Being religious is no guarantee that you are genuinely following God. Whatever you define as obedience to God (being in full-time ministry, church attendance, praying, fasting, giving to the poor, adopting social justice causes), Jesus says: stop and ask yourself who are you doing it for?
Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In one sense, loving your neighbor is a simple, practical guide to good conduct. But it is also a truth we have to embrace and choose to follow. In that sense, it is a test of faith.
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for applying instructions for the judges of Israel to their personal behavior. They claim they can be proportionally vindictive in the name of seeking retribution and still consider themselves blameless. Jesus says the guiding principle is not “an eye for an eye” but rather “turn the other cheek.”
Since we rarely make oaths today, there doesn’t seem to be much to learn from Matthew 5:33-37. However, Jesus is speaking to a deeper issue than telling the truth or meaning what we say. He’s dealing with violating the 3rd commandment, taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Both Moses and Jesus recognize that we sinners are going to fail in our marriages and so they allowed divorce with some regulations. Moses did not mean divorce was a righteous option. Divorce results from the fact that the parties involved are sinners. God intended marriage to be forever but divorce is a necessary evil because of our sin.
The Pharisees consider themselves blameless before the law if they have refrained from physically committing adultery. But Jesus says righteousness requires more. It requires inward submission to the will of God and accepting the boundaries He has placed on your life, including your sexuality.
The Pharisees believed they were righteous because no court could convict them of murder. But Jesus countered that if courts were in charge of judging righteousness, then responding to others with unloving anger would get you arrested; and calling people insulting names would get you thrown into the fires of judgment.
In the second section of this sermon Jesus warns that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Unlike them, we must have a genuine commitment to the Scriptures and what they teach if we want to find life in the kingdom of God. We must seek to understand the full demands of the Law and want to obey it.
The beatitude describe people who have saving faith and will inherit a place in the kingdom of God. Upon conversion, we don’t start perfectly, courageously and consistently displaying all these qualities of poor in spirit, meek, mourning and so forth. Rather as we grow in faith, we grow in these qualities.
People marked by the being poor in spirit, mourning over sin, hungering for righteousness, pursuing peace and mercy, etc. will draw the hostility of the world, but they will be rewarded with eternal life in the kingdom of God. We, his disciples, are not to shrink from following Jesus for fear that the world might hate us. We are to follow him, even though that invites mocking, scoffing and persecution.
Like the merciful, those commit the costly act of refusing to answer injury for injury and seeking a peaceful reconciliation instead will find their inheritance as children of God in the kingdom of heaven. When we realize how deeply we ourselves are indebted to God’s grace and dependent on His mercy, we also realize we’re in no position to condemn the sins of others.
The pure in heart are not those who are morally perfect. Rather their hearts have been cleansed of rebellion and rejection of God. The pure in heart live like the gospel is true, though not perfectly. One day they will stand before God and be accepted.