If we could read a commentary on the Old Testament from Jesus Christ would not that be wonderful? Well we actually have that opportunity in the Sermon on the Mount.
To help us see the law as Jesus its author intended for both Jews and Christians.
We will examine the laws on murder, adultery and lying and their real intent.
Opposite direction of murder
Paul described the law as wonderful but weakened by human failures (Romans 8:2-4). Jesus gave several examples of that (Matthew 5:21-37). His first illustration was of the law against murder. Jesus showed that although most of us may have never actually committed murder in the letter, we are all guilty of breaking a deeper meaning of that law. The law could not change our human hearts from unjust anger and character assassination. A negative approach of more rigid laws against murder does not solve the real problem. A neutral position of avoiding anger or name-calling is not the answer. He taught a positive approach by actually going in the opposite direction of murder. A couple of examples that Jesus gave were: seeking reconciliation between estranged parties and where reconciliation is not possible a speedy settlement of disagreements.
Calling someone a nobody is an insult from a world that does not value all human beings alike. It excuses treating people differently based upon prejudice, like paying inferior wages to those who may be hard working but nobodies, and giving preferential treatment to those deemed to be somebodies whether or not they have worked hard. Jesus condemned this way of dealing with fellow human beings (Matthew 5:21-22). He considered it to be such a serious offense that it should be charged in court. Verbally abusive intellectual insults are similar whereby some are called stupid morons or the like. In fact Jesus was so serious about this that he said that those who use such terms are in danger of hell. Jesus calls Christians to live the opposite of this kind of verbal abuse, to value all human life.
Jesus on murder
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus discussed the law “thou shalt not murder.” The letter of the law gives us license to miss its purpose, love. We can look down on murderers on death row and justify ourselves simply because we have never acted on the anger in our own hearts. We can call others empty-headed fools or worthless fools and believe that we are not criminals. Yet, Jesus pointed out that such thoughts move us in the same direction as murder. So, he encouraged us to move in the opposite direction. Our first duty in worshiping God is to reconcile with those with whom we have conflicts. With those who hate us and refuse to reconcile, we ought to hasten at least to come to some kind of agreement, lest the whole matter go to court and we lose everything.
Jesus on adultery
In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus discussed the law “thou shalt not commit adultery.” The problem with the letter of any law is that it gives excuse to use loopholes as long as the specific forbidden act is not done. Jesus addressed that problem in principle by the example of looking on a woman lustfully. As with anger possibly leading to the act of murder, so too can lust lead to the act of adultery. Both begin as a wrong thought in our hearts. In fact, Jesus challenged us to see the premeditated thought as essentially the same as the act. As with murder there is a positive alternative. However, this time Jesus shocked everyone by suggesting self-mutilation. He was not encouraging the wrongful practice of self-harm but exaggerating to make the point of taking drastic steps to avoid tempting situations.
Stumbling into lust
Why did Jesus often speak in exaggerations? Hyperbolic language is a melodramatic way of teaching that emphasizes the lesson. Just as sensationalism sells news stories, so too does embellishment make illustrating principles more memorable. In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus dramatized the efforts one ought to take to avoid adultery. Cutting off a body part to avoid stumbling into lust emphasized the amount of effort needed. The opposite would be a careless approach. Such foolhardiness might include spending too much time with or being alone with a member of the opposite sex who is married to someone else. Because we are all weak, we cannot be so naive as to think that we are immune to lust. Stay as far away from temptation as possible by taking diligent steps to avoid being in a situation where we cannot control our lusts.
Gender revolution failure
The industrial revolution took fathers away from their families. The educational revolution took children away from parents. Then the gender revolution took mothers from their husbands and children. We have the highest divorce rates in history. We now spend more time with other people than our own families. The temptation for adultery and thus family ruin has dramatically increased. We allow ourselves to be treated like slaves for the sake of industrial efficiency at great personal and marital costs. In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus dramatized the efforts needed to avoid adultery, by illustrating that we need to begin by striving to cut off temptation. With men and women from different marriages spending more time with each other than their own spouses, have we sown the seeds for the destruction of the most basic building block of our society, the family?
Is remarriage adultery
In Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus spoke of conditions where divorce and remarriage are not sin. He called porneia the exception. The Louw-Nida Lexicon defines that as sexual immorality of any kind. The Friberg Lexicon defines it as every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse. Jesus’ position is stricter than the world’s, but it does provide freedom for the sexually-wronged marriage partner. His description was broad enough that the sin could be something either during or even before a marriage took place. Paul expanded upon this concept in 1 Corinthians 7:14-15, explaining that even if an unbelieving spouse walks out on the other, the believing spouse is free from the marriage. There are unanswered questions in Jesus’ brief comment such as: what about spousal abuse? However, the general principle is clear: easy divorce is not the godly ideal.
The delusion of oaths
In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus referred to a series of laws in the Old Testament relating to the theme of not swearing falsely. Making an oath and not fulfilling it is wrong. Jesus encouraged his disciples not to swear oaths invoking things in heaven or earth, but to just say yes or no. Swearing by external things does not guarantee fulfillment of an obligation. Such oaths are a form of leverage supposedly making that person more believable. In actuality, they underline the fact that we humans are too often unreliable and untruthful. By invoking heaven or earth, we are in effect deluded that a veneer of honesty can change liars into truth-tellers and covenant breakers into contract keepers. We Christians do not need to engage in such useless swearing. We simply need to be truthful as best as we can.
The purpose of oaths
In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus taught not to swear any oaths. Did that include pledges, or covenants, wedding vows or oaths in court? God swore an oath (Hebrews 6:16-18), Jesus answered under oath (Matthew 26:63-64), and Paul wrote oaths in his letters (2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20). What did Jesus not say? He did not say “swear not at all” period, but immediately included a list of qualifiers under which swearing an oath had led to vows being taken too lightly. Oaths were allowed in the Old Testament, but when anything less than God was sworn by, people were no longer taking their vows seriously. Jesus did not condemn the swearing of sincere oaths, but frivolous and deceptive ones. Christians ought not make oaths that cover up perjury or insincerity but simply answer yes or no.
Why legalism does not work
Some Christians think of themselves as superior to others because of a legalistic attempt to keep certain rules or laws. In Matthew 5:21-37 Jesus showed how all such efforts fail, because the letter of the law ignores the more important dimension of the heart. If we claim not to have murdered but were angry or insulted anyone, we have failed. If we claim to be faithful spouses, but have lusted at any time, we have failed. If we claim to tell the truth, but have ever broken a promise, we have failed. The Sermon on the Mount should teach us one valuable lesson: we have all failed. So, should we give up because we cannot measure up? The closer we come to perfect obedience, the happier we are, but only Jesus was faultless. That’s why we need a Savior.
Many of the Ten Commandments were written in the negative, thou shalt not. In today’s lesson we saw how Jesus teaches the positive side, thou shalt. Instead of just not committing murder we are encouraged to reconcile where possible. Instead of just avoiding adultery, we are encouraged to preserve our marriages by cutting off all avenues to potential temptation. Instead of trying to prevent lies by making elaborate and sometimes even blasphemous oaths we are encouraged to tell the simple truth, yes or no. In the end though, we will never measure up to being faultless and we don’t have to. That’s why we have a Savior.