For an introduction to this series, click here.
Dec. 9, 2006
It's hard to do an amazing passage like this justice in what little space I have here, but here goes.
Many volumes of books have been written on the Beatitudes alone. In case you don't know, a beatitude is a pronouncement of a blessing, whether it comes from God, or a religious leader. The lesson of the Beatitudes is that God's values are different from man's. Man values proud, confident and assertive people. God values people who come to Him broken and completely reliant on Him.
The main point of the entire Sermon on the Mount is found in 5:20: "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus then goes into some examples of how true righteousness goes deeper than just external obedience. He speaks of murder vs. anger, adultery vs. lust and divorce, swearing falsely vs. taking oaths, resistance to evil done to us, and loving your enemies.
Don't miss the significance of this. The Pharisees were seen as the most holy people in Israel at that time. But it wasn't just the Pharisees. Many people in Jesus' audience were no doubt like the rich young ruler, who said that he had kept the whole law his whole life. Jesus is saying sin is more than failure to follow a group of rules. Sin is a matter of the heart. I've never murdered anyone, but I have been angry with people. Sin is a very serious matter. Immediately after Jesus says that lust is the same as adultery, Jesus says that it would be better to pluck an eye out or cut a hand off than to die in sin.
The end of this chapter sums it up: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (5:48, ESV) We cannot achieve perfection on our own - we have to look to God for help, and that is the entire point of Jesus' sermon.