Before the break after surgery, we spent two weeks looking at the Beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. This first public sermon that Jesus preached was one of the most important sermons in all of Scriptures to Christians. It was not designed to address unbelievers. It was Jesus Christ, the Author of all of Scriptures, beginning His earthly ministry by correcting the terrible damage which the Pharisees and Scribes had caused in their interpretation of these Scriptures.
Many people, even today, see God as almost two different Personalities in the Old and New Testaments. Cold and harsh in the OT, graceful and merciful in the NT—largely due to such misinterpretations as the Pharisees and Scribes placed upon the Prophets and the Laws given by God. The Pharisees turned God's Laws of love into a harsh code of conduct, and in their oral interpretations and additions to these Laws, not only made them about nothing but outward behaviors of righteousness, but added their man-made rules and requirements far beyond what God ever intended—causing men to be enslaved to legalistic rules of conduct, just like every other "religion of man,” and completely removing the entire purpose behind the Laws in the first place: love for one another.
Many, many people today are totally infected with the same way of thinking, causing much anxiety because they never "feel" they measure up to God's expectations, or causing false self-righteousness because they think their outward behavior is better than others, but always affecting the true nature of how God's Word should be changing our hearts, and not just our actions. Many of us have completely missed the boat. And the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most important messages Jesus could ever give in order to open our hearts to His true intentions.
In the first section of Jesus' opening Sermon, the Beatitudes, God directly tells us this is exactly what He would like for us to be (not do). How can you not give serious consideration to these passages? 1) He wants us to see and understand how completely selfish, lost and dirty we are without Him 2) He wants us to realize how hurtful our sin is to Him and others, and care enough to be broken over the damage 3) He wants us to be humble in love, but bold in stance 4) He wants to see us literally long for righteousness 5) He wants us to show mercy and forgiveness 6) He wants us to have an undivided heart, living for Him only 7) He wants us to strive for peace and acceptance with those around us 8) He wants us to be willing to accept persecution in joy. He wants us to realize we are hopeless without Him, and pursue Him with undivided passion at any cost.
Now, let's walk through the rest of this all-important sermon literally preached from the Mouth of God. After the Beatitudes, these are the immediate verses to follow: Matthew 5:13-16. [Remember Jesus is talking to believers only.] In these first statements, He is telling us what our literal purpose is in this world after becoming His disciples. Our purpose is two-fold, in His eyes: 1) We are the salt of the earth. In the times of Jesus, this statement had a powerfully recognized illustration. Because of the lack of refrigeration or preservatives that we find today, salt was very precious and needed in society. It was used to draw bacteria-causing moisture out of foods, preserving them from decay and rot for extended periods of time through curing. And, of course, it was used as a flavoring just as today. So, salt preserved from decay, brought flavor, and produced thirst. Jesus tells us that one of our most important goal in this life is to protect the people around us from decay. Has the result of removing God's influence from our society not become overwhelmingly evident in our generation? We see the hostilities, murders, suicides, depression, addictions, total loss of purpose and identity, sexual confusion and perversion, and mass-killings overwhelming us, yet, we choose to blame guns in the hands of the killers, rather than the lost morals in the heart. We take from our children, any purpose for their lives, and any notion there is real Truth to be adhered to, and we stand amazed at the destruction of society, as purpose, direction, identity, love and unity rot around us. Rome did not have "Christian Laws" in place to protect their society, they had Christians. WE are supposed to be the salt out there—not the laws, not the government. Stop complaining and do what you should be doing: 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8: Paul said that we are literally the vessel which the Holy Spirit uses to restrain Satan in this world. Do you act as salt when you are out there with the decaying meat? Do you have enough concern to be involved in the lives of those who are decaying around you? Do you truly, genuinely care enough to share the answer to their problems with them? Do you live in such a way as to make those around you thirsty for the Water that can save them? Or do you cry, complain and hate just like them? Do you live with such a flavor in your life that others want what you have? Jesus says this is one of our highest callings as we live in this world. He also says that you are unloving and useless if you are not acting in this manner. In other words, if those who see how loved and cherished they are—those who are supposed to be filled with that love themselves—do not hurt for and love those broken around them, what possible good are they? They are salt without saltiness.
And Jesus says we are to be light. Imagine Jesus giving us the same title which He holds: “The Light of the World"? Do you take this honor flippantly? Being salt is working in the lives of those decaying around you, but being light, is living our own lives in such a way as to show people the way to live in Christ as examples. Light given by our good works. Light given by our love that is undeserved and undemanding. Especially, light given by our attitudes, our joy, our faith in hard times. Light is to be given to all of the world, and to those who are in our own house. It is not legalism of Christianity, but genuine joy and love, in faith, that lights the heart before others.
Next, Jesus says something very important for us to grasp: Matthew 5:17-20. Jesus makes it clear that He is not doing away with, or replacing anything that has been written in the OT Scriptures—He is completely fulfilling them. He fulfilled the prophets in His birth, life and death, He completely fulfilled almost 300 detailed prophecies [about One Man, in one moment of time, with one lineage, in one particular birthplace, Who died one particular death, on one precise day in history, and arose again before hundreds of witnesses, to change the world]. He fulfilled the Law. Every Law was a picture of His perfect love in action. Every Feast and ceremony was a picture of His life/mission. Every sacrifice was a picture of His life given for us. Every penalty of sin fulfilled in His suffering. He fulfilled every facet of the OT Law: Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:16-17: But Jesus meant something even much deeper than these things. Jesus says to the disciples, “Because I have come to fulfill everything written, I have come to live out true righteousness and love, and unless you can live as Me, unless your righteousness is better than these Scribes and Pharisees, who missed it all, you have missed it, and you will never know Me. Meaning that in all of their giving, studying and holy acts, the Pharisees did not fulfill anything He wrote about. Jesus says examine your motivations. Are you living with a passive and hard heart? Are you more worried with rules and punishment than people? Do you care more about your reputation than making a difference? Are people not the center of your desire and motivation? If this describes you, you are exactly like the Pharisees even at your very best, and you are lost: Luke 18:9-14. And to show clearly what He meant, Jesus gave very real illustrations of legalism compared to real love His way. Jesus starts each opposition to the teachings of the Pharisees with, "You have heard that it was said..." and not, "Thus it was written..." because Jesus is not refuting the Scriptures in the OT, He is refuting their sickening twisted additions and self-interpretations, all designed to look holy, and control their own lives. Look at the examples, and think deeply about the message He is conveying (remember this is the Author of the Book). Jesus said the Pharisees taught we should feel good if we do not murder, but He says anyone who can hate another with arrogance and self-righteous judgment—anyone who can hold the worth of another as less than them—has lost their love and value for them anyway. And the only difference is the outward sign to the world. To the point that Jesus says don't even come to Me with an offering of worship, if your heart is not right with a brother: Matthew 5:23-24. The Pharisees say we should feel good if we do not commit adultery. Jesus says that if you even look at another woman with lust it is the same thing, not because people of the opposite sex should not be attractive, but because we have disregarded the honor and worth of that person, for the pleasure they could bring us for what we want only. With no regards to them, their spouse, or ours, again, holding the worth of another below ourselves. To prove just how serious Jesus was about resisting things that tempt us to please self over God and others, He gave this example: Matthew 5:29-30. So how many are willing to come on down here and get serious about their sins?
If Jesus used such powerful illustrations to show the gravity and seriousness with which we need to take our selfish sins, why do we all find it hard to take literal, physical steps of any kind necessary to separate ourselves from temptations and influence? The Pharisees say a man can divorce his wife for any reason (in those days it was a terrible for women). But Jesus says that to leave them for any reason other than sexual immorality was breaking His law of love. To give up on someone because they are displeasing, or because they fail, or because someone more pleasing to us comes along, was to hold the worth of another below ourselves. Do you realize it is possible to get a legal divorce according to the laws of the state, and still be considered married by God? The Pharisees say do not break the oaths you swear by, but Jesus says do not swear by an oath at all. Anything you swear by does not belong to you, but Him anyway, and most importantly, because you should not have to use anything else to give credibility to your words. The weight of your own character in love and worth for others, should be sufficient for anything you say. In other words, if you truly care for those to whom you give your word, it will hurt you not to keep it. The Pharisees twisted the OT Law of, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth...", by using it as an excuse for personal hate and vengeance. Again, even when given in the OT, this was a Law for the judicial system to properly administer restitution. Even then, Mosaic Law gave strict commands that the individual was not to take the action, but they were to care for one another. Here Jesus says we are to care more for the individual, even when done wrong, than we do for personal retaliation. Here Jesus says not only, "do not retaliate with an eye for an eye", but to go even further, and return love for wrong. And if another feels you owe them according to Law, pay back even more than asked. All of this was to be done because we see the worth of another above self, above justice. The Pharisees again twisted the Law of God (Leviticus 19:18) which did say to love your neighbor, and added an opposite, "Hate your enemy," because of the elite feeling many Hebrews had over gentiles, and even over those in different social classes or Tribes. Therefore, these people who did not qualify to them as neighbors, or equals could be justly hated before God. But Jesus clarified that all of men were our neighbors. And in a later sermon to the people, Jesus used the most hated of Hebrew people—the Samaritans (Luke 10:25-37)—as an example that a neighbor is anyone who acts in love for another over themselves (a neighbor is who you choose to love). Jesus went on to say that every lowlife, hateful, selfish person on earth could show love to those from whom they benefited loving, but only true love would be shown when it was not deserved or returned. Only love shown when the object of that love was placed above worth of self. Jesus ended these examples with these words: Matthew 5:48: perfect. Jesus started this sermon with the declaration that He came not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law of Moses. And then He gave these examples to love others as greatly as we love ourselves. In a later sermon again, Jesus clarifies this statement beautifully: Matthew 22:36-40: Jesus—God on earth—with a sermon straight from His Lips, says that everything He wrote to us about in this Book—everything He came to fulfill in His earthly walk and death—hinged on loving Him and others sincerely over self—from the heart, not in outward appearance. Ask yourself: are you doing this? Or like the Pharisees, have you missed the boat?
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