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Oct 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 1, 2017 — Matthew 5:17-48

The Truth Within

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 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. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

Intro: When I began our current series, I intended to cover only the Beatitudes

I have been trying to move on, but find myself returning to Jesus’ complete sermon
– the connections between the Beatitudes and remainder of the sermon are remarkable
• this week I received an email from a friend
◦ he also has been teaching Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount
◦ he wanted me to know that he appreciated finding my notes online
• this is his observation regarding Jesus’ sermon:

Mike Hensler, “We started some months ago with the ‘Happinesses’ [Blessed] and have since seen that they are connected at the hip to the entire Sermon and so will continue through chapter 7.  . . . I am seeing the entire sermon as an indivisible whole.”

• the both of us have been in the Scriptures for many years
◦ but it is just now that we are discovering the remarkable coherence of Jesus’ sermon
• that cinched it for me — and so on we go

Jesus has described his ideal follower and kingdome citizen in the Beatitudes
– he still has much more to say about this new way of being in God
• he is unveiling a closer relationship with the Father
• showing us how to live truer to God, truer to others and truer to ourselves

Last week we ended with, You are the salt and light (vv. 13-16)

In verse 13, Jesus made an odd remark about the salt becoming “tasteless”
– tasteless (or lost his savor in KJV) translates the Greek word for foolish
(the sermon will end with a form of this same Greek word; Mt. 7:26)
• in scripture, and especially the OT, foolish is whatever goes against wisdom
◦ it is not so much a matter of ignorance or being simple-minded
◦ it is a purposeful departure from what is right, good, holy, healthy, etc.
• in what way can salt be foolish?
◦ by not doing what it’s supposed to do or being want it’s supposed to be
◦ Jesus personified salt to remind us it is an analogy

All a tree has to do is be what it was created to be
– if a tree were to lose it’s tree-ness, what is it then? Nothing!
• people walk over it and they do not see it, because it’s not there
• it is impossible for salt not to be salty – saltiness it what defines salt
– as far as we know, we are only creatures in the universe that can fail to be what we were created to be
• if a follower of Jesus does not shine God’s light into the world through good works,
◦ that person is not merely “fruitless,”
◦ but as far as being a Christian goes, non-existence
• Christians bring truth and goodness to the world — we were created to be salt and light
◦ the kingdom of heaven is very much an inner experience,
◦ but it also has very outward manifestations (cf. Mt. 10:7-8)

Vv. 17-48 Jesus maintains a continuous thread of thought

For the remainder of the chapter, Jesus illustrates aspects of the Beatitudes
– this section is not developed systematically nor does he cover all the beatitudes
• but it gives us an idea of where each one might take us in lived experience
• these examples will serve another purpose–i.e., elucidating v. 20
– the disciples and crowd needed to understand something
• how Jesus’ teaching differed from what they had been led to believe
• first of all, he had to clarify something
◦ he does this in verses 17-20, which form a transition from the Beatitudes to the examples

Regarding these verses, Jonathan Pennington observed, “Like good poetry, this short passage is thick with meaning and in need of deep reflection.”

Jesus had spoken on his own authority – the crowd picked up on this
– it is the one feature of his sermon they talked about afterward

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Mt. 7:28-29)

• so it was important for him to clarify that he was not tossing out the Scriptures
◦ the upside-down world he presented in Beatitudes could cause them to wonder whether everything had to go
• he explained that he did not come to abolish, but to fulfill
◦ rather than do away with the Law, he came to make it do what it was supposed to do
◦ if the Law did that, then it could help us become what we’re supposed to be

The New Testament recognizes the holiness, justice and goodness of the Law (Ro. 7:12)
– nevertheless, no one can become right with God through the works of the Law (Ro. 3:20)
• this weakness of the Law does not lie in its commandments, but human flesh (Ro. 8:3)
• Jesus had come to reveal and restore a new-old truth regarding the Law

At one time, Israel had been a great nation

God was the source of  Israel’s greatness during King David’s reign
– but Yahweh’s people had turned away from him to other gods
• eventually, God allowed them to be conquered and sent into exile
• the message of the prophets before and during the exile was that God would:
◦ would bring them back to their own land
◦ give them a descendant of David to rule them justly
◦ cause Israel to again become the jewel of all nations
– on returning from exile, a new breed of spiritual leader emerged
• for example, there was Ezra an influential scribe and priest
◦ he and his followers had their situations all figured out
◦ the future of Israel’s survival and restoration depended on two things:

  1. A total devotion to following every detail of the Law
    – it contained all the rules they needed to please God
  2. A radical separation from pagan nations and their people

• these commitments defined their religious life
◦ but 400 years later, Israel still not returned to its former glory

The Pharisees maintained the tradition of Ezra
– but failed to not understand something about their version of keeping the Law
• it was not what God had intended
◦ they assumed their whole duty was to the letter of Law
◦ they became obsessed with the details of the rules and their observance
• they missed the point that they were to live for God, not the Law
◦ purpose of the Law was to orient their lives to God
◦ help them live in covenant relationship, but not replace that relationship
– once the Law became their this-world agenda,
• they began working out specific and detailed applications
◦ they also looked for loopholes
◦ for what they could get away with and still be within the margins of the Law
• so, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce,
◦ they were able to produce a divorce clause from the Law (Mt. 19:3-9)
◦ Jesus referred to God’s intent prior to, and deeper than the Law
◦ in doing so, he showed them that divorce was not a commandment, but a concession

Israel had missed God’s intent behind the Law (this explained their current condition)
– there was a deeper level to the law
• Israel’s poets and prophets had perceived this (Ps. 51:16-17; 119; Isa. 1:11-17;  Jer. 7:22-23)
– notice that Jesus mentions both the Law and the Prophets (i.e., the complete Old Testament)
• there was more to God’s revelation than the surface of Law

Again, Jonathan Pennington notes that “by adding reference to the ‘Prophets’ Jesus indicates that he is talking about the Law interpreted . . . .”

• the other OT books pointed Israel to the deeper level of the Law

What did Jesus mean by fulfilling the Law and Prophets?

Matthew has worked a particular theme
– Jesus was the fulfillment of a number of prophecies (e.g., Mt. 4:14)
• in a way that was similar to fulfilling prophecy, he fulfilled the Law
• there an interesting feature of biblical prophecy
◦ the exact meaning of any given prophecy is unknown when first spoken
◦ it’s meaning becomes clear only in its fulfillment
• the exact meaning and intent of the Law was not found in its commands
◦ but became clear in its fulfillment
– fulfillment of the Law is adherence to its deeper level
• this is the “new covenant” relation to the law (Je.31:31-34):
◦ its influence is exerted in a person’s inner life, written in hearts
◦ everyone knows not know only God’s law, they know God
• so what is the fulfillment of the Law?
◦ it is when the deeper level of the law reaches a deeper place in us

Fulfillment of the Law results in a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees
– this makes sense of that troubling warning in verse 20
•  in the following section, Jesus illustrates the surpassing righteousness
• he draws a comparison between the Law’s letter and its deeper level
– now we can see how the Beatitudes also belong to the deeper levels of law and life

Six examples of the surpassing righteousness

And as I said before, each example illustrates a beatitude
– these examples also reveal a deeper level of the Law
• reaching a deeper place in us

Vv. 21-26, the hunger and thirst beatitude – right relationships
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder”
• the more common threat to righteousness is not murder, but anger
• the deeper level of the Law speaks to our total attitude toward a person
– what purpose is accomplished by name calling and insults?
• they are both meant to inflict hurt
◦ they are quick and dirty ways to wound someone
• surpassing righteousness is to let go of anger
◦ then to work instead to reconcile with others make friends with our opponents

Vv. 27-30, the pure in heart beatitude and adultery

When I first moved here and started Calvary Chapel of Dana Point, we had Saturday night prayer meetings. Twelve to fifteen men would show up to pray for each other and everyone in our new church. We would begin by setting a chair in the middle of the room where anyone who wanted prayer could sit (typically those who took that seat requested prayers like, “I want God to help me be a more radical witness at work,” or “Pray that I have the courage to take the gospel somewhere in the world where I can die for Jesus,” or “I need God’s help so I can read all the way through the Bible twenty more times before the end of the month”). I should probably explain that we considered ourselves intensely militant in our religious devotion. Looking back, we were very Pharisee-like.
One night a man who was new to the church sat in the chair, his face shadowed with a dark sadness. He explained that he had recently come to the end of a painful divorce and was still struggling with all the issued it had raised. Next, he told us about being at the beach that week where he met a young woman and then he confessed to having had sex with her. You could see that he was miserable and racked with guilt.
Most of us were in our early to mid-twenties, and when he made his confession we sat frozen. It felt like all the air was sucked out of the room. Then the oldest and most respected man in the room stood up. The rest of us were very tense, not knowing what Jim would say. I guess we expected an articulate rebuke full of divine wrath. Jim walked over to the poor guy, placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “Brother, there is not a man in this room who has not done in his heart what you have done.” There was a collective sigh of relief and we all dropped the stones we had been prepared to toss.
This was the deeper level of the Law reaching a deeper level within us.

Vv. 31-32, the pure in heart beatitude and divorce
– this commandment had been greatly abused
• as we saw above, Jesus addressed it in Matthew 19

Vv. 33-37, the hunger and thirst beatitude and making vows
– a “vow” was a promise made to God,
• that a person would repay him with an offering if he granted his or her request
– an “oath” had to do with invoking God as witness that what a person said was the truth
• for example, “I swear to God” (see also Mt. 23:16-22)
• what could Jesus mean by, let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”
◦ our internal Yes must be our verbal Yes
◦ that what we know within to be true is what we speak and live

Vv. 38-42, the be merciful beatitude versus demanding justice

Vv. 43-48, the persecuted beatitude and loving your neighbor
– another commandment that was greatly abused (especially if they felt justified in hating their enemies)
• notice the echo from v. 10, “sons of God” and here “sons of your Father who is in heaven”
• this uncommon love connects us to the heart of God
◦ God’s nature is what forms our nature
– there have always been people who made hatred religious virtue
• a modern example is ISIS – but, sadly, there are many Christian examples too

Conclusion: There is something about all of this I find really appealing

Jesus is sending me inward
– I like that, because I spend a lot of time in introspection
• unfortunately, it’s mostly negative and not the sort of inward look Jesus wants

Then again, there is also something about all of this I find appalling
– Jesus tells me to be brutally honest with myself
• then to unite my heart with my behavior
• he tells me to go beyond my tendency to do nothing or the bare minimum

I am going to send you off with these final thoughts:

First, when looking into those deeper levels of yourself
and examining your motives and emotions,
do not let it become obsessive or self-condemning
(neither one of those inward motions will do you any good)
Second, focused meditation can be very helpful,
especially in discerning what needs to be changed, improved, increased
Third, God will walk you through this process,
revealing the deeper level of his will
and showing you what is within the deeper level of yourself
He has even given us a prayer to get us started:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts.

And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23-24


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  1. Eliot / Oct 7 2017

    Remembering occasional mischief in your sense of humor, I wonder whether the scripture quote at the end is really a typo (TOD) or a way of pointing out how we all do sort of pray to ourselves for affirmation of our own thoughts, instead of listening for better insight !!!

    I LOVE how you pointed out that the New Covenant makes the Old Covenant more clear, focused entirely on the person of God’s Son. The Apostle Paul goes on and on and on about that very thing, and yet when I listen to scripture teaching, there often seems to be no grasp of what you said– THANKS!

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Oct 7 2017

    Yeah, I do have a warped sense of humor. But it was a typo. Going to fix it now.

    Praying to ourselves is one way to misdirect our prayers. Another is when we pray to our conception of God rather than to the Eternal One himself. Being enamored with theology, I slip into this mode of misdirected prayer all too easily.

    Thanks for your comments. Always appreciated.

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