I believe the Sermon on the Mount should be read as a unified whole, not a collection of individual thoughts. Jesus, who was the most gifted communicator the world has known, wove these thoughts together with smart transitions. For example, be began with The Beattitudes which display the core of a disciple’s character. Out of that character comes the disciple’s influence, namely salt and light, which preserves and illuminates a dark and decaying world. As the disciple’s good deeds shine forth, those who are influenced in turn praise and glorify the Father. Those good deeds become the transition for the remainder of Matthew 5 where Jesus describes the relationship between the Old Testament law and genuine righteousness.
Jesus teaching was new. Those who heard him confessed that no one had ever spoken like that before. I imagine it could be compared to the first time a person hears a new genre of music. It was different. So the implied question would have been, “What about the old teaching?” Was the old going away? Is it being replaced? Jesus clarified the relationship between his teaching and the old teaching by saying, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17, NLT).
Jesus affirmed the law of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament) in at least five ways.
1. The law revealed the standard of God’s perfect righteousness.
2. The law was designed to instruct God’s people in his will and to expose the sin in his people’s lives.
3. Jesus’ issue was not with the law itself, but with misinterpretations and misuses of it.
4. Jesus’ life was a perfect example of obedience to the law.
5. Jesus’ demonstrated that all of the law hangs on love of God and neighbor.
The Pharisees were masters of the law and practiced rigid observance of it. They taught that there were 613 commands, 248 voiced in the positive (Thou Shalts) and 365 voiced in the negative (Thou Shalt Nots). They memorized and lived each one with meticulous care. And they judged everyone accordingly.
These religious teachers of the law believed that doing good led to being good. Jesus turned that thinking inside out, saying that being good led to doing good. Over the next several days I’ll unpack what that looks like and provide a helpful suggestion on how to make that work. Thanks for checking in!