Friday, January 10, 2014

Matthew 5:17-48 Christ's Law of Righteousness

Matt 5:17-48 "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.  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.  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.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder...' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart...
"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.'  But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all... Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.  
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  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.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus affirmed the Law of Moses: "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). What he was against is not Moses' Law but the Scribal laws created by Jewish scribes and practised by the Pharisees over three hundred years since the Jews' return from exiles. These scribal laws were interpretations of the Moses' Law and became as authoritative as the Law of Moses. The Pharisees were a sect committed to keep everyone of these extra-biblical rules and regulations. So, Jesus told the disciples that "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (v.20). In order that their righteousness may exceed the legalistic laws of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus re-interpreted Moses' law in the context of the new covenant. And to exceed the righteousness of the scribes means not only rejecting their legalistic interpretations but to revised their interpretations to meet the original intent of Moses' laws.

So, Jesus re-interpreted the Ten Commandments using this formula: "you have heard before... but now I say to you..." He is not denying Moses' law but reinterpreting as a matter of heart motivations rather than mere outward observances.
  • Anger is murder: So, since the motivation for murder is anger, anger in itself is the front-end of murder which will result in the act of murder.
  • Lust is adultery: Following the same logic, since adultery starts with lustful look, lust in itself is the front-end of adultery. 
  • We mean what we say: If we are trustworthy, we don't need oaths, contracts and vows to keep our words. Our yes is as good as law.
  • Justice is Returning Good for Evil: The world's idea of justice is tooth for tooth and eye for eye. But Jesus' idea of justice is returning good for evil. Now that must surely exceed the righteousness not only of the scribes and Pharisees but also of this world's judicial system.
  • Love is for Enemy: We have not practised agape-love if we can only love our family and friends. Jesus says that if we only love those who love us, then what difference does it make to call ourselves Christians? Don't even non-Christians love their family and their friends? But what makes agape-love different is that it loves even its enemies. So, Paul says, "While we are yet sinners (enemies of God), Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). If we say we are believers but cannot forgive our enemies, then we are not really true believers who have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. Our "righteousness" is no greater than the scribes and Pharisees.
  • Perfection is our Goal: The old saw that we are "just forgiven sinners" is an excuse to continue to sin. Believers sin not because they cannot help it but because they don't want to help it. Christ died on the Cross and gave us His Holy Spirit not so that we can't help it but so that we can help it! If we can't help it, then what's the point of becoming a Christian? 
So, Jesus' standards is much higher not because He rejects Moses' law, but because He gives it the correct interpretations. That is why Jesus' righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and now He's commanding us believers who are children of the Father to live like our Father. who rains on the righteous and unrighteous.

Some preachers say Jesus' standards in Matthew 5 are impossible to keep. If that's so, we are denying that believers have the Holy Spirit. But all believers have the same Holy Spirit that indwells the Man Jesus Christ. He has set an example for us to follow: we should follow in His steps. It's better to aim high than to aim low. When we aim high and miss the target, we are still quite close to the centre. But if we aim low and miss, we will be off the chart.

Father, thank You that You have called us to  a higher standard of righteousness. And You have given us Your Holy Spirit to empower us to do it. Amen.

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