Summary: We give glory to God by living a life that is consistent with the heart of the law and not just the letter of the law.
The great preacher of many years ago, Henry Ward Beecher, had a clock in this church that didn't keep good time. It was always too fast or too slow. And he fiddled with it month after month after month trying to get it right and it became kind of a standard topic of conversation in the church. Finally, in desperation he put a sign over the clock that said, "Don't blame the hands, the trouble lies deeper." That is the essence of the message that Jesus has for His followers in the passage that we’ll look at this morning. The trouble lies deeper.
You’ll notice from the earlier Scripture reading that I’ve chosen to look at a pretty big chunk of Scripture this morning and I’m convinced that is the appropriate way to handle this section of the Sermon on the Mount. This is one of those places in the Bible where it is easy to spend so much time focusing on all the details that we can miss the heart of the message. While what Jesus has to say about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and how we treat our enemies is important, we will miss the heart of the message if we limit its application to just those few issues.
This section of Jesus’ sermon is just a further explanation of the closing words of the passage that we looked at last week:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:20 (ESV)
As we discovered last week, the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees could never earn citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. It is only through faith in Jesus and trusting in His righteousness that we can ever be made right with God. And in this last part of chapter 5, Jesus provides his disciples with several examples to show that outward appearances and external actions just aren’t adequate to earn favor with God.
By now you know that I like to take Scripture and be able to explain it using a logical approach. So I really like being able to take a passage and neatly outline it and approach it in a very structured, logical manner. But in many ways that kind of approach would actually hinder our understanding of this particular section of Scripture.
So I’m just going to make some general observations about Jesus’ words here and suggest how those broad principles ought to be reflected in the way we live our lives.
Some General Observations
1. Man looks at the outside, God looks at the heart
The scribes and Pharisees thought that if they were just religious and appeared to be righteous from an external perspective, that would please God. But that view was certainly not in concert with the record of Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures these religious leaders claimed to know and follow, God made it clear that He was more concerned about the heart than with outward appearances.
The clearest example of that is the account of Samuel going to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel. When he sees Eliab, the firstborn, he immediately assumes that he is the one God has chosen. But then we read these words:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)
But that is certainly not the only place where God places an emphasis on the heart of men. Let’s briefly just a couple other passages from the Old Testament Law where we find that principle confirmed.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
Deuteronomy 10:12, 13 (ESV)
This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deuteronomy 26:16 (ESV)
God had always been concerned with the heart of the people. So throughout the Scriptures He consistently pairs the commands to obey His law with a call to have a right heart.
But the religious leaders had missed that and they had focused so much on religion rather than relationship, on performing external acts rather than developing a right heart. So they could claim that they hadn’t murdered anyone, or committed adultery or violated an oath they had sworn to God, but on the inside they still harbored hatred and lust and deceit.