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It is written:
Matthew 5:20-48-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. 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. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus says that the Jews had “heard that it was said,” and then quotes (apparently) from the Old Testament. At that point, He says, “but I say to you,” seeming to make a distinction between His teaching and that of the Old Law.
Is that what is going on in these passages of Scripture?
Or is there something else at play?
The first thing we must remember is that there are times when there are clear differences between the Old and New Testaments. This should not be surprising, since Jeremiah the Prophet declared that this would be the case nearly six hundred years before Jesus was born!
Jeremiah 31:31-34-Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
The Old Covenant was designed to be temporary, to prepare people for Jesus and the New Testament.
Galatians 3:24-25-Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
It should not surprise us therefore if we find differences between the Old and New Testaments.
Second, notice that whenever Jesus quotes from the Old Testament, He uses the phrase “it is written” (cf. Matthew 4:4, 7, 10, etc.). This phrase is used over seventy times in the New Testament when introducing the Old Testament. Yet this isn’t the phrase that Jesus uses in Matthew 5. He uses the phrase, “you have heard that it was said to those of old.” This phrase had reference to the Jewish traditions which had sprung up by the time of Christ. The traditions of these “scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20) often took Scripture out of context in order to justify the traditions which they had come up with.
Pink tells us:
“In answering this question, let us also show wherein lay the special need for Christ here to expound and enforce the Law. Unfortunately for the nation, there was ample opportunity for the scribes and Pharisees to corrupt God’s Law, for the rank and file of the people were unable to read the Scriptures in their original tongue. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity they had largely forgotten their own language, and therefore could not read the Hebrew text. Obviously, it was the duty of the learned to supply the people with a plain and simple translation of God’s Word into the Chaldee or Aramaic. But the proud and selfish rabbis were concerned not with the glory of God and the good of the people, but with the exaltation of their own order. Therefore, instead of preparing a translation which could be read by the masses at large, they were accustomed, in the synagogues, to read off a loose rendering of the sacred text (alleged to be simpler than the original), intermingled with their own explanatory remarks. It was this ancient paraphrase of the Law with the comments of the rabbis that the scribes and Pharisees reiterated, and to which our Lord alluded when He here mentioned “them of old time.”” (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, 60-61 (Kindle Edition))
The Lord was not making a distinction here between the Old and New Testaments: He was showing how the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees had twisted the Word of God out of context.
Third, each of the examples that Jesus gives us in this passage shows us how this is the case.
Matthew 5:21-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.’
The Old Law surely taught that it is sin to murder (Exodus 20:13). The Pharisees added in their teaching that whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.
“The scribes and Pharisees were evidently seeking to restrict the application of the sixth commandment to the deed of murder alone, to the act of spilling human blood in homicide. If they refrained from this, they considered that they had kept the commandment. And this apparently is what the rabbis taught the people. But Jesus disagreed with them. The true application of the prohibition was much wider, he maintained. It included thoughts and words as well as deeds, anger and insult as well as murder.” (John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 83 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press)
Perhaps the most obvious way to see how they had set aside the Word of God for their tradition may be seen later.
Matthew 5:43-You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’
The scribes and Pharisees had added “and hate your enemy” to their interpretation of Leviticus 19, we can see clearly how they had misjudged and misapplied the Scripture. Notice who the “neighbor” in Leviticus:
Leviticus 19:18-You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
The neighbor that we are to love as ourself is the one against whom we would not take vengeance, or bear a grudge against.
In other words, the neighbor that we are to love as ourself is the one that would be our enemy!
In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches the true meaning of the Old Testament Law that the Pharisees and scribes had set aside for the sake of their tradition.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.