Matthew begins by calling attention to the sins of God’s people and Matthew ends by calling attention to the death of God’s Messiah. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the long-awaited Redeemer and his Kingdom is the long-awaited Kingdom. In this message on Matthew 5–7, Pastor Bart Box reminds us that one road leads to life and one road leads to destruction.
- We must remember the context of the sermon in the Gospel of Matthew.
- We must remember the context of the sermon in the history of redemption.
Good morning. Let me invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Matthew 5. We’re going to continue this morning in the Gospel of Matthew as we’ve been doing for a couple of months now and picking up where we left off last week. Some of you though may recall that I actually preached this exact same text about a year-and-a-half ago when we were doing our survey through the Bible.
So when David asked me to preach this same text again, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. I didn’t know…I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to preach it again because you didn’t get it, or worse maybe, if he wanted me to preach it again because I didn’t get it. And so maybe it’s some mixture of the two. So we’re going to look this morning though at Matthew 5 all the way through 7.
It’s an honor—it really is an honor to preach the word of God to you this morning. And I am confident that no matter how many times we look at it, no matter how many times we preach through it, there is still more to be gained from this most majestic sermon from the greatest preacher who ever lived. And so this morning we’re going to look at Matthew 5–7, just 111 verses. I figured we’d just take them one at a time, and so we’ll distill it a little bit more than that. What we’re going to do is we’re actually going to start and just read the first 10 verses. That will kind of set the stage for what we’re going to do and then we’ll move into the sermon.
Matthew 5:1–10, a passage typically known as the Beatitudes.
“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”
Let’s pray. Father in Heaven, we are so grateful that You have spoken to us in Jesus, and we pray that You would quiet our hearts this morning all across this room to hear from the Master what You would have us to hear this morning. And so we pray that You would drive away all distraction, and that You would give us ears to hear and hearts to obey. For the glory of Christ, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now few of us know him today, but Billy Sunday was a well-known baseball player turned evangelist. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries he was known for his unique, sometimes bombastic style of preaching. He would act out skits sometimes as he preached. He would use slang-filled language. He even as a former baseball player would sometimes slide across the stage as he was making a point. Which, by the way, I would love our pastor to sometimes incorporate that. That would be fantastic. But by the time of his death in 1935, he had preached to millions of people. And he was a forerunner of sorts to the Billy Graham evangelistic crusades and campaigns that were to come in the later 20th Century.
But he was also known as one of the most well-known preachers against the certain vices that he perceived in the culture in his day. Two of those vices included card playing and dancing. This is what Billy Sunday had to say about card playing and dancing. He said, “I believe that cards and dancing are doing more to damn the spiritual life of the church than the bars.” He said (this is another one)…He said, “The dancing Christian never was a soul winner.” He said, “The dance is simply a hugging match set to music. Do you know,” he said, “that three-fourths of all the girls who are ruined,” and I don’t know exactly what he means by that, “who are ruined owe their downfall to this very thing. But you say,” someone said to him, “Look, Mr. Sunday. Can’t a man dance with his wife?” I love this reply. “Dance with whom? His wife? You old lobster. You don’t want to dance with your wife.
It’s some other fellow’s wife you want to dance with. You’d just as soon go out and husk corn all night by moonlight as to dance with your own wife.” I don’t even know what he means by “lobster.” But nevertheless, He said, “People will say to me, “Well, didn’t they dance in the Bible?” “Yes, they danced in the Bible and they committed adultery too. And they got punished.”
Now, we laugh obviously for good reason because we no longer possess those attitudes toward card playing or dancing or theater. And you can imagine the vices that were listed in the early 20th century. But Billy Sunday thought that they were significant. He thought that they were matters of life and death. And it raises the question of why? Why would someone have those particular views regarding things that we regard as so incidental? Well, it’s simply because in his mind these things like card playing, dancing, theater, they separated…There was a clear line between believers and unbelievers.
In other words, these were things that marked off the people of God; things that marked out holiness and godliness and salvation. In other words, he had a certain picture of what it looks like to be a believer in Jesus, and anything outside that didn’t quite fit. And while we may reject that picture, rightfully so. While we may laugh and role our eyes at it, the truth is we do the very same thing. We also have our own picture of what it looks like to be a Christian—certain behaviors that fit in and do not fit in; certain attitudes that we ought to possess or that someone should be to be a Christian in our particular culture, maybe in our Bible-Belt South, that someone who is a Christian is conservative, evangelical. Maybe even Republican.
For Billy Sunday and his day, and for ours, and for every other day, Jesus blows that picture out of the water. The Sermon on the Mount, as we like to call it, is really Jesus’ sermon in which He takes what is typical in His own day of what a Christian, of what a follower of Christ would look like. And He paints…and He takes that picture and He casts it aside. In particular the Pharisees’ picture of what it looks like to be a follower of God, and He paints in its place what I think is the most perfect picture of what a Christian really looks like that we have in all of the Bible.
And so this morning, I want to walk you through that. And we’re going to have to be very quick. We’re going to have to take it from a 30,000 foot view as to what the Sermon on the Mount is really about. But I want you to see as we walk through this particular sermon, I want you to see the very heart of what Jesus is getting at. I want you to see that Jesus showing us what it is, what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You remember last week
David led us through those two simple words, “follow Me.” That every single person, every Christian ought to be both a disciple and a disciple-maker. Well, what we find in chapters 5–7 now is Jesus filling out what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it look like to be a disciple of Christ?
So I want to kind of walk us through…You see it there on your page. We’re going to kind of spend just a few moments talking about the setting for the sermon. Which what I want to do there is I want to kind of clear away just a couple of misconceptions and a couple of ways that we might be tended to kind of run as we interpret this passage and to kind of pull us back and see how this sermon fits in the context of Matthew and salvation in general.
Then I want to kind of walk us through the main part of the sermon. I want to walk us through the essence of what Jesus is getting at in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly in verses 17–20 in chapter 5. And then at the end, I want to consider the seriousness of the sermon. And then simply ask this question. And this is the question we’ll have going forward and the question we’ll conclude with. Do you see this sermon in your life? Do you see this sermon in your life?
The Setting of the Sermon
Now let’s look first of all at the setting for the Sermon on the Mount. Now one of the greatest mistakes that we can make when we come to the Sermon on the Mount is to interpret in isolation. Obviously that’s a mistake that we can make with any text. We always have to pay attention to the context, but it’s especially important when we come to such a large passage of Scripture and one that is so foundational for the entire Gospel as the Sermon on the Mount. We have to understand how it fits in this context. I kind of mean by that two things. And I want to lead you through both of those.
We must remember the context of the sermon in the Gospel of Matthew
We must remember the context of the sermon in the Gospel of Matthew. That’s obviously an advantage that we have as we kind of walk through the text week by week. But we see and we remember the beginning of the Gospel. We know, obviously, where we’re going at the end of the Gospel. So we remember first of all, that Matthew begins by calling attention to the sins of God’s people. We talk about the context of the Gospel of Matthew, this sermon; we see that Matthew begins by calling attention to the sins of God’s people. And I have here in mind one particular verse (you may want to write it out in the margin) and that is Matthew 1:21.
You remember the angel comes to Joseph. He’s informing him. Joseph is obviously debating what to do with regarding Mary. And so the angel comes to Joseph and he tells him this in Matthew 1:21. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, [why?] for he will save his people from their sins.” A lot of commentators refer to Matthew 1:21 as kind of a programmatic verse. In other words, it kind of sets the stage—it sets the program for what is to follow. And so if you want to key in on one particular verse—What is Matthew about?
It’s about a Savior Who is coming to do one thing: namely to “save His people from their sins.”
And in the same way, as we looked to the beginning, we look at the end. We see that Matthew ends by calling attention to the death of God’s Messiah. The last eight chapters of the book of Matthew are all consumed with the very last week of Jesus. In other words, Matthew does not end his Gospel at chapter 7. He doesn’t say, “This is what Jesus taught.
This is how Jesus showed us what it means to be a disciple. This is what it looks like. This is how you ought to believe. This is how you ought to behave. This is how you ought to think. These are the attitudes that you are to have.” Now, he shuts it down and says, “Go do it.”No, the cross is absolutely necessary for understanding the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, that’s the way it is when you come to any Gospel. Whether you’re reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, you can never read the Gospels apart from the very end.
The cross is always looming, it’s always lurking; it’s always impacting what you’re reading even though the cross hasn’t yet happened in the text. It’s the very same way here in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, it’s hugely important when we come to the Sermon on the Mount that we consider the cross and how that impacts what we are reading this morning. Because the last thing, (I hope you hear my heart because it may be easy to misunderstand some things I’m about to say), I hope you hear my heart. The last thing that I want you to come away with this morning is an imposing and crushing laundry-list of things that you must do in order to be accepted by God.
Please do not hear what I’m saying this morning as, “I must turn the other cheek in order to be accepted by God. I must love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me in order to be accepted by God. Or I must follow the Golden Rule to a tee in order to be accepted by God.” We are not accepted by God by anything that we do. We are accepted by God completely, totally because of a bloody cross and a perfect Savior Who has died in our place, and Who has risen again in victory. That’s why we’re saved.
And if that’s the case, if that’s the case we realize that we don’t do these things in order to be saved. Rather, we pray for our enemies, we love those who persecute us, we follow the golden rule, not in order to earn acceptance before our God, but because we have acceptance by God and we want to glorify God in everything that we do. And that makes all the difference in the world. So we have to remember…We have to remember how the Sermon on the Mount fits in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. And not only that, I would suggest that we need to consider how the Sermon on the Mount fits into the history of redemption—in the context of the history of redemption.
We must remember the context of the sermon in the history of redemption.
We must remember the context of the sermon in the history of redemption. And what I mean by that is, how does the Gospel of Matthew, how does the Sermon on the Mount fit in the story of the Old Testament in particular? You think about Matthew, you see it over and over. This happened in order that it might be fulfilled. This happened in order that it might be fulfilled. He is deeply concerned to show the continuity between the Old Testament, the fulfillment from the Old Testament found in the life of Jesus. And we see it at least in a couple of ways here in the text. First of all we see that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. That Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. Over and again, this is something that David has shown in a couple of places already and we see it even more here this morning. Over and again Matthew is intent (you may want to write this out to the side in your notes), he’s intent on showing Jesus as the new and better Moses. I’ll say that again. He’s intent on showing that Jesus is the new and better Moses.
You think about it. We’ve already seen a couple of instances, have we not, where obviously Jesus is delivered from as a child, in the same way that Moses is delivered as a child from Egypt and so on. But there are even new ways we see that in the text this morning. Look at Matthew 5:1. Notice what Matthew tells us. “Seeing the crowds, he [speaking of Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” Notice that expression, “he went up on the mountain,” is the very same expression that is used in the Greek Old Testament when Moses went up on the mountain in order to receive the Law.
And so what we see that Matthew is doing, in the same way Moses goes up on the mountain so Jesus goes up on the mountain. In the same way that Moses speaks with authority, now Jesus speaks with authority. In the very same way, for example, that Moses has five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), if you’ll look through the Gospel of Matthew, you’ll see guess how many speeches of Jesus? You’ll see five speeches of Jesus. So that at the end of the Gospel, Jesus is able to say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Moses, no, has been given to Me. Therefore go, make disciples, baptize them, teach them everything that Moses, no, everything that I have commanded you.”
Matthew is showing us that Jesus is the new, the greater Moses, the One Who has come, Who has delivered His people and has given them the Word. It’s why in Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses knew of this. He knew this day was coming. It says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” You say, “Well that’s cool and we can see all those things from the Gospel of Matthew and what Matthew is trying to show us. But how does that help us when it comes to the interpreting and understand the Sermon on the Mount?” Let me read just one paragraph that I think really unpacks the importance of this idea of Jesus as the new Moses, and how it shows us something about the Sermon on the Mount and how we are to understand it. It’s from a guy named Chuck Quarles, a commentator. He said,
“Just like Moses, the Great Redeemer (speaking of Jesus) has cried out, ‘Let My people go.’ He has removed their shackles. He has killed their harsh taskmaster. He’s buried his body in the sand. He has crushed the power of the dark Pharaoh with one plague after another, and He has led His people to freedom across the parted sea.”
Isn’t that good that we have a new and greater and better Moses Who has delivered us from the chains of slavery? Who indeed as again Matthew 1:21 says, “Who has come to save his people not just from the penalty of sin, but indeed from the power of sin.” He is the long awaited Messiah, and as such, His is the long-awaited Kingdom. The long-awaited Kingdom. And this again is critical to understand the Sermon on the Mount—that there is indeed a new kingdom, a new people. God has been intent. It was in God’s intention all along not just to say to people, but to create a new people with new hearts, new affections, and new attitudes. You read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel—all the prophets. They are looking forward to the day when there will be a new exodus, a new redemption, a new temple, a new people, and new hearts, and new affections, and people will obey God from the heart.
It was God’s intention all along to create a people who would love Him, who would love their neighbor. To create a people who would worship Him with all of their heart, with all of their soul, with all of their mind. You say again, “Why is that important when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount?” Because it reminds us that what we read here are not things that we can casually dismiss out of hand and say, “Ah. The standard is too high. You can’t expect me to love from the heart. You can’t expect me to not be given over to lust. You can’t expect me to pray like Jesus and to give and to fast in the right spirit and the right attitude. You can’t expect me to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. You can’t be serious, Jesus. ‘Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you?’”
When we remember that God sent Jesus to save His people from their sins—not just the penalty, but the power of sin—then we can no longer casually dismiss the Sermon on the Mount as something that is unrealistic and unattainable by the Spirit of God. And so I know some of you are probably saying, “Well, that’s just crazy. I mean, that’s just extreme. Are you saying that if I don’t love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me that I’m not going to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven?” Yeah. I am saying that in some sense, not because I think that would make a cool sermon point, but because I think, I think that is what Jesus is saying.
I want you to look with me at Matthew 5:17–20. Now before we read that text—I just want to kind of alert you to the fact that I believe if you’re going to understand the Sermon on the Mount and all that stuff isn’t just going to be like I said just casually dismissed out of hand—I believe you’ve got to understand these particular verses. I think 17–20 kind of serves as…There’s an introduction to the text, the Beatitudes, the salt and the light passage, but 17–20 really is the interpretive key to understanding the entire deal. And so if we don’t get what Jesus is saying here, then I fear that we won’t really ever understand what Jesus is saying throughout the rest.
The Subject of the Sermon in Matthew 5–7
So look with me if you would at Matthew 5:17–20, as we think about the subject of the sermon. “Do not think [Jesus says] that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…” In other words, the entire Old Testament. He said, “I didn’t come to do away with it.
Rather, this is what He says, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” You see that “fulfill,” you might want to circle that word or make a note. That is the same word that is used over and over: “And so this happened that it might be fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah said,” and so on. And we see that throughout the Gospel of Matthew—this fulfillment language. And in the same way, I think what Jesus is saying here is that He is coming to fulfill the intention of the Old Testament. He’s bringing it to its intended completion. Not just external conformity, but a heart alive to God, I think is what He is saying.
So He’s fulfilling the Law. Verse 18, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, [the smallest characters in the Hebrew alphabet] will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” I think He’s referring to obviously His life ministry, death, and resurrection.
“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 just to be clear, when He says, “you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” He is not saying some elite club for Christians. That is simply another way the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus speaks about salvation.
Jesus demands a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
Jesus demands a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and the Pharisees. You will never, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” Jesus says we will not be saved. Now I think that ought to shock every one of us. And it ought to cause all of us to say, “Whoa. I better make sure; I better make sure that my righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, because if it doesn’t then logically what Jesus is saying is that I am not going into the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, I am forever remaining in the kingdom of darkness. In other words, it’s the difference between Heaven and Hell. And so it begs the question, “What kind of righteousness did they have that I’ve got to have more of or better?”
I’m going to show you in one particular text I think that may provide a little bit of clarity, I hope, as to what Jesus is saying when He is saying, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What kind of righteousness did they have? Turn with me to Matthew 23 if you would. Keep your place in the Sermon on the Mount, but let me encourage you to turn with me to Matthew 23:25–28. We can see this in a lot of places so I encourage you in this particular chapter, you can look at other examples in this later on throughout the week for example. But I just want to kind of focus in because I think 23:25–28 really capture the kind of righteousness that the Pharisees possessed. Verse 25:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup [Jesus says] and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence.”
So there it is. I want you to notice the contrast that Jesus draws between what is on the inside and what is on the outside. Clean on the outside, greed on the inside, self-indulgence on the inside. He goes and He says the same thing in a couple of different ways.
“You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs…”
This is, I think, the clearest and most picturesque of the illustrations that He gives.
“For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.’”
In other words, the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees was purely an external righteousness. It was all about rules and regulations. And Jesus says, “It is not enough to be righteous on the outside if you are not also righteous on the inside.” See what Jesus…You have it there in your notes. What Jesus is demanding is not more righteous deeds by human effort, but more righteous hearts by divine grace. Put it another way. Jesus is not saying that you must have a quantitatively greater, almost a numerically greater righteousness than the scribes or the Pharisees. Or to put it into kind of an academic setting, it’s not that the Pharisees have scored in the low 90’s on the holiness test, on the righteousness test. They got a 91, 92, 93 and if you’re going to enter into the Kingdom of God, if you’re going to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, then you’d better believe it, you’re going to score a 94, 95, or a 96.
He’s not talking about a quantitatively different righteousness. He’s talking about a qualitatively different righteousness—a righteousness of a different kind all together. Not a righteousness of the outside so that everyone can see how good that we look, but rather a righteousness that is from the inside. Yes, that it will come out. Yes that it will be evident.
Yes, that people will see. But it’s actually, there’s a reality on the inside—not by persistence, not by effort, not by accomplishment, not by achievement—but because God in Christ has caused us to be born again by His Spirit and that is all. It’s a righteousness that God Himself brings about.
It’s exactly what Jesus talks about to Nicodemus, is it not? Nicodemus didn’t get it. I mean, He was a Pharisee. He was called “the teacher of the Law,” in John 3:10. And he didn’t understand. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” He said, “How can that be? Can I enter in?”
Again, he’s thinking in externals. He’s thinking in the outward. “How can that be? Can a man…A man cannot enter into His mother’s womb a second time and be born.” And Jesus said, “How are you the teacher in Israel and yet you do not know these things. Do you not know that a man must be born of water and the Spirit? He must be cleansed. He must be given a new heart by God. It’s not something that you can bring about,” Jesus says to Nicodemus. He said, “The wind blows where it wills and you don’t know where it comes from. All you see are the effects. And so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit of God.”
That is exactly what Jesus is getting at when He says that our righteousness must exceed that—it must be greater than the scribes and the Pharisees or we will not enter the Kingdom of God. It is that we must have a new heart to enter into the Kingdom of God. But know this: there will be evidence of that new heart. It is not that we get a new heart and we look exactly the same. Now it’s also not that we instantly clear up. It’s not that instantly everything is right—instantly we stop every bad behavior. But it is to say that there will be a definite change in our life.
I want you to notice. I have four of them here for you. We could certainly maybe divide it out further, but I want to give you four ways in which, and we’re going to have to run through these rather quickly. But I want to give you four ways in which I think following from that particular verse, verse 20, I think being the real key of the Sermon on the Mount, how does this then play out? How does it flesh out in the life of the disciple, in the life of the believer? What is the evidence that there indeed is a qualitatively different kind of righteousness?
The exceeding righteousness should be evident in our…
First of all, this exceeding righteousness should be evident in our attitudes. It should be evident in our attitudes. I have there verses 21–48. Six times you’ll hear Jesus say, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you…” Six times He uses that expression. And what He’s getting at is the Pharisees had created all kinds of ingenious and really conniving ways of working around the Law of God, working around the intention of the Law. So they found ways, for example, to harbor bitterness and hatred toward their neighbor, toward their brothers and sisters, all the while saying, “You know what? I’m not guilty of murdering anyone. I don’t have blood on my hands.” And so they lusted after their neighbor’s wives.
But so long as they didn’t commit adultery, they were holy technically. And they sort of blurred the edges of the truth, and so they would swear by this or that, but as long as they didn’t swear by the wrong things, then they were somehow truthful. But Jesus says, “That is not the kind of righteousness that I am bringing about. That is not exceeding righteousness.”
And we know that, do we not? I mean, we struggle with that, but the truth is, you know just like I do, that I can maintain hatred toward my wife, bitterness toward my children, jealousy toward my neighbor, all the while technically never killing them, never having blood on my hands.
And Jesus says, “That is not what I came to do. That is not saving people from their sins. This is something different. This is a righteousness that is not outward. It is a righteousness that works its way all the way down to the heart—a heart that is changed by God—and then ushers forth in love and purity and holiness and love and prayer. All kinds of new attitudes.
So it begs the question, do we see those new attitudes? Do we see those things in our…Do we have other people maybe…Maybe we can’t quite clear it up. Maybe we don’t…Maybe we’re too introspective. We look too much at ourselves and we get all confused. “I don’t know if I see those?”
Brothers and sisters, do you have other people in your life saying, “I see the grace of God in you”? Are you doing that for others as you see the grace of God in their life so they’re not left to wonder, “Oh, do I see evidence of grace in my life?” Tell that brother or sister of the evidence of grace in their life. Encouraging one another all the more as the day approaches, the Scripture says. Are there new attitudes?
And then we see in chapter 6, are there new desires? New desires are evidence of exceeding righteousness. We don’t have time to unpack all of these but notice…We’ll just look at the first one. You see what Jesus does here in chapter 6. I have the verses there 1– 18. Jesus sets off three kinds of behaviors. He sets off giving and prayer and then finally in verses 16–18, He sets off the idea of fasting or He discusses the idea of fasting.
And what I want you to make sure…I want to make sure I’m clear. Jesus is not saying, “Oh, they did it wrong. So for My disciples, don’t give, don’t pray, don’t fast.” That’s not at all what Jesus is saying. But what you see in every single instance as He teaches in chapter 6:1–4, then in 5 all the way down through 15, and then finally in 16–18. Every single time Jesus says something like this: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”
Circle that. Underline that. Make a note in your notes. “In order to be seen by them.” There is nothing wrong, there is everything right about giving, about praying, about fasting, and you name the discipline that is attached. There’s everything right about those, but there’s everything wrong about doing them in order to be seen by men.
And Jesus says that “My disciples, yes, they may struggle with that; yes, they will feel the pull of that; yes, they will at times desire the applause of men, but there will be at least a warring against that. A desire for God, a desire for recognition by God, and who cares about what man says.” He says there will indeed be new desires—new desires in the way that we give, not to be recognized by men; new desires in the way that we pray—not so that others can hear our language and be impressed by our spirituality. New desires in the way that we fast.
Pharisees—they fasted in order to be seen by God. They put ashes on their face to show that they weren’t concerned about what men thought about them. They were only concerned about God, when in reality, it was the other way around. Jesus said there must be new attitudes, new desires.
Notice also, He said there must be new ambitions. Matthew 6:19–34…. We read just a little bit ago what Jesus says in Matthew 6:31–33.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [Here’s the bottom line of this passage] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
In other words, for those who have a qualitatively different kind of righteousness (in other words, they have a heart that is changed by God) they are no longer, or they are less than they were at least, no longer consumed with the things of this world. That does not mean (I want to be very clear), that does not mean that if we ever struggle, that if we ever fall, that if we ever feel and give into the pull of the world, that we are not a disciple of Jesus. This is an already but not yet. We are not all the way into heaven. We are not already perfected. We are not already glorified. There will always be a struggle in this life. But I think what Jesus would say here is, “Yes, you will still feel the pull. Yes you will still fall. Yes, you will still sin.
But there ought to be at least a competing desire in your heart for the glory of God and for the Kingdom of Righteousness.” There will at least be a desire on some level on which we can really pray with sincerity, ““Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” New attitudes, new desires, new ambitions, and then last, new relationships.
It’s probably one of the most quoted verses particularly in our secular culture. In fact, verse 1 has…I’m not sure how this is judged, but it’s generally regarded as the most quoted verse in American culture from the Bible. It tells you a lot about our day, does it not? Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Now clearly Jesus here is not saying that we never judge, or that we never point out sin in our brothers and sisters, or that we never receive correction from our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact He goes on to indicate that’s exactly what we ought to be doing. We ought to be encouraging one another, sharpening one another, admonishing one another in love and sincerity. That’s exactly what He says in verse 2. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Thankfully we never do that, right? I’ll go on to verse 4. “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Pharisees at the corner of the market on elevating themselves and demeaning those who would not live up to their standards, their way of life, their program of holiness. And Jesus’ response to that is not, “Don’t be concerned about holiness, don’t ever encourage one another, don’t ever point out sin.” His response to that is, “Make sure that judgment begins here, not there.” Absolutely encourage one another. Absolutely say, “Brother or sister, I see this in your life,” but only after a time of reflection on the ways that is present in your life.
And then, even when we do that, all of our correction, all of our admonition, all of our encouragement should be seasoned with love and with grace and evident humility.
Jesus says that bottom line, there will be something different. There will be something different about My people. Life in the Kingdom will look different than life in the world. And so the question for all of us I think this morning first is, do we see this in our life? And to take it from the corporate to the individual, do you see this in your life? Do you see love and joy and peace, patience and kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
Do you see the evident work of God in your life? Are other people affirming God’s grace in your life?
Like every good preacher, Jesus puts us on the spot and He calls for us to respond. He does it in three ways. I want to run through these at the end here.
The Seriousness of the Sermon in Matthew 5–7
I want to impress upon us the seriousness of what we are talking about this morning. Notice what Jesus says first.
Matthew 5–7 tells us the options are limited.
He indicates that the options are limited. That there is one road that leads to life and there is one road that leads to destruction. You see that in a very familiar passage in Matthew 7:13–14 where Jesus says “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Scholars have disagreed about whether it is a road that leads to a gate or whether it’s a gate that leads to a road. I think it’s more likely a road that leads to a gate. But in any event the indication is or the bottom line is clear that there are only two ways. There are not 40 ways in our pluralistic culture. There are only two ways. There are only two kinds of people, Paul tells us. Jesus tells us that there are only two kinds of roads and everybody in here this morning is on one of two roads. You’re either this morning on a road that leads to life—a narrow road leading to a narrow gate, namely Jesus, that leads to life.
Or you are on a broad way, an easy way—the way of the world. But Jesus says, “Take care, for that road leads to destruction.” He says that the options are limited. There are only two.
Matthew 5–7 tells us the fruit is evident
He says also that the fruit is evident. That the fruit will be evident. Verses 15–23 (we don’t have time to read them all) but I want you to see that what Jesus is simply this: there is one tree that bears good fruit and there is one tree that bears bad fruit. And everybody is one or the other. There’s one tree that bears good fruit, one that bears bad fruit. And everybody in this room is one or the other. Either you have repented of your sins and you’re trusting in Christ—resting in Him for your salvation entirely, ushering in through the Spirit of Christ the fruits of repentance and faith—or you’re still resting in yourself, you’re rejecting Christ, and you are bringing forth and you see it and you know it and you feel it, the works of the flesh.
Let’s change the metaphors. Jesus says, “There’s coming a day where the masquerade will end and everybody will be exposed,” including me. Everybody will be exposed. All their deeds will be exposed. Who they really are will be exposed. Some will say, “Well, Lord, Lord didn’t we do mighty works in Your name? Didn’t we cast out demons? Didn’t we do all these externally righteous things?” And what is Jesus’ response to them? “Depart from Me for I never knew you.”
The Consequences are eternal
He says that the options are limited. The fruit will be evident. And most serious of all, He says that the consequences are eternal. This is not a temporal thing. This is not a game. This is not something that is on par with anything else in our lives. He says, “The consequences are eternal.” There is one house that stands upon the rock and there is one house that crashes upon itself. You remember the story that Jesus tells (Matthew 7:24–27):
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
I hope you hear me. I hope you hear Jesus. Because when Jesus says that there is a storm that is coming, He is not talking about what we so often identify as the storms of life. Those are real and those are painful and the Bible certainly addresses them. There are storms of life like cancer, and divorce, and loss and the Bible speaks of them, but that is not the kind of storm—that is not the nature of the storm—that Jesus is referring to here. Jesus is referring to a cataclysmic, and final and utterly devastating storm of the judgment of God that is to come, maybe tonight, maybe 10,000 years from now. But it will come nevertheless. And Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter how you’ve propped up the house. It doesn’t matter how you’ve fixed it up. It doesn’t matter what other people think of your house. Unless that house is founded upon the Rock, great will be the fall of it.”
But the good news—the gospel—is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The good news this morning is that you can withstand the judgment of God so long as you are in Christ, Who has already been judged. You can withstand the judgment of God so long as you place yourself totally, completely in Him; that you don’t rest in yourself, but you rest wholly in the Savior. That is the gospel.
So this morning let me ask you the question I think that the text is demanding that we answer. And that is, do you see an exceeding righteousness in your life? If you do not, let me urge you with everything in me, even now to call out to Jesus; to beg Jesus for mercy and for grace; to trust in His death and His resurrection. And on the assurance of God’s Word, if you do that He will surely save you now. You say, “Well, I’ve already done that.
Does that kind of leave me kind of empty for this sermon? I mean, how do I respond if I already…If others recognize that in my life by the grace of God and I see that…Oh I know what I once was and now I see the evidence of grace in my life?” Do we just walk away and say, “Well, good, I got that?” I don’t think we do that at all. I think two things we ought to do. If you see the grace in your life, first of all you ought to praise God for His grace in your life. It is grace. It is unmerited. It is not anything that you because you were born in a certain family, born in a certain county, lived a certain life. It is all of the unmerited favor of God all merited by Jesus. And so this morning, I would encourage you if you see this, and you have a desire for this and you have a longing for this, you’ve been changed by God, then take time this morning, take time this week and praise God for His grace in your life. And let that grace, let that gospel grace then fuel obedience unto God.
In other words, the second part is not only to praise God for his grace, but then to look back to the sermon and realize there are a hundred ways in which there are still gaps between my life and this sermon. And then to ask God for more grace, more mercy, more provision to live out what He has already called us and enabled us to do. Not for our glory, but in the very same ways that Jesus starts the sermon. “That they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” May God make that so among us all.
The Setting of the Sermon
- We must remember the context of the sermon in the Gospel of Matthew.
- Matthew begins by calling attention to the sins of God’s people.
- Matthew ends by calling attention to the death of God’s Messiah.
- We must remember the context of the sermon in the history of redemption.
- Jesus is the long–awaited Redeemer.
- “I will raise up for them a prophet like [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deut. 18:18)
- His is the long–awaited Kingdom.
The Subject of the Sermon
- Jesus demands a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and the Pharisees. (5:17–20)
- Not more righteous deeds by human effort…
- But more righteous hearts by divine grace.
- This exceeding righteousness should be evident in our…
- Attitudes. (5:21–48)
- Desires. (6:1–18)
- Ambitions. (6:19–34)
- Relationships. (7:1–12)
The Seriousness of the Sermon
- The options are limited. (7:13–14)
- One road leads to life.
- One road leads to destruction.
- The fruit will be evident. (7:15–23)
- One tree bears good fruit.
- One tree bears bad fruit.
- The consequences are eternal. (7:24–27)
- One house stands upon the rock.
- One house crashes upon itself.