during the time when it functioned as a nation-state. It had to include legislation for governing all those who lived within the boundaries of political Israel, whether their hearts had been transformed by God or not, and thus whether they were part of the people of God or not. So, for example, on the question of divorce, the Mosaic law had to make provision for people whose hearts were hard and who were unconcerned about God’s original purposes for marriage (19:8).
In contrast, the Sermon on the Mount shows what the eternal principles that undergird the Mosaic law look like in a society of people who have turned away from the attractions of sin and have decided to follow Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, then, does not describe how governments should seek to establish a just society, but how believers in Jesus Christ live within a sinful world.
The “scribes and Pharisees” encounter severe criticism from Jesus throughout Matthew’s Gospel (12:38–45; 15:1–14; 23:1–39). Their basic problem lies in the contradiction between the condition of their hearts and their outward professions and acts of piety (15:8; 23:3–7). This contradiction was revealed especially in their neglect of the law’s fundamental concern with justice, mercy, and faithfulness in favor of demonstrating to others their superior expertise in the law’s minutia (23:23).
Exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, then, is a matter of not finding our righteousness within ourselves by what we do, but by being made righteous by placing our faith fully in the finished work of Jesus, and being found in Him.
Jesus often used hyperbole in His teaching to make a point with color and force (examples 7:5; 17:20; 19:24; 21:21; 23:15; Luke 14:26). The point in verses 29-30 is that those whose hearts have been transformed by the gospel will be willing to make significant sacrifices in order to avoid becoming ensnared by sexual sin that will do them greater damage in spiritual terms (see also Matthew 18:8–9).
The word “perfect” in verse 48 refers to completeness and maturity. It is possible to do many good things in an outward sense and still not be “perfect” in this sense. Jesus speaks here of the heartfelt devotion of oneself to God, of finding one’s ultimate satisfaction in Him rather than in something else, such as wealth. Such perfection is required by a holy God, but is only possible by humble dependence on this same God’s provision made available to us through Jesus alone.
This is the sort of perfection that the rich young man lacked (19:21), but that Abraham exhibited, according to Paul, when he became “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised,” and God counted his faith as righteousness (Romans 4:21–22; Genesis 15:5–6). The believer is to be “perfect” in the sense that his or her satisfaction and complete trust are in God. In light of the outrageous love of Jesus shown in His suffering and death on our behalf, we are free to bank all our hopes on this Savior.
How does all of this teaching point you to Jesus alone as our only hope?
Matthew 6 – Here Jesus discusses two areas of life that tend to reveal where one’s ultimate loyalties lie: religious practice and the use of wealth. In both areas, Jesus urges His followers to find their satisfaction and security in God rather than in anything else. First, in the area of religious practice, whether giving, praying, or fasting, Jesus encourages His disciples to avoid outward displays that bring praise to oneself and to steer clear of mechanical efforts to manipulate God. Authentic giving, prayer, and fasting arise out of trust in God’s fatherly affection, and performing them in secret is symptomatic of a healthy trust in and reliance on God. The public display of these religious practices, or a concern to use the right formulas in performing them, can easily be motivated by self–absorption and greed.
Second, Jesus recognizes how easy it is to seek for ultimate security in money. When food, clothing, and shelter are scarce, people become understandably anxious about how they will find these basic necessities. But this anxiety can become so overwhelming that people begin hoarding wealth. They create ever-widening margins between themselves and the scarcity that they dread, in the process becoming less dependent on God and more dependent on themselves. Money itself can become their god.
Jesus urges His followers to find their ultimate security not in wealth but in God who will meet their needs. God meets the needs of His followers largely through the generosity of those among His people who have more than others. In verse 3 Jesus assumes that His disciples give to the needy (“when you give to the needy”); and in 25:31–46, acts of generosity and compassion toward those in need are the mark of a genuine relationship with Jesus (see also Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 8:1–5; Ephesians 4:28). We have been given so much in Jesus (in fact, all we truly need). It is our glad privilege to give to others, honoring and reflecting His own compassion.
How does this remind you to place your trust in what God has done, and is continuing to do each day, rather than in your own efforts?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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