High Expectations

                                    High Expectations

Matt.5:17-48                                             Sept.9 2012

         As salt and light, believers must savor and illuminate God’s ways, which alone can preserve and guide humanity . Christ rejects the charge of critics that His teaching is intended to abolish the Law and the Prophets. Instead Christ has come to explain the real meaning of (“fulfill”) the Law . His explanation of Law reveals the defects in the Pharisees’ claim to righteousness . In a series of examples Jesus shows that God demands righteous intent as well as lawful acts. Righteousness is a matter of the heart and not only behavior . In calling for “perfection” Jesus reminds us that true righteousness is actually found only in being like God .

1.Christ came to confirm the law. (Matt.5:17-20)      

Matt.5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Let none suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God’s holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ’s justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-abhorrence. The law is the Christian’s rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ’s disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man’s temper and conduct.

2. The sixth commandment. (Matt.5:21-26)      

Matt.5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother  without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca !’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

The Jewish teachers had taught, that nothing except actual murder was forbidden by the sixth commandment. Thus they explained away its spiritual meaning. Christ showed the full meaning of this commandment; according to which we must be judged hereafter, and therefore ought to be ruled now. All rash anger is heart murder. By our brother, here, we are to understand any person, though ever so much below us, for we are all made of one blood. “Raca,” is a scornful word, and comes from pride: “Thou fool,” is a spiteful word, and comes from hatred. Malicious slanders and censures are poison that kills secretly and slowly. Christ told them that how light soever they made of these sins, they would certainly be called into judgment for them. We ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with all our brethren; and if at any time there is a quarrel, we should confess our fault, humble ourselves to our brother, making or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed: and we should do this quickly; because, till this is done, we are unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances. And when we are preparing for any religious exercises, it is good for us to make that an occasion of serious reflection and self-examination. What is here said is very applicable to our being reconciled to God through Christ. While we are alive, we are in the way to his judgement-seat; after death, it will be too late. When we consider the importance of the case, and the uncertainty of life, how needful it is to seek peace with God, without delay!

3. The seventh commandment. (Matt.5:27-32)      

Matt.5:27 “You have heard that it was said  to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Victory over the desires of the heart, must be attended with painful exertions. But it must be done. Every thing is bestowed to save us from our sins, not in them. All our senses and powers must be kept from those things which lead to transgression. Those who lead others into temptation to sin, by dress or in other ways, or leave them in it, or expose them to it, make themselves guilty of their sin, and will be accountable for it. If painful operations are submitted to, that our lives may be saved, what ought our minds to shrink from, when the salvation of our souls is concerned? There is tender mercy under all the Divine requirements, and the grace and consolations of the Spirit will enable us to attend to them.

4. The third commandment. (Matt.5:33-37)      

Matt. 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

There is no reason to consider that solemn oaths in a court of justice, or on other proper occasions, are wrong, provided they are taken with due reverence. But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, must be sinful, as well as all those expressions which are appeals to God, though persons think thereby to evade the guilt of swearing. The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them. Our Lord does not enjoin the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, but such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary.

5.The law of retaliation.  (Matt.5:38-42)      

Matt. 5:38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

The plain instruction is, Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort.

         6. The law of love explained. (Matt.5:43-48)      

         Matt.5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor  and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your  brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

         The Jewish teachers by “neighbour” understood only those who were of their own country, nation, and religion, whom they were pleased to look upon as their friends. The Lord Jesus teaches that we must do all the real kindness we can to all, especially to their souls. We must pray for them. While many will render good for good, we must render good for evil; and this will speak a nobler principle than most men act by. Others salute their brethren, and embrace those of their own party, and way, and opinion, but we must not so confine our respect. It is the duty of Christians to desire, and aim at, and press towards perfection in grace and holiness. And therein we must study to conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father, 1 Peter 1:15 , 16 . Surely more is to be expected from the followers of Christ than from others; surely more will be found in them than in others. Let us beg of God to enable us to prove ourselves his children.

         Summary:

 As a theological term current in the 1st century, every rabbi’s ambition was to “fulfill” the Law, in the sense of explaining its true meaning. Jesus’ teaching does not challenge the authority of O.T. Law.Each example contrasts what “was said” (in the Law) with Jesus’ explanation of what God intends human beings to understand. In saying “do not murder” God was speaking not only against the act, but against the hostility toward and contempt for others which leads to murder. In saying “do not commit adultery” He was teaching that we must not see others as objects to be used.

Law, thus, is not simply rules to live by, but God’s statement that He judges the heart and not merely our acts. True righteousness requires the harmony of our heart with the character and motives of God.

This example also calls us to examine motives in marriage and our level of commitments in relationships. It is not Jesus’ statement of a new and higher law, any more than the other examples state new laws. If “no divorce” were a new law, then an angry word or lustful look must also be new laws and call, as do murder and adultery, for execution.

         This legal principle was intended to keep victims from taking revenge. He could require equivalent payment for an injury, but could not use an injury to an eye, for example, to blind and cripple or to kill the person who caused it. Here Jesus explains that what God really wants is for us, as He Himself does, not to seek revenge but to treat others with grace. It is God’s way to do good to those who injure Him. This is to be our way too.