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Matthew 5:17-20 NET

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. 19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus has been explaining the details of his new kingdom to his apostles. He began by Blessing them – the blessings being focused on the reality that things are going to change for them when he returns to reign over the earth. They are poor now, but they will be rich then. They mourn now but they will laugh then. They hunger and thirst for righteousness now but they will be filled then. They are mistreated now, but they will be vindicated and exalted then.

His commands for them were first to rejoice in anticipation of the new kingdom that is coming. Then he tells them to let their light shine before people by doing good deeds. Now, this instruction sounds very much like what the nation of Israel had already been taught by its religious professionals. That’s why Jesus had to include today’s instruction. He had to explain to them that obeying God’s law was not the problem. The problem was that they had been given bad examples of how to follow that law.

Jesus’ role is to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (17).

He told them, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.” When he said “law” and “prophets” his listeners would have heard “Bible.” The Hebrew Bible consisted of three sections. One was called the law – the Hebrew is Torah. Another was called the prophets, or Hebrew Nevi’im. The third was called the writings, or Hebrew Chtuvim.

Sometimes the people referring to the Bible would shorten the expression to Law and Prophets. Jesus was referring to all 39 books of what we call the Old Testament. He was telling his apostles that he was not going to replace these books as Holy Scripture.

It is very important for us as believers to understand that the Bible is the word of God and nothing replaces it. Our faith in Christ does not change God’s revelation in his word. What he has said stands for us as a reflection of who he is, and what he is all about. The Christian is following Christ when he or she walks with Bible in hand, and uses the Bible as the lens through which everything is experienced.

Albrecht says that “From Genesis to Malachi, there is one primary message: all people are sinful and deserve punishment from God, but God promised to send a Savior from sin. Through faith in that coming Savior, people living before the time of Christ received God’s forgiveness and eternal salvation. Jesus was (and is) that promised Savior. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He came to keep all of God’s commandments perfectly and to fulfill all the promises about the Savior that are contained in the entire Old Testament” (71).

The law was not abolished by the appearance of Christ, but neither can it be obeyed without faith in Christ. Since he is the fulfillment of the law, just trying to obey the law’s commands will never be enough. That means that the Bible – even with its perfect instructions will never be enough. It has to be believed. Just toting it around and memorizing its words will not be enough. We need both the Bible and faith in Christ. We need the Bible because it is God’s law. We need Christ because he fulfills God’s law.

Every week you and I come together for a Christian experience in which we open the word of God and seek instruction from him. It is absolutely necessary that we keep doing that. Jesus is making it clear to his apostles that now that they have faith in him, that doesn’t mean they can stop listening for God’s revelation in Scripture. Faith in Christ and obedience to God’s word go together for us. God’s word convicts us of sin, but it also instructs us in righteousness. Faith in Jesus is the solution to our sin problem. Our obedience to the Bible’s instruction is designed to do something else – to make us lights to shine on the world so that others can come to Christ.

God’s word has a work to do that is not finished yet (18).

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.” When the scribes copied the holy scriptures, they didn’t have computers or a printing press. They had to copy it by hand. Some of the letters were very small. Some of the punctuation marks were even smaller. Jesus drew attention to this fact by the statement about the smallest letter or stroke of a letter. What he said was that everything in the Bible is important, and nothing is irrelevant.

He also mentioned that everything the Bible predicts has to take place. His appearance among the people was a major part of the plan. He had a job to do and his arrival allowed him to accomplish many of the things that the Bible had predicted. But he was also clear that there were some other things that will have to happen in history.

Chamblin explains that this text “is not a warning against violating the law, whether by tampering with it (by removing some of its commands) or by transgressing it (by trampling its commands underfoot). Rather, Jesus here emphatically declares that the law cannot be violated, that even its smallest parts will not disappear ‘until all things have happened’ — i.e. until the kingdom is consummated. On that day, when the present ‘heaven and earth’ are replaced by the new heavens and the new earth, the commandments will no longer be needed. But until that day, one might as easily cause the universe to disappear as to remove the law’s least commands” (341-342).

We are not going to evolve into a people who do not need the Bible. It is not going to happen. Until Jesus returns, you and I are going to need the word of God in our lives. That is why I suggest that all of us get to know the Bible better. We need to learn what it says and meditate on what it means. We need to apply it to our lives – to live our lives according to its teachings. We need to invest time in the word of God. One sermon a week is not good enough. We need to invest time daily in the Bible. I can guarantee that anyone who truly does this will not be disappointed. Time spent in God’s word is not wasted.

The degree in which we are biblical is the measure of our kingdom greatness (19).

Jesus said, “So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” There are two tests to see if we are being biblical: obeying the scriptures and teaching others to obey the scriptures. On judgment day, our status in Christ’s kingdom will be revealed. But we can judge for ourselves how well we are doing right now. The Bible is the standard for that judgment.

Democracy is not the kingdom standard. When we stand before Jesus on judgment day, he is not going to judge us based on what other people did or did not do. Nobody else is going to get a vote – just Jesus. The books will be opened, and everything we have ever done or thought about will be there as evidence. God’s word will be the standard by which he determines our status as kingdom citizens.

Most people will not make it. Jesus himself said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). The most popular route is the route of self-centeredness, and it is in the wrong direction. That is why our Lord’s first command for all of us is “repent” – because nobody ever gets into the kingdom without repentance.

But Jesus is also telling us that there will be degrees of greatness in his kingdom. There will be those who turn to God but do not allow God’s word to prevail over their lives today. They will build doctrines for themselves that excuse them from the hard work of living according to the teachings of the Bible.

Ironside says that Jesus is talking about people who ignore “the-divine authority of God’s revealed will by loosening the moral effect of His commands, so as to make men careless of their obligations to Him” (38). The people who are great in Jesus’ kingdom are those who are biblically careful, not biblically careless. If we refuse to shine our light on the world’s darkness and expose it, we are leading others to live carelessly.

Our righteousness has to exceed that of the experts (20).

Jesus said, “unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The experts in the law and the Pharisees were considered the super-spiritual in New Testament times. But their knowledge was merely academic and their expertise was mere pretense.

Jesus called them hypocrites. The Greek word hupokritēs refers to an actor — someone putting on a show. Our devotion to Christ and his coming kingdom has to be genuine. It cannot be a life we live for others to see. It has to be real.

Giving should be part of our lives, but there are people who give just to impress others with their generosity. Jesus said our giving should be in secret. Our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing.

Jesus actually criticized the hypocrites because they gave the tithe of their herbs and spices, but did not give justice, mercy, and faithfulness. That is the kind of giving that Jesus appreciates.

Praying should be part of our lives, but most of our prayers should be done in our room privately, not publicly for others to see. We are not talking to them, we are talking to him.

Fasting should also be done without showing. It is not an opportunity to show off our spirituality. It is an act of humility. When pride comes into the picture, humility leaves the scene.

Living in purity should also be part of our lives, but it is so easy to fake that. Jesus said that the experts were like whitewashed tombs – clean on the outside, but dead and stinking on the inside.

Hell is the place for hypocrites. The kind of person who says that Jesus has not come back yet, so he is going to have fun and abuse others because the master is not watching – he is on his way to hell.

So, Jesus warns his apostles right at the beginning. Life as a kingdom citizen is not going to be easy. Even the experts don’t know what they are doing, so we cannot follow their example.

Garland says that the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is deficient for entry into the kingdom of heaven. It flunks the test because it does not go far enough and because a different kind of righteousness is required. The demand for a greater righteousness announces the theme of what follows” (62).

So, what we are going to see in the following sections of the sermon on the mount is that the world’s standards are going to be judged and found deficient. Then Christ is going to provide his biblical standard instead. The world says “don’t kill people.” Jesus  says, “don’t get angry, and if you do, reconcile.” The world says, “don’t commit adultery or divorce.” Jesus says “stay faithful.” Not the same thing. The world says “don’t break your oaths.” Jesus says “stay true to your word.” Not the same thing.

I want to invite you to live the kind of life that Jesus is talking about here. It is a life that exceeds the righteousness of the super-spiritual hypocrites. That is the kind of life that attracts people to Jesus Christ.


Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010.

Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Ironside, H A. Matthew. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux Brothers, 1994.



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We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because it contains a number of our Lord’s commands to us. For the past few weeks, we have been examining the beatitudes which introduce this sermon. We found that the beatitudes are a description of the apostles as representatives of Christ’s present kingdom. His command — which applies throughout the whole section — is the same. He tells them to rejoice because they are blessed. Even if they sometimes seem to be cursed — with poverty, hunger, grief, mistreatment, etc.

That introductory section of Jesus’ sermon primarily focuses on who the kingdom’s citizens are. In today’s section, we will transition to looking at what kingdom citizens do.

McCumber says, “What disciples are is covered in the beatitudes” (34). “What disciples do is expressed under figures of salt and light” (35).

The only command we have seen so far is REJOICE. Believers are expected to rejoice because we have a destiny that will make all our present suffering and searching worthwhile. But our king wants us to do something more than just rejoice. Today’s section explains what it is that he wants us to be doing as we live our lives between his first and second advents.

Matthew 5:13-16 NET

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Both salt and light influence whatever they touch

In the previous section, Jesus told his followers that they are blessed. In this section, he tells them that they are to bless. It makes sense. In the Old Testament, God approached Abraham and told him that he was blessed, and commanded him to be a blessing to all nations. Jesus is essentially doing the same thing here.

The question that Jesus is answering here is “In what ways are the blessed in his kingdom to bless the nations?” To answer that question, Jesus brings up two metaphors. He says that he expects his apostles (and all of us who follow them by putting our faith in Christ) to bless the nations like salt blesses food, and like light blesses the things that it shines on.

Salt was so valuable in the Roman empire that for a time Roman soldiers were paid with salt. Our English word salary comes from the Latin word for salt (sal). Even today we talk about something being “worth it’s salt.”

Luccock says, “In an age when people have become conscious of how too much salt is harmful to health, it may be difficult to appreciate the importance of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt preserved food and gave it flavor. In the same way, the followers of the Christ would preserve the world and give life its true taste. … When salt grows insipid … (it) become useless” (31).

Salt was a preservative. In the book of Genesis, God told Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if he found enough righteous people in it. He didn’t find enough righteous people in it, so he destroyed it. Salt also enhances the flavor of whatever it touches.

Light exposes what is there. If salt’s purpose is preservation, light’s purpose is revelation. Light is essential in a world of darkness. The apostles were Jesus’ visual aid to show the world how God wanted it to live.

Both of these metaphors describe the fact that people who are part of Christ’s present kingdom are going to be responsible to influence the world around them. We cannot run away from the world, because we are responsible to bless it. We are God’s means of expressing himself to the nations.

Salt and light are not designed to hide themselves

The problem that Jesus suggests is that there will be a temptation for kingdom citizens today to fail to do what he is calling them to do. We will be tempted to keep our salt to ourselves and not salt the earth. Ironside said, “The disciples of our Lord are left in the world to witness against its iniquity and to set an example of righteousness. Savorless salt, like an inconsistent Christian, is good for nothing” (37).

We will be tempted to hide our light under a basket so that it does not shine on our world.

Jesus’ command here is for us to let our light shine before people. But what exactly does it mean. Are we supposed to draw attention to ourselves by acts of religious devotion? Are we supposed to sacrifice all life’s comforts so that the world knows how committed we are? Are we supposed to shine our lights on all the evil things in the world and condemn them, becoming — in effect — the world’s police force?

No, Jesus explained how we are expected to shine our light before people. This is how we are to bless the nations:

Christians are intended to show their influence by good deeds.

We must let our light shine before people, so that they can see our good deeds and give honor to our Father in heaven. Now, this is not legalism. Legalism says that good deeds save you. Remember, Jesus is not telling unbelievers how to get saved here. He is giving believers their job description. Good deeds are not the means of salvation, they are the evidence of salvation.

Now, Jesus does not go into detail here about what kinds of good deeds we are to show. This passage is just a general statement for us all to understand what we are to be doing. The more specific details will come later in his sermon.

So, for example, Jesus tells us that our good deeds have to be better than the legalistic practices of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). We have to do better than just keep from murdering people, we have to stop being angry with them (5:21-26). We have to do better than just avoiding adultery and divorce, we have to stop lusting in our hearts (5:27-32). We have to do more than keep our vows, we have to be honest enough that we won’t need to vow (5:33-37). We have to love not only our friends but our enemies too (5:38-48).

The influence that Jesus expects us to bless the world with is for us to be unlike the world. That is hard. We are born into this world and from the very beginning of our lives, it has been trying to mold us into its image. Jesus challenges us to be different. But the difference matters. If we are not different, then we cannot salt the earth. If we don’t salt the earth it will be a tasteless thing that is only good for destruction. If we hide our light, the light will not expose what it is supposed to expose. What is it that the light is supposed to expose?

Our good deeds are intended to demonstrate our relationship with God

“Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” Jesus is the light of the world, and those of us who have met Jesus have the opportunity to reflect that light. Albrecht says, Jesus “came to overcome the darkness of sin, wickedness, ignorance, and unbelief. Christians are the light of the world in the sense that they reflect the light of Christ, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun” (69).

The good deeds are the direct result of our new relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial atonement Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Because Jesus removed the sin barrier from us, making it possible for the Father to accept us into his family, we can now act differently. The good deeds that we achieve are not to save us, but they can be used to save others. Our good deeds can cause those who are looking for God to find him.

The ultimate goal of our influence is God’s glory

God is glorified when sinners turn from their sin and come back to God. Whenever the nations see us living the life of godliness, we influence them to come to Christ. That is how they will glorify God. That is the mission. As Meier puts it, “The disciples can cause the failure of their mission if they ignore others and live only for themselves” (45). Their mission is to bring people back to God.

Augsburger describes how being the light is our mission: “While light is to be seen, serving as a guide for travelers, it is basically to be of service. The disciples are lights in the world, not calling attention to themselves but pointing the way of God. They obtain their light from the One who is the Light of the world. This visibility and service is expressed by Jesus in two illustrations: the city on the mountain and the candle placed on the lampstand. The light dispels darkness simply by being present. As one has said, “It does little good to curse the darkness; one should light a candle.” And the motive is to illuminate the way of God for others, that by seeing our good works they may glorify God. For this light to be seen we live openly in the midst of the world as disciples of Christ, a visible witness of the rule of Christ or of the presence of the Kingdom of God” (68).

Senior says, “The disciple … is to live now the life that is to be realized fully at the end time, yet, through Jesus, is already breaking into the world” (73). Folks, the life we live now is important. Our witness is more than just telling people about Jesus. Our witness is demonstrating his existence and importance through how we live our lives.


Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Augsburger, Myron S. Matthew. , 1982.

Ironside, H A. Matthew. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux Brothers, 1994

Luccock, Robert E. Matthew. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press, 1994.

McCumber, William E. Matthew. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1975.

Meier, John P. Matthew. Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1980.

Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.




Deuteronomy 30:1-7 NET

1 “When you have experienced all these things, both the blessings and the curses I have set before you, you will reflect upon them in all the nations where the LORD your God has banished you. 2 Then if you and your descendants turn to the LORD your God and obey him with your whole mind and being just as I am commanding you today, 3 the LORD your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The LORD your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live. 7 Then the LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you.

In this passage, Moses predicted unconditionally that the nation of Israel would rebel against the covenant and experience all its curses (1).

Payne describes what happened: “The path of disobedience could bring curses down on the nation, while loyalty and obedience would mean blessing in the years ahead. Of course, real history is not so black and white as this challenging picture might suggest, and verse 1 realistically envisages both “the blessing and the curse” as Israel’s experience- to-be as the generations come and go. As a whole, however, this section is discussing just one option: supposing the worst happens, and Israel is so disobedient that many of the disasters foreseen in chapter 28 actually happen—what then? Must that be the end of the story? Is cursing God’s last word? The historical books that follow Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, from Joshua to 2 Kings, in themselves paint just such a picture, for the story ends with Jerusalem in ruins, the Temple destroyed, the monarchy swept away, hundreds and thousands of casualties, and the cream of the survivors exiled to far-away Babylon” (164).

But Moses promises conditionally that the Israelites could return to the land and experience his blessings (2-5).

As Clements puts it: “All forms of blessing and curse have been set squarely under the umbrella of the known law of God, and all life’s experiences are to be understood in the light of this law” (45). The Israelites got into the mess they were in by idolatry and disobedience. They could return if they repented and submitted themselves to God’s rule.

Moses indicates that the return would be accompanied by a spiritual renewal (6)

He said that the LORD their God would cleanse their heart and the hearts of their descendants so that they may love him with all their minds and being and so that they may live. There was always hope of a return — even from the disaster of the exile.

The audience that Jesus spoke to when he preached his sermon on the mount knew that the nation as a whole needed this spiritual renewal.

Moses also indicates that the return would result in the curses being put on the nations that hated and persecuted them (7).

The audience that Jesus spoke to understood what it meant to be persecuted and mistreated. They longed for national restoration and wanted God to judge their captors.

Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 30 serve as a backdrop to the sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:10-12 NET

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Jesus in his sermon is publically declaring himself the king, and offering the whole nation an opportunity to repent (10).

Hare says that the sermon on the mount “not only tells Christians how to live but emphasizes the importance of Jesus. He is not simply “one of the prophets” … but is the Messiah. He sits like a king on his throne, his disciples approach him like subjects in a royal court, and the king delivers his inaugural address, in which he lays out in considerable detail what life in his kingdom will be like” (34-35).

Jesus declares that his followers would be mistreated for seeking righteousness (10).

He looks to these twelve men who are serving as visual aids to the gospel message that he has preached. He tells them that they are going to be mistreated, but that does not mean that they are cursed. He is turning that curse around and making it a blessing.

Turner says that the “radical spirituality of the Beatitudes directly confronts several cultural views of God’s approval. One of these is that popularity with one’s peers indicates divine approval, but this is plainly contradicted by the statement that those who are persecuted by their peers have God’s approval” (147).

Jesus predicted that the mistreatment would include insults, persecutions, and false accusations (11).

Lawson asks what it is that Christians do that seems to invite trouble. One of his answers is that “Christians invite persecution by their advocacy of strange values. They are not only opposed to current trends but are strong for opposing ones” (64).

Throughout history, Christians have been behind the moral revolutions that sought a change in the status quo. We have not always had the backing of our respective governments. Sometimes it has been our governments who doled out the insults, persecutions, and false accusations. Even the organized church has often taken its place as the antagonist against Christians seeking change. But we keep on sticking out like a sore thumb in a world of sameness.

Garland says the “switch from the third to the second person directly addresses a Christian community that has been the target of harassment, public scorn, and libel” (58-59). But in fact, that is not the case. Jesus’ direct address is to the apostles, but he knows that they and their followers will experience these things. He is looking into the future — the whole future, from his ascension to his return. He knows what kind of lives his followers will live. He sees more about that than they do.

Jesus would bring up this fact of their being persecuted in his sermon about his second coming:

“Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14 NET).

Jesus commanded them to rejoice because their reward is great in heaven (12).

He said that they should rejoice and be glad because their reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before them in the same way. Remember, he is not saying that heaven is their reward. He said it is in heaven, and it is going to come down to earth for them. The reason they can rejoice is that they know the end of the story.

We can rejoice for the same reason. We know that the persecutors will not succeed. We can listen to the insults and patiently endure them because they are just words. And even if the persecutors do more than just talk, we can still endure it because our eternal destiny is sure. Our king is coming back, and he is going to set things right.

Jesus gave the prophets as an example of those who endured persecution but stayed faithful. They will live again, and all those who criticized their words, ridiculed their ministries, and falsely accused them will face God’s wrath. All believers can rejoice because we will be vindicated just like those prophets will.

N. T. Wright calls these beatitudes “a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future” (38). The solution to being mistreated today is the absolute assurance that it will not continue forever. God’s rule will return. The king will return and destroy all his enemies — even death itself.

So, our Lord’s command to REJOICE (as we have seen) is his one size fits all instruction for all of the believers characterized by the beatitudes. He calls on all his subjects to rejoice, not because everything will be wonderful now, but because everything will be made wonderful when he returns.


Clements, R E. Deuteronomy. England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew: Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.

Lawson, E L. R. Matthew. Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Pub, 1986.

Payne, David F. Deuteronomy: The Daily Study Bible Series. , 1985

Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004.