Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
What do you do with that? If you say that Jesus’ teachings are to be taken literally, I would ask you why you haven’t plucked out your right eye or cut off your right hand yet, because surely they have caused you to sin at least once. Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?
The fact that you haven’t done that yet tells me you think something else may be going on with the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5, 6 and 7 we have Jesus’ longest and most popular recorded sermon. The above passage is the most extreme instruction within his sermon so I chose it for the basis of this article. We obviously know we can’t throw out what Jesus said, so what do we do with it?
Luke 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
Jesus made a distinction between what’s written and how it’s read. I want to submit to you as a person on this side of the cross, you are to read everything in light of Jesus. God never changes, His Word never changes, but how he now relates to mankind has changed.Jesus changed the context of God’s relationship with humanity through his perfect life, his sacrifice as the sin offering for the whole world, his death after becoming a curse for us, his descent into the grave to defeat death, his resurrection to inherit the keys to life, his offering of his own blood as a cleansing power for all who will believe and his continual reign as Lord of Lords and King of Kings from his union with God almighty in Heaven.
Everything now must be filtered through Jesus. There are a few questions you can ask about any passage you read.
- Who is the original audience
- What was the authors intent
- Does it apply to you
- Did the resurrection change the application
- What wisdom can I apply if the context has changed due to the establishment of the New Covenant
Looking back at the sermon on the mount, keep in mind this passage from Jesus…
Matthew 5:17 “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. 18 For 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. (how is it accomplished? by him)
Then he goes on to give validity to the Law and show his regard for it…
Matthew 5:19 Therefore 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. 20 For 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.
But you can’t forget that he led Paul to reveal this to us…
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all (who believe) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
So what do we do with Jesus’ teachings? How do we understand and apply them?
I believe those questions are best answered and understood in light of the audience of the sermon on the mount and what he said just before the sermon. He began his public ministry by saying “repent, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Then he pronounced blessings on people who were sick, poor and broken. Jesus did it backwards, he announced that his kingdom was available and that you can be blessed in his kingdom even if you’re sick, outcast, poor and broken. Keep in mind sick people were considered cursed and unclean under the Law so they could not be blessed.
In his sermon, Jesus elevates the application of the Law to the heart rather than just actions. In other words he takes it to a place of impossibility. You must understand a few things about righteousness to understand what he’s accomplishing. When he says that your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, he knows that later on it will be revealed that righteousness will be by faith and not by works. He’s fulfilling the truth that the Law is a school master until the Messiah come, then righteousness would be found by seeking him and entering through him, which is the narrow gate. Jesus himself is the narrow gate through which we enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The narrow gate is not a set of virtues and difficult rules, it’s Jesus himself.
Jesus clarifies when he says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He comforts us by saying that his teachings and expected application are easy and light. Cutting off your hand and plucking out your eye doesn’t sound easy and light.
Jesus was tasked with teaching the Law the way God wanted it, which is obedience from the heart. Just before he lays out his impossible perspective of the Law, he gives us a clue that he will fulfill the Law on our behalf. Then through his apostles he reveals that righteousness in by faith in his finished work.
John 5:36 I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.
We don’t have to twist the words of Jesus or throw out the Old Covenant to be grace folks, we simply understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets and we can now live blessed in Him.