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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 32: The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:17-20

September 12, 2010



·         108, 111

·         Read Sermon on the Mount

Scripture reading: Matt 5:17-20

Foundations of Faith Announcement (Thank painting crew)



We’re taking a break from the OT. After all that time reading about sacrifices, regulations, kosher laws, and etc., it will be nice to get to the NT, where it’s all about grace, right?

·         Not exactly – because we have stumbled into the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus sets out to make Law harder, not easier.

The Sermon on the Mount has many endearing parts, such as the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. But the more seriously you take it, the harder it gets:

Turn the other cheek.” (Matt. 5:39) Does this mean you have to let some punk beat you up?

Give to the one who asks you.” (Matt. 5:42) What if they are going to use that money for drugs?

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” (Matt. 5:29)Is this literal or figurative? What if it is literal?


“...anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress...” (Matt. 5:32) So most re-marrieds live in ongoing sin?

“Do not swear...your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matt. 5:36) Does this mean we can’t testify before a courtroom?

·         This stuff is a lot harder than “don’t eat bacon”!

Will you throw me out if I admit I don’t enjoy the Sermon on the Mount? Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledgehammer? And I honestly hope you don’t enjoy it either:

“I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of a man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure.” C. S. Lewis

·         Christians have grown deaf to its radical demands through familiarity or reinterpretation, myself included. 

Jesus’ teachings (like this Sermon) were meant to make the Law stronger, so Israelites would recognize their need for grace.

Q   But didn’t Paul say we are not bound by the Law? What then about Jesus stricter version?

Q   How do we read and apply both Jesus’ commands and the OT?

Q   Or perhaps you are more concerned about if you have to gouge out your eye because you look at porn.

Jesus himself shows us the way in this passage. We are going find out whether or not we are subject to the OT, and if Jesus really expects us to follow the Sermon on the Mount. 

Intended Purpose

Matthew 5:17-20  17 ¶ “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.

The disciples seemed to think that Jesus was going to override the OT (“Law and Prophets” is another way of saying the OT – Jews still call it “Law, Prophets, and Writings” (TaNaK).

·         Quite the opposite, Jesus came to fulfill – to bring it to its intended purpose.

It’s like the old timer who bought his first chain saw because he was tired of chopping his wood with an ax. He brought it back the next day, and says, “This thing is worthless, it took me twice as long to chop a cord of wood with it.”

The salesman asks to take a look at, and then fires it up, and which point the old timer nearly jumps out of his skin, and shouts “What was that?!?”

Jesus came to explain what God meant by the laws, stripping away all the human traditions, rationalizations, and workarounds that the Pharisees had been added.

Q   What was the purpose of the Law? Here are some key ones:

1. To restore relationship with God – back in Eden, we had walked with God, but now sin separates us.

2. Halt the destructive power of sin – ever since the Fall, we have been destroying themselves and each other.

Said another way, the Law tried to keep us from hurting ourselves, each other, and our relationship with God.

If the Law and the Sermon does this, we can’t afford to ignore them. We don’t want to be eternally distant from God, to keep making the same destructive choices, or messing our kids up.

The problem is that the Law, even Jesus’ expanded version, couldn’t effectively fulfill these purposes:

·         Isreal could be nearer God, but it required daily sacrifices, they had to go through a priest, and it was only for Jews.

·         They had a great moral code, but lacked power to obey fully.

Jesus came to fulfill these things completely:

Accomplishing the Law

18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means [ou me] disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Q   So has the Law disappeared?

·         heaven and earth are still here, so I guess not.

Q   So if the “jot and tittle” are still here, what about eating kosher, circumcision, and the other things the NT “abolishes”?

Here is where is gets interesting: He said two things have to happen first – “heaven and earth” (meaning this world) disappear and “everything accomplished.”

Q   Have those purposes of the Law been accomplished?

Yes and no, or more specifically “now and not yet.” Parts of it have and parts haven’t.

Interpretive key

As I have struggled with how to interpret the OT and Jesus teaching, here is an interpretive key I have just recently figured out:

(Sure, this is a “nerd alert” thing, but I wish I have learned this in college because I have cheated myself out of the depth and richness of the OT for years.)

Q   Has this passage’s purpose been accomplished by Christ’s death, the filling of the Spirit, or the establishing of the church?

If “no,” then the command probably still applies to us: The 10 commandments and many other things haven’t been and will not be accomplished until heaven, and remain in full force

·         But Jesus made it simpler by saying the Law and Prophets can be summed by loving God and loving your neighbor.

And in the OT is a great depth of material showing us how to do these things: Parenting instructions, proverbs on business, and having a good sex life.

But if “yes,” its purpose has been accomplished, we’re not bound. But we should look for the principle behind the command.

1. The need for a sacrifice to restore relationship with God has been complete fulfilled and accomplished in Christ – we don’t need to sacrificeFluffy” for our sins.  

·         But the principles that “the wages of sin is death” and that someone else can pay that wage still applies.

2. The purpose of external markers of Jewish identity (e.g. kosher eating and circumcision), have been accomplished – we can eat bacon, and don’t have to get snipped.

·         But the principle remains that God’s people are to be noticeably different – “by their fruit” and “by your love for one another,” etc.

As you read the OT, remember Jesus said it hasn’t disappeared. Look to see if the purpose been accomplished by Christ’s death, the filling of the Spirit, or the establishing of the church

·         I hope you can enjoy and utilize the OT more than ever before.

·         I wish I had known it before we started – we could start over!

nominal Christianity

Jesus continues:

19 Anyone who breaks [I think a better translation is “loosen”] 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

Notice something here – those who loosens the commands and teach others to do the same may still be Christians, they are in the Kingdom of God, but they are the least in the Kingdom.

·         In other words, a second-class commitment to God’s commands yields a second-class faith.

Who is Jesus talking about in v. 19? He’s talking to any of us who do not take his rule over our lives seriously.

·         This is what we call nominal Christianity.

You are all for him saving you from your sins, and giving you peace and all that, but you still hold the reins and do what you want to do. I mean, there’s freedom in Christ, right?

Q   Here is the simple test: What deciding factor in decisions you make – what you want or what Jesus wants?

When you read a Bible passage, hear a sermon, or listen to a discussion at Community Group that you don’t like and conflicts with what you want to do:

Q   Do you study the matter committed to doing God’s will, or do you just ignore it, justify, or look for workarounds

Cheap grace

Q   Have you ever heard the expression “Cheap Grace?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “The Cost of Discipleship” a study of the Sermon on the Mount. In it he coins it.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.      Cost of Discipleship, p. 47

The Sermon on the Mount is a call to costly grace, a call to complete and radical obedience to God.

Q   Which describes you better: Cheap or costly grace?

Grace is not simply having your sins forgiven and not going to hell. It is the entire package of being changed from the inside out, and shifting your allegiance from self to God.

·         Cheap grace means repainting the house, costly grace means rebuilding the house from ground up. (Eg: Extreme Makeover)

More righteous

Continuing the passage, Jesus adds an interesting twist:

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not [ou me] enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees and teachers were known for the insane commitment to obeying the law. In fact, they were frequently perfect in following it, faultlessly obeying all 613 statutes.

·         From the disciples’ perspective, it was literally impossible to be more righteous than they.

Q   So what does this mean?

1. First, Jesus is saying you can’t earn your way into heaven.

·         You a complete obedience of the law is not enough; your only hope is grace.

2. Jesus is redefining righteousness.

They made the law attainable by focusing on the letter of the law but not the spirit. He is trying to show that the Pharisee’s idea of righteousness paled in comparison to the real thing.

·         Their righteousness was external, legalistic, and self-serving, real righteousness is internal and God-focused.

Some cutting applications

To make this point perfectly clear, Jesus gives some real life applications. He looks at the external law on six items, and then “fulfills” it by bringing it to its intended purpose:

1. Murder and Anger (5:21-26)

2. Adultery and Lust (5:27-30)

3. Divorce (5:31-32)

4. Oaths and honesty (5:33-37)

5. Revenge (5:38-42)

6. Loving your enemies (5:43-47)

Then he closes this section by saying:

NIV Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

He sets the bar very high, knowing we can’t succeed, but that with his help we can pursue it, which he fully intends us to do.

Lust and adultery

Each of these sections warrants a full sermon (and perhaps I will do a series someday – God knows that I need to study, understand and apply each of them).

Since we don’t have time, let’s take just one of these and see how Jesus goes from an external rule to internal heart change.

Matthew 5:27-30   27 ¶ You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.”  28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

Q   As a kid, were you ever punished for something you didn’t do?

You weren’t INNOCENT; you just lacked that means – too short to get into the cookie jar.

They have the good sense not to do anything, that would break the law, cost them their reputation, and even get them stoned. But that doesn’t keep them from looking or thinking.

Q   BTW: When does it go from noticing to lust?

·         Jay Tenbrink said noticing a girl as you drive by is probably fine, but checking again in the rear view mirror isn’t. 

The problem the Pharisees isn’t their external actions; it’s their motives and desires.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Q   Here’s the $40,000 question: Is this literal or figurative?

It’s figurative, right? It’s hyperbole, Jesus is exaggerating to say we have to aggressively deal with sin, right?

Wrong. It’s literal. In fact, if we say it’s figurative, we miss the whole point. This is literal, but not in the way you think.

Q   If you sneak downstairs to the computer when your family is asleep to look at porn, will getting rid of your eye stop you?

Q   No, but what can you get rid of to stop you? The computer?

If getting rid of a hand or eye could save you from an eternity in hell, it would be a no-brainer decision – hand me a spoon. So getting rid of a computer (or having your wife lock you out) should practically be a relief.

Jesus knew removing body parts will not stop us from sinning, but that there are other things that we can remove that will be much more effective, and if we value our soul we will do so.

Deadly hobby

I know of person (you don’t know him) who struggled with sexual addiction that nearly cost him his marriage, but had confessed, was meeting with a recovery group, and his marriage was saved.

Then he started a sport that kept him busy on Sundays. He justified missing church because “the matches are on Sunday.”

·         In no small way that isolation took him back to the hell of sexual addiction, and this time it did cost him his marriage.

It’s easy to silently judge, but are you any better? Maybe your sin isn’t as obvious, but that doesn’t make it better.

What do you need to cut off?

Let’s get personal here – what sin is wrecking havoc on your soul? You’ve tried to “do better,” but you can’t get it under control. Think about it for a moment and get it in your head.

Q   Now what do you need to “cut off” to deal with the sin?

If out control spending that is getting you farther and farther in debt – you anxious and living in fear, and not giving to God.

Q   What can you get rid of?

Maybe some of your friendships are corrupting your heart: Perhaps making you dissatisfied with your spouse (cf. “Date Night”), or maybe making you wish you had more stuff.

·         What may you have get rid of? Is this harsh measure? If nothing else will work, then it is what you must do.

If your TV is eating away every evening, not only taking time away from your family, but even more importantly leaving no time left for reading your Bible, and growing close to God, what might you need to get rid of?

·         This is why we don’t have cable.

What if your children have become idols to you? What if they have taken God’s place? If they are harming your soul, then something has to change. Just make sure it doesn’t come to that.

Now can you better understand when Jesus said “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me...” (Matthew 10:37)?

So yes, Jesus literally means that we must aggressively deal with anything that harms our soul. If nothing else works, we have to remove it altogether.

Radical obedience

To sum up the message of the Sermon on the Mount, and the message of this sermon:

·         It is a call to radical obedience – in Bonheoffer’s words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

If we are to truly call him Lord, everything else must truly die: money, home, position, family, friends, and ourselves. Some of these things will stay dead. Others will be brought back to life, but now in their proper place.

Three types of people

Three types of people are listening to this sermon: Christians who are striving for this, Christians who don’t really care, and non-Christians.

During worship, evaluate which group you are in. One way to do that is to ask if Jesus is truly Lord and Savior.

1. If he isn’t your savior, that means that you think you can be good enough without Jesus. But that was the very mistake the Pharisees made.

2. If you are saved, but Jesus is not completely Lord, you still hold the reins, that’s cheap grace – you will be called “Least in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

You are trading temporary safety and happiness for eternal – and it won’t last very long here. The good life is not found in all the things you are putting before God, but only in him.

·         Pray for God to change your desires.

3. If you are striving to make Jesus Lord, then keep up the good work, depend on the Holy Spirit. And read through the Sermon on the Mount – and mediate on the scary parts. 

Q & A

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