"The Sermon on the Mount" - Part 2
"The Sermon on the Mount" (9)
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5: 11-12)
Sufferings for Christ's sake
The last of the nine beatitudes also forms the transition to the following part of the "Sermon on the Mount." The Lord no longer speaks generally of the disciples in the third person, but addresses them directly with the personal "ye," as He does in Luke 6: 20-26 throughout. At the same time He applies to them His words of verse 10. He sees His disciples, knows already what they will have to go through and gives them a wonderful promise.
Although this beatitude is similar to the previous one, there is a difference. Here the Lord does not speak of sufferings for righteousness' sake, but of abuses, persecutions and evil words for His sake. This is connected with the Person of our Lord and the confession of His Name. Suffering for righteousness is a consequence of our moral attitude and actions; suffering for Jesus' sake is a consequence of our confession of Him.
Confession of Jesus
In democratically ruled countries there is not official persecution of Christians as there still is in some other countries. As an example, according to the German constitution nobody may be placed at a disadvantage because of their faith and religious views; freedom of faith, of conscience and freedom of religious and ideological confession are guarded. This does not mean, however, that everyone is well disposed towards Christians. Many a young believer has experienced mockery and abuse when, upon starting work, they have confessed, "I believe in the Lord Jesus as my Saviour." It may even be that there is not only abuse and slander, i.e. words, but acts of persecution. By using the word "when" the Lord shows that He is not hinting at something that may possibly happen, but is pointing to a fact that is certainly to be expected. Those who take the side of our Lord and Saviour, openly and courageously confessing Him, will reap contempt, mockery and scorn. Suffering for Jesus' sake and for righteousness' sake often coalesce. Sometimes people react with scorn and contempt when the Name of the Lord Jesus is frankly confessed. Such a confession may even be met with a pitiful smile, but as soon as the believer shows himself to be a Christian by his practical conduct as well, there is rejection and hatred.
Satan always tries to prevent the disciples of the Lord from confessing His Name. He whispers to the soul, "Is it really necessary to speak of the Lord Jesus now? You do not always have to witness to the gospel!" He doesn't only want to prevent the confession of Christ as Lord, but also the spreading of the glad tidings of His grace. For one who really loves the Lord there should not be any silence. Neither can there be any consideration of one's own position or the position of one's family. Is the Lord not worthy of our unreserved confession of Himself, even if supposed disadvantages go along with it?
In Acts 4 and 5 the apostles give an example of this suffering for the sake of the Lord Jesus. After they had healed many and led them to the Lord, they were taken captive by the leaders of the Jews and told not to speak in the Name of Jesus any more (Acts 4: 18; Acts 5: 28). But they could not and would not be silent. And when, after their second imprisonment and miraculous deliverance, they were again attacked and even beaten, how did they depart from the presence of the council? Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonoured for the Name (Acts 5: 41-See J.N.D. Trans.).
Thus the Lord Jesus adds to His beatitude: "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." What a privilege to possess and confess Christ as Saviour and Lord! He is worthy that we should openly confess Him. For a fearful soul and for the flesh the supposedly disadvantageous consequences of a faithful confession of our Saviour carry a lot of weight. Here the Lord says something else. The disciples of the Lord should rejoice not in spite of, but because of the sufferings connected with their confession (see Romans 5: 3; James 1: 2). Even if the confession of the Name of the Lord does result in disadvantages here on earth-which is not always the case-the reward in the heavens which He has promised is incomparably greater! To know that we walk in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus already gives us joy, and this joy is increased by the promised reward which is not connected with earth but with heaven (Compare Matthew 6: 19).
The Lord then refers to the Old Testament prophets as examples. They had once been persecuted because they witnessed for God. Elijah (1 Kings 19: 2), the prophet Zechariah at the time of king Joash (2 Chronicles 24: 21), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20: 2) and many more (compare Nehemiah 9: 26; Acts 7: 27; 1 Thessalonians 2: 15) are examples of this. Moses too, who calls himself a prophet (Deuteronomy 18: 15, 18) suffered for the sake of his God by the Egyptians as well as by his own people. In the New Testament the remarkable words are written of him that he esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense..." (Hebrews 11: 26).
It is not mentioned here in Matthew 5: 11-12 that the Lord Jesus Himself was persecuted and going to be killed. Nevertheless every disciple may remind himself constantly that He is the great example of suffering and patience. By comparing His disciples, who would be persecuted for His sake, with the prophets who had been persecuted for God's sake, He silently testifies to His deity and thus gives the highest motive for enduring persecution for His Name's sake.
This last beatitude concludes the first part of the so-called "Sermon on the Mount." In it the Lord Jesus as the King who would soon be rejected by His own people, announces the principles of the Kingdom of God as guidelines and encouragement for His disciples. When we look at the individual utterances we see in them a clear order. In the first three beatitudes the self-knowledge and humility which are first of all necessary for the disciple of the Lord, are mentioned. In the following four verses we see the striving for righteousness and a life which is pleasing to God. Finally, in the last two we see the trial which in this world is the result of a life with the Lord Jesus, and the suffering for Him which this entails.
"The Sermon on the Mount" (10)
Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men (Matthew 5: 13)
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Matthew 5: 13-16 represents a kind of insert. In these verses the Lord Jesus speaks about the position of His disciples in the world. When He says "ye," He does not only mean His disciples or future leaders in the Kingdom of God, but, as in the preceding beatitudes, all His disciples at all times and therefore also us!
Here the Lord Jesus uses two illustrations: salt and light. Both are so commonly known that they do not need further explanation to be understood and yet, as is the case with almost all illustrations in the New Testament, a few considerations are appropriate. The nature of salt is to be salty and the characteristic of light is to shine. But in spiritual life nothing comes automatically! Sadly, it happens far too often that divine power is hindered or concealed by our fleshly actions. It is for this reason that we get so many exhortations in the New Testament. But without the new life in us these exhortations would not be of any use. This is why the Lord does not say, "Ye should be the salt and the light," but, "Ye are the salt of the earth,... the light of the world."
In ancient times salt was the most important agent for seasoning and preserving foods. Salt is pungent, bitter; but it keeps what is good and prevents corruption. In the Old Testament, the "salt of the covenant" had, on God's order, to be added to all sacrifices (Lev. 2: 13). Thus salt is a clear symbol of the sanctifying, keeping power of God which should be expressed in us. We are not sugar or honey, but the salt of the earth. If we witness mockery concerning divine things at school, at work or in other situations and we do not ignore it, but reprimand the scoffers in the right way, and if we do not laugh at certain jokes, then we are the salt of the earth. Often our mere presence will exercise a moderating influence on unbelievers. Two further passages make clear that this "salt" should not be confounded with human pungency or even cutting remarks. The Lord says in Mark 9: 50 to His disciples: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." Paul writes to the Colossians: "Let your word be always with grace, seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4: 6) Grace and peace therefore are not opposed to salt but complementary to it.
Salt is ordinary and commonplace, but it has a strong effect. This is not easily noticed outwardly, but takes place more in secret and in the long term. We might consider it useless to be the only ones in our surroundings who take a stand for the things of our Lord, but let us remember: "Ye are the salt of the earth!"
In contradistinction to the following verse, the Lord says: "Ye are the salt of the earth." "Earth" is not the same as "world." The Greek can mean "land" as well as "earth," and here it seems to point to the scene where witness is borne to God. Firstly this was Israel, to which the disciples belonged. But then we can see in it also the wider sphere of the testimony to God in Christianity today, which in its broadest scope corresponds to the Kingdom of the heavens. Here where the light of the gospel and the truth of God shone brightest, the greatest apostasy of all times will take place in the future. This the Lord points out with his following words.
"But if the salt have become insipid, wherewith shall it be salted? It is no longer fit for anything, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot by men." The salt known in ancient times did not have the purity of modern salt. In particular the salt gained from the Dead Sea contained considerable amounts of minerals. If the salt got too wet, i.e. when it was stored for a long time under wrong conditions, the salt could be washed out. Thus the salt became "insipid" because only the useless ingredients remained, which were then cast out to be carelessly trodden under foot by men.
The Lord speaks in this passage of the position of the disciples in the Kingdom of God. Salt is a picture of the influence going out from the testimony to the holiness of God. Somebody whose testimony does not have this power is useless. For this reason Jerusalem, the city that rejected its own King, will be trodden under foot by the nations (Luke 21: 24). And Christendom, which for centuries possessed the tidings of grace and salvation in Christ, will apostatise from God and come under His judgment.
This passage does not deal with whether or not a born again Christian can be lost. God's Word does not leave this question open. He who believes on the Son of God has eternal life. And nobody can or will seize out of His and the Father's hand those to whom He has given eternal life. (John 3: 36; John 10: 28, 29).
The words of the Lord contain a serious admonition for each one of those who belong to Him. Is not our spiritual life and our witness often "insipid'' and without power? Then we are, practically speaking, useless for the Lord! We are like the salt that has lost its taste and power. If we do not have fellowship with our Lord daily, by prayer and the reading of His Word, our spiritual life will be dry and without joy and power.
If we think we have always to be only gentle, patient and nice, the power of the salt will be lacking in us. There are situations in which we have to take a decided stand for our Lord and for His rights, even if this causes offence. We have already pointed out that in such moments grace and peace should not be forgotten.
But the greatest danger is conformity to this world. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was a believer who settled down in the godless town of Sodom. When at the end he wanted to warn his sons-in-law of the threatening judgment of God he was in their eyes "as if he jested" (Gen. 19: 14).
Some Christians think one could gather from this verse that we have to get together within Christendom and its organisations, or even with the world, and actively work together. By this means, it is said, we are able to exercise, to a greater degree, a Christian influence on the government and its legislation, and on our fellow men. But this is not meant by the words of the Lord Jesus, "Ye are the salt of the earth." Our influence on our surroundings and our testimony for the Lord does not work through numerical strength, but through our moral behaviour in separation from evil (cf. Romans 12: 2; 2 Cor. 6: 14-7: 1; 2 Tim. 2: 21; Heb. 13: 13).
On the other hand, our necessary separation must not degenerate into unspiritual isolation, because then we cannot be what we should be: the salt of the earth.
"The Sermon on the Mount" (11)
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5: 14-16)
One of the two characteristics of true disciples of the Lord in Matthew 5: 13-16 is light: "Ye are the light of the world." In our daily lives we are so dependent on light that everyone will understand the meaning and the importance of this expression. Light is synonymous with brightness and clarity, with seeing and recognising, but also with warmth and life. Think only of the source of light on which all the life on our planet depends, the sun. Without this light everything would be dark, cold and dead.
God is light
In the Bible, light is often mentioned in connection with God. We read in Psalm 36: 9: "in Thy light shall we see light," but when the Lord Jesus was teaching His disciples in Matthew chapters 5-7, the simple but striking words: "God is light," were not yet known. John, one of the disciples, would write them decades later (1 John 1: 5). The nature of God cannot be described in a shorter or clearer way. That God also dwells "in the light which no man can approach" emphasises His absolute purity, holiness and glory even more (1 Tim. 6: 16). God's light is a wonderful light. It is a light that brings life. In contrast, darkness in the New Testament always characterises sin and distance from God.
When the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: "Ye are the light of the world," He Himself was still the true light here. The eternal Son of God, the effulgence of His glory and the expression of His substance, had come into the world as the light in order to reveal God (cf. John 1: 4-9; John 8: 12; John 9: 5; John 12: 46).
Everyone who accepts Him in faith is now brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light. Furthermore, instead of darkness, he is now light in the Lord (1 Peter 2: 9; Eph. 5: 8).
Ye are the light
The depth of the meaning of the word "light" was certainly not yet known to the disciples when the Lord said to them: "Ye are the light of the world," but they could understand that He meant their testimony in the world. While salt works invisibly and internally, light is visible afar off.
"A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." Whether an enemy was planning an attack or a traveller was seeking accommodation, a city on a hill in Israel would be visible for everyone-during the day by the bright shining of its white walls and buildings, and by night by the lights of the houses. Thus the walk of the disciples of the Lord ought to be a light in this world, seen by everyone.
"Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." The relatively small oil-lamps of ancient times, thousands of which have been found in the rubble of excavation sites, could only give poor light. Therefore they were, individually or in groups, put on a lamp-stand which was either suspended from the ceiling, fixed to the wall, or stood on the floor. The candlestick of the tabernacle, which had seven branches, was one of those lamp-stands. In this way the best possible distribution of light was effected.
How absurd it would have been to put such a light under a bushel, i.e. to hide it! A bushel was a vessel of approximately 2 gallons capacity used to measure corn. If one had put it over a lamp it would not only have hidden the small flame and thus made it ineffective, but would, in the long run, also have smothered it.
In Mark 4: 21 the Lord Jesus mentions, besides the bushel, also the bed. Both would hinder the shining out of the light. Does not this contain a two-fold warning-on the one hand of business (the light under the bushel) and on the other of laziness and sleep (the light under the bed)?
Let your light shine
Like the city on the hill, the light should be visible to everyone. "Let your light so shine before men." This light is the disciple's confession of his Lord. By this it becomes evident to whom he belongs. Let us therefore confess Christ everywhere and in all circumstances. When we go out to a restaurant, do we confess by giving thanks before the meal without embarrassment, that we belong to Him, even if those at other tables continue their conversations loudly or show their disdain? Sometimes unbelievers ask for our opinions regarding worldly entertainments like the cinema, theatre or discotheque, or on topics such as homosexuality, relationships outside marriage or abortion. Do we then confess the Lord, or do we give evasive answers?
Are we friendly, helpful, peaceable and righteous in our dealings with colleagues, neighbours and other people? In this way we can let our light shine before men. "Do all things without murmurings and reasonings, that ye may be harmless and simple, irreproachable children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation; among whom ye appear as lights (heavenly lights) in the world, holding forth the word of life" (Phil. 2: 14-15 J.N.D. Trans.). To let our light shine means that as well as our spoken testimony for our Lord in the world, our new nature and our position as children of God are expressed by our behaviour.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." The Lord Jesus does not speak in these verses of the preaching of the gospel for the salvation of the lost. The entire "sermon on the mount" does not deal with this, but with the Christ-like walk of the disciples of the Lord. Although the people of this world are mentioned frequently, it is not the purpose of the "sermon on the mount" that they may receive blessing or be led to the Lord, but that the character of the Kingdom of God may be expressed in His disciples.
Here, the good works are the fruit of the working of divine light in the soul. If we let our light shine, good works will also be connected with it. But they are not the focus of our attention here. In this world many good works are being done by different individuals and groups. For example, the Red Cross and other organisations providing humanitarian aid have, especially recently, been able to do much good to needy people. If we as children of God purpose to do such good works, we are not necessarily a testimony to our Lord. He wants us to be a testimony to Him. Therefore He does not exhort us here to do good works, but to let our light shine. We should not think of "our" works, but of Him. Good works will then be the result. The apostle Paul speaks of the fruit of the light which is in all goodness, righteousness and truth (Eph. 5: 9).
"... And glorify your Father which is in heaven." If good works bear the character of heavenly, divine light, then people will not say, "What a good person this is," but rather they may be led to glorify God. If the light shines, the actions will be seen as in connection with this light.
This is the first time in the New Testament that God is called "your Father." The Name "Father," standing for God, occurs also in the Old Testament but it does not refer to the personal relationship of an Israelite to God. Jehovah was the Father and Israel, the nation, was the son (cf. Ex. 4: 23; Deut. 32: 6; Isa. 63: 16).
Only when the Son of God came to this earth to reveal the Father could believers be brought into this wonderful relationship of children and receive the spirit of adoption by which they cry: "Abba, Father." For this it was necessary that the Lord should die and rise again. After His resurrection he gave Mary Magdalene the wonderful message: "but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God" (John 20: 17). This was, at the time of the "sermon on the mount," yet future. Nevertheless, the Lord speaks to the disciples already of "your Father which is in heaven," although they knew neither the basis of this new relationship-the work of Christ-nor its intimacy and power through the Holy Spirit.
"The Sermon on the Mount" (12)
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matthew 5: 17-18)
The teaching and works of the Lord Jesus were so entirely different from those of the scribes and Pharisees that some of His audience might have thought He would put an end to everything they had known as Jews. The Lord counters these thoughts in this passage of the "sermon on the mount," only recorded in Matthew's Gospel, in which He speaks about the law (Matt. 5: 17-48).
The Law Of Sinai
Before entering upon the contents of these verses, I want to occupy you briefly with the term "law," which often occurs in the Old as well as in the New Testament. Apart from meaning "human rules or orders" (Dan. 6: 8; Rom. 7: 1-2) the word "law" occurs in the New Testament meaning "the legal principle" (Rom. 7: 21; Rom. 8: 2). Also, in view of the divine law in the Old Testament, there are differences in meaning.
1. The law of Sinai (Acts 7: 53; Gal. 3: 17).
2. The five books of Moses (the Torah), according to an old division, the first of the three parts of the Old Testament (Luke 24: 44).
3. The entire Old Testament (John 10: 34), several times also called the law and the prophets (Matt. 5: 17; Matt. 7: 12; Matt. 11: 13).
God gave the Sinaitic law to His people Israel after their liberation from Egypt. With its juridical, ceremonial and moral commandments it was from the beginning meant for that people only (Deut. 4: 8; Rom. 9: 4), just as the Old Covenant was only made with Israel. Christians often overlook this fact.
The law of Sinai was a God-given system of claims on, and promises for, His earthly people. The moral laws were, so to speak, God's minimal claims on natural, unregenerate men. The ceremonial laws regulated the worship and service of the people and were at the same time a shadow of things to come which became reality in Christ (Col. 2: 17; Heb. 10: 1).
Since the law was from God, it was holy and just and good (Rom. 7: 12). If the Israelites had been able to keep it, it would have led them to life and righteousness (Lev. 18: 5; Deut. 5: 29). But this was impossible since natural man lacks the power to fulfil God's claims. Thus the law could only bring knowledge of sin without imparting the power to overcome it (Rom. 3: 20). It revealed sin and this led to death and condemnation (Rom. 7: 10; 8: 3).
The Lord Jesus took upon Himself the curse of the law when He died upon the cross. In this way He has redeemed from its curse all those who believe in Him. Every believing Jew is therefore no longer under the curse of the law (Gal. 3: 13), and he is also free from the law because Christ is the end of the law for righteousness (Rom. 6: 14; Rom. 7: 4; Rom. 10: 4; Gal. 3: 24-25).
It is contrary to God's revealed will if Christians put themselves under the law. Usually they do not mean the whole law including its judicial and ceremonial orders, but only its moral commandments, i.e. the 10 commandments. For the observance of these the reason given is that a Christian is not allowed to kill, steal, etc. But a believer will avoid these and all other sins, not because he observes the law, but because he has received a new life and possesses the Holy Spirit as a source of strength which enables him to go beyond the minimal requirements of the law.1
Yet again and again it is taught in Christendom that although the law was given to the people of Israel, it is still valid for all peoples and therefore also for Christians, since God would not operate a double standard for mankind. Apart from Matthew 5: 17-48, Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 4: 5-8, Isaiah 2: 2-3 and Romans 3: 19 are quoted as reason, but, among other things, history and prophecy are being mixed up. God is unchangeable in His nature but His relationships to men are not at all times and in all circumstances the same.
In Matthew 5: 17 the Lord Jesus spoke to those belonging to the earthly people of God. His disciples and the multitudes of men surrounding Him were Jews. The kingdom of heaven had been promised to the "sons of the kingdom." Therefore He first turned only to this people (Matt. 15: 24). As we saw when considering the beatitudes, we can apply His words also to the present time of "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." But we must not forget that the Lord Jesus first of all addressed only His own people, to whom God had once, at Sinai, given His law.
"Think not that I am come to make void the law or the prophets; I am not come to make void, but to fulfil" (Matt. 5: 17). The preaching of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and his call to repentance, as well as the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, announced something completely new. But this did not mean that everything that preceeded this had become invalid. The law and the prophets (i.e. the entire Old Testament) were not destroyed by Christ. Quite the opposite, He was come to fulfil them. "Fulfilling" does not only mean obedience to the Word of God, because this could only have referred to the law, and not to the prophets. "Fulfilling" therefore means here "to confirm" and "to bring to fulfilment." The entire Old Testament testified of Christ and He was its fulfilment (John 5: 39).
1 The fact that the literal fulfilment of the fourth commandment, which demands the observance of the Sabbath, is not required, is a peculiar inconsistency of Christian supporters of the law. This shows that one does not want to put oneself completely under the system of the law, but in this point resorts to the grace of God.
Iota And Tittle
"For verily I say unto you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all come to pass" (Matt. 5: 18; cf. Luke 16: 17). In this verse the Lord Jesus speaks only of the law. This does not, as in verse 17, mean the five books of Moses, but the commandments of the law of Sinai.
Heaven and earth will pass away after the end of the thousand-year reign of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3: 11). Then there will be a new creation with new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3: 13; Rev. 21: 1). But before this, during the millennium, Israel as a people will be accepted again by God on the ground of the New Covenant (Jer. 31: 31-35; Ezek. 36: 24-27). God will put His law into their inward parts and write it on their hearts, and Israel, in contrast to previous times as well as today, will be happy to observe it. Also the instructions for the feasts and the sacrifices will again be followed. But instead of being apart and separated from the nations, as previously, Israel will be the centre and model for all peoples (Isa. 2: 2-4; Zech. 14: 16).
The iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (like the yod in Hebrew), and the tittle is a hook-shaped mark which in Hebrew distinguishes various letters which would otherwise be the same. If according to the words of our Lord not even the smallest parts of the written law will pass away, how much less the instructions once given by God! What a testimony to the verbal inspiration of this part of the Word of God, the Bible! Nothing of the law will pass away until it has been fulfilled in the millennium in a way that has never before been the case in the history of Israel. The words "till all be fulfilled" (cf. Luke 21: 32) point to the future time of the glorious reign of Christ as King, in which all the Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled and all the words of the law will be observed.
"The Sermon on the Mount" (13)
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5: 19-20)
Contempt For The Word Of God
The Lord Jesus had explained His own relationship to the law and the prophets in verses 17-18. The word He uses here, "Whosoever," now introduces a general and very serious appeal.
The meaning of this verse is not easy to grasp. What are the "least commandments"? Does the Lord here differentiate between the moral law (the ten commandments) and the ceremonial law, or does he refer to the iota (A.V.-jot) and the tittle of the law (v. 18)? And lastly, does He teach here that the law of Sinai is still valid for the Christian? Before we try to find answers to these questions we have to remember that the Lord Jesus here speaks to His own people and had not yet been rejected by them. When He said in verse 17 that He was not come to make void the law or the prophets but to fulfil, this must have consequences for His audience and the Jewish nation. But while the Lord Jesus said of Himself that He had come to fulfil the law and the prophets, He now speaks of practising the commandments.
Among the Jews there were teachers of the law who considered their own traditions more important than the commandments of God. He later said to them, the scribes and Pharisees, "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (Matt. 15: 6). Just as He adds there: "Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (v. 13), He says to the Jews here that everyone who thinks he can do away with any of the law, which then was still valid, would be called the least in His kingdom. Comparing the two Scriptures we see that He speaks of mere professors who outwardly take a place in the kingdom of the heavens but have not really "entered in" (v. 20). At His appearing in glory these will be removed from His kingdom through judgment (Matt. 13: 41). As long as the law was valid according to God's will, i.e. until Christ's death (cf. Rom. 10: 4; Gal. 3: 24; Eph. 2: 15; Col. 2: 14), it had to be observed by the Jews, as Deuteronomy 27: 26 says: "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them."
The scribes, who counted altogether 613 commandments in the Old Testament, distinguished between what in their opinion were important and less important laws. The Lord also points out a difference when He calls the commandment to love God the great and first commandment, although He immediately puts the commandment to love one's neighbour on the same level (Matt. 22: 36-40). In Matthew 23: 23 He accuses the scribes and Pharisees of leaving the more important matters of the law aside-judgment and mercy and faith-while putting great emphasis on applying the law of the tithes to such little things as garden herbs.
The scribes and Pharisees thus, on the one hand set their human traditions above the laws of God, and on the other insisted on outward observance of the smallest details of the law. But the Lord distinguishes between the mere outward observance of the law and the attitude of the heart towards the commandments of God, which is far more important. It is the ordinances which commanded love towards God and one's neighbour which especially show that it is impossible for natural man to lead a life that is pleasing to God and that not the law but faith is the only way to God.
We who are not under law but under grace and the leading of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6: 14; Gal. 5: 18) can receive spiritual exhortations from the Old Testament laws of God. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 15: 4). But it is also possible that the Lord, when speaking here about "commandments," was not thinking of the Sinaitic law but of His own new commandments which He was just about to announce in the "sermon on the mount." Later, in Matthew 28: 20, He told His disciples to teach what He had commanded them. Here in Matthew 5: 19-20 He no longer speaks of the "law," as in verses 17-18, but of "these... commandments." They might still have seemed "least" to His audience, yet they were the guidelines for the behaviour of the disciples of Christ in the kingdom of the heavens. This explanation is supported by the words of the Lord in Matthew 24: 35: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away." The law may pass away with the end of the present creation (v. 18) but the words of the Lord shall never pass away.
The end of verse 19 again shows the contrast with the scribes and Pharisees. The Lord later says of them: "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23: 3). In Matthew 5: 19 He links His promise to the agreement between actions and doctrine.
"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5: 20). Since the time of the Babylonian captivity a large collection of interpretations and ordinances has been added by the Talmud, in addition to the law. In the New Testament these are called "the tradition of the elders." The scribes were those best acquainted with the law and these human ordinances, whereas the Pharisees were their strictest observers. In Matthew 23 the Lord Jesus utters a sevenfold "woe" over these men and their behaviour which was marked by egoism and emphasising outward appearance (Matt. 23: 5-7, 25-28. Verse 14 is omitted in the J.N.D. Trans.). They might appear pious and righteous before men but before God their attitude could not stand.
This is why the Lord says here: "except your righteousness shall exceed..." Obviously He does not mean the righteousness of God which is imputed to those believing on Him. The Lord Jesus, in the "sermon on the mount," does not preach the gospel to the lost, but speaks to His disciples. "Your righteousness" therefore is the practical righteousness shown in the lives of those who have been justified by faith in Him and who follow Him by doing God's will (Matt. 7: 21). This is practical righteousness and the only one that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.
For the real, born again believer, to enter into the kingdom of the heavens means to be united with the Lord as a true disciple and to be owned by Him as such. The New Testament speaks at least 14 times of entering into the kingdom.1 Some of these Scriptures clearly indicate that this is something in the future, while others are not clear as to the time. But all of them show that entering into the kingdom is reserved for the true disciples of Jesus. Unrighteous persons shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6: 9).
1 Matt. 5: 20; Matt. 7: 21; Matt. 18: 3; Matt. 19: 23; Matt. 21: 31; Matt. 23: 13; Mark 9: 47; Mark 10: 23, 24; Luke 16: 16; Luke 18: 24; John 3: 5; Acts 14: 22; 2 Peter 1: 11.
A mere religious profession and the doing of certain "good works," even if they leave a deep impression on other people, are not sufficient to be able to stand before God. But he who feels sincere sorrow for his sins and repents, who believes that the Lord Jesus has suffered for him and his sins the righteous punishment of God on the cross of Calvary, who then leads a new life in faith, following the Lord and being obedient to the Scriptures, he will be one of the righteous that shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matt. 13: 43).
"The Sermon on the Mount" (14)
Hatred Among Brethren
(Matthew 5: 21-26)
In Matthew 5: 21-48 the Lord Jesus gives six examples in which He warns against wrong interpretation and application of the commandments by the scribes and Pharisees. He does not set aside the law as such but in this way shows His disciples various important details.
Firstly, He reminds them that many of the commandments which God gave to Israel only referred to outward conduct.
Secondly, He points out that by their interpretations the scribes had narrowed down the application of these commandments so that sometimes little remained of their true meaning.
Thirdly, He shows them that it was not only the outward keeping of the commandments that mattered but the desire of the heart to live in accordance with God's thoughts and to His glory.
The sixth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill"
The Lord Jesus begins the first of the six examples with the words, "Ye have heard that it was said to the ancients" (A.V.-"them of old time"). The "ancients" here are not only the contemporaries of Moses, since the following text contains an addition to the original commandment. The audience of the Lord Jesus had heard two things: First, that the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," was given by God, and second, what they knew had probably been added by the scribes since the Babylonian captivity, "and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment." It would seem that "judgment" here means the judges and officers mentioned for example in Deuteronomy 16: 18 who were to be appointed in every town in Israel.
"But I say unto you"
The Lord Jesus now sets His own words over against this commandment with its human addition: "But I say unto you." These words occur five times in this part of the fifth chapter. He speaks with the same authority as the One who had once given the law, for He is the Son of God. Yet He does not set aside the law by His words but extends its application to man's condition of heart. Whilst the commandment only forbade the extreme manifestation of hatred, i.e. killing a person, the Lord shows that anger with a brother (which means the Jewish "brother" here) deserves the same punishment as killing itself.
If in the opinion of the Rabbis only the murderer was subject to this judgment, the Lord's words show that the one who was angry with his brother for no reason was subject to the same judgment. The one who called his brother "Raca" (Aramaic: "reka"-fool, lunatic) was subject to be called before the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish court at that time), and whosoever should say "fool" was to be subject to hell ("Gehenna"): eternal damnation. If the last of these three sins, which hardly differ from one another, led to eternal damnation, then the others would do so as well. God does not look at the outward appearance but into our hearts.
The following two examples in verses 23-26 then deal with the right condition of heart. The first one shows how necessary it is to have a good conscience and the second one teaches us that time for repentance is limited.
First example: "Be reconciled to thy brother"
"Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (vv. 23-24). We should remember that the Lord Jesus was addressing His disciples and still had the sacrificial system of the temple before Him. Nevertheless, His words have something to say to us too.
It cannot be pleasing to God if we come before Him in worship without having first put our relationship with our brother in order. How easily relationships can be broken! Perhaps it was only a misunderstanding, or I may have deliberately hurt a child of God, a brother or sister. Anyway, he or she has something against me. The Lord says in this case, "Go."
The disturbed relationship between believers can only be put in order again by reconciliation and this is unlikely to be achieved without an honest confession. Only then can brotherly love flow again freely. Our fellowship with our God and Father is then restored as well: "And then come and offer thy gift."
Second example: Use the time
"Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say to thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing" (vv. 25-26).
In the past it was common to leave a convicted debtor in prison until all his debts were paid (cf. Matt. 18: 30, 34). The Lord says here in symbolical language: "There is the opportunity to be reconciled with the adverse party in a peaceful manner before it is too late, even though one might find this difficult. But the time for reconciliation will cease. The one who is not prepared to act in this way, however, will have to bear the consequences." The very serious nature of the Lord's teaching in this place becomes clear when comparing the passage with a similar one in Matthew 18: 34-35.
Wrong spiritual applications of the latter part of this example (v. 26, cf. Luke 12: 57-59) have lead to much confusion, of which the doctrine of "purgatory" is probably the saddest proof. Nowhere in Scripture is it taught that a man must suffer a temporal punishment of God, after his death, in order to be eternally saved. No; once death has come in the eternal destiny of the soul is decided: one is either eternally and perfectly saved or eternally lost! This verse therefore can only refer to circumstances on earth.
These words of the Lord Jesus are in agreement with various Old Testament prophecies concerning the people of Israel. When the future time of Jacob's trouble has come to an end the word of the prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled: "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40: 1-2). When their King and Saviour was with them to deliver them the Jews were not prepared to receive Him or to respond to the call to repentance. Therefore God had to reject this unbelieving people (Rom. 11: 25).
The setting aside of Israel, which will climax in the great tribulation, will last until He has completed His whole work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem (Isa. 10: 12; Zech. 13: 8-9).
"The Sermon on the Mount" (15)
Thou shalt not commit adultery
(Matthew 5: 27-30)
Following upon the other references to the law, the Lord Jesus now quotes the seventh commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Ex. 20: 14; Deut. 5: 18). Marriage is something into which two persons enter for life, and ever since creation it has enjoyed God's special care. According to the New Testament it is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His assembly, marked by divine love and human devotion.
But what has become of marriage through sin! It was not the will of God that Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Solomon and other men of the Old Testament should have several wives at the same time, and this only brought distress into their families. How serious was the adultery David committed with Bathsheba! And how are things today with regard to matrimonial morals-not only in the world, but also among Christians? In recent decades Biblical standards in society have been systematically done away with in this area too.
In God's sight immoral behaviour is so abominable that Paul had to write to Ephesus: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints" (Eph. 5: 3). This means that we should not mention these things frivolously and so make little of them. The Bible speaks very clearly as to God's judgment about these sins. Holy Scripture not only calls prostitution fornication, but all extramarital intercourse, even where there may be the intention to get married, and even if it is done only once (cf. Gen. 34 and 38). In the world today the word fornication is only used in connection with the first meaning. In the New Testament, however, extramarital intercourse in general is called fornication, that of married persons is called adultery, and both are condemned as abominable sin (Matt. 15: 19; 1 Cor. 6: 9; Heb. 13: 4).
In the Old Testament, adultery, unfaithfulness towards the spouse for the satisfaction of lust, was to be dealt with most severely. According to the law of Sinai this sin had to be punished with death (Lev. 20: 10; Deut. 22: 22-24). In the first place the law contained God's regulations for the outward and social life of His earthly people, and for this reason only the accomplished offence was to be punished, even though the tenth commandment forbad the coveting of the neighbour's wife (as well as all his possessions. Ex. 20: 17). If a Jew kept the commandment not to commit adultery, he was acting according to God's will and contributed towards the maintenance of the people's community according to God's order. Fear of the punishment threatened certainly contributed to this. However, the mere outward observance of this and all the other commandments could not justify him before God.
"But I say unto you"
In His own authority the Lord Jesus contrasts the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," with His words, "But I say unto you." He does not speak against an interpretation which is more favourable to man and a weakening of the divine commandment, (unlike verse 22), and certainly not against the commandment itself, for He was not come to destroy but to fulfil.
For that reason the Lord now says, "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (v. 28). Because of the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jews thought the mere outward observance of the law was the way to be justified before God. Here, the Lord points to the human heart and shows that adultery has its source there. This is not a "spiritualisation of the law," as is sometimes said. He reveals for the first time something which had to become clear by experience to every honest Israelite, namely, that everyone who endeavoured to keep the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," had within themselves those very lusts which led to the actions forbidden by God, and had not the strength to overcome them. The lusts were even provoked by the commandment: "... for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Rom. 7: 7-11).
The law of Sinai did contain commandments directed at the attitude and heart, for example the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet they neighbour's house," etc. (Ex. 20: 17). Other passages have a similar bearing: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart... but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself..." (Lev. 19: 17-18); "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart..." (Deut. 6: 5). However, most by far of the commandments regulated the outward conduct of the Israelites.
Adultery in the heart
The Lord Jesus now explains that before God it is not just the accomplished act that is sin, but the looking with lust on a woman, for this is adultery in the heart. The word "adultery" shows that either the man or both are married. Nevertheless, no unmarried believer should think that these words of the Lord have nothing to say to him.
The Lord is not speaking here about accidental, unintentional looks which can hardly be avoided, but about the conscious covetous looking: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her..." The intentional look is therefore preceded by the sinful thought in the heart.
This distinction is very important. Nowadays we can hardly move in this world without, unintentionally, continually witnessing the moral depravity of our time. We are easily defiled by this. The intentional covetous and sinful look is something completely different. No Christian can avoid unclean thoughts rising up in his mind but they only become sin when instead of turning away from them he consciously gives himself to them. If covetous looks and unclean lines of thought are sin, then it is also sin if believing women and girls cause and provoke this by their dress and behaviour.
The more casual and free contact between the sexes, especially with the younger generation and the negative example of most of their peers of the world, can lead to carelessness and great dangers. God-fearing Job said: "I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?" (Job 31: 1). However, there are also over-sensitive and over-anxious Christians whose consciences are heavily burdened by involuntary looks and thoughts. I would like to remind such of the well-known words of Martin Luther which he wrote on this verse: "I cannot prevent a bird flying over my head, but what I can prevent is it building a nest in my hair or biting off my nose."
"And if thy right eye offend thee"
How serious the Lord judged the lustful looks and thoughts to be becomes obvious from His next words: "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (v. 29). In the next verse He says nearly the same with regard to the right hand (cf. ch. 18: 8).
The Lord is not calling for self-mutilation or asceticism in these words. The Creator will never demand that His creature mutilate the body he has received from Himself. Even if someone plucked out both his eyes, the lust would still remain in his heart. Rather, the Lord here extends the teaching to the question of self-judgment. The mention of the right hand points to this.
The eye, the light of the body, can rightly be called the "mirror of the soul."1 Furthermore, in the Bible the right eye is often described as something very precious (1 Sam. 11: 2; Zech. 11: 17). The right hand, the "organ of action," is mentioned much more often in the Holy Scriptures.2 The right eye and the right hand are symbols of attitudes and actions, but at the same time also of the precious and important things in human life. If these offend us, i.e. are a cause of sin or stumbling, then we should not even spare the most precious and important things in our lives, but honestly and strictly judge ourselves, and if necessary separate from them. Even if they are not bad in themselves, this does not mean that they are not dangerous!
1 Cf. Matthew 6: 22, 23; Proverbs 21: 4; Ecclesiastes 11: 9; Ezekiel 6: 9; Ezekiel 18: 12; Ezekiel 20: 8; 2 Peter 2: 14.
2 For example Genesis 48: 17; Exodus 29: 20; Psalm 73: 23; Psalm 121: 5; Revelation 1: 16; Revelation 10: 5; Revelation 13: 16.
The Word of God again and again points out that there are only two pathways on earth and two termini, either following the Lord Jesus with glory as the end, or a life of sin which leads to hell. It is the same here in the "sermon on the mount." The apostle Paul was a disciple of the Lord, who recognised the consequences of completely surrendering and following the Lord and who put this into practice: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9: 27). He wrote to the assembly at Corinth: "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers... shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6: 9, 10).
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