Sermon: How to Inherit God's Kingdom
Scripture: Matthew 5:3
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to be poor in spirit.
Theme: The Need for a New Nature
Now, in time the people of Israel recognized this truth, and those who submitted to it came to God humbly, confessing their sin, and availing themselves of the cleansing that God had provided through the sacrifices. Those who would not submit to this truth and who, instead, boasted and wished to boast in their own self-righteousness, sought to whittle the high standards of the law down to the low level of their own performance. And they did this by interpreting and reinterpreting it.
Under the direction of the scribes, a series of supplementary commandments was added to the law that had the effect of lowering its requirements, although naturally no one would say this. Actually, the rabbis said that they were putting a “hedge” about the Torah. This meant that they were constructing a series of safeguard commandments round about the central, God-given commandment, so that anyone who came close to breaking it would be warned before he did so and thus be kept from sinning. In practice, however, this only meant that the individual could tell himself that he had kept the divine commandment when all he was really doing was observing a series of lesser teachings by some of the scribes. He could tell himself that he had kept the Sabbath if he did not travel more than a Sabbath day's journey, did not cook in his home, did not work in the field, and so on. And it was possible for him to escape entirely the far more important demands upon his mind and conduct that actually in God's view made the day holy.
Now, this was the situation in Jesus' day, and the result was that Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the religious people directly. Jesus said, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). And he ended the first great section of the Sermon on the Mount with the categorical statement, "Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). In other words, Jesus was saying, “Even though you may have kept the commandments of Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Jehuda, or Rabbi Jose, that does not necessarily mean that you have kept the commandments of God. And the purpose of those commandments is actually to show you that you have not kept them and that you will never be able to do so.”
Years later the apostle Paul came along and spelled out this teaching for his churches. He wrote, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20). You see, this verse and all the others that I have quoted boil down to just this: the one thing that the law cannot do is to make a man righteous before God. Rather than doing that, it condemns him. Consequently, if we are ever to understand the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ, we must recognize as a first great principle that we cannot abide by them. And we must come in faith to the only one who did fulfill them and who alone can fulfill them in those who give their lives to him.
Let me illustrate the truth in this way. To preach the standards of the Sermon on the Mount to persons who are unregenerate and who do not have Christ's nature within them is a bit like preaching the prophecies about the bliss of the millennium in Isaiah to the animal world. The eleventh chapter of Isaiah says that when Jesus Christ will return to this world to set up a holy kingdom, all things will be made right. Sin will be stopped, and even in nature the wolf will lie down with the lamb. Well, try preaching that today. I have been to the zoo enough to know that the lamb wandering into the wolf's cage would only be dinner with wool on—no matter how many preachers were reading the eleventh chapter of Isaiah to the wolf. What is necessary if the prophecy is to be fulfilled is for a new nature to be given to the wolf. And what is necessary if the law is to be fulfilled in us is for a new nature to be given to us who are supposed to fulfill it. We need to recognize as a first principle of Christian ethics that a new nature, given by the Lord Jesus Christ, is prerequisite.
- What did it mean to put a “hedge” around the Torah? What negative result could that produce?
- Why is the law unable to make a person righteous before God?
Prayer: Ask the Lord to give you increasingly a heart that pursues obedience out of a love for Christ and a genuine desire to do what pleases him.
Key Point: We need to recognize as a first principle of Christian ethics that a new nature, given by the Lord Jesus Christ, is prerequisite.
For Further Study: To learn more about who are the citizens of God’s kingdom, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message from Matthew 13, “People of the Kingdom.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
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