GROWTH AND SUCCESS IN LIFE – Lessons Learned at the Feet of Jesus – Sermon on Mount (Part 12)
Jesus pronounced in this His first public discourse and teaching how to be happy and successful in life. This is happy in the deepest sense, not just satisfied from a good meal or a winning business or life event but a deep settled, blessed, what one author called superlatively blessed life. This is fullness consistent with our design as God’s people and in a manner pleasing to Him.
So far in this first of Jesus’ sermons after selecting the disciples, he sounds like He is putting together less than a winning team. He has lifted up the virtues of poverty, grief, meekness, mercy-giving, purity in heart, of being a peacemaker, bracing for the cost of this commitment (persecution for righteousness) and now, by transition, the influence of kingdom pilgrims on the world. The first nine beatitudes speak to the work and attitude of the world toward us. Now, in transition, the opposite – the influence of us on the world. By way of transition, Jesus both teaches about the right understanding of the Old Testament and the standard required of those who want to believe in and follow Jesus. Remember the promise that precedes this section, and transition:
Matthew 5:1616In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:17-2017“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. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
1. The Sour – Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. What a daunting challenge on the surface. How could someone outdo the professional cleric? The experts in the law? But this is the point, to be expanded in Chapters 6 and 7. The righteousness demanded by Jesus is nothing less than complete conformity with God’s holy law. That is, not only the understanding of God’s standard but the perfect doing of the 513 commands, the perfect conformity of both behavior and the heart. And of course, no one is perfect, and this standard, from the Law, condemns any genuine religious seeker. Anyone who breaks one…will be called the least in the Kingdom. How can that be, and if that is true, then who has a chance of being saved, of hoping for the promise if Heaven and the Kingdom of God.
2. The Sweet – The promise of the Law is a two-step: First, Jesus has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The hopeless turn to hope. The focus is not only the religious charlatans but on Jesus. Secondly, but whoever practices and teaches these commands shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, there is a path to salvation, to righteousness before God, to being great in the Kingdom. It comes not from looking at the counterfeit religiosity around them but in looking at the true fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, the Messiah, the future King of Kings.
This message of conflict and hope, so carefully developed by Jesus, comes to a head in the early Church. The previous outliers – the non-Jew, the Gentile – was grafted into the selfsame redemption and salvation promised for so long to Israel. Peter tackled this head on in Acts 15: Sorting through the regulations of Israel, Peter draws on the prophet Amos and quotes from Amos 9:
“‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’[a]—
18 things known from long ago.[b]
Do you see it? God’s promise, started through Abraham, extended to all of the men and women who call on the name of Jesus, are redeemed and part of the restored in salvation and redemption. Walk away from the religious phony. Redirect our attention to the words and teachings and the path and feet of Jesus. That is the only life that is real, that will last for eternity. From this instruction, Jesus next goes to six contrasts – six antithesis – to illustrate the false narrative and the truth. These next six weeks should be encouraging to you. Stay tuned.
— John Moore