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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

You Have Heard It Said

Matthew 5:13-48

Lesson audio

Salt and Light

Mat 5:13-16 NIV "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (14) "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (16) In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Salt of the Earth

Christ’s first hearers would have had a different view of salt than we do. (My primary view is wrapped up in the phrase, “low sodium diet.”) They would instantly have thought back to the Scriptures where they would see two references:

  • The Covenant with Israel was a “covenant of salt.”[1] The preservative nature of salt would be a picture of the eternal nature of God’s covenants.
  • All offerings were to include salt. The only exception was the “thank offering” – one for which there was no obligation. Every other offering needed the purification of salt.

Salt, it may thus be seen, is a preservative, but is also used to cleanse and purify.[2] So it is that the Christian is to cleanse and purify the world around him. How are we to do this?

Col 4:6 NIV Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

By our ready answers we are to persuade, by the grace of our speech we are to cleanse.

The light of the world

The rule of conduct for the Christian is the imitation of Christ – who is the light of the world.[3] What does this mean? Surely it is our example he is speaking of. His metaphor is carefully selected:

  • There is no such thing as “dirty light.” Light does not come from corruption. Therefore, we are commanded to be pure.
  • Light is seen even when the world doesn’t want to see it. Even when the Christian is persecuted, the example still shines – and some would say the darker the world, the brighter the example should be.

But we are not just an example to be seen; we are a way of life to be followed. The example is not just external obedience, but flows from contact with the One True Light. We are to be light in thought as well as action.

Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

Mat 5:17-20 NIV "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (18) I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (19) Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (20) For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Seeing the obvious

Let’s take the obvious answer to the obvious question, “How can Christ fulfill the Law and the Prophets?”

  • First, He fulfills the prophecies concerning the Messiah.
  • Second, He fulfills the Law as the ultimate atonement.

But as we shall see, He now extends the Law from the realm of action to the realm of the heart.

Extending the tradition

Christ is about to give a series of commandments which exceed the Old Testament Law – though they are found in the Scriptures even there. How can He do this? He speaks in the same vein of knowledge, for He is the author of the Law.

Let me give you an example. My favorite composer is Johan Sebastian Bach. He wrote about a century before Beethoven. If you examine their music, you will see that Beethoven extends the scope of music – by staying within the same artistic tradition of Bach. Anyone in that tradition (of music) may extend it. But sometimes we get a Schoenberg – one who scraps the tradition for “bold new ways.” Schoenberg isn’t heard very much today, though he was all the rage in his lifetime. Christ is the Beethoven of the Law, not the Schoenberg.

So it is that He extends the Law, but does not go against it. Righteousness is still righteousness; Christ extends righteousness of action into righteousness of heart. It’s already there in the Old Testament; now it comes to the forefront.

Heaven and earth

How, then, can Christ say that the Law endures until He comes again, and heaven and earth pass away? Because He is the author of the Law, the founder of the Church – and the creator of the New Heaven and New Earth. All three steps are part of the plan made before the creation of the universe.

“But I say…”

We may now see how Christ extends the Law in three ways:

Thought, word and action

Mat 5:21-26 NIV "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,[1] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' (22) But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[2]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,[3]' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. (23) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at 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; then come and offer your gift. (25) "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. (26) I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.[4]

It is a fact of life that “you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” For the police department, action, not thought, alone can be controlled. There are two reasons for this:

  • It is a practical necessity. The thought police are rather arbitrary, but our police need to find a known violation of the law. Anything more is tyranny.
  • It is required by the fact that judges and juries are composed of sinful people. The law deals with action because this is what juries can really judge.

But God can extend this, for He alone sees the heart. The pure heart gives rise to pure thoughts, which give rise to noble deeds. That, however, is not the starting point of natural man:

Jer 17:9-10 NIV The heart is deceitful above all things

and beyond cure.

Who can understand it? (10) "I the LORD search the heart

and examine the mind,

to reward a man according to his conduct,

according to what his deeds deserve."

So we come to the paradigm Christ gives us here: train your thoughts – and your words will be pure. Train your words – and your deeds will be pleasing to God.


Mat 5:27-37 NIV "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'[5] (28) But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (29) If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (30) And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

(31) "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'[6] (32) But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

(33) "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' (34) But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; (35) or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. (36) And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (37) Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

(I regret to add this note as vital predecessor. We must remember that marriage is an oath – remember the phrase “wedding vows?” Thus it is that Christ upholds such a vow not only as one’s solemn, sworn word, but also upon the original intentions of God. To put it in summary, it is the teaching of the church that divorce has no cause except adultery; and that adultery in any circumstance is sin. To make the matter clear, anything to the contrary is the work of an apostate. An “apostate” – well, look it up. It will do you good.)

The oath (then and now) has an intrinsic problem: lawyers. The temptation is to find a way of phrasing your oath so that it sounds like you mean what is right – but always with loopholes. This has not changed much over the last two thousand years.

For the Christian, we must remember that we will be called to account for our oaths and vows – called to account by God Almighty. This puts the matter in a clear light: the oath is a dangerous thing. Therefore, take them as seldom as possible – and fulfill them completely.

Be perfect

Mat 5:38-48 NIV "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[7] (39) But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (41) If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (42) Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

(43) "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[8] and hate your enemy.' (44) But I tell you: Love your enemies[9] and pray for those who persecute you, (45) that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (46) If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Christ begins by defining our response to an unholy trinity: violence, material possessions and money. The response seems so improbable to us now. But consider this carefully: why did the Law say, “eye for eye?” Both for the servant[4] and the neighbor[5] this is given as proper punishment. Why? Not so that we would have more eyes poked out, but fewer. The certainty of swift punishment is a great motivator. This is the Law: dealing only with actions. But Christ here lays out the law of love: do not pick up the weapons of Satan – revenge and violence – but the weapons of God. Those weapons are forgiveness and mercy, and unconditional love.

Have you thought of it as an example of light and salt? If you love your enemy, you will forgive them – a startling example, unable to be hidden. The question is quick to come: why? The answer is the imitation of Christ.

Of course, the reaction is that I can’t do this; I am not capable of it. How can I be perfect? I give you two answers:

  • The perfect imitation of Christ is God’s own work. God’s work, done in God’s way will never lack for God’s supply.[6]
  • You are God’s child; will your heavenly Father fail to give you any good thing – especially when it causes you to grow more like Him?

[1] Numbers 18:19

[2] See 2nd Kings 2:19-22 for an example of this.

[3] John 9:5

[4] Exodus 21:22-27

[5] Leviticus 24:19-20

[6] Hudson Taylor, approximately.

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