by Graham Mol
Yesterday my son had to give a history speech on a great leader and speak about what makes them a great leader. He had chosen to give his speech on Jesus. As we discussed the points of the speech we looked at how Jesus was a great teacher. His “Sermon on the Mount” is one of the most famous of His teachings. Our discussion prompted me to read through Jesus’ sermon in chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew.
Reading through those three chapters is like listening to a “Greatest Hits” album of Christian teaching. Hits like the Beatitudes (Blessed are those…) to “You are the light of the world” to “Love your enemies” and “The Lord’s Prayer”. The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus’ most powerful and challenging teachings for us as believers to follow. It is no wonder that the people listening to Him were astonished at the authority with which he spoke (Matthew 7:28-29).
There is one particular passage that I’d like to highlight today:
17 “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
Those listening must have been shocked at this. How could one be more righteous than the very people who embodied righteousness, their religious leaders? The thing is, the people only saw what was on the outside, the display that the Pharisees and scribes put on. What was on the inside, going on in their hearts, was entirely another matter.
Following this statement Jesus looks at laws saying, “You have heard it said…” following each one with a “But I tell you…” statement. In each he does not negate the law but rather brings into focus the principle behind that law. In doing this He highlights the state of one’s heart before God. The scribes and Pharisees were very good at following the “letter” of the law and having the appearance of righteousness, the state of their hearts before God was another matter. What do you think matters more to the Lord?
“People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)