In part one I observed the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes and what it means to be salt and light.
In the second part, I will be observing the context of the external laws along with Jesus’ standards set for anger, lust and divorce.
These are some hard teachings but it fits well with the context of internal vs external righteousness and Jesus’ great expectations He has for His followers.
C. The External Law
By far the passage here is one of the most staggering things that Jesus teaches during His sermon on the mount. This is where Jesus drops the atomic bomb on what external righteousness looks like in accordance with the Law.
First off, Jesus did not come destroy the Law but to fulfill it and to enable those who trust Him to fulfill its demands. Jesus fulfilled the Law both by His obedience to it and by His sacrificial death, through which He satisfied the law’s demands for those who trust Him.
Over and over again Jesus broke what the Jews called the Law. He came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. He did this by not observing the handwashing that the Law laid down; He healed sick people on the Sabbath even though it was forbidden by the Law; it was for this very reason that they crucified Him as a law-breaker; yet Jesus seems to speak of the Law with an adoration and reverence that no Rabbi or Pharisee could even begin to fathom.
Let’s be clear that Jesus is not speaking against observing all the requirements but against hypocritical Pharisaical legalism. Such legalism was not keeping the details of the Law but the hollow sham of keeping the Laws externally in an attempt to gain merit before God while breaking them inwardly. It was following the letter of the Law while ignoring its spirit. Jesus was showing the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law and their view of righteousness by works. Paul speaks of this in greater detail in Ephesians 2:1-10 giving emphasis to the Law and grace. Jesus preaches that righteousness comes only through faith in Him and His work on the cross. In the rest of the chapter, Jesus speaks in great detail with six examples of Pharisaical external righteousness.
Jesus then turned to His relationship to the already living relationship of God. The threefold division of Scripture as we see in Luke 24:44, had not yet become general, so here the Prophets (v17) meant all the books of the Old Testament apart from the Law. He had come to fulfill (pleroo) all of them, but since His great conflict with the Pharisees would be about the Law, He limited His remarks to it. The Law was a revelation of God’s will and it would, therefore, stand until heaven and earth disappear (NIV). To relax a commandment as such (v19) is to claim authority over God thus living in an external self-sovereign-righteousness.
“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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:17-20 ESV
Across the spectrum of translations, verse 18 is worded differently. Hang with me for a moment on this rabbit trail because I think it’s extremely important to point out the context of both part A and part B of this verse as I break down the Greek for “iota” and “dot”; and also what it says at the end of the verse “until all is accomplished”. Within every text, there is a context. The different translations read as follows:
“For verily I say unto you, til heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle, shall in no wise pass from the law, til all be fulfilled” KJV
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” 1977 NASB
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” NIV
“For I assure you: until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.” HCSB
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” NLT
Without getting lost in the 6 different translations let’s take a look at the Greek context of the two underlined parts of the verse.
The Greek Word used here is iota; it’s the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet. It’s put (figuratively) for a very small part of anything or otherwise known as a jot as translated in the KJV. The word for “dot” as used in the ESV comes from the Greek word keraia, is a feminine form of the word keras. Keraia means something horn-like, it is the apex of the Hebrew letter, otherwise known as a “tittle” hat tip again to the KJV.
Secondly “until all is accomplished” from the NASB, is the Greek word ginomai, it literally means to come into being, to happen or to become. The word is used with great latitude in a literal, figurative and intensive aspect. It’s derivative from the Greek word genea which literally means generation, by the implication of an age.
So in other words “until all is accomplished” is referring to the full manifestation of God’s kingdom as later seen in Matthew 24-25. As R.C. Sproul sums it up: Jesus kept the Law for you and for me and received the reward for us.
D. You Have Heard That It Was Said…
To follow up the external law, Jesus goes into greater detail of six specific examples of external righteousness of the Pharisees that violates the law itself.
In these next six short warnings from Christ, each escalates from the other to a climax of the point Jesus wants to get across.
This section of teaching is one of the most important in the whole New Testament. There are few important things that need to be pointed out.
First, Jesus speaks with a great authority like no other man has spoken before. When people heard Jesus speak, they would marvel over the authority in which He spoke with. In Mark 1:22 after Jesus had finished preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, it says: And there were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And in likeness at the end of His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:28-29 it says: And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
The scribes, like the later rabbis, teach by citing what previous teachers said. Their authority is the tradition. Jesus teachings directly from Scripture with His own authority, confidently correcting what previous generations had said. No one had ever heard anyone teach like this before. Typically teachings were started out with a characteristic phrase like “Thus says the Lord”. The teacher claimed no personal authority over it whatsoever. The characteristic phrase a Scribe or a Rabbi would say is “There is a teaching that…” and would never dare follow it up with an opinion unless he could back it up with teachings of the past. Individuality was the last quality that one would claim. But to Jesus, such a statement required no authority over than that fact that He Himself made it. Jesus was His own authority!
This brings up three interesting things to ponder about: Jesus was crazy or was just weird and unique. He was a megalomaniac and wanted power. Or Jesus was the Son of God. No one dared to claim such authority when it came to speaking the eternal Word of God.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall now murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and who ever says ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser’s hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” – Matthew 5:21-26 ESV
Right off the bat what Jesus said here was extremely startling. He was setting the standard by quoting the ancient law from Exodus 20:13 “You shall not kill!” Not only was he setting the new standard but Jesus was setting an extremely high standard as one who has authority. He said that in God’s sight it was not only the man who committed murder who was guilty, but the man who is angry with his brother is also guilty and liable to judgment.
So then, Jesus condemns all selfish anger. Scripture says that anger is forbidden: James 1:20 and Colossians 3:8 are clear about that. Even the highest of pagans saw the foolishness of anger.
Both King James and the NIV translate the second part of verse 22 in the term “You fool” as its Greek word Raca. Jewish law had sanctions against the word Raca because it was an extreme insult; a man would be condemned for saying such a thing to a brother. The word is extremely difficult to translate because it’s a tone of voice rather than an actual word. The whole accent is an accent of contempt. To put quite simply to call a man Raca was to call him a brainless idiot, a silly fool, or empty-headed. It is a word someone would use if they despised another with arrogant contempt.
The sin of contempt is liable to severe judgment in front of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews. What Jesus was saying was not meant to be taken literally, but it’s if He was saying that the sin of habitual anger is bad, but the sin of contempt is worse.
Verses 23-25 talks about reconciliation and coming to terms with an offended brother. It’s extremely important to consider the fact that Jesus knows the high cost of forgiveness. He does so by His sacrifice on the cross (Matthew 27). This verse tends to be over looked because it’s a hard reality to swallow. One might say “You have no idea what he/she said or did to me.” While that may be true Jesus says differently here.
Later on in a conversation with Peter in Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother who sinned against Him. Jesus responded to him that he must forgive his brother seventy times seven times; that’s 490 times!
Jesus is quite clear about this basic fact: We cannot be right with God unless we are right with each other; we cannot hope for forgiveness unless we show others that forgiveness first and confess our sin before God and the person whom we have or was offended.
This next subject is a difficult one. It is one of the most overlooked sins in the church today because a lot of times it’s a sin that is perfectly acceptable in many social norms and circles and is passed off as “normal”.
Many women and men in the church today struggle with the sins of the flesh. It’s a deep dark place that holds its person captive as a slave. The only freedom a person has is to simply give in the flesh and let it reek its havoc.
That sin is lust. We live in a sexualized culture that is so beyond itself, it has become normal and acceptable everywhere. From television to books, magazines, music and clothing, sex is practically everywhere. Lust has caused issues in marriages and torn apart families. Lust has caused problems in the work place to systemic proportions. Sex and lust have gone from taboo to a social norm.
The biggest pandemic with lust is pornography. It’s a sin most often held in secret and shame. The number of men and women in the Christian church today who view pornography on a weekly basis is staggering. It is an extremely easy sin to cover and the person viewing it can weeks, months, or even years without anyone knowing of it.
Every time someone looks at pornography, they commit adultery with that person in their hearts.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” – Matthew 5:27-30 ESV
This is the second new standard Jesus is laying down and He drops a major bomb on His listeners. The law: “You shall not commit adultery” is from Exodus 20:14. The issue of adultery was so serious that the punished parties would be punished by nothing less than death (Lev 20:10). So once again, Jesus not only drops a bomb on a forbidden action, but He drops another bomb, perhaps a bigger bomb on the very thought of lusting after another individual.
Jesus is not talking about a passing glance or a general normal attraction to those of the opposite sex; but a willful, calculated glance that arouses sexual desire (in other words “checking somebody out”). According to Jesus, this is a form of adultery even if it is only in the heart.
Jesus’ teaching on divorce has caused a lot of controversies, therefore it’s important to address it with a few simple facts. (a) Jesus was addressing people whose characters are described in verses 3-10. He was not placing the unregenerate Gentile under greater restriction than had already been laid on the Jew (Dt 24:1-4). (b) From the fact that the punishment for adultery was death, it may be argued that adultery automatically puts an end to marriage, but this cannot be certain from this passage.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” – Matthew 5:31-32 ESV
Jesus later goes into detail later on in Matthew 19:3-10, where later the Pharisees tested him on the subject of a lawful divorce. So for sake of context, let’s take a look at what the passage has to say.
And the Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered them “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “When then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so. And I say to you: Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
The Pharisees question seems to reflect the opinion of Hillel, a rabbi who allowed divorce for the slightest reason by interpreting “some indecency” in Deut 24:1-4 very broadly. A rival teacher, Shammai, regarded only sexual unchastity as proper grounds. Jesus’ answer transcends this debate about the wording of Deuteronomy and returns to the order of the creation by God (Gen 2:24).
Hearing Jesus’ view of marriage, the Pharisees think they can set Him against Moses. But, Jesus shows that Moses was not justifying divorce, much less “commanding” it, as the Pharisees claim. Rather, Moses’ regulation protected wives in the event of divorce. After a conditional statement “if then”, Deut 24:1-4 ends with the prohibition for a man to remarry who had earlier divorced, treating her like property to be discarded and reacquired at will rather than as a person who is his partner by covenant. A hardness of heart with respect to marriage and divorce is specifically restrained by this case law.
The Greek word for “sexual immorality” is broad, including a number of sexual sins besides adultery. In this clause, Jesus recognizes sexual infidelity strikes at the heart of the marital covenant between spouses and is, therefore, grounds for divorce. However, divorce not mandatory, and reconciliation is desirable.
After Jesus is done teaching the first thing that comes to the disciple’s minds is (my words) “Screw that, I’m just not going to get married!” The disciple’s reaction seems both selfish and cynical. Jesus acknowledges that the lifelong commitment of marriage can only be fulfilled through God’s gifting and may not be His calling to all. Others may pursue the single life by choice, for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom as we see written in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9.
In part three I will continue to observe the remainder of Matthew 5 while talking about oaths, retaliation, and loving your enemies.
Part four I will begin to talk about the parables and what it means in connection to internal vs external righteousness.