In Matthew 4 Jesus has been proclaiming and teaching the kingdom of heaven throughout Galilee. The Sermon on the Mount is an example of this proclamation.
The Sermon begins with a series of statements “Happy are …”. The happiness being described here is not so much an emotional state as an experience of well-being. It is like seeing a group of people and saying of them: “they are happy because all is well with them, life is as it should be, and they are enjoying life in all its fullness“. The Beatitudes are using the language of Old Testament Wisdom literature to describe people who are living well.
What is surprising is that the people Jesus refers to are ‘the poor in spirit’, ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the pure in heart’, ‘the peace-makers’, ‘the persecuted’. Certainly, well-being in the kingdom of heaven comes through different means than that in the kingdoms of earth.
The reason who these people can be said to be enjoying life in all its fullness is because they experience the rule of heaven in their lives and hence they experience comfort, will inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God, be called the sons of God.
People who live like this are light and salt in the world. Light has the idea of revealing God and salt has the idea of an everlasting covenant. These people, who enjoy life in all its fullness through their experiencing the rule of Heaven in their lives, thus reflect God to the world. This in turn invites the world to either persecute God’s people or to themselves give glory to God. What God’s people must not do is lose their distinctiveness.
Jesus then goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to say that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. The Old Testament law is not done away with instead it is fulfilled. Matthew uses ‘fulfilment-language’ in a special way. In this case it is not referring to Jesus simply obeying the law – something more is being spoken of. Jesus fulfils the law but giving his own law. The law of Moses was a body of law that demonstrated God’s character and pointed people to how they should live under God. The law of Moses was a shadow or reflection of a greater law that one day would be delivered. The future law would more completely reveal God and how to live under his rule. Jesus, a prophet like Moses but greater, fulfils the law of Moses by revealing his own law to which the law of Moses pointed. (The law of Moses was like the reflection of a mountain in a lake).
Jesus then goes on to say that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees were excellent at keeping the law of Moses. How could an ordinary person possibly hope to have a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees? The answer is by doing Jesus’ law. Jesus’ law has to do with righteousness not only in behavior but also in one’s heart. A righteousness greater than the Pharisees is a righteousness that comes from one’s heart. Such are the people who enjoy life in its fullness in the kingdom of heaven, who are light and salt in the world.
Jesus then shows how the Old Testament law pointed to his law. For example, do not murder pointed to Jesus’ law of no anger in the heart but instead meekness. No adultery becomes pure in heart. Oaths pointed to Jesus’ law of truthfulness in the heart, do not take person vengeance but allow God-appointed courts to make just sentences becomes meekly trust God rather than act from one’s heart. Loving neighbors pointed to Jesus’ law about showing mercy and being a peace-maker like God.
This week we finished our study on the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus’ words that we are to be singularly whole-hearted as our Father in heaven is singularly whole-hearted. These are the people who seek God’s glory in an undivided way just as God their father does. These are the people who are enjoying life in all its fullness in the kingdom of heaven. These are the people who are light and salt revealing the covenant God to the world. These are the people who have a greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees. These are the people who have been taught the law to which the law of Moses pointed.
How can we be such singularly wholehearted people? By asking Jesus to change our hearts. In the previous chapter we learned that Jesus is the one who can baptize and refine people with the Holy Spirt. Jesus not only preaches the kingdom of heaven, but he also brings it into reality. Amen.