Study in Matthew’s Gospel. Presentation 18. Sermon On The Mount A New Religion Chap 5 v17-20. Presentation 18. Introduction.
A New Religion
Chap 5 v17-20
A number of game shows on TV ask contestants to guess the result of any number of surveys? e.g. ‘We asked a hundred policemen how many of them would let a harassed mother off with a parking violation. Our survey said...’
What might the result of a survey be aimed at discovering the top 10 misconceptions about Christian belief. Among other things you would find mistaken views about; the Old Testament, the law of God, righteousness and how a man can get into a right relationship with God. It would surely reveal that a number of people help a wrong view of what God and what he expects of us.
When the gospel is faithfully preached many people think they are listening to something quite weird, some novel new religion. Jesus experienced this reaction to his ministry. This addressed some of the popular misconceptions of his day and by so doing he challenged the views of his detractors. As a result Jesus could say to them,
"Its not me, but you, who are responsible for teaching a new religion, for what you teach is not sanctioned by the word of God”. Jesus identifies three important areas of disagreement that can be framed as questions:
The great fear of Jesus’ hearers was that he had come to them with some completely new teaching. That his gospel was effectively setting aside the O.T.
After all, time and again, he used the introductory formula which no ancient prophet or modern
scribe would dare use, “Truly I say unto you...”
Was Jesus saying, ‘forget about the O.T. and
listen instead to what I have to say’?
No. He did not view the O.T. as an ancient
museum that exhibited historic relics and
fossils. Instead he saw it as the living word
of God given by him to the living people
Jesus recognised that the O.T. was authoritative and something that was binding upon his own life. Remember how he dealt with his wilderness temptations , again and again he replied, ‘It is written’ Lk. 4v4 the force of the verb is that 'it stands immovably written'.
In other words, the O.T. commands of God have an abiding authority.
For this reason, when Jesus was disputing with his opponents, he constantly referred to the O.T. as his authority and final ground of appeal e.g. Mk. 11v15. Hardly the behaviour of someone seeking to displace the O.T.
What then does Jesus mean in v17 when he says he came to ‘fulfil’ the O.T.? [the law and the prophets is another way of saying the O.T.]. Quite simply he claimed a special relationship to it. Jesus ‘fulfils’ or ‘fills out’ the history of the O.T. which is the history of redemption.
Jesus is the great climax of that history. Jesus fills out the O.T. prophecies because he is the chief object of those prophecies. He also fills out the O.T. ceremonial law e.g. his sacrifice upon the cross was the great sacrifice for sin of which the O.T. sacrifices were but pale shadows.
We could not understand the words of John Baptist, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," without the O.T. Jesus explicitly says concerning the O.T. scriptures "they testify of me" Jn. 5v39
Trying to understand the gospel without the O.T. would be like trying to understand a play having seen only the third act. Why did Jesus come to Israel and not to Greece or Rome? Why come into such poor surroundings? Why a death on the cross? The O.T.
holds the answer to all these questions and many
more because it is all about Jesus.
‘The O.T. is the gospel in the bud, the N.T. is
the gospel in full flower’.
Bishop J. C. Ryle
Do we share Jesus’ high view of the O.T and treat its authority as binding just as he did?
In the C2nd a man called Marcion caused havoc in the church because he started to teach that the O.T. had no place in the life of the Christian. He attempted to drive a wedge between the testaments by presenting the God of the O.T. as a God of wrath and the God of the N.T. as a God of love. He did not seen to realise that to disregard and belittle the O.T. is in fact to disregard and belittle Christ.
Jesus’ critics placed a great deal of emphasis upon law keeping . One of their major concerns was that Jesus’ teaching was designed to undermine or set aside the law. Throughout history some have tried to suggest this is exactly what Jesus did. A misunderstanding which has given rise to some of the most outrageous behaviour. The argument goes like this,
‘The law is a set of rules to govern man’s conduct but such rules have nothing to do with the Christian who is not under law but under grace.’ The Russian monk Rasputin held this view of scripture and used it to excuse his immorality!
Yet Jesus taught that the moral law has been built into the very fabric of the universe cf. v18... As long as heaven and earth exist the law will be binding upon men. Not even the smallest alteration to the smallest character is allowed. You see the moral law of God is not an arbitrary set of rules for a particular people at a particular time in history.
It is an expression of God's character. The law
of God was given not only to stop humanity
turning into a sprawling lunatic asylum but
to show us what God is like and how
ungodlikewe are. Jesus was 'born
under the law'. He took it seriously
and lived under its precepts.
Why then was Jesus, who had such a high view of the law, constantly at odds with those who made a big issue out of law keeping? Very simply Jesus’ opponents taught, “Keep the law and earn eternal life”. But neither the O.T. nor Jesus taught that salvation comes through law keeping.
The law was given to a redeemed people. God did not say, 'Keep the law and I will deliver you from Egypt'. But having delivered them he entered into a special relationship with them and said, 'I by an act of grace, have made you my people, now act like my people - keep the law'. By keeping the law they would reflect the family likeness.
What did Jesus say of those who wanted to play down the significance of the law? They are called, 'least' in the kingdom v19. The degree of glory the Christian enjoys in heaven will be a reflection of his obedience to the law of God on earth. We need to pay greater attention to those ‘little areas of disobedience in our lives’ that we don't take too seriously. We may make the excuse of saying, ‘look at the laws we keep, surely we can be allowed our little exceptions.’ Is God honoured in our exceptions? Do we encourage others to share in our disobedience thinking that the seriousness of our law-breaking is lessened the more it is committed.
This is the argument of the growing homosexual lobby. ‘See’, they say, ‘how common the practice is, how many prominent people it affects. In the light of this it should no longer be viewed as a serious and shameful thing by society’. The Christian has no brief for altering God’s law.
What then is law-keeping for the Christian? It is not viewed as an attempt to earn God's salvation. Rather having had that salvation graciously and freely bestowed the Christian wants to show his love for God by walking in Christ’s steps and doing what will please him.
Consider how the words of v20 would have shocked Jesus’ hearers. Men, who not only considered themselves to be paragons of righteousness but were considered by society to be at the top
of the righteousness league, are here dramatically relegated. Imagine the question rippling through the crowd,
"If they're not good enough for heaven, doing all that they do, then who is?"
But what was so substandard about the righteousness of the Pharisees?
First of all, the Pharisees righteousness was an external righteousness. Their religion was displayed for all to see. They had produced a whole series of rules and a pattern of behaviour which outwardly looked very impressive. People saw the diligence with which they kept these rules, like fasting twice a week... and they gave them a great round of applause. But Jesus wasn't clapping because he knew that there is a world of difference between formal religious observance and a heart in love with God.
This is one of the frightening things about church membership, a person can be a regular attender and deeply committed to church life and yet their hearts hold out against God. If a person really wants to know what he is like then he has to ask,
“What am I like when I am alone with my thoughts and desires and imaginations. I may have an excellent reputation with my friends but what am I like when I am alone?”
Jesus constantly pushes past our external behaviour to the motives, desires and thoughts of our hearts.
Secondly, The Pharisees righteousness was man-made. Their standard was lower than God's. Theirs was an external righteousness married to human rules designed to enable them to avoid the requirements of the law of God e.g. ‘Corban’ Mk.7v11. Human nature has an amazing knack of excusing itself from what it does not want to do and for doing
what it knows it should not do and as a result it
convinces itself that it has met the low
standard it has set itself.
But the righteousness God is looking
for is not something which man has
cobbled together. God will not allow
us to move from his standards.
Finally, the Pharisees righteousness was a self-satisfied righteousness, which they gloried in. The classic example is found in Lk. 18v11-12. It is a self centred righteousness. This sort of person tells any who are prepared to listen, what they have done for God and his church. They draw attention to themselves and away from God. Whenever a man sets his own standards and manages to achieve them, he will react in this way. Unlike the beatitude man who is constantly hungering after more Christ-likeness possessing the healthy appetite mentioned by Paul, in Phil. 3v12 "Not that I have already attained all this or have already been made perfect but I press on..."
The all important righteousness which exceeds that of man's best efforts is, as we’ve previously discovered, the righteousness which God imparts. It is God's own righteousness. At the end of the day only God can satisfy his own standard. This is what Jesus has done for us. He is the only person to have satisfied God's righteous standards. He has done what we are incapable of doing. He lived a righteous life.
His righteousness surpassed that of the
Pharisees and teachers of the law. ‘How’,
you might ask, ‘does that help me?’ He
makes his righteousness freely available
to us. It is held out to us as a gift. There
is no way into heaven's banqueting
house without it.
Do you remember the parable Jesus told of the wedding banquet? The Lord of the feast asked the man who refused to wear the entry garment provided, “friend where is your wedding garment”…. Matt.22v12
Now they are countless people labouring under the misconception that they can gain entry to heaven without the possession of Christ’s wedding garment. They are trusting in their own goodness rather than the goodness of Christ. They hold a dangerously wrong view of righteousness.
Jesus’ teaching was not novel. It was rooted in the word of God. His teaching however, did contradict the popular religion of his day in much the same way that he continues to contradict much popular religion today.
Does Jesus contradict some of the views that you hold dear? Does he challenge opinions related to the O.T., to the law of God or the righteousness that God requires? Now it was the pride of the Pharisees that held them back from admitting that Jesus was right. Does pride hold you back? May God help us all to submit to Christ’s teaching.