The first two sections of this famous sermon dealt with the individual believers, as to what we are within ourselves; the virtues we are to have and demonstrate, which will make us CONTENT, or “blessed”…and then what we are to be in relationship to the world, how we are to PRESENT ourselves to the lost people of the world, and we are to do that in such a way that those lost will have to wonder WHAT it IS that WE HAVE, that they DON’T have, and why what we have makes us so DIFFERENT from them.  If we are able to do that well, it should make those lost people WANT what we have, so THEY can also be content and blessed.

In this NEXT section, Jesus is looking at the OLD TESTAMENT LAWS, and how those laws were SUPPOSED to read, before MAN put his fingerprints all over them.

In the first two verses that we read, verses 17 and 18, Jesus proclaims that everything He is about to teach will be in absolute HARMONY with the entire body of Old Testament Scriptures…that He will in NO way contradict them.

And then in the NEXT two verses, 19 and 20, He says that while His teaching IS in harmony with Old Testament teaching, it will be in DIRECT contradiction with the CURRENT teaching of the SCRIBES and PHARISEES.

And with THAT, we will have an explanation of the ANTAGONISM that will come to exist between JESUS, and all the PRIESTS and LAWYERS…all the self-appointed KEEPERS of God’s Laws.

It’s sort of like this…Sweetie wears a diamond ring.  It’s her WEDDING ring, and it contains a small stone.  It’s a nice stone, and if you look at it, you’ll see it sparkle in the light.  But every once in a while she takes it back to the jewelry story to be inspected and cleaned.  And when it comes BACK, OH BOY does it shine!

See, just the act of WEARING it causes it to gather FINGERPRINTS and SMUDGES that partially OBSCURE its brilliance.  And that’s what had happened to God’s Laws.  MAN had put their FINGERPRINTS on them, changed them, often SUBTLY, and had also ADDED TO them, things that became BURDENSOME to the people who were supposed to try to KEEP them.

So Jesus’ intention now wasn’t to CHANGE or ALTER the laws in ANY way.  He just intended to put them BACK to what GOD had intended, in the FIRST place.  But the priests and Pharisees, who revered the teachings of certain RABBIS, had added TRADITIONS to the Laws, and added CONDITIONS to those laws, so their ORIGINAL meaning had been obscured!

For instance, GOD had said “You shall honor the Sabbath and keep it Holy.  You shall do no WORK, not YOU, your servants, your oxen…etc.”  But God had ALSO allowed for “works of necessity”, such as feeding and watering your livestock.  But then the RABBIS argued long about “what constituted ‘work’.”  And some of the things they came UP with were pretty BIZARRE.

They determined that you COULD sew a button unto your shirt.  That would be okay.  But ONLY if the needle was already threaded; if you had to thread it, that would constitute WORK, and was forbidden.

You could not throw a basin of water out a window, since it might land on some dormant seed, causing it to SPROUT, and making you guilty of PLANTING, and THAT constituted WORK.  Like I said, BIZZARRE.  Jesus intended to straighten that out.

So to understand, we need to see what Jesus meant, when he said “Don’t think that I came to DESTROY the Law and the PROPHETS…”.  With that He was referencing the COMPLETE Old Testament…ALL the writings.  They contained the MORAL Laws, the JUDICIAL Laws, and the CEREMONIAL Laws.

The MORAL Law was the 10 Commandments, basically; what was contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  The things men were to do in their relationships with God and one another.

The JUDICIAL Law stated how they were to conduct themselves in relationship to the things they COULD and COULDN’T do…who they could MARRY, and who they couldn’t…personal cleanliness and how to avoid becoming UNclean.

The CEREMONIAL Law included what they were to SACRIFICE, BURNT offerings, SIN offerings…everything connected to the TEMPLE and its workings.

Most of those things were contained in the first FIVE books of the Old Testament.  Then what constituted the “prophets”?  All the rest of the BOOK.  And in many cases, the PROPHETS took the LAWS, and TAUGHT them, APPLIED them, and INTERPRETED them.  They often told people WHAT God was going to do in the FUTURE, as WELL as reminding them what God HAS done, in the past.

Jesus looked at ALL these things, and said that He was NOT going to CHANGE ANY of them…instead he would FULFILL them.  He said “Till Heaven and Earth shall pass away, not one JOT or one TITTLE shall pass from the Law until ALL has been fulfilled”.

That word, JOT, refers to the SMALLEST of all the Hebrew letters, and a TITTLE refers to a SINGLE BRUSH-STROKE in the WRITING OF a single letter.  He was saying even the SMALLEST PARTS of the Law would be FULFILLED, COMPLETED, CARRIED OUT TO the UTMOST…by the LIFE He was living.

Some churches today have decided that since Jesus DID fulfill the Law by His Life, they have no NEED for the Old Testament.  They claim to be NEW Testament churches ONLY.  I think they are MISSING an awful LOT when they do that, as the Old Testament contains so MUCH of how God HAS operated in the PAST, and how He WILL operate, in the FUTURE.  IT contains the description of how and what God has CREATED, and what he expects OF that Creation.  Jesus, in His own teachings, referenced the writings of several of the Prophets, and the Psalms.  To HIM, it was ALL Scripture, and by His own statement, it would all LAST, as long as this EARTH lasts.

And we will find that EVERYTHING that is written there, WILL be done, exactly AS it is written, BEFORE that end COMES!  Every seemingly MINOR little detail will be accomplished.

Then in verse 19 Jesus said that anyone who BREAKS one of the SMALLEST of the commandments…and that means a DELIBERATE action…to KNOW what the command is, but determine NOT to follow it…is a serious affront, but for that person to then try to convince OTHERS to JOIN him in the breaking of that command, is even MORE serious.

Let’s use an example…the LAW says not to eat OYSTERS.  Okay, there can be a REASON for that…even today people know NOT to eat oysters at certain TIMES of the year, because they would contain pathogens that could make you sick.  I think the caution is not to eat oysters in any month without an “R” in it…maybe it’s the other way around.  I’m not sure and anyway that’s not important.

This guy, who IS Saved…remember that’s the ONLY way to get INTO God’s Heaven…so he’s Saved, but he LOVES oysters, so he goes around telling everyone how GOOD they are, either RAW or cooked UP into a STEW.  And he is so PERSUASIVE that he convinces OTHERS to eat them too.

Now, that doesn’t seem like a real SERIOUS affront, except that GOD has said DON’T DO IT.  So Jesus said this guy will still be allowed INTO Heaven, but he will have the LOWEST POSITION IN Heaven.

In other words, he will LOSE all his REWARDS in Heaven.  You know it’s been said that it’s better to have the LOWEST position in HEAVEN than the HIGHEST position in HELL.

One of the first things you see here is that there ARE degrees of rewards in Heaven…maybe some will be closer to God’s Throne than others.  But the main CONSIDERATION here is what PAUL will later tell his dear friend Timothy…to “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a worker that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth”. (2 Timothy 2:15)

And what THAT means is…it doesn’t MATTER how GOOD you think oysters are, GOD said ‘don’t eat them’, so DON’T EAT THEM!  And CERTAINLY don’t try to convince OTHERS to either.

That’s also what JAMES, the half BROTHER of Jesus, also said “not to desire to be teachers, because they will be held to a higher standard”.  And Jesus says those who teach RIGHTLY, will be given GREATER rewards in Heaven.

Verse 20 says “Unless your righteousness EXCEEDS the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you won’t enter into Heaven at all”.

Probably, initially, people hearing THAT, would think “Well, NOBODY will get into Heaven then”.  Because as far as these people knew, the Pharisees were the MOST religious people in all Israel!  So how can ANYbody be MORE righteous than THEY were?

But what Jesus was calling them to, was a GENUINE expression of righteousness.  All the PHARISEES had, was OUTWARD SHOW!  They were prime examples of Isaiah 64:4, that says “AIl mankind’s righteousness is nothing but FILTHY RAGS to God”.

Jesus was calling for HIS followers to have a GENUINE, INWARD compliance with the SPIRIT of God’s Laws, not just that OUTWARD show that God hates.  The ONLY righteousness man can even HAVE, is that which God “IMPUTES” to you, because OF your HUMBLE, INTERNAL desire to OBEY God.  It is a righteousness that does NOT come from HUMAN EFFORT, but comes ONLY as a GIFT from God, FOR that obedience, that WILL exceed the PHONEY SHOW of the PHARISEES.

Now, in verse 20, Jesus begins to CLEAN UP, and RESTORE what God has originally intended, in His Laws.  And the FIRST thing He references, is MURDER!  But you have to look at HOW He said it.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old…”.  So right at the START, you know He’s NOT talking about GOD’S LAW, but about how MEN have INTERPRETED God’s Laws, in the PAST.

I heard one of J. Vernon McGee’s broadcasts the other day…the poor guy’s been dead for 30 years but still on the radio every day…but a listener had called in saying what a terrible thing CAPITAL PUNISHMENT was.  And I heard McGee get as close to ANGRY as I’ve ever heard.

He said it was GOD Who demanded capital punishment for certain crimes, and it is inconceivable for MAN to say GOD was WRONG.  The caller said that Capital punishment was NOT a DETERENT to crime, and McGee said it surely WAS, as the one who was executed would NEVER commit ANOTHER crime!

But anyway, what JESUS said was that it wasn’t the MURDER that was the biggest problem, but the ANGER that led up TO the murder.  That one man killing another, was a SYMPTOM of the REAL problem…and THAT was for a person to let ANGER so RULE your emotions, that you would even CONSIDER taking another’s life.

So He said that the RABBIS of old, had CHANGED God’s Law, from what GOD intended…which was that we maintain the proper attitude of Godliness by not allowing ANGER to FESTER within us, to the point it turns into HATRED, which will lead to ACTION.

He goes so far as to say that calling others NAMES…the term “RACA” literally means “EMPTY”…so calling another that, means you are saying they are WORTHLESS…it was a significant expression of CONTEMPT.

And He included another word of slander, and condemned the calling of another “You FOOL”…Biblically, a FOOL is one who DENIES that there IS a God…but as the word is used here, it means “STUPID”.  The Greek word is “MOROS”, and we have derived our English word, “MORON” from it.

Doing these things will make one worthy of “hellfire”.  Go back to what we looked at a while ago, the “BEATITUDES”.  Is the one who is so JUDGING another as being STUPID and EMPTY-HEADED…is he being “poor in spirit”…”mourning over sin”, “hungering for righteousness”…”showing mercy”?

For someone to allow ANGER to fester, and turn to HATRED, and allow THAT to lead to actually wanting to KILL someone…that person needs to very quickly EXAMINE their SALVATION experience, to make sure it was REAL, and not just empty WORDS…because a true believer will NOT allow these conditions to EXIST!

In verses 23 and 24, Jesus enlarges on that teaching by saying that if you insist on harboring that attitude of anger and unforgiveness, then DON’T try to BUY your way out, by making a GIFT to God, on the Altar of Sacrifice.

God isn’t fooled by those attempts, and that offering would be useless.  Instead, first go and make peace with the one you are angry with.  Actually, He said that if there was someone angry with YOU…and that, in context, would be someone whom you had treated with such contempt as calling them “empty-headed”…”stupid”…for having JUDGED them as being “USELESS”…if someone was upset with you for having treated them in this way, then you needed to go TO that person, and RECTIFY the situation…go to that person and plead for forgiveness for having insulted them.

Verses 25 and 26 carry that thought to an extreme.  You have INSULTED and SLANDERED someone, and that someone has gone to the courts seeking redress.  How should you react?  Jesus says you are to go TO that one, ON YOUR KNEES!  That you are to HUMBLE yourself before that one, and PLEAD for forgiveness.

If you DID this thing; this SLANDER, then you ARE guilty, and IF you allow the matter to go to a JUGDE, you will be sentenced to MORE than you can POSSIBLY repay, and be cast into prison.  Would you allow your PRIDE to keep you from APOLOGIZING to the one you wronged?

We are given this injunction to remind us that we ARE sinful creatures, and sometimes our sins harm others.  When that happens we need to CONFESS it, ADMIT it without reservation before God and the one YOU wronged.  HUMBLE yourself before that other person, make a FOOL of yourself before that other person and allow them to GLOAT over YOU.  You DESERVE that treatment, for the way YOU treated them.

Remember that the One Who GAVE us these commands, has DONE that very thing Himself.  He came as the Rightful King of all Creation, and allowed Himself to be ABUSED and MISTREATED, both physically and verbally, by haughty men who weren’t worthy of untying His SHOES!

He allowed men who were lost in their own sins, to BEAT His human body until He was nearly DEAD, and then NAIL Him to a CROSS and LEAVE Him there until He WAS dead.  And He did that, for YOU!  And now He is saying when YOU allow yourself to become angry with another, and mistreat that other, no matter WHAT that OTHER may have done to you to PROVOKE that treatment, YOU MUST, as a Child of God, as a Christian, go to that other and plead for forgiveness, accept whatever that other may demand, in order to SHOW that YOU really ARE a Child of God.

And if this sounds HARSH…if this sounds PAINFUL, then please understand that Jesus GAVE us this commandment, to teach us NOT to TREAT others that way!  The way to AVOID this kind of TREATMENT, is to NOT treat OTHERS this way!

Remember the verses we looked at last week, the verses that we are to put into PRACTICE in our lives…”poor in spirit”…”mourning the presence of sin in your life”…”meek before others”…”showing mercy”…”seeking peace”…remember that these commands were meant to be SEQUENCIAL…one leads to the next.

Meek and merciful people will NOT treat others in such a way as to CAUSE them to seek retribution.  Followers of Christ are to be as HE was, in the world…SALT to add FLAVOR and PERSEVERANCE to the world…LIGHT to expose evil and illuminate goodness.

Let’s make sure we leave the JUDGING of others, to those OUTSIDE the Kingdom.  We are the SHEEP of His Pasture.  Let’s ACT like sheep, to those in the world.

And now let me move to a time of invitation, and ask you if maybe any of this applies to YOU?  Is there someone whom you have harmed like this?…judged as WORTHLESS or STUPID?  And have you gone TO that person and asked forgiveness?  Or do you maybe need to DO that?

Is it possible that someone here hasn’t yet made the FIRST step, and ASKED Jesus to SAVE you?  None of the rest of this MATTERS, until THIS step is made.  So please if you’re here and have never accepted this precious gift from the Lord, don’t leave here until you do.  You don’t know HOW long you will HAVE that opportunity…so please don’t wait any longer.

And for you that ARE Saved…are you putting these commands into practice?  Are you MEEK and MERCIFUL…SALT and LIGHT in a dark world?  The reason we LOOK at these commands, is so we can DISPLAY them to the world.  Are you SATISFIED that you ARE doing that?  DON’T let the Words of the Sermon on the Mount be JUST words!  Let them be your LIFESTYLE…from this day onward!