Strive for Godly Perfection

Explore the Bible Series

September 16, 2007


Background Passage: The Gospel of Matthew 4:17-7:29

Lesson Passage: The Gospel of Matthew 5:20-26; 38-48


Introduction: As a child, I heard some preachers insist that the Sermon on the Mount had little relevance to Christians during the Age of Grace; rather, this discourse applied to the Jews to whom Jesus offered the Kingdom of God, an offer that Israel rejected by turning away from the Messiah.  In time, I found this interpretive model unsatisfying. This marvelous discourse, in my judgment, has relevance for all generations of disciples. It serves as a clear statement of the principles that must govern the lives of those who follow Christ.


Undoubtedly, serious students of this sermon experience an overwhelming sense of their own failure to live up to the elevated principles Jesus taught; thus, while the sermon does not address issues like the New Birth or justification, the text certainly relieves the thoughtful reader of his/her self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.  It points to Jesus as the only righteous man who ever lived, and compels the believer to look to Christ for forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration.


In the Acts of the Apostles 17:1-10, Luke recorded a story about the visit of Paul and Silas, to the city of Thessalonica.  For three Sabbath Days the two missionaries reasoned with the Jews in the local synagogue, and their hearers, persuaded of the gospel of Christ, embraced the good news.  Included in the number of converts were several “God-fearing” Gentiles and a number of prominent women.  The Jewish leaders, motivated by envy, mobbed the home of a man named Jason, a new convert to the Christian faith.  These riotous men brought Jason before the city authorities, and, among the charges they raised, they accused these men (Paul and his followers) of turning the world upside down.  Jesus, it seems, did much the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount.


The Jewish people of Jesus’ day perceived the world in certain ways, perceptions that rose from their study of the Law and the Talmud.  First-Century Jews, like many Twentieth-First Century Christians, fell into certain patterns of thought about godly conduct, and Jesus challenged these views.  Notice, for instance, how often Jesus used the phrase, “You have heard it said…”, in this discourse.  He followed this phrase with “… but I tell you…”  The Jews had embraced a kind of popular interpretation of the Mosaic Law, and they thoughtlessly followed accepted patterns of behavior.  Indeed, it appears that they read the Hebrew Scriptures with an interpretive model already in place.  This method of reading suspended any real interaction with the text and promoted a deadly self-righteousness that convinced them that they had fulfilled the righteous demands of the Law. Please note that Jesus did not challenge their respect for the Law (See Matthew 5:17-20); rather, he confronted their shallow application of the Law to their attitudes and conduct. He turned their world upside down, and, if you study this sermon carefully, Jesus may turn your world upside down too. 

Outline of the Background Passage:


I.                   The Kingdom Path to Blessedness (5:12): Nine times, Jesus repeated the term “blessed” in this paragraph.  Bible students refer to this list as the Beatitudes (from the Latin “Beatus”), and even a surface reading of the Scriptures reveals Jesus’ use of a common theme in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature, especially the Psalms.  The Lord described a nine-fold path to blessedness.

A.    the poor in spirit (v. 3)

B.     those who mourn (v. 4)

C.     the meek (v. 5)

D.    those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v. 6)

E.     the merciful (v. 7)

F.      the pure in heart (v. 8)

G.    the peacemakers (v. 9)

H.    those who are persecuted (v. 10)

I.       when others revile and persecute you (vv 11-12)


II.                The Kingdom Call to True Godliness (5:13-48)

A.    salt and light (vv. 13-16): Jesus began this section with a call to conspicuous Kingdom living.  What do salt and light have in common?  Both have cleansing and preservative qualities, and both salt and light are conspicuous (apparent, noticeable). In particular, Jesus highlighted the evident nature of light; that is, disciples must be like a city on a hill: radiant, glorious, and noticeable.

B.     the transcendence of the Law (vv. 17-20):  Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom could be misunderstood.  Some might have heard his words as an assault on the Law of Moses: so, very early in the sermon, Jesus clearly declared his confidence in and commitment to the Law.  He came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it.  Furthermore, Jesus made clear that his fulfillment of the Law did not mean a suspension of the legal code; rather, he clearly stated that the Law would not pass away until the heavens and the earth passed away.  This is an important section because of the material that follows.  The rest of the chapter reveals Jesus’ challenges to the Jewish misinterpretation and misapplication of the Law.

C.     Six challenges to inadequate interpretations of the Law (vv. 21-48)

1.      murder (vv. 21-26): The Sixth Commandment prohibits murder, but Jesus drew a deeper meaning from this legal precept.  Murder proceeds from the heart, a heart given to bitter, angry impulses that eventually lead to violence.  As the Baptist promised, Jesus laid the ax to the root of sin, the sinful impulses of the heart.  

2.      lust (vv. 27-30): Again, the Ten Commandments forbid adultery, but Jesus traced the roots of this sin.  Adultery begins with the eye and the heart.  It starts with the willful, deliberate intent to look on a woman with the purpose of indulging the sin impulses of the heart.  The Lord used powerful, symbolic imagery to impress on his hearers the necessity of dealing with the cause of lust.  Of course, Jesus’ words about severed hands and plucked eyes are shocking and repulsive; however, these statements do not have literal intent.

3.      divorce (vv. 31-32): God hates divorce.  The Old Testament allowed divorce, Jesus said, because of the hardness of men’s hearts (notice, again, the emphasis on the heart), and the Lord seems to allow divorce in the case of adultery.  Otherwise, remarrying, after divorce, is adultery.

4.      swearing oaths (vv. 33-37): This passage does not seem to forbid, for instance, legal oaths.  God himself takes oaths, as recorded in Scripture.  Instead, this prohibition forbids the kind of laxity that some Jews practiced in Jesus’ day.  They developed an elaborate system of oaths that actually justified lying.  Rather than play these word games, Jesus insisted that they speak the simple truth.

5.      personal vengeance (vv. 38-42): The biblical injunction concerning “an eye for an eye” related to the civil code of ancient Israel.  It called on the Hebrews to have a legal system in which the punishment fit the crime. Jesus forbade his hearers from using this text to carry out personal acts of vengeance.

6.      treatment of enemies (vv. 43-48): Jewish tradition taught that one should love his neighbors but hate one’s enemies.  Again, Jesus turned things upside down and called on his followers to love their enemies.  This love was to have concrete influence on behavior.  They were to pray for their opponents.


III.             Other Directions for Kingdom Living (6:1-7:14)

A.    Humility in Kingdom service (6:1-18): “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people…”  Jesus gave three examples of humble Kingdom service.

1.      “When you give to the poor, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…” (vv. 2-4).

2.      “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites…” (vv. 5-15).  Jesus graciously provided his followers with general directions concerning the manner and content of Kingdom prayer.  This section records the matchless Lord’s Prayer, an invaluable treasure to God’s people of every generation.  This model prayer provides wonderful counsel for the private devotions of Jesus’ disciples.

3.      “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites… (vv. 16-18).  As with giving to the poor and prayer, Kingdom citizens must take care to avoid ostentation during times of fasting. 

B.     Kingdom treasures (6:19-34)

1.      “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven…” (vv. 19-24): Again, Jesus turned the world on its ear.  He enjoined his disciples to lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth.  He closed this directive by telling his followers that they could serve God and money; instead, they had to choose which master they would serve.

2.      “…do not be anxious about your life…” (vv. 25-34): Like the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields, God will feed and clothe his people.  Ungodly men seek these things, but Jesus’ disciples seek first the kingdom of God.

C.     Kingdom relationships (7:1-12)

1.      “Judge not that you be not judged…” (vv. 1-6): Jesus used a poignant analogy to drive home his point, the speck (or mote) and the log (or beam).

2.      “Ask, and it shall be given unto you…” (vv. 7-11): Jesus, in this section, centered his attention on the disciple’s relationship with God.  Like our earthly fathers, God attentively meets the needs and humble requests of his children.

3.      “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (v. 12).


IV.             Final Principles for Kingdom Citizens (7:13-28)

A.    “Enter in the narrow gate… (vv. 13-14): Jesus understood that the principles of this sermon would seem very narrow and difficult, and, of course, he realized the human tendency to seek the easy path.  Nevertheless, the Lord did not flinch from the logical conclusion of his thoughts.  Disciples must count the cost and choose the constricted, lonely, difficult path of the Master’s design.

B.     “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing… (vv. 15-23): Of course, false teachers would arise to promise an easier path, but their fruits would betray their spurious teachings. In the end, the measure of a true disciple is his willingness and obedience to enter the narrow way.  False teachers may do impressive things in Jesus’ name, but their lawless deeds reveal the content of their hearts.


Conclusion: Jesus closed the Sermon on the Mount by comparing his disciples to a builder who constructed his home on a solid foundation.  In contrast, the foolish man built his house on the unstable foundation of shifting sand.  When the winds and storms tested the sturdiness of the house, it collapsed in ruin. The sermon concludes with Matthew’s observation about the authority of Jesus’ teaching.  Unlike the scribes, Jesus did not simply quote important commentators and theologians from the past; nor did he merely debate about theological issues.  Instead, he spoke the truth, and his audience readily recognized the power with which he spoke.