The Sermon on the Mount
“Salt, Light, the Law, and Where Murder Begins”
Matthew 5:13-26 “13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Christ Fulfills the Law
17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Murder Begins in the Heart
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Now, Jesus delivers his unmatched, greatest sermon ever preached in a series of topics or themes. He deals with one important subject after another and manages to cover most of the pressing issues of life in one sitting!
First, Jesus tells His followers and disciples who we are and the function we serve while on earth.
Vs. 13 “You are the salt of the earth.”
He is not picturing us here like salt in a salt shaker shaken onto food to make it tastier. There were no refrigerators in Jesus’s day. No way to keep meat fresh until you decided to cook it. So the purpose for salt he has in mind is as a preserver from decay.
When first century people caught a fish or killed an animal, they would immediately pack it in salt to prevent decay. The idea in Jesus’s mind is that the church is supposed to play a part in keeping a collapsing culture from decay and rot!
So he says, “But if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
When the church starts looking, acting, and thinking like the world we’re supposed to influence, we’ve lost our purpose.”
Then Jesus compares the church to light.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all that are in the house.”
We note that with both salt and light, Jesus mentions the possibility of not functioning as we should juxtaposed next to how we ought to function. The salt losing its seasoning and the light being placed under a basket. Both not doing what they’re meant to do.
Jesus says that, as lights, the church is supposed to be up front, out in the open, literally on a hilltop, the most conspicuous place possible!
He said, “Let your light so shine (shine in such a way) before men that they see your good works and glorify…”
So the way the church shines the light of Christ is by the works we do in his name. This is what men see. They don’t see Jesus. They don’t know God. What grabs their attention is good works of charity, giving, helping others, meeting needs….tangible things that the lost eyes of men can recognize.
Summarizing: we’re salt to preserve from societal decay, and we’re light that shines in the dark pointing the way to Christ!
Next, Jesus deals with the law.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
Apparently some were assuming this and Jesus felt the need to set it straight. He had not come to do away with the authority and principles of the Old Testament, but to fulfill them by “fulfilling all righteousness” as he told John the Baptist.
Now, the Law includes the 5 Books of Moses—the Pentateuch.
And the Prophets refers simply to the prophetic books we have in our Bible.
Jesus didn’t come to throw them down or replace them with something new. No…we’re going to see that Jesus added depth and meaning to them not provided by Moses.
Jesus will tackle many of the commandments given in the law like—do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not swear by God or take his name in vain—and will show us how they are heart issues that need to be dealt with before the sinful act occurs.
Jesus assures us that “not one jot or tittle will pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” Vs. 18
He then rebukes any teacher of the Law that would divide the commandments into greater and lesser categories.
The Pharisees were in the habit of dividing the precepts of the law into lesser and greater, teaching that they who violated the former were guilty of a trivial offense only.
Christ teaches that in his kingdom they who make this distinction, or who taught that any laws of God might be violated with impunity, should be called least; while they who uphold every word in God’s book should be held in high regard.
In other words, it’s ALL the Word of God and should be treated as such!
In verse 20, Jesus talks about fake and genuine righteousness—“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The scribes and Pharisees believed their righteousness came from works, from outer obedience, from keeping the law.
But the Apostle Paul will later make it crystal clear that, “no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”—Galatians 3:11
Now, starting with verse 21, Jesus will take one of the commandments in the Law—You shall not murder—and add to it breadth, width, height, and depth that Moses never did.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’
Now, we all get this. If you kill someone unjustly you are going to face the court and be sentenced to prison or even to death. But Jesus takes it further:
22 “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”
I feel that the judgment refers to the judgment of God. God is keenly aware of our internal emotions and state of mind. When we walk in anger, the Heavenly Father is going to take note and begin convicting our hearts to get it right before things grow worse.
Wee note here that this is exactly what Jesus warns us of. He goes straight to the heart of the matter—murder will not happen apart from anger. Anger is the evil spawn of murder. As Jesus said in another place:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”—Matthew 15:19
The idea is of anger not dealt with. Anger that simmers. Anger that is coddled and fed. Hence, Paul’s admonition to “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” comes into play here. (Eph. 4:26)
Next, Jesus shows a further progression downward if anger is not handled:
“And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.”
The council was the higher court called the Sanhedrin. It was to the council that more serious offenses were brought—blasphemy, insurrection, and so on.
So if we don’t handle things between us and God, we may be in danger of worse consequences. Why? Because the Bible says, “Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be scorched?” Prov. 6:27-28
The answer of course is NO. In the same way, we cannot keep the fire of anger in our spirit and it not eventually burn us!
The angry man now calls the object of his scorn “raca” means “empty headed” or “stupid.”
In its first century setting it was a word of contempt. We note that the object of scorn is no longer seen as a brother but as a contemptuous, despised person.
We bring the Apostle John in here who says, “Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart.”—1 John 3:15
So anger unchecked has progressed to contemptuous name calling that may result in legal trouble leading to a serious court case. And there’s a final step:
“But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Now any attempt at pretense or self control are gone. One gets the sense that the angry man is spewing hatred, probably with a loud, out of control voice. He finally acts out and murders another.
Jesus warns that anger leading to murder is often found in people whose ultimate destiny is eternal damnation. Whether he’s speaking metaphorically or literally, the thought that murder leads to horrible consequences is certain.
So in summary, our Lord’s message is to deal with the heart before sinful actions follow!