sermon-on-the-mount

I’ve been looking at the sermon on the mount starting with the beatitudes, then Jesus declaring not that his followers will become salt and light to the world, but that we are salt and light, adding flavor and shining like a light house from the sea, guiding the lost home. Our lives will look different because we are different, changed from the inside out by Jesus Christ, not just cleaning the outside of the cup so it looks clean to those looking on while still being a hot mess on the inside.
The thing about the Sermon on the Mount, or as Dallas Willard calls it, the discourse on the hill, is that it is indeed a sermon, or one unified discourse. Or today, we might call it a talk, because it is not preachy, and is much more packed with information and truth than what we would call a sermon today. The point here is that the Sermon on the Mount is organized around one purpose and develops a single line of thought. It is not all over the place. It is not a collection of sayings or wisdom collected randomly and put together by an editor. This is how we have seen it and treated it, but it is not what it is.
The result of our misunderstanding on this point is that what we know to be Jesus most important text is also His most indecipherable. Because we don’t see the Sermon as developing one line of thought but all over the place, we are left without the clear and comprehensive message for life which its author (Jesus Christ) intended.

jesus
Because we don’t read the sermon as a unified talk, because we take its pieces as independent sayings, we read them as “laws” telling us what we are and are not “to do”. We read the sermon and think Jesus was giving us “laws” which are even more impossible to keep than all the laws Moses prescribed on Mt Sinai and through Leviticus. And we think Jesus is using these laws to show us how truly unworthy for the kingdom we really are, and then we will have no choice but to turn to Him for grace and forgiveness. Because, of course, to read this any other way and actually pick up what Jesus is laying down would be to chase “works-based” righteousness, and maybe even leave this world, which God so loved that He gave his only begotten to save and not condemn, a better place.
So what is the single, unified purpose of the Sermon on the Mount? It’s to show us what the kingdom heart looks like. It’s to guide us to have pure hearts which produce good fruit. It’s to help us come to realistic and hopeful terms with our lives here on earth by clarifying the nature of the kingdom into which Jesus is inviting us when He says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

repentcross
The Sermon is not one disconnected statement after another. Each portion of the talk builds upon what came earlier. Each successive part must be interpreted and understood in light of this singular purpose, and what came before.

moses
Jesus is not giving us a bunch of new laws to show us we can’t make it without him (we already know that!). He’s giving us perspectives on the good life of love, power, truth and grace we can lead in his kingdom. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

smartest-man
So let’s continue to look at the greatest teaching from the smartest man who ever lived.

grace-and-truth
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. Jesus is flipping the world upside down with this sermon. He’s told all these different groups, starting with the poor in spirit, that what was previously thought to be unavailable to them is precisely completely available. Where they were thought to be cursed, Jesus has declared them blessed. Not only are they blessed, but they are the salt and light of the world through which all will be blessed. So, of course, they might think Jesus is overturning the law to which they could not attain, the law which certain religious types used to specifically exclude them from kingdom life. Just as we still believe (and live) that Jesus has overturned and nullified the law. But Jesus says, no, I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. What exactly is he saying? What does it mean to fulfill the law and the prophets? What Jesus is saying to us here, and if we don’t take it as part of this greater talk it will be quite cryptic, is that he is leading us in such a way that our very lives will be the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets were attempting to do. “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew‬ ‭23:25-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The trouble is, and has always been, that simply attempting to follow a bunch of rules or laws does nothing to change the inside, does nothing to change the heart from which everything else flows. We can all follow the right rules, wear the right clothes, drive the right car, say the right things. We can make it all look real pretty on the outside. But if we’re still dirty on the inside, then nothing has really changed. We’re just being the hypocrites the world assumes we are anyway.

outside-of-the-cup
Jesus did not, as his followers on the mountain actually hearing him and we who claim to follow him today believe, abolish the law. He came to fulfill all the law and prophets ever attempted to do. He came to re-found the world on an axis of love. Love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, love of enemy. Love God and love your neighbor. And your neighbor is anyone you meet on a daily basis whom you can help.

abraham
This is the fulfillment of all that Abraham was looking for. All the law given to Moses. All the prophets who came after. A just, fair, and righteous society, not based on anger and accusation, not based on force, not based on the power to kill, but based on the love of God as shown through his people. And that is what Jesus is doing in this sermon, giving us a picture of what it looks like to be kingdom people with kingdom hearts, to be actually changed on the inside so that the outside is naturally clean as well.

pharisees
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. And that us what it means to exceed to righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. All the rules and laws they created to claim to perfectly follow the law of God, we can naturally bear that fruit once we’ve been spit shined on the inside by the love of Christ. Just because He let me in, just because he let you in, doesn’t mean he’s overturning His law. It means that we, as His followers, will fulfill his law by our words and our deeds which flow naturally from our changed hearts.   By our lives we will initiate a just, fair, peaceful society. We will show the world what it means to love God and love neighbor – even when our neighbors don’t love us back. We will forgive them their trespasses against us. We will pick up our cross and follow Jesus. In doing so, we will make disciples of all the nations, bringing about a world in which there will be no more sorrows, no more tears, and war no more.

 

“”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.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:17-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.5.17-20.esv

John Lewis

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13 thoughts on “Fulfilling the Law

  1. One of the greatest treasures of the Sermon on the Mount was to illustrate God’s character. Too, I believe here, Jesus is attempting to explain how at best we SHOULD be and perhaps will be once we are in reunion with our creator through Jesus.

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    1. I disagree on that. Jesus was talking about the right here and right now, directly to those within earshot of him, and indirectly to us still today. “The kingdom of God is at hand!” Over and over again. Look again at the things he said. Very little about a far and away distant future, a whole lot of “at hand” and “upon you”. Jesus is showing us how we could and should be now. He’s showing the things that make for peace, which he wept over Jerusalem not understanding as he predicted, correctly, their total destruction about 40 years later. Those things which we either still don’t understand, or much more likely simply ignore, 2000 years later.

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  2. I spoke of it as such because when the disciples spoke, “Good Master. Good Master.” And Jesus corrected them: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except He who is in Heaven.”

    In other words, I see Christ as that small nibble of Heaven he kept alluding to and of course, the promise of being with him in the here after forever. As i realize we both know, this is all about virtue and goodness. And of course, it is God Himself who is supreme at that. Insomuch we get close to Him, then we experience a part of Heaven. It was first with Jesus, next his Apostles and finally via us unto we have it unto perfection once we are with our Lord forever.

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    1. But to which Jesus also continued that to inherit eternal life we must keep the commandments. When the ruler explained that he was good there…well then sell all you have and give it to the poor. No overturning of the law…but looking for the fulfillment in a heart devoted to God not possessions.

      See also Matthew 5:48…

      I’m not sure if you’re talking about something different.

      Regardless, my point here is that Jesus is not releasing his followrers from the law, but trying to form them into those from whom the law flows naturally. Jesus wants to change your heart, your behavior will (does) flow from there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. An excellent response. I also feel that no matter, we are incapable to follow these commandments due to the fact we were born in the flesh and are human. Yes, we are to attempt to reach these marks, but none ever do or ever has except Christ himself. We are to possess a new heart, a heart after Jesus, yet this is a goal to pursue. My opinion is that we are not going to make it–we will miss the mark while all the time we are to keep the goal there. In short, it makes us look like hypocrites. However, i believe in calling things the way they are. We fall short, way short always. A lot of this may even be due to design. In other words we don’t have the ability to make ourselves better than what we are. Only God, through Jesus and His Holy Spirit can do that. All that we can do is be receptive to it and act according to what we then believe is right. Some things don’t need a great deal of thought; feeding people, helping the sick, the afflicted, the homeless, those in prison, those without and suffering. I attest that this surpasses intellectualization and comes about as a result of action and the faith that comes as a result. All of this by God.

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        1. Yes sir!! With man these things are not possible, but with God ALL things are possible. It is only through faith and obedience to God, but it is possible. Jesus is the perfect human, the new Adam, who walks in obedience to God and leads us back to paradise, back to the garden, if you will. As opposed to the first Adam, who disobeyed God, and got kicked out of the Garden.

          Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. The Jesus way is to walk in the path of Jesus. If we give up our life, we will keep it, but if we hold onto our lives, our own wills, we will lose it. Walking in the Jesus way, the Jesus path, means that we forgive all and always, we love those who try (and sometimes do) to hurt us, we pray for our enemies. I’m simplifying here, but it is possible. We believe it to be impossible, but God came, took up human form, and walked a life which fulfilled all the law and the prophets. He came and lived the perfect life, and being convicted and judged by our own sin and darkness against his blazing light, we killed him for it. Which in itself casts its own judgement on all the corrupt systems of our world, that God came down in human form and we committed deicide, the murder of God. The greatest crime in history.

          He lived the life we are supposed to be living. It is in living as Jesus did that we will bring to life the prayer “on earth as it us in heaven”. It is how the New Jerusalem is built, shown in Revelation 21 not as the elect being jetted off to far away heaven, but heaven coming down from the sky, God rejoining his creation in the world he called “good, good, and very good”.

          Of course, this doesn’t go very well with our “ticket to heaven” Christianity.

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