1. Mt. 5:1-12 are about the Beatitudes. Vss. 13-16 are about the Christian's exalted calling in this world. He is like salt which preserves meat from corruption. The Christian preserves society from becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah. Like Christ, the Christian is a light to the world. Christians must not hide their light. Vs 16 tells us that others should see the work of the heavenly Father in our deeds. They should see our deeds, not us. Nature shows God and creation to the world. The Christian's good deeds, though not a means of grace, show the saving Father to the world.
2. Vss. 17-20 tell us that truly righteous living comes only from the proper understandings of the Bible. Vs. 17 tells us that Jesus came not to do away with the Bible but to bring out its true OT meaning. The prophets said: "Thus saith the Lord." The Apostles said: "It is written." But Jesus said: "Truly I say to you." In vs. 18 the point of the first "until" clause is that the Word of God is permanent and the point of the second "until" clause is the exact truthfulness of the Word. The word "iota" denotes the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The word "tittle" or "mark" denotes the little marks on Hebrew letters which can change the meaning of words. The point is that the meaning of God's Word is changeless. Vs. 19 tells us that if anyone changes the meaning of anything in God's Word simply because he considers it of less importance, that person is condemned in time and eternity. But whoever teaches and does God's Word according to its true meaning will receive the reward of faithfulness. He does not earn salvation but is promised a reward.
3. "Righteousness" here denotes the righteousness of living and of deeds, not the righteousness of faith. Vs. 20 implies that the Pharisees and scribes were twisting the meaning of Scripture. Five examples follow in vss. 21 to 48. Their righteousness was only a civil, worldly righteousness. It was merely external. True righteousness is moral, of the heart, proceeding from faith in Christ. "The kingdom of heaven" here means the true family of God in time and eternity.
4. Vs. 21, though true, states only the external or civil side of this commandment. See Ex. 20:13; 21:12; Lev. 24:17; Deut. 5:17. But Jesus brings out the true meaning of this commandment in the OT. That is the meaning of vs. 22. The person who is angry at his brother (see I Jn. 3:15) is not only guilty of earthly judgment as a murderer but is also guilty of hell-fire. Read Eph. 4:26-27. Anger in itself is not wrong. Anger is an attribute of God. But it should never be the kind that consumes the brother or turns into a grudge. Christians are still sinners. But they have a new man which must rule the old man. There are times when Christians, like Jesus, are rightfully angry. But the anger must not destroy or hurt the brother or become a grudge. To summarize: wrongful anger destroys the brother and is murder.
5. Vss. 23-24 tell us that an unresolved situation with another human being is dangerous for the Christian. He must not live with a guilty conscience or offensive unforgiveness toward his neighbor. The point of vss. 23-24 is that anger or hatred of the heart is murder.
6. For vs. 25 read Lk. 6:27-35. Jesus is not saying that we should give up our principles to our adversary. But you should not hate him because that can lead to the loss of your soul.
7. Note the frequency of "Truly I say to you," vss. 18, 20, 22, and 26. This denotes the divinity of Jesus. He is true God.
8. Vs. 26 is like Lk. 13:3.5: "Unless you repent you will perish." Condemnation to eternal punishment is irrevocable. It cannot be changed. But a living repentance (confession of sins, faith in Christ, the fruits of faith) frees us from the condemnation of hell. Christians produce not only external, civil righteousness but also the internal heart righteousness which is a fruit of faith.
THEME: Why the Scribes And Pharisees Lacked True Righteousness
Jesus often told the scribes and Pharisees the truth about themselves. He warned them often. They accepted the Bible but twisted its meaning. They lived clean lives but were unacceptable to God. Why? Their religion was only external. It was fruitless. It was without love. They are a warning to us.
I. THEY TWISTED THE SOURCE OF THEIR RELIGION
The OT contains the true Christian religion. But the scribes and Pharisees twisted the OT. They condemned murder but they had hateful hearts. They condemned adultery but allowed sinful lust. By the misuse of oaths they told lies. They loved their friends but hated their enemies. Jesus came to bring out the true meaning of the OT. He told them hatred is also murder. He told them that lust for a strange woman is also adultery. He told them that to love one's neighbor also meant to love one's enemies. This is found in vss. 21-48 of Matt. 5.
II. THEY NURTURED COLD AND UNFORGIVING HEARTS, vss. 24-26.
A. Holy deeds without reconciliation of neighbor is mockery. This is described in vss. 23-24 of our text. The covenant people brought offerings to the altar in the temple at Jerusalem. These were offerings for forgiveness and thanksgiving. They were holy deeds. They were offered to God. But Jesus says that they are worthless if the heart is nurturing hatred toward the brother. First go and be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift. Holy deeds are an abomination to God if offered with a sinful heart.
B. A loveless life will lead to hell. This is described in vss. 25-26. All of us have adversaries. Christians, like their Lord, are kindly minded, even to their adversaries. Jesus said: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." He told His adversaries the truth about themselves but He loved them. If I refuse to be kindly minded toward my adversary I will have to pay for it in hell.
III. THEIR BASIC PROBLEM WAS LACK OF FAITH IN CHRIST AND LACK OF REPENTANCE
A. They rejected the Savior. Lk. 15:2 tells us that the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled at Jesus because He associated with tax collectors and sinners. These tax collectors and sinners repented of their sins and believed in Jesus. That is why they wanted to associate with Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes grumbled because they neither repents nor believed in Jesus.
B. They were not renewed people. II Cor. 5:17 tells us: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away.They have become new." Heb. 11:6 tells us: "Without faith it is impossible to please God." In the Bible faith always means faith in Christ. And Rom. 14:23 tells us: "Whatever is not from faith is sin." Read Jn. 15:1-8, the vine and branches passage. Jesus says: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit. For without Me you can do nothing."
C. They are like Paul the Pharisee before he was converted. Php. 3:7-11. When Paul found the righteousness of Christ by faith he abandoned his former empty life. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, the best Pharisee. But he calls his own righteousness dung, manure.
Our text, Mt. 5:20-26, is given to us so that we might examine ourselves. Do we twist the Scriptures to hide a sinful heart? Do we harbor anger in our hearts? Do we refuse to be reconciled with our brother? Are we unkind to our adversaries? Let us confess our sins to God. Let us turn to Jesus Who forgives us our sins. Let us abide in Him by faith so that we can produce much fruit to glorify our Father in heaven and to benefit our neighbor on earth. These deeds do not save us but they prove that we have faith in our Lord Jesus.