Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Going Above and Beyond: The Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule

Jesus says "I have not come to abolish the Law"… so why does the Sermon on the Mount sound like he's contradicting the commandments given in the Old Testament?

The Pharisees get a lot of bad press in the Gospels; but it's important to remember that they were the "good" people of the day. They studied the Scriptures, they followed the rules, they didn't smoke or drink or cuss; they were respected role models of community. In today's terms, they would be pastors, professors, church-goers... Bible quizzers.

But they completely missed the point, because the Pharisees focused on _APPEARANCES_; Jesus focused on _INTENTIONS_.

God has given his Commandments as ways for people to better their lives and draw closer to him; the Pharisees made a "fence" of rules around the law, defining what technically does or doesn't break the rules, and missing the matter of the heart entirely.

Did Jesus come to get rid of the old laws? Look again at Matt. 5:17-20.

Jesus says that he hasn't come to abolish the Law (which God gave Moses in the Old Testament), and then he seems to go on and repeatedly undermine it with the phrase "You have heard… but I tell you (instead)." But really, Jesus is supporting the intention behind the commandment, and attacking the way people have interpreted it for their own benefit. Instead of taking a step further away from the Law, in a legalistic sense, Jesus takes the principle a step further inward and upward.

"You have heard…"

  • Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'"
    • Comes from: Ex 20:13, the Sixth Commandment
    • The reason for the commandment: To protect _LIVES_.
    • Jesus makes it clear that the sin is not just the act of murder, it's the _HATRED_ behind it, which is an issue of _THE HEART_. Anger can murder a person or a relationship, without actually killing the person.

  • Matthew 5:27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'
    • Comes from: Ex 20:14, the Seventh Commandment.
    • The reason for the commandment: To protect marriages, and promote personal _PURITY_.
    • The Pharisees condemned _THE OUTWARD ACT_.
    • Jesus said that _THE DESIRE_ was just as sinful and harmful to yourself.

  • Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'"
    • Comes from: Ex 21:24, and others
    • This is a tricky one, because it sounds so brutal by today's terms. But think about it: if I knock out your tooth, is your instinct to inflict exactly the same about of damage to me? No! The natural reaction is to escalate, and cause me more pain than I caused you!
      The reason for the commandment: To restrict _REVENGE_.
    • The Pharisees used this law against its own purpose: to _JUSTIFY_ their own personal retribution and revenge.
    • Jesus was teaching to _FORGIVE_ , and do not resent. In fact, you should pursue peace and love kindness at any cost.
      - What did it mean to lose your tunic, or cloak? In the first century, clothing was difficult and time-consuming to make, and most people had only one set of clothes. The "tunic" was the shirt they wore next to the skin, while a "cloak" was the outer garment, which they also could use as a blanket, a carrying bag, or other uses. If you gave both of them away you had nothing left. Can you imagine giving away everything you own?
      - What kind of person could force you to "go a mile"? Remember, this was a nation who was conquered by the Roman army, who was present everywhere. And if the army needed work done, the soldiers had authorization from Rome to require labor from the local population. They could take your work animal, eat your food… and if they want, force you to carry their things. What a difference from the Zealots, who wanted to fight the Romans: Jesus says, don't resent them for making you work for them. Instead, put on a smile, and offer to do a double shift!

  • Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
    • Comes from Lev 19:18 – Look it up! What does this verse NOT say?
      __it doesn't say "hate your enemy"__
    • The reason for the commandment: To live _IN PEACE_
    • This was a common saying at the time, but it appears no where in the Old Testament. Someone (I wonder who) had added it, and it was repeated so often that people took its validity for granted.
    • Jesus _SURPRISED_ the crowd by telling them to love your enemy. The enemy was a foreign power occupying their country. This was a complete 180 for them!
The Golden Rule

Matthew 5:45-48
When Jesus says the Father in heaven "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good", he's saying that God _BLESSES EVERYONE_, and if we really want to be God's children, then we also shouldn't make distinctions on who deserves our love and who doesn't. After all, if we only love those who are good to us, how could we be called God's children? How is that any better than anyone else? He makes a very similar comparison in Mt 7:9-11.

Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This is Jesus' _CONCLUDING STATEMENT_; it wraps up everything else that he was trying to communicate in the whole section. Remember Matt. 5:17? What does He start with? "The Law and the Prophets."

He ends in the same place he started, and his message is that righteousness is not something that can be attained by keeping a list of rules; it has everything to do with your attitude and your relationships.


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