Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:31-32

Matthew 5:31-32

It was said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document. 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
(NET Bible)

Headline: An exception has swallowed the rule

In the engineering of systems for naval, nuclear power plants, we tried to make everything sailor-proof. In other words, we tried to make it impossible to make a serious error. Unfortunately, we found that sailors are marvelously inventive!

During a ships construction we made sure the nuclear reactor compartment was carefully cleaned every night. What we never imagined is that a worker would clean up and then pull off the protective cover over the end of one of the main pipes and put the trash in there! We did not appreciate that kind of creativity; we were not amused. Neither was Jesus amused by those hunting loopholes in what God commanded them. Do you look for ways around what God says?

Divorce was as common in Jesus day as it is today. They relied on Deut. 24:1, which says, If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house. Turner says, Apparently, many teachers of Jesus day had taken this passage as carte blanche for divorce.[1] A spoiled meal, a loud retort, or even the availability of a more beautiful woman were all accepted reasons for a man to divorce his wife! He need only give her the required certificate.

In contrast to the Pharisees, who seized upon the concession Moses had made because of hardened hearts, Jesus had a different teaching for his disciples. Jesus declares that these casual divorces were forcing the women involved into spiritual disloyalty to God. Craig Blomberg clarifies 5:32 by saying, Jesus maintains that the divorce itself creates adultery — metaphorically, not literally — through infidelity to the lifelong, covenantal nature of marriage.[2]

It is important to address the phrase except for immorality (5:32), because it appears to be the sole cause that Jesus will accept for divorce. The underlying Greek word is porneia, and it generally refers to unlawful sexual relations (i.e. between unmarried people); that could include both fornication and adultery. So, Jesus allowed divorce related only to serious sexual sin, not the trivial causes allowed by the Pharisees. Further, Jesus did not command divorce in such a case even though both Roman and Jewish law required divorce for these grounds.[3]

The Pharisees stressed the provision Moses made for divorce caused by hard-heartedness (Matt. 19:8), but Jesus emphasized Gods original purpose in marriage to create a one-flesh relationship (Matt. 19:4-6). Because of the teaching of the religious leaders, the exception allowed by Moses had swallowed the rule established by God! Without contradicting Moses, Jesus emphasizes the sanctity and seriousness of marriage.

The fact that Jesus did not intend a flat prohibition of divorce is proven by the fact that Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, expressly allowed divorce in a different situation than that defined by Jesus (1 Cor. 7:15-16). Craig Keener says that ancient hearers expected that statements of general principle needed to be qualified for specific situations, and they waited to hear the nuances.[4] Jesus intended here not to lay down the law but to combat complacency about divorce and to reassert Gods original intention for life-long marriage.

Jesus expects more of his disciples than the lax standards set down by those who neglect Gods Word. The exception never swallows the rule with Jesus, because Jesus is the rule!

Back to the future

Reasons for divorce are as lax today as among the Jews in the first century.

If we give our concentrated attention to protecting and nurturing marital relationships, then we will honor our relationship to Christ and show the world that his kingdom surpasses all others!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 171.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 111.

[3] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 467.

[4] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 190.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:29-30

Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Just how deep does this problem go?

It is amusing to watch aging officials in business attire and hard hats grab a shovel at a ground-breaking ceremony and move a shovelful of dirt. Anyone with common sense knows this is only a photo-op that contributes nothing to the completion of the project. Are we making the same token efforts in living for God?

Before I state what this passage does mean, it is prudent to eliminate what it does not mean. Jesus is not teaching self-mutilation, which is prohibited by the Law of Moses (Deut. 14:1). Logic should also tell us the same thing since the sin of lust would simply continue with the remaining eye and hand! Further, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg tells us, It is quite possible to be blind or crippled and still lust.[1]

No, Jesus is using provocative language to get the audience to sift through the inconsistency of their own position and conclude that it is not the hands and eyes that cause one to sin, but the heart.[2] Remember that in the immediate context (5:28) Jesus has already identified the heart as the place where the adulterous decision is made.

In instructing his disciples about the kingdom, Jesus was overthrowing the then-prevailing idea that keeping the commandments outwardly — not murdering or committing adultery — was sufficient. Jesus shows instead that the commandments actually penetrate to spiritual issues of the heart.

If Jesus is not advocating actual removal of an eye or a hand, what is he saying? David Turner explains Jesus point by saying, It is better to deal decisively with lust than to be thrown into hell because of it.[3] R.T. France offers a broader view by explaining, The theme is impediments to salvation, and the importance of eliminating them at all costs, a theme which could have many different applications to relationships, activities, mental attitudes and the like.[4]

In these verses Jesus opens a subject that recurs often in Matthew: to cause someone to stumble, or a cause for stumbling. In this case it is a heart devoted to lust that causes someone to sin. The Greek verb underlying this concept is skandalizo— related to our English word scandal — and it means cause to stumble.[5] From the physical idea of stumbling there emerges the figurative idea to cause to do wrong or sin, and that is the meaning we see in Matt. 5:29-30.

Jesus is telling us that the state of the heart is what leads to sin, not the eye or the hand, and radical action is required to bring things right. Prior to this day, Jesus proclaimed, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (4:17). Sadly, some disciples who were confronted with this demand from heaven eventually fell away by rejecting it. For them, the gospel and the person of Jesus the Messiah became a stumbling block (13:21).

Be clear about the fact that Jesus says the end of any disciple who refuses to repent will be a stumbling entry into hell itself!

The insecurity of half-measures

If you have given your heart to Jesus Christ, you have no reason to fear the future. But make sure that you have not fallen into the half-measures that the Pharisees proclaimed, which Jesus declared insufficient for the kingdom. It is simply too easy to get complacent and think you are special to God because you have not murdered anyone, stolen anything or committed adultery.

Jesus has made it possible for us to repent, receive the Holy Spirit, resist sin — even sexual sin — and live for God. His grace to us is boundless!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Developed from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 109.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 693.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 171.

[4] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 206.

[5] Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), skandalizo, to cause to stumble, q.v.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:27-28

Matthew 5:27-28

You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

At these words, all men flinch!

In a highly sexualized society, many things that we consider to be normal actually offend God. So, television offers the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and the annual Victorias Secret fashion show in prime time. Some specialized channels have even worse content.

Perhaps you think all is well because you do not participate in those exact media events. Yet lust is a daily temptation that confronts all of us.

Few verses cause more doubt about self-control than the two we consider today. The problem centers in our hearts where we have uncritically internalized cultural values about lust. We are much like the men of the ancient Mediterranean area who — Keener[1] tells us — thought lust was a healthy and normal practice.

First, we will take a closer look at what Jesus said. As before, he quotes the Ten Commandments by citing the prohibition against adultery (Exod. 20:14). But, starting in 5:28, Jesus gives this text a powerful interpretation. The phrase whoever looks at a woman (5:28) expresses the underlying Greek present participle, which usually conveys an ongoing action. This probably implies more than a glance; this is a long, lingering look.

But what may we say about the woman (5:28)? In the context of the original commandment, this was someones wife, and that is confirmed by the reference to adultery. But the whole tenor of Jesus teaching is not such as to encourage limiting the scope of his words. Along with Turner[2], I believe Jesus is speaking about looking at any woman, not merely someones wife.

The nature of the look is important. The key phrase looks at a woman to desire her (5:28, NET) is more commonly translated looks at a woman to lust for her (HCSB; joined by NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, and KJV with slight variations). Desire can imply simple sexual attraction, which is biological, whereas lust for suggests greater intensity, imagining and especially planning for sexual activity.

The influential church father John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) tellingly described the one experiencing this lust: he who gathers in lust unto himself; he who, when nothing compels him, brings in the wild beast upon his thoughts when they are calm. For this comes no longer of nature, but of self-indulgence.[3] The church fathers knew human nature as well as we do!

We can summarize the danger point using a six-word epigram: The move from Wow! to How? R.T. France says the sin comes in the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) an illicit sexual liaison.[4]

Jesus evidently demands more of his disciples than mere obedience to the commandment (You will not commit adultery); he requires that you not want to do so either![5] That will be so much easier if your mind is focused on what Christ has done for you, what you can pray about, and who you might tell about the gospel. The battleground is the mind, and focusing your attention on Jesus will allow you to survive many struggles with lust.

Planning for a pure heart

We have to conclude that Jesus does not look with favor on a world full of pornography, sexual slavery and a casual attitude toward marriage. Though you may be an independent-minded American, a disciple of Jesus is not free to do anything they like.

Remember that many disciples before you have had to live in sex-saturated cultures. Jesus does not command you to do anything that he will not also empower you to do. A pure heart is something you have to want and also seek every single day.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 186.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 170.

[3] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, Ed. (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887-94) 113.

[4] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 204.

[5] Keener, Matthew, 187.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:25-26

Matthew 5:25-26

Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
(NET Bible)

Who needs to avoid the danger?

The nature of being human is that we do not always know how things are going to turn out. We may think it is manly to plunge forward, heedless of danger. Any of us knows how to play the big man until we run into something bigger still. (Women can do this as well.)

Jesus commands his disciples to settle one issue swiftly, while the matter is still in their hands: what claim might others have on you before God? But will his disciples listen?

Jesus imagines a dispute in which two Jews are on their way to a court to have their dispute adjudicated. But what court? In this context, there can only be one answer: Gods court of divine judgment. In effect, Jesus says do not show up before Gods judgment with matters still in doubt. You cannot afford to lose there!

R.T. France points out one clue when he says, The inclusion of I tell you truly . . . alerts us to a more important purpose than merely avoiding imprisonment: like the other parable of debt and imprisonment (18:23-35), it is a pointer to the divine judgment on those whose earthly relationships do not conform to the values of the kingdom of heaven.[1]

Who would be likely to find themselves in such danger? The wealthy and the powerful had little to fear in any earthly court, but, in the court of heaven, even the smallest might bring them down. How else may we understand Jesus words to the Pharisee: Give from your heart to those in need, and then everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). The Parable of the Rich man with poor Lazarus lying at his gate, unaided, will surely account for the rich man ending up in hell (Luke 16:19-31) and Lazarus in paradise.

Under the law, the rich were responsible before God to care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the alien. How can they expect anything but ruin when the matter comes before God?

If this is the case, then how could the wealthy and powerful settle with others who had a claim on them? First of all, they could repent of their disobedience to the law and begin to practice the love, justice, mercy and humility that God demands of us all (Micah 6:8). Only by showing mercy can they have hope of finding mercy before a holy God.

The closing warning (5:26) is dire. It begins with the solemn words I tell you the truth. It continues with the most powerful negation in Greek: you will absolutely not get out of there until you have paid the last penny (my translation of Matt. 5:26b). The amount of money mentioned was 1/64 of a denarius, which was one days wage for a laborer. In our country, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and 1/64th would be a little over 11 cents.

Thinking theologically, we must ask how a disciple could discharge such a debt, one gained over a lifetime of neglect. The only chance was to repent and seek Gods mercy. Such were the powerful demands that Jesus brought upon his disciples.

Act while time remains!

In all of his teaching about resolving differences within relationships (5:21-26), Jesus has stressed the need for unity and the peaceful resolution of differences. Indeed, broader social obligations must be met before they arrive for adjudication before Gods throne.

Cain rhetorically asked God, Am I my brothers guardian? (Gen. 4:9). Gods unspoken answer was Yes! Many of us do not talk like Cain, but on this question we may manifest his values.

How do some find it possible to live with such self-focus when the one we call Lord set aside the splendor of heaven to die in our place, paying a price we could never pay? How should we live to show him that we understand what he wants?

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 203-204.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:23-24

Matthew 5:23-24

So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The feelings of others

The largest room in my home church is called a Worship Center. In light of what Jesus says in todays Bible passage, perhaps we should build a larger room and call it the Reconciliation Center. Alternatively, we could simply start doing what Jesus says, no matter what we call it!

Yesterday, we developed the idea that Jesus has great concern for our actions, feelings and attitudes toward others (5:21-22). Today the focus shifts away from us to the inner life of others. To be a disciple of Jesus means you must be concerned about how others feel about you, not just about how you feel about them.

Note carefully that the person in 5:23 — the word you is singular — is involved in an important spiritual activity: bringing a gift to the altar as an offering to God. There he recalls that his brother has an issue against him. This concept casts a very big net; has something against you (5:23) could also be translated has anything against you. Anything!

R.T. France reminds us of some basic facts: 1) such an offering could only be made at the temple in Jerusalem, and 2) Jesus spoke these words to his disciples in Galilee. He says Jesus envisages a worshipper who has travelled some eighty miles to Jerusalem with his offering (probably a sacrificial animal), who then leaves the animal in the temple while he makes a journey of a week or more to Galilee and back again to effect a reconciliation with his offended brother or sister before he dares to present his offering.[1] Wow!

So, todays passage makes a very simple point. Keener summarizes it by saying that a disciples relationship to God partly depends on how the disciple treats others.[2] Walking away from damaged relationships displeases God. A disciple may not find reconciliation, but they are obligated to seek it.

Broken toys

Those of us who are parents know that broken toys get abandoned. In the case of toys, that does not matter very much. But adults quite frequently have the same attitude toward broken relationships. Jesus demands a higher standard from his disciples!

After writing this lesson, I had just sat down in the Worship Center when I realized that a lady down the aisle was someone I had offended and now avoided. The Spirit impelled me down that aisle and onto one knee to apologize. She graciously accepted my apology and we were reconciled before the worship service began. That felt very good!

This subject of reconciliation is more important than you and I have thought. Would not today be a good day to set matters right with someone you know?

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 203.

[2] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 185.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:21–22

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Feelings and taunts have God’s attention

In 1956, The Four Lads became famous when their song “Standing on the Corner” reached number 3 on the Billboard charts. The young man in the song watches all the girls go by and celebrates the fact that “you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” Is that so?

Jesus makes it clear that our every feeling and word receive the attention of heaven’s court. What is decided there goes far beyond jail! Just because you are not a murderer is no reason to feel smug about your standing with God. Have you considered your thoughts and feelings?

A new frame of reference

When the NET Bible translates “it was said to an older generation” (5:21), you get the erroneous impression that a recent generation is meant. But the NET’s Notes reveal that the Greek phrase means the ancient ones. “Do not murder” (Exod. 20:13) was a command given to Moses at Mount Sinai — over a thousand years before Jesus — as part of what we call the Ten Commandments.

Like the young man in the song, who felt no danger from what he was thinking, many Jews in Jesus’ day felt self-assured about keeping the law. After all, “Do not murder” is easy to keep — right? In teaching his disciples the righteousness required to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus opens with the law of murder, a topic the disciples were already counting in their own favor. Killing another person makes one “answerable to judgment” (5:21, my translation).

By the time Jesus finished speaking the words recorded in 5:22, none of his disciples was comfortable anymore! Far from focusing only on the outward act of murder, God looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). R.T. France says: “The actual committing of murder is only the outward manifestation of an inward attitude which is itself culpable, whether or not it actually issues in the act of murder.”[1]

Jesus tells his disciples that anger with their brother will make them answerable to judgment (5:22a). Anger is an emotion, and it presents danger. It is easy to reach the erroneous conclusion that all anger is sin, but Paul actually commands, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26). The NET Bible’s Notes say, “Christians are to exercise a righteous indignation over sin in the midst of the believing community.”[2] We are made in God’s image, and we may experience righteous anger for the same reason God does: encountering sin in the form of injustice, mistreatment, exploitation or disobedience. For example, Jesus angrily drove the money changers out of the Temple (21:12–17).

But the surprises are far from over! Jesus imagines first that a disciple calls his brother raka, which means numskull or fool (5:22), making the speaker answerable to judgment. Then, whoever calls his brother a fool will run the risk of the hell’s fire (5:22). These insults are hard to distinguish. In 23:17, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees fools, showing that the mere act is not sin.

Some scholars think the background lies in the story of the brothers Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1-8). After becoming very angry with Abel — without a cause — Cain invited him to the fields where Cain murdered Abel. God even warned Cain of his danger (Gen. 4:6–7), but he did not listen.

In every case within Matthew 5, Jesus was dealing with feelings, attitudes and words that could — in the worse case — lead to murder. Our evening news and morning papers are replete with examples of death that began with anger or insult. Jesus told his disciples that God will evaluate not only murder but any inward feeling or outward word that creates a context promoting evil.

The demands of discipleship

Jesus looks within those who would be his disciples. That is why such externals like attending church or even serving in some capacity only form the surface of what he considers. Our every thought, feeling, and word will be subject to judgment by our Lord. He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to mature inwardly as well as outwardly.

The Apostle James frequently deals with themes from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Where do the conflicts and where do the quarrels among you come from? Is it not from this, from your passions that battle inside you?” (James 4:1).

Our challenge is to allow the Holy Spirit to mold our lives to be more like Jesus inside and out!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 199.

[2] Net Bible’s Notes for Ephesians 4:26.

 

Sermon on the Mount — Matthew 5:19-20

Matthew 5:19–20
“So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The incentive to be careful about the details

“Don’t sweat the small stuff!” is a once-popular idea that many still embrace. In certain contexts that idea probably works well, but I do not advise you to tell the police officer that you were only driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.  :)

Trivializing the laws of man is nothing compared to making light of the laws of God. In first-century Jewish society, people would seek counsel from a scribe or rabbi to determine what they were obligated to do before God and what they might safely ignore. The language used to describe the rabbi’s answers included the verbs bind and loose. If the rabbi binds the commandment upon you, then he is saying it is your spiritual duty. If he looses the commandment, he is saying that, for some reason, the requirement does not apply to you.

The NET Bible is adequate when it translates “anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands” (5:19), but ESV translates better by saying “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments.” The underlying Greek verb is λύω, and it means to loose or untie something. In practical terms, Jesus is speaking of a rabbi who teaches that someone can ignore one of God’s commands; the rabbi looses the person from obeying that command.

As to the least of these commands (5:19), one example would be Deut. 22:6–7, which forbids the removal of a mother bird from a bird nest containing eggs or chicks. Some rabbis considered that among the least commands. What does Jesus say about the least commands of the law?

Jesus continues to reinforce his position on the law by saying that anyone who relaxes the least commandment and teaches others to do so will be least in the kingdom of heaven (5:19). You can see in this result a rule of reciprocity —the idea that the punishment fits the crime — in that one least leads to another. R.T. France has it right when he says: “Jesus at first sight appears more merciful than the rabbis: one who breaks the commandment is least in the kingdom rather than excluded from it altogether (5:19); yet his following words show that those who merely honored the highest standards of their religion [while neglecting the others] fell short of entering the kingdom at all (5:20).”[1]

All that Jesus has said up to this point has been remarkable, but when he uttered the words given in 5:20, I think his audience was shocked into silence. The scribes and Pharisees represented “the greatest righteousness imaginable within Judaism.”[2] Jesus thought otherwise!

Jesus says to his disciples that their righteousness must exceed that of their religious leaders if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. But he states the matter in extreme terms by using the strongest possible negative that New Testament Greek offers[3]; they will absolutely not enter the kingdom without manifesting the higher righteousness he demands.

R.T. France correctly observes, “Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different level or concept of righteousness altogether.”[4] What is that righteousness? We will develop Jesus’ teaching over time. For now, I will say that this righteousness begins with a personal relationship, a faith commitment, to Jesus the Messiah. That is something the scribes and Pharisees did not have and could not offer. Only those who have such a relationship, and the transformed heart that goes with it, will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The most vital details

The first and foremost detail for entering the kingdom of God is that it all begins with Jesus. Those who will enter the kingdom must come through him. Only he can properly interpret the law and provide his disciples with the Holy Spirit to quicken their minds and hearts in all relevant ways. Only Jesus could die for our sins to reconcile us to God.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Those are the most vital details, but not the only ones!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 179.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 105.

[3] BDAG-3, μή, not (see meaning 4 for a combination with οὐ), q.v.

[4] R.T. France, Matthew, 189.