At this point, the Jewish Audience listening to Jesus in Matthew 5 was probably not overly thrilled. Jesus told them that unless their righteousness was far beyond that of the Pharisees, they wouldn’t make it into the kingdom of heaven. This would have been troubling, and I know at least for myself, my gut reaction would be to begin making my case. I think I would start explaining all the good things that I have done and all the bad things I have avoided. I was really good, and I performed every sacrifice. I tried to be kind to my neighbor. I never killed anyone.
Jesus takes away just about every excuse with a series of statements about something that is in the Old Testament law, but Jesus explains how everyone has violated the principle behind the law even if they have not actually committed the action. For example, the Old Testament is clear that murder is wrong. However, Jesus expands the definition. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Even if you haven’t committed murder, you probably have been angry at someone during your life. You harbored evil feelings towards another person at some point in your life. We all have done that. We all have thought bad things about other people from time to time. The consequences are dire even for this seemingly “minor” offense.
As I have seen this passage a few times recently, it strikes me that it is vital to realize that Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience who doesn’t realize He is the Messiah, and presumably many of those people are going to miss that fact completely over the next several years. The fulfillment that Jesus brought to the Law is that He is the hope that the Law was built upon. The Law was good and important. However, if there was not the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the price for all of our sins, the Law itself would even not be sufficient to satisfy God because only the perfect sacrifice could do that for all time.
As a result, those people who believed in the Old Testament Law before the time of Jesus I believe are in paradise today based on the faith they had in God and His promises. We can draw that from Hebrews that even though they didn’t know the future and exactly what Jesus Christ would be, they had faith in God, and that faith was what saved them. They followed the Law which is very good and important, but without that future hope that obedience to the Law pointed towards, the law was insufficient.
We have to read the Sermon on the Mount in context, and we have to understand the Jewish audience. All human efforts to get right with God are going to fall short. Even performing all of the Old Testament sacrifices is not sufficient. It is our faith in that God and the great hope of Jesus Christ that brings about our salvation. Just like John 3:16 says, whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life. If we think that our good conduct is going to get this into heaven, we better work really hard to make sure our conduct is perfect. Jesus even talks about slicing off your hand if it causes you to stumble. I don’t think that is hyperbole. If you lived a perfect life except for you were going to punch someone with your left hand, it would literally be better for you to not have that hand because that would ruin your perfection and condemn you. That relationship with God is more important than your hand. After hearing all of these illustrations, the audience should have been left with a profound sense of inadequacy and a recognition of their separation from God.
The Sermon on the Mount sets the table for this message of Jesus I have threaded through these posts. We have forgiveness, and the bridge has been mended between God and man. Jesus Christ did that. The people in the audience at the time didn’t realize all the implications of Jesus’ mission on earth at this point, but looking back on it,
I think that really is the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount. It serves to show us that if we think that we can make it to the kingdom of heaven on our own, it simply isn’t going to happen. We need Jesus Christ.