RIGHTEOUS KINGDOM Matthew 5
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).
Jesus spoke as King, with absolute authority in His kingdom. And Jesus spoke as God, not abolishing, but reinterpreting the meaning of biblical words whose implications had long been lost. As we listen closely, familiar Scriptures become fresh and new for us as well.
In the ancient world a “kingdom” was the area ruled by a king. The definition is less simple than it seems. The ancient kingdom was not defined so much by territory, or by the language of the inhabitants, as by the ruler. Wherever a king’s will was supreme, that was his kingdom. Wherever a king was free to act, and the populace obeyed, that was his kingdom. Scripture presents God as King of the universe, in the sense that His will is sovereign. Yet many in this overarching kingdom of God are in rebellion. And so the fullest meaning of kingdom is not presently achieved in our universe. The Old Testament particularly, but the New as well, speaks of a coming time when Christ will rule a kingdom that extends over the entire earth. Then the rebellious will be judged, and all will submit to His will. Then the universal kingdom and earthly kingdom will be one, and will be complete. Scripture, however, also presents Jesus as King of a present spiritual kingdom. This kingdom exists alongside and within the present rebellious universal kingdom of God. Wherever human beings bow to Christ as Lord, and do His will, there the kingdom of Jesus has come. And there Christ, our King, acts in power to guide and protect His own. We need to understand the nature of Christ’s present kingdom, for the major thrust of what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount,” reported in Matthew 5–7, is to teach us how to live as its citizens. These words are spoken to us, just as vital and filled with power as when Christ first uttered them nearly 2,000 years ago. As we take them to heart and apply them to our lives, we submit to Christ our King, and experience His blessed kingdom now.
Jesus announced blessings for citizens of His kingdom (5:1–12). He expects citizens of His kingdom to do good deeds (vv. 13–16), for He requires a righteousness that surpasses that of even the zealous Pharisees (vv. 17–20). Christ looked behind the acts the Law regulated to call for purity of heart (vv. 21–42) and that crowning expression of kingdom righteousness: a love like the Heavenly Father’s for one’s enemies (vv. 43–48).
Understanding the Text
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” Matt. 5:1–12.
King Herod established many new cities during his 40-year reign. Each time he enlisted citizens by promising them many special benefits, including citizenship, a reduction of taxes, land, etc. This was a common practice in the Roman Empire during the age of Augustus, when many new cities were established. But it is hard to imagine a ruler calling for citizens, and announcing that in his kingdom recruits will receive poverty of spirit, meekness, mourning, hunger, and thirst, and even persecution. Yet these are the blessings Jesus offers those who claim the citizenship He described. What’s more, King Jesus said that the poor in spirit, the meek, and mourning are blessed! He does not offer a change of condition, but blessing in and through settings that repel citizens of this world. The Beatitudes will remain a mystery unless we realize that Jesus is speaking of the basic attitudes and values that produce spiritual fruit. It is not the person who claims to “have it made” spiritually who finds the kingdom, but the individual who recognizes how poor he is (v. 3). It is not the person who is satisfied with what the world offers, but the person who mourns and looks beyond its glitter, who finds comfort (v. 4). It is not the person who is arrogant, but the meek, who responds to God’s voice, who inherits the earth (v. 5). It is not those who are satisfied with their own righteousness, but those who hunger and thirst for a righteousness they do not have who will be satisfied (v. 6). To experience life in Jesus’ kingdom, we need to reject the values and attitudes of this world and adopt the values portrayed here by our Lord.
The Beautitudes: Matthew 5:3–10
|BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO . . .||BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE . . .|
|(v. 3) are poor in spirit||self-confident|
|(v. 4) mourn||pleasure-seeking|
“the beautiful people”
|(v. 5) are meek||proud|
|(v. 6) hunger for righteousness||satisfied|
|(v. 7) are merciful||self-righteous|
“able to take care of themselves”
|(v. 8) are pure in heart||“adult”|
|(v. 9) are peacemakeers||competitive|
|(v. 10) are persecuted becuase of righteousness||adaptable|
“don’t rock the boat”
“Let your light shine before men” Matt. 5:13–16. In biblical times every home had its lamp burning all night. The lamp did not give much light, but it testified to the fact that the house was inhabited. These lamps, small oil-filled bowls, were set high on pottery stands. Jesus told His hearers that citizens in His kingdom are to be like lamps, lights in the world. The good deeds performed by Jesus’ people are to testify to the fact that this world, however dark it may be, still is inhabited by the King. When the good deeds of Christ’s people are seen, men will grasp the source and praise “your Father in heaven.” Don’t let anyone deny the role of good deeds in the Christian life. A Christian who does not perform good deeds is as useless to God and others as a lamp hidden under a bowl. “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” Matt. 5:17–20. Many have puzzled over Jesus’ statement that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Christ speaks here as a Jew, dedicated as other rabbis of the first century to a single task: to explain the true meaning of God’s words, and thus to “fulfill” them. Yet Christ immediately sets Himself apart from other teachers. The Pharisees were zealous in keeping both the written and oral law. But in explaining the real meaning of God’s Word, Christ was about to reveal a righteousness that “surpassed” any righteousness the Pharisees imagined they possessed through keeping the commandments. As citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, you and I are called to live a righteous life. But we must avoid the error of the Pharisees. We must not mistake true righteousness, or suppose that because we do certain things and refrain from others that we have reached spiritual heights. What we do is important, yes. But God is most concerned with what we are. “You have heard that it was said . . . ’Do not murder’ “ Matt. 5:21–26. This is the first of six illustrations Jesus used to explain surpassing righteousness. All had heard the Old Testament Law that legislated against murder. The act of killing was wrong. But Jesus went on to explain that God is not just concerned with murder. He noted the anger that flared up and led to murder! The truly righteous person is not one who just refrains from murder. He or she is one who does not respond to others with anger. In this and in the following illustrations Jesus emphasized God’s concern with the heart. Keeping the law about not murdering makes no one righteous. The truly righteous man is the one who does not become angry! Actually, this kind of perfect righteousness is beyond us all. That’s why we must become citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. Only Christ’s work in our hearts can transform us into the persons God calls us to be. “Leave your gift there in front of the altar” Matt. 5:23–24. Is worshiping God important? Yes! But Jesus underlined the importance of the pure heart by saying that if we remember anyone has something against us, we are to go get that straightened out even if it means putting off worship! But what’s most important is the phrase, “If . . . your brother has something against you.” We’re not only responsible for our own anger, but for our brother’s! If we’ve done anything to cause another to be upset, we must resolve that issue immediately, in order to preserve our brother from an anger that is inappropriate in the kingdom of God. It perhaps seems too much! It seems hard enough to care for our own relationship with God. And the fact is, it is too much. But it is what our King expects. As we obey, He will do in us and in our relationships what we could never do alone. This is the glory of living in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus is Lord. And He can do in us and in others what we could never do by ourselves. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully” Matt. 5:27–30. Again we see the shift in emphasis. Adultery is using another person as a sex object. Lust is viewing another person as a sex object. Christ wants us to realize that both the act and attitude are sinful. Righteousness calls for us to view all human beings as persons of worth and value. We are to serve others, not use them. Again Jesus calls us to view the Law as a revelation of the heart of God—and a revelation of the kind of person those who live in Jesus’ kingdom will become as the King uses His power to transform them. “Anyone who divorces his wife” Matt. 5:31–32. This follows the pattern of the others. The Law permitted divorce, but Christ returned to God’s ideal. While divorce might not be adultery technically, it is a violation of the covenant loyalty spouses owe to one another. This is not a “no divorce” law, any more than the “no anger” and “no lust” principles are intended to be laws on the books of Christ’s kingdom. It, like the others, is a reminder that what man needs is not rules to follow, but an inward renewal that makes us truly righteous. Only the truly righteous will find freedom from anger, freedom from lust, and freedom from the desire to divorce. In Jesus’ kingdom alone, through the power of the King, a righteous life is possible. “Do not swear at all” Matt. 5:33–37. It was common in first-century Judaism to make a distinction between binding and nonbinding promises. For instance, a person who swore by the temple altar was not bound by his oath, but if he swore by the gold on the altar, he was bound to fulfill his oath. Jesus cut through the deceit involved and said, “Let your ’Yes’ be ’Yes.’ ” Be the kind of person whose simple word is his or her bond. “Do not resist an evil person” Matt. 5:38–42. The “eye for an eye” principle in the Old Testament established limits on the retribution a person might demand. If someone injured you and cost you the sight of an eye, you could not, for instance, justify taking his life. All you could claim was taking the sight of an eye. Jesus now said, don’t relate to others by what’s “fair” at all! Rather than trying to get back at others who harm you, do good to them! The passage has no direct application to the issue of pacifism. Rather, it applies directly to Jesus’ challenge of values and attitudes, and describes the “surpassing righteousness” expected of those of us in Jesus’ kingdom. We don’t demand retribution. We do good, even to those who harm us. The person who has learned to love even his or her enemies is a person who has lived long in the kingdom of Christ and a person who has known His transforming touch.
Love Your WHOM?(Matt. 5:21–48)
Jesus at first seems such a demanding King. In this portion of His Sermon on the Mount Jesus made it clear that He expects citizens of His kingdom to do more than keep laws. He expects us to be the kind of people who never even want to break them! In a series of illustrations He explained that His citizens aren’t to get angry, much less strike out at another. We citizens aren’t to lust, much less commit adultery. We’re not to want a divorce, to plan to deceive, or even to want revenge when injured (vv. 21–42). But then Jesus topped it off. Citizens of His kingdom are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44). He explained that God is the kind of Person who “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45). And we are to be “sons of your Father in heaven.” It’s really simple. We can sum up everything Jesus asks in a single phrase. “Just be like God.” This would be impossible if it weren’t for one thing. Jesus said, “Sons of your Father in heaven.” You see, everyone in Jesus’ kingdom is also family. Through faith in Christ we enter a unique “your Father” relationship with God Himself. And God establishes a unique relationship with us. In Peter’s words, God shares with us “His own indestructible heredity” (1 Peter 1:23, ºF). Because God has poured His own life into us, it’s not unreasonable at all to expect us to display a family resemblance. I remember discovering as a teenager why I had the habit of cocking my head to one side when I rode in the car. Sitting in the backseat one day, I noticed that my dad held his head the same way, due to an old injury. From childhood I had been imitating him, without ever realizing it. God isn’t interested in the way we hold our heads. But He does want us to watch Him intently, see how He relates to us and to others, and so gradually become more and more like Him within. As we live as faithful citizens of Jesus’ present kingdom, this is just what happens. We find to our amazement that we not only do good, we are becoming good! Transformed from within by the power of the King, we increasingly resemble our righteous and perfect God.
We are not to be satisfied with doing good, but must ask the King to help us be good.
Make me, O Lord, Thy Spinning Wheel complete. Thy Holy Word my Distaff make for me. Make mine Affections thy Swift Flyers neat And make my Soul Thy holy Spool to be. My Conversation make to be Thy Reel And Reel the yarn thereon spun of Thy Wheel. Make me Thy Loom then, knit therein this Twine: And make Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, wind quills: Then weave the Web Thyself. The yarn is fine. Thine Ordinances make my Fulling Mills. Then dye the same in Heavenly Colours Choice. All pinked with Varnished Flowers of Paradise. Then clothe therewith mine Understanding, Will, Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory, My Words and Actions, that their shine may fill My ways with glory and Thee glorify. Then mine apparel shall display before Ye That I am Clothed in Holy robes for glory. -Edward Taylor