Summary: What did Jesus mean when He spoke the words of the Sermon on the Mount? He obviously had something in mind because His words show us that it is simply impossible to live the life He commanded us to live!
One of the hardest things for us to do is to reconcile some of the more difficult passages of the bible. Anybody who reads this great sermon will be bemused as they seek to establish a doctrine of salvation by faith alone when they see so much instruction concerning right living. If Paul could say that salvation was so easily acquired how is it that Jesus, here, makes it so difficult.
Firstly, we have to contextualize this message. Jesus was teaching this to His disciples three and a half years before the cross. The people of God were still under law and therefore had to keep the law in order to maintain any sort of fellowship with God. At that time there was no being born-again.
Secondly, we need to see the difference between what would get a person saved by their own righteousness, and what gets us saved when we trust in the righteousness of Jesus. For a person to earn his way to heaven he would have to have lived an exemplary life. He would never have looked at a woman with lust, never have considered an ill-thought towards his brother, forgiven all his enemies, never told a lie and so on and so forth!
Jesus, Himself, said it in Matt 5:18 “For truly I say to you, Till the heaven and the earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any way pass from the Law until all is fulfilled.” So, for the believer of that period perfection was required. But Jesus also said, Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
My salvation has absolutely nothing to do with my behaviour – good or bad! My bad behaviour got me into trouble in the first place; my good behaviour is as dirty rags. But, you may say, surely that means that I can do all kinds of wrong things and still get to heaven. Well, isn’t that the case anyway? Look at the kind of person the Lord saved and used throughout the scripture. There is barely a half-decent one among them.
Noah – a drunkard.
Abraham – a liar.
Isaac – also a liar.
Jacob – oh, dear… what a liar!
Judah – incestuous adulterer.
Moses - murderer.
David – adulterer, liar, couldn’t control his kids, murderer.
Saul of Tarsus – self-righteous, pompous prig who persecuted God’s church; the chief of sinners.
But what else were these men?
Noah – saviour of mankind who found grace!
Abraham – the Father of the faithful.
Isaac – God chose to call himself The God of Abraham and Isaac.
Jacob – Israel.
Judah – the tribal chief from which the Messiah was born.
Moses – The Servant of God.
David – A man after God’s own heart.
Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles and writer of the bulk of the New Testament.
It is almost hysterical how we constantly pick on Peter because of his weakness and cowardice. He was guilty of talking too much and assuming that when push came to shove he would have the strength to pull through. Of course, he failed abysmally. However, Peter was a decent man compared to many of the people God chose to use to bring salvation into the world. But, of course, sin is sin, and Peter was an abject failure as all of us are. As Paul would say, “There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Rom 3:10)