13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
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.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confirmed the importance of the Law of God. The Law of God serves both as a mirror that shows mankind their sin as well as a blueprint for children of God as they seek to live in accordance with the Word of their Father.
- Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke
- God’s Word Shows the Way
- Not Just Hands, But Heart
God’s Law has everything to do with people’s lives today. For followers of Jesus, it is the blueprint to a life that pleases their Creator and Father. For those who do not follow Jesus, it is a mirror that reveals their desperate need for a Savior.
Christ is the key to understanding God’s Law. Those who are in Christ see God’s Law as a blessing because it helps them know how to walk in joyful obedience to the one who saved them. For those who are not in Christ, the Law sends them running to Christ because they realize that they are unable to keep the commandments of God. Finally, the Law shows us the standard by which God measures true righteousness, and when we look at the life of Christ we see that he was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. Jesus earned the righteousness of God.
When Christians read God’s Law they respond in obedience with joy and thanksgiving because they remember that they were hell-bound, ruined people. Now they are free to know God and live in obedience to him. Christians desire for others to share that joy, peace, and hope. Christians love their neighbors enough to tell them the truth about God’s Law, their transgressions, and Christ the cure.
The flight between the two Ecuadorian cities of Quito and Lago Agrio is amazing. It only lasts about 45 minutes, but during that time the airplane weaves its way between multiple snow-capped peaks in the Andes Mountains. You may find yourself glancing through the window only to see a magnificent mountain peak at eye level. It is surreal. You are flying amongst the clouds and here is a mountain that you hope the pilot doesn’t veer too close to.
From that vantage point, the views are breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Passengers pull out their cellphones and take pictures and videos. People smile and chat about what they are seeing as they sip on ginger ale and eat pretzels. In a few short minutes, they are on the ground in the sweltering jungle.
From the airplane, the view of the mountains is exhilarating. However, if you were at the base of one of them knowing that you had to summit the peak, exhilaration would immediately give way to desperation. As you looked up at an impossibly steep grade that went on forever, you would quickly determine that getting over that mountain is beyond your ability.
Isn’t it interesting that our position or vantage point determines feelings and perspectives? The same mountain looks very different from an airplane window and a basecamp.
God’s Law is like that. For those who are not in Christ, God’s Law is a desolate, lonely, and impossible place. But for Christians, God’s Law is good and helpful and a sign of God’s lovingkindness toward them. How does God’s Law look to you?
In the previous passage, known as the beatitudes, Jesus aimed to encourage his followers by affirming their current blessed state and assuring them of a future hope. Jesus was careful to identify who his true followers were by naming them by their fruit (meek, humble, etc). In essence, Jesus said that his followers were blessed because all of God’s promises to them will be kept. Now, Jesus turns his attention to what it means to live as his follower. But, this message isn’t just for Christians. It is also is a powerful message to those who are outside of Christ. Jesus’s standard here is impossibly high for people operating in their own strength and depending on their self-righteousness.
1. Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke (Matthew 5:13–16)
In verses 13 and 14, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” We know that he was talking to his disciples because of the context of the passage and also because of the meaning of the passage. Only those who love and fear the Lord will inherit the kingdom of God and only those who fear and love the Lord can be salt and light in a sin-soaked world.
Why do you think Jesus referred to his true followers as salt and light?
These two metaphors for the Christian are appropriate for several reasons. First of all, both provide a great service to humanity. They are useful and undeniably good for mankind. Salt’s preserving quality was invaluable in the ancient world. And, it goes without saying that light was essential. So Christians are to be a blessing to those all around them by being witnesses both in word and deed of the one true and living God.
But there is another lesson we learn from these two metaphors. Both salt and light are naturally useful and good. There is nothing you have to do to light or salt once it is in your possession in order to make it useful. We simply have to let them do their job. Christians, because they have been transformed by the power of the gospel, are naturally useful. They aren’t perfect, but they are a new creation, indwelt by God’s Spirit, both meant and fitted for good works (2 Cor 5:17, Eph 2:10).
When are light and salt useful? What does this help us understand about Christians?
Jesus said that if salt loses its saltiness, then it’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out. Further, Jesus asked who in the world would light a lamp to put under a basket. Salt that isn’t salty and a light that is smothered under a basket makes about as much sense as a Christian who doesn’t do good works.
Whenever the gospel fire has been lit in someone’s heart, the smoke of works will be seen. Always. No exceptions. A rescue as glorious and wonderful as the gospel can only result in a person who is totally committed to the Rescuer, which can consist of nothing less than joyful, humble, and faithful obedience to the Rescuer.
True Christians are humble, repentant, meek, merciful and the like because God has made them that way by the power of the gospel. That’s the inward reality of a follower of Jesus. The outward reality will follow and can no more be detained than a wave crashing against the seashore or a candle giving off light or salt being salty. Of course, Christians are not perfect and sanctification is a process, but there is no denying the reality of one who has been born again.
Application Question: Does your outward living reflect an inward transformation? Have you been saved by the power of the gospel message? If so, what is your testimony of salvation?
2. God’s Word Shows the Way (Matthew 5:17–20)
We cannot overemphasize the importance of considering the context when we read the Bible. We must resist the temptation to lift out a verse or two and formulate a lesson or doctrine on those words alone. They relate to the verses around them (not to mention the whole counsel of God). Those words were written by specific people to specific people with a specific intention.
Jesus told his followers that they should be salt and light and let their good works be seen so that God would get glory. The next logical question is this: What works are the works of God? We naturally want to stop reading there and start brainstorming. We could probably come up with a long list of ways to be salt and light in our homes, schools, and workplaces, but Jesus didn’t intend for his followers to put their heads together to come up with ways to obey God. The sermon doesn’t stop there. In the very next verse, he said: “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” (v. 17) Here is the meaning plain and simple: those that have been saved will read and obey God’s word.
What did Jesus indicate was his relationship to God’s Law? What did he say about people’s relationship to God’s Law?
Jesus said “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” (v. 17) Jesus came to uphold the Law of God. Furthermore, he said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Later in the sermon, Jesus said: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).
Jesus said plainly that he would uphold the Law. This means that Christ not only esteemed it and believe that it was God’s Law, but that he would keep it perfectly. Further, Jesus said those who wanted eternal life must be found blameless in relationship to God’s Law. In other words, if a person is imperfect in his obedience to God’s Law then he is unfit for the Kingdom.
What does this mean for the Christian? What does it mean for the non-Christian?
God’s Law is joy and life for the follower of Jesus, but it is misery and death for the unbeliever. The reason for the vast chasm between the two is the position of each (recall the mountain illustration). Christians are no longer condemned by God’s Law because Christ has redeemed them from the punishment of all the times that they have and will break God’s Law. They are no longer condemned by it. Those who are not Christians, however, must keep God’s Law perfectly and perpetually or they will be found guilty. Of course, they are already guilty and even if they weren’t, their innocence wouldn’t make it past lunchtime.
For Christians, the Law is like a blueprint or a roadmap. It shows them how to walk in obedience to their heavenly Father. It shows them how to please their Father whom they desperately desire to please. This isn’t drudgery for true Christians, it is a joy. Christians are people who have experienced the salvation of God in Jesus Christ. They are eternally grateful and joyful. They long to worship God. They desire to obey him. They crave fellowship with him.
Not so for unbelievers. The Law of God for non-Christians is a mirror, and when they look into it they see a corrupted, sin-sick heart. They see transgression on top of transgression and eternal punishment that will be justly administered. This is why those who are not in Christ do one of two things when confronted with the truth of the Scriptures. They either mock them and write the Bible off as an ancient storybook or they twist the Scriptures to fit their conception of what God should be like. Both of these pathways lead to destruction.
God’s Word is sufficient and effective. God accomplishes his purposes by applying his Word to both believers and unbelievers. For the Christian, God’s purpose is to give them clarity about how to live as a child of God, nourish their faith and repentance, and preserve them for heaven. For the non-Christian, God’s purpose is to show them their sin-sickness, which will either result in their embracing the Savior or scoffing at him. God will be glorified in both scenarios by showing his mercy or his justice.
Application Question: What do you see when you look at God’s Law, an impossible, condemning standard or a joyful blueprint for obedience?
3. Not Just Hands, But Heart (Matthew 5:21–37)
In the next section, Jesus explained specific examples of having a righteousness that supersedes the scribes and the Pharisees. In these examples, Jesus communicated three primary truths. Let’s take them one by one.
What was Jesus’s overarching message to his believers concerning these specific commands?
Jesus revealed that the sort of obedience God expected was more robust than what they had come to believe. It wasn’t to be only their external actions, but also their internal state; not only their hands but also their hearts. They were to not only obey the letter of the Law with their hands but also the spirit of the Law by submitting their hearts. It isn’t enough to simply not murder, we must love our neighbor. It’s not sufficient to avoid adultery, but we must guard our hearts against even looking lustfully upon someone. Don’t just fend off a divorce, but esteem marriage the way that God esteems it. Finally, let your speech be the overflow of a heart that fears, loves, and worships the Lord.
Jesus expressed this same principle in the negative when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27).
Thus, these commands help the Christian know how to walk in obedience and how to repent. They don’t see the Law as a means to make themselves right with God, but as a means to live in accordance with their new position in Christ as a child of God.
What did these commands express to those who were not in Christ and depended on their own righteousness for salvation?
They show the impossibly high standard of God’s Law for those who want to be justified by it. God is holy and he demands holiness. If a person seeks to be right with God by his own merits, then this is the standard that he must reach.
Of course, it’s impossible. Every person is born in sin and is bent toward sin from birth. There are none who are righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10). Nowhere is the unbeliever confronted with his spiritual inability more forcibly than when he reads the Law of God.
What did these commands say about Jesus, the one who came to fulfill God’s Law?
Jesus didn’t come to abolish God’s Law, he came to keep it perfectly. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus this way: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). When Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God he proved that he was the Son of God. No mere man with a sinful nature can perfectly and perpetually obey God, but Jesus did. He did this because he wasn’t a mere man, he was the God-man, fully God, and fully man.
Further, when Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience he earned God’s righteousness and made himself to be a sufficient and effective substitute sacrifice. The righteousness that Jesus earned through perfect obedience was applied to our account, while our sin was applied to Jesus’s account.
Application Question: If you are a Christian, which of these commandments are you struggling most with? What are some strategies that you can enact to fight against sin? If you are not a Christian, what will you do about your inability to obey God’s Law? What will you do with your sin?
God’s Law is good. It is good for both believers and unbelievers. For the Christian, the Law of God provides a blueprint by which they can joyfully and worshipfully obey their Heavenly Father. For the non-Christian, God graciously reveals to them their need for a Savior by exposing their spiritual inability when they compare their lives to his Law.
Christians will produce the fruit of obedience because they are new creations in Christ. The fire of gospel transformation will produce the smoke of joyful obedience and humble repentance. If there is no smoke, then there can be no assurance of fire.
Finally, Jesus fulfilled the Law of God perfectly. He was tempted in all the ways that we are, but he never sinned. Jesus always did what God commanded and he never did what God forbade. This very same righteousness that Jesus exhibited is what is applied to the accounts of those who respond to the gospel message with faith and repentance.
- Do you understand the concept of Jesus’s righteousness being applied to the Christian’s account? If not, talk with your pastor about this essential Christian doctrine.
- What do you see when you look at God’s Law? What does that indicate about the state of your soul?
- Is it your joy to obey God’s Law? Why or why not?
- Does it grieve you to break God’s Law? Why or why not?
- Which of the commandments that Jesus commented on do you find the most applicable to your current situation?
Prayer of Response
Give thanks to God for his Law. Thank him for providing a blueprint by which you can walk in joyful obedience and humble repentance.
Rejoice that Jesus kept God’s Law perfectly earning a righteousness that would be applied to the account of all those that would respond to the gospel message with faith and repentance. Finally, pray for those who are outside of Christ. Pray that they would be humbled as their lives are exposed to the Law of God. Pray that God would open their hearts to the gospel.