Sermon on the Mount

Two Ways To Enter God's Kingdom

Matthew 5:17-48

Teaching t08357

Introduction

In this section, Jesus addresses the question that people have asked for ages: "What must I do to gain entry into God's kingdom?" If God exists, and if he has a kingdom that we can be part of, it's difficult to think of a more important question than this one. According to the Bible, to get into God's kingdom not only means that you have the next life locked up--you also get to experience God's love and guidance and provision and protection in this life (cf. Ps. 23).

The question is: How do you get in? The interesting thing is that Jesus gave two different answers to this question--depending on who was asking. Around here, we call these two answers "Plan A" and "Plan B."

In this passage, Jesus focuses on "Plan A" because most of his audience was convinced that they were getting in through that plan . . . 

PLAN A (LAW): Earn your own way in by fulfilling God's Law.

"Plan A" is simple: You earn your own way in by fulfilling God's Law (i.e., the moral law of the Old Testament, based on the Big Ten).

The consensus of the religious leaders of Jesus' day was that this was the only plan.

This is also the consensus of most religions (e.g. ISLAM)--including "Christian" religion (EXAMPLES).

This is the view that many people (maybe many of you) hold >> STREET INTERVIEW VIDEO.

In this passage, Jesus gives some bad news to those who are counting on getting in by "Plan A."

It begins in 5:20 (read). This was an absolute bombshell to his audience, because the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be the most righteous people around. It would be like saying, "Unless you're far more righteous than the Pope, Billy Graham and Mother Theresa, you can't forget about ever getting into God's kingdom.

In 5:21-47, Jesus accuses them of lowering the bar, of creating a diluted version of "Plan A." He cites five of God's commandments. In each case, he refutes the scribes' and Pharisees' answer ("You have heard that it was said . . .") and contrasts it to his own answer (" . . . but I say to you . . ."). As I summarize what Jesus says, why don't we score ourselves on each version of "Plan A." There's a whole lot of complex and fascinating material in these verses, but I'm going to summarize them so we keep the main argument of Jesus in clear focus.

"You shall not commit murder." Read 5:21. The scribes and Pharisees taught that you fulfilled this command if you never actually committed homicide. "OK, I've never murdered anyone, so I am righteous."

Read 5:22. Jesus says it's not just the outward act of murder will exclude you from God's kingdom; it's also the heart-attitude that underlies murder, even if you never actually kill anyone. Vilifying anger and contempt, while they do not make us guilty enough to go to prison, do make us guilty enough to go to hell. Why? Because God looks on the heart, and these attitudes constitute rebellion because they usurp his authority to judge.

"You shall not commit adultery." Read 5:27. The scribes and Pharisees taught that you fulfilled this command if you never actually had sex with someone other than your spouse after you got married. "OK, I have never gone out on my wife, so I am righteous." Of course, a huge percentage of Americans are in trouble even by this standard!

Read 5:28. Jesus says that it's not just the outward act of adultery that will exclude you from God's kingdom; it's also the heart-attitude that underlies adultery, even if you never actually commit it. Sexual lust--not physical attraction, but viewing another person as an object of sexual pleasure and ruminating on what it would be like to use them in this way--this is abhorrent enough to God to sentence you to hell!

Read 5:29,20. Jesus is not saying that you should literally do this (like Origen did). Gouging your eyes out would not prevent mental lust? If he did, we should all be blind paraplegics--and we'd still be guilty enough to go to hell. His point is to emphasize that sexual lust will send you to hell, so take this seriously!

"You shall not make false vows, but you shall fulfill your vows to the Lord." Read 5:33. The scribes and Pharisees had come up with a legalistic code of "binding" and "non-binding" vows (read Matt. 23:16-22). So if you knew the code, you could deliberately deceive someone and still be righteous! Their answer was something like "As long as you have never committed perjury in court, you are righteous enough to enter God's kingdom."

Jesus completely rejects this whole definition of righteousness! Read 5:34-37. His point is not that we can't ever take an oath in court or swear by God's name (God does, Jesus did, Paul does). It is rather that every assertion, promise, etc. is made in God's presence, and that therefore righteousness means being always honest and never deceptive. Not only committing perjury condemns us in God's eyes, but also twisting an account to make us look better, failing to tell the truth when we should, etc.

"An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Read 5:38. This was part of the Old Testament civil law, a key principle of jurisprudence: the penalty should match the crime. Its intent was to not only justly punish crime, but also prevent blood-feuds. The scribes and Pharisees ripped this out of its context and applied it to personal relationships so that it justified vengeance in our personal relationships! If someone wrongs you, you can get back at him in the same way ("I don't get mad--I get even.") and still be righteous.

Jesus rejects this whole definition of righteousness. Read 5:39-42. He is not saying that there is no place for a police force to maintain civil order or an army to defend a country. Neither is he saying that you must give money to every drunk on the street who asks you for it. He is saying that true righteousness involves rejecting the right to take personal vengeance and trying to overcome evil with good, even when it means personal sacrifice (Rom. 12:19-21).

"You shall love your neighbor." Read 5:43. Here Jesus actually includes the scribes' and Pharisees' interpretation of this command. They decided that "neighbor" includes only those who have the same religious beliefs, ethnic origin, etc. So they interpreted this law, which was given to explain our obligation to love other people the way we love ourselves (committed to purse their good), in a way that actually justified ethnic and religious bigotry. You could hate Samaritans and Gentiles and tax-gatherers and prostitutes, and still be righteous enough to enter God's kingdom.

Jesus categorically rejects this perversion of God's Law. Read 5:44-47. True righteousness requires always seeking the good of even those who persecute you for your allegiance to God.

In 5:48, Jesus says, "Just in case you missed my point . . ." If you're trying to get into God's kingdom, the passing grade is not keeping his law as well as the scribes and Pharisees; it is keeping his law perfectly. That's why James says Jas. 2:10 (read). The law is like a chain--if you break just one link, the whole chain is broken.

What's your test score? I know what mine is! Even on my best days, I flunk miserably! That's why Paul says Rom. 3:23 (read). We all "have missed the mark" and we all "keep falling short" of God's glorious standard.

If "Plan A" is the only plan God has, this would be a very depressing situation. But remember, Jesus also taught another plan--"Plan B." If you're ready to give up on "Plan A," "Plan B" might sound pretty appealing to you . . . 

PLAN B (GRACE): Let Jesus earn your way by fulfilling God's law for you.

Jesus hints at "Plan B" in 5:17 (read). "Plan B" doesn't dilute God's requirement of perfect righteousness. The crucial difference is that instead of calling on you to fulfill it, it allows Jesus to fulfill it for you. Just how does this work?

Jesus lived a life of perfect conformity to God's Law. He is the only Person who was ever able to ask Jn. 8:46 without being greeting with laughter! 

Why did he do this? Not merely to provide us with an example of how to live a perfect life--that wouldn't have helped us at all. He did to fulfill God's plan to provide a perfect payment for our failure to keep his Law. It wasn't like God only had "Plan A," then finally realized after centuries that it didn't work, and then invented "Plan B." He had both plans all along. This is what Jesus is hinting at when he says he came to fulfill "the Law and the Prophets."

The Law included a picture of "Plan B"--the sacrificial system (BRIEF EXPLANATION with Lev. 16:15-17).

The Prophets predicted that God's perfect sacrifice would be Person (Isa. 53:5,6).

Jesus made it clear that this was the number one reason why he came and lived a perfect life (Mk. 10:45).

This is why entry into God's kingdom is only through Jesus. No one else has ever lived a perfect life. No one else has ever voluntarily given his life as a payment for others' sins.

This is why Jesus focused on "Plan B" when he was talking to people who already knew they had flunked "Plan A" (even the scribes' and Pharisees' diluted version of it). This is why he said Jn. 3:16 (read). This is what the prostitute in Lk. 7 was so happy and grateful for (read Lk. 7:47,48).

This is why Jesus' audience was accusing him of abolishing the Law ("Stop thinking that I came to abolish the Law . . ."). They thought this because he was inviting people into God's kingdom that were clearly ineligible by "Plan A." What they didn't realize is that everyone (even the scribes and Pharisees) is equally ineligible by "Plan A"--but everyone (even the tax-gatherers and prostitutes) is equally eligible by "Plan B." The only people who are offended by this are the ones who think they're making it by "Plan A"--and they are the ones who are farthest away!

There is only one requirement if you want to enter God's kingdom by "Plan B." You have to be willing to personally admit to God that you have failed by "Plan A," and you have to personally ask him to admit you by "Plan B."

If you do this now, God will welcome you into his kingdom. You're going to have the next life locked up, and you're going to experience God's love, transforming power, guidance, hope, etc.