“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5: 17 NKJV).
The great ‘Sermon on the Mount’, is like a summary of what Jesus stands for, the purpose for which he came and the instruction manual for eternal life for all those who believe. Among the most striking statement in this Sermon was the one quoted above. Jesus clearly implied that the Law is good for us because he was the one who made it in the first instance and obeying the Law will do us a lot of good.(Rom. 7: 12).
If Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, then no believer should despise or destroy it. This indicates that the problem is not the Law but the ability to obey it. Apostle Paul confirmed this difficulty in obeying the Law in the flesh when he wrote, (Rom.7:15) “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice: but what I hate, that I do.”
So Paul agreed that the Law is good (Rom. 7:16). It is the power or Law of Sin that makes obedience difficult. This is why Jesus came with love and grace and a higher Law that we can tap into. Paul called this the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. “For the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of Sin and death.”(Rom.8:2). Great thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we move into the issue of higher standard of the Law which Jesus emphasized, and is the main object of this study. If we look at Matt. 5:19 to the end of the chapter we begin to see the higher standard of the Law. The conclusion of Jesus is stated in Matt. 5:48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”. Jesus did not say we are perfect, but that we shall attain it; not by our own power but by his Spirit and grace. (See Zech.4:6).
Our righteousness, says Jesus, must exceed those of the scribes and Pharisees. Paul himself was a Pharisee as he recounted and boasted about his obedience to the Law while a Pharisee, after his conversion. (Phil.3:4-6). After conversion and knowledge of Christ, he called them rubbish. In other words, the righteousness of the Pharisees is rubbish. We must surpass it. Now, how do we surpass it? Has Jesus made it any easier? If by our flesh, I guess not. But thank God he brought grace and mercy through Christ.
“You shall not murder”. (Ex. 20:13). The Pharisee says o.k. “I will not kill anyone; I am determined that I will not shed anyone’s blood”. Jesus says, don’t even hate. Do not harbor bitterness of any kind because if you do, you will be subject to Judgment. Apostle John elaborates this in 1 Jn.3:15 where he wrote “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer ….). We must reconcile with anyone that will block our access to the Love of God. It is easier said than done! Many of us still harbor indefinite bitterness and resentment. This is detestable to the Lord.
“You shall not commit adultery”. Jesus said it is not just about the act but it is a matter of the heart. Do not look at a woman lustfully. Therefore you must deal with the situation by ‘crucifying’ your flesh. We must realize that every (or most) act is first conceived as a thought however how spontaneous it is. Yet again, it is more difficult. The standard required here is higher.
On Divorce, it was so easy for ‘Pharisees’ to send away their wives at every flimsy whim and caprice. Now Jesus raised the bar. The cost and consequence of divorce is so high that you will rather stay married because God hates divorce. (See Mal.2:16). Though the greatest hurt in marriage is arguably adultery, the Spirit of the Law on divorce is “Stay Married”!
Concerning Oaths, Jesus said we should not swear by anything. We should rather live on truth and trust. “… Let your yes be yes and your no be no”. (Matt. 5:37); (See also Jam.5:12). On vengeance, Jesus encouraged us to leave everything to God who is the true Judge. Rather than ‘an Eye for an Eye’, give place to the wrath of God. (Rom.12:19). As believers, we should make a difference and go the extra mile. This is not easy either.
Last is Love for Enemies. (Matt. 5: 43-48). This is perhaps the most difficult of the teachings on the Mount. Today many Christians openly curse their enemies while pretending to pray against them. We must realize that the true enemy is Satan. The higher law of Love as against hatred which Jesus presents has proven to be virtually impracticable. But we asked to go the extra mile, make a difference and stand out. You cannot curse the one who you love. God loves both the evil and the good. That is the reason he “gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. (John 3:16).
The true intention of the Law, rather than the legalistic interpretation is what Jesus emphasizes in his explanation of the Law. Pharisees are legalistic and Jesus condemned them through and through because he knew the state of their hearts and that they are hypocrites. This is why he called them ‘whitewashed tombs’. (Matt. 23:27). We must embrace the spirit of the Law rather than the letter. Apostle Paul says the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor.3:6). We must not be hypocrites. This can only be achieved by tapping into the grace of God. It is only by his grace and his (Holy) Spirit that we will be able to obey and please God. And it is by faith that we are justified. (Gal.2:16). We cannot please him without faith. (Heb.11:6).The fear of God is not what produces obedience but the Love of God produces obedience, love and the fear of God. “We love him because he first loved us”. (1 John 4:19). Putting on the yoke of Christ enables us to obey and live above sin.
Jesus came to deliver us from the curse of the law and all who believe have indeed been thus delivered. He said we must be born again. I.e. we must be born of the Spirit. Thus we receive salvation by faith for what he did from the foundation of the earth. Then he sealed this by his shed blood on the cross of Calvary, his death, and resurrection. He died for our sins and rose for our justification. Therefore we have been declared righteous. “For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him”. (2 Cor.5:21). So it is not by our own righteousness, which cannot attain the standard of God but that which is through faith in Christ. Paul says, (Phil. 3:9) “… not having my own righteousness which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;”
Now, Jesus did not leave us comfortless or without empowering us. As he promised, he has given us the Holy Spirit to help us in our infirmities, teaching and strengthening us. The Holy Spirit helps us and gives us the grace to please God. We may not have attained but we must press on towards the goal of perfection. Jesus knows our frailty but also knows that with God all things are possible and he works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Glory belongs to God.