In Matthew 5:17-20 we read an introduction to a series of teachings that start with Matthew 5:21-26. Jesus stated in Matt 5:17-20 that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. In the following teachings Jesus practically lays out how to exceed the perfect law of God, and He does it very systematically. Again I remind you the structure of the Sermon on the Mount is important. Read the following passage, and pay attention to how it logically flows in light of the fact that Jesus just finished the warning that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees:
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. (Matthew 5:21-26 NASB)
Here is the format:
Jesus starts by stating the Law: You shall not commit murder
Jesus explains the Law’s intent: Everyone who is angry enough to call his brother a fool is guilty
Jesus explains how to act in light of the Law’s intent (thus exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees): Don’t make offerings without first seeking reconciliation, and make friends with your opponents before going to court with them.
You will see Jesus repeat this format for a number of different laws in this section of scripture, and you will see them in the upcoming posts. Also realize that this format can be used for any number of old testament laws, not just the ones Christ quotes here. The fact that He does this so methodically shows us that He is not only teaching us concerning these specific laws, but that He is giving us precepts that can be applied to the entire law. If Jesus addressed every law in the Sermon on the Mount, it would be longer than the bible itself.
So start with the Law: You Shall not commit murder, this is an easy law to keep, but the question is not whether this law has been kept or not, the question is has your righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Everyone who says ‘you fool’ is in danger of hell: Now we see that the intent of this Law is not that we should not murder... murder was only the symptom the law addressed of a greater sin problem which was anger and hatred. So we see the Law itself, and then learn from the Christ the intent of that Law, now the question is what do we do in light of the actual intent of the Law in order that our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. The answer is this:
"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way”
Do you see the structure. Jesus is letting us know that it really matters very little that you have not murdered, but that the intent of the law is what is important. However he does not leave us hanging and hopeless. He gives us a couple practical examples with regard to sacrifice and court of how to exceed the Law. I hope that was all clear. I will give you a little heads up on the next post:
Command: Do not commit adultery
Intent: Do not lust
What to do: Cut off the sources of offense (eyes and hands)
And you will see quickly that the ‘command, intent, what to do’ sequence repeats itself for the rest of the chapter.
That was all written very quickly so I apologize for any typos.