You Have Heard That It Was Said (Matthew 5:21-37)

Date: 2/12/2017
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In the Sermon on the Mount thus far, we have seen 1) the beatitudes that picture character of the Kingdom of Jesus; Jesus embodied these characteristics and in His passion and death he was denied all of the blessings of the beatitudes. poor in spirit (humble), who are mournful (who acknowledge sin), are meek, desire righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted and are slandered for righteousness sake. 2) Kingdom people that express the character of Jesus are salt and light in the world and they are righteous, beyond the righteousness of hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. In this section, Jesus directly contradicts the teachings of the religious leadership of Israel. This is signaled by a variation of the statement, “You have heard that it was said.”

Matthew 5:21 You have heard that the ancients were told … But I say to you (MURDER VI Commandment)
Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (ADULTERY VII Commandment)
> Matthew 5:31 It was said  . . . but I say to you (DIVORCE IX Commandment)
> Matthew 5:33 you have heard that the ancients were told . . . but I say to you (FALSE VOWS III & IX Commandment)
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (EYE FOR AN EYE X Commandment)
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR VI Commandment)

How should we interpret these? Here are three principles: 1) Continuity – Since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, we should accept that Jesus is not contradicting Moses or other prophets. Rather, he is contradicting the legalistic interpretation of the Law that came through the Pharisees and scribes. 2) Radicalism in the application of the Law and Prophets – He is taking the Law to the root, not just actions, but motivations, words, emotions. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament too, such as Psalms 15:1–3:  “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, …Psalms 15:4 He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” 3) Jesus uses hyperbole, an expansion and exaggeration to make a point.  We use these too, “I’ve told you a million times.” “I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” “I have a million things to do.” Jesus does this in this way: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you … If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off.”

Unlike the Pharisaic approach which claimed righteousness by not physically murdering and by not physically committing adultery, etc., – we cannot earn anything through  keeping the Law because we regularly  desire, emote, and speak in ways that violate the character of God. It is impossible for sinners to achieve righteousness through the Law. Jesus raised the Standard so high in His interpretation of the Law that we must find another way. That way is His perfect righteousness which we receive by faith.
 

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more