Gospel: Matthew 5:20-37
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 2:6-13
Lesson: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm: Psalm 119:1-6
CLB Pastors Network – Professor Mark Erickson
Context: We are nearing the end of the Epiphany Season of the Church. Epiphany is characterized by the “unveiling” of Jesus to the world He has come to rescue. This year, the Gospel readings for Epiphany come from the first half of Jesus’ renowned “Sermon on the Mount” from Matthew 5 and 6. In these chap- ters, Jesus “unveils” the character of His heart, of His Kingdom, and of those who belong to His Kingdom.
Two weeks ago, the text was the Introduction to Jesus’ Sermon, known as the Beatitudes. Here He emphasizes that this “sermon” is for people who are, by faith, living within the Kingdom of God. They may not be regarded as “blessed” or “fortunate” by the “important” people of this world, but they are so recognized by God Himself. We learn, then that this Sermon is not a sermon designed to make people feel guilty, nor is it to be used as standard of behavior necessary for entering the Kingdom, nor is it to be used in a legalistic way of imposing such standards upon the institutional church or society in general. Rather, this sermon is a proclamation of the Kingdom and it describes the dynamics and ethics of that Kingdom and those belong to it by faith alone. (It is descriptive rather than prescriptive, as Dr. Veum wrote.)
Last week, we learned that the Kingdom and its citizens stand in marked contrast to this world – like light where there is darkness and salt where there is blandness. Christ’s Kingdom exists in this world to bear influence in the world and to welcome repentant sinners into the Kingdom of God as full-fledged citizens. Further, it will come as a shock to many that the righteousness characteristic of the Kingdom, is extreme righteousness – righteousness that exceeds even the righteousness of the Pharisees (who were regarded both by themselves and others as the absolute pinnacle of righteousness possible)!
The Kingdom over which Jesus rules welcomes any and all sinners who recognize and forsake their own efforts at self-righteousness because of the perfectly righteous life of Jesus, His sacrificial death as our substitute, and His resurrection, proof that His perfect sacrifice was fully accepted by His Father. He fulfilled God’s righteousness in His life and He fulfills it on our behalf through His death. It is only in this way that we sinners can be welcomed into the Kingdom. This week, we note that Jesus begins to draw some important contrasts between how Jewish scholars at the time of Jesus interpreted the Law of Moses and how God intended it to be understood and lived out in His Kingdom.
Text: The most interesting variant would be in verse 22 where the KJV and NKJV include the phrase, “without a cause.” This phrase (one word in Greek) was almost certainly added in the early 3rd century to soften or qualify Jesus’ strong, categorical statement. This phrase, while not in the original text, is probably not incorrect, since not all anger is wrong (Ephesians 4:26).
Having mentioned this rather inconsequential variant, it would be accurate to say that there are no major textual problems in this passage.
Commentary: Most obvious in this passage is the pattern Jesus establishes (and actually continues into the verses following this text): “You have heard that it was said (to the people long ago)…But I (emphatic!!)…But I tell you…:” This repetition strongly suggests that an expository sermon will want to emphasize these four comments (in verses 22, 28, 32, and 34 – also verses 39 and 44). Jesus contrasts His own authoritative teaching with the tradition Jewish teachings at the time, thus revealing the true intent of His heart (that is, God’s heart) in the giving of these commandments.
5:21-26 – Jesus draws His first contrast between the way the commandment, “You shall not murder,” was interpreted from the time of Moses until, and the way that God always intended it to be understood from the beginning the time of Jesus. The traditional interpretation of this was usually restricted to the act of unlawfully taking the life of another human being. However, Jesus indicates that this commandment condemns so much more than killing another human being. It includes anger that is unforgiving and which, in turn, leads to other sins, such as calling people abusive names and being unwilling to be reconciled with someone who has offended you or who has taken offence at something you have done or said. In the Kingdom over which Jesus reigns, there is quick, though costly, reconciliation and forgiveness between both parties who have been alienated.
5:27-32 – The second contrast is drawn between the way the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” was understood from the time of Moses until the time of Jesus, and the way God always intended it to be understood from the beginning. The traditional interpretation was that adultery was sexual inter- course with someone who is not one’s spouse.
However, Jesus warns that this commandment must also be understood to forbid even fantasizing or imagining sexual relations with someone other than the one to whom one is married.
Within this teaching, Jesus engages in a literary device called hyperbole, or exaggeration. Jesus is trying to emphasize the seriousness of this sin by suggesting that those who struggle with looking or acting in lust gouge out or cut off offending body parts in order to avoid falling into this sin.
He also enters into a brief discussion about divorce, in which He greatly amplifies the sinful nature of divorce, beyond that of most of the teachers of Israel. This teaching is revisited in Matthew 19 with more context and specificity, but in both places, Jesus clearly teaches that divorce, unless it is the result of sexual immorality, involves the sin of adultery.
5:33-37 – The third and final contrast Jesus makes in this passage regards the taking and breaking of oaths. The tradition of the Jews was that oaths could be taken to verify the truth of one’s story or testimony as long as they were not broken through the telling of a falsehood. However Jesus says, “In my Kingdom, truth doesn’t need to be verified by the taking of oaths. The people of my Kingdom will simply speak the truth – period! Oaths are unnecessary in the Kingdom; the citizens of this Kingdom tell the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth!”
One way that a sermon on this text will use the Law in a theological sense is to emphasize the fact that no one can live up to this level of righteousness, and yet this is the level of righteousness that is minimal for citizens of the Kingdom of God. On account of these insufficiencies, then, we are all by nature excluded from the Kingdom and liable to the punishment of God. However, because Jesus actually did live out that level of perfection and because His death was in the place of sinners, God is willing and able to pardon sinners of their wrongs and account to them the righteousness of Jesus so that God can and does look upon sinners as if they had never sinned, and as full citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Law & Gospel – This sermon should teach the Law in the way that Jesus does in this passage: that is, as a description of God’s perfection, that is, of His righteousness. This warns unbelievers that because they sin, they are separated from God the King and the do not belong to His Kingdom of eternal joy. This separation is cancelled, however, through faith in Jesus. Even one’s best efforts to keep the laws of God or to try to match the perfection of Christ will fall short of God’s righteousness.
However for those of us who are justified by faith in Christ (a.k.a. believers, citizens of the Kingdom, etc.), the Law is a guide; it teaches us about the ethics of the Kingdom; and it challenges us to further discipline and obedience, not to gain or enhance our standing before God, but so that it will honor and glorify our King and Father in Heaven, and attract outsiders to the Kingdom as well.
Since most congregations will have both believers and unbelievers in attendance, the preacher will need to apply the Law in both of the above fashions. But the Gospel, the good news of what God has done in Christ on the cross, has the last say!
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
“Jesus’ contemporaries had heard that the law given their forefathers forbade murder (not the taking of all life, which could, for instance, be a judicial mandate: cf. Gen 9:6) and that the murderer must be brought to judgment’, which here refers to legal proceedings, perhaps the court set up in every town [Deut 16:18; 2 Chron 19:5] or the council of twenty-three persons set up to deal with criminal matters. But Jesus insists-the ‘I’ is emphatic in each of the six antitheses that the law really points to his own teaching: the root of murder is anger, and anger is murderous in principle (v.22). One has not conformed to the better righteousness of the kingdom simply by refraining from homicide. The angry person will be subject to judgment, but it is presupposed this is God’s judgment, since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger. To stoop to insult exposes one not merely to God’s council (Sanhedrin – NIV) but to the fire of hell.”
Carson, D.A., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.
The NIV Application Commentary – Matthew
“The second antithesis balances the stringency of the seventh commandment of the Decalogue, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex.20:14), with the radicalism of the tenth commandment, ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife’ (Ex. 20:17). It is one thing for a husband to say that he has never committed adultery, but it is another to say that he has never violated the marriage through flirting with another woman. The apostle Paul understood the difference, because he viewed himself as righteous until he grasped fully the significance of the command not to covet. Then he saw the depth of his own sinfulness (Romans 7:7-13). The arrival of the kingdom of heaven in Jesus’ ministry enables his disciples to have the kind of marriage that God originally designed.”
Wilkins, M.J., The NIV Application Commentary – Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
People’s Bible Commentary – Matthew
“An oath is a serious matter. A person taking an oath calls upon God as his witness that he is telling the truth or that he will keep his promise. That means he also asks God to punish him if he is not truth to his word.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had devised a system of oaths in which some oaths were considered more binding than others. They imagined that they decreased their responsibility if they did not directly use the Lord’s name in an oath. So they would swear by heaven or by the earth or by Jerusalem or by the temple or even by their own heads. But Jesus pointed out that God is still present as their witness, no matter what formula they might recite. It was nonsense to say, as they did, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.”
Albrecht, G.J. and Albrecht, M.J., People’s Bible Commentary – Matthew. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1996.