You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
To quickly recap what we have learned from the Sermon so far:
we have seen that for the person who has given their life to Christ and is wanting to walk closer with Him, the result will be that certain characteristics will develop. But also there are certain promises or consequences of these characteristics. This was explained in the section that introduces the sermon and which is commonly known as The Beatitudes.
The next section surprises you with the statement from Jesus that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. These people were very careful to know all the laws and the commands in the Old Testament, and in particular the section known as The Torah. But the explanations of Jesus about the laws clearly showed that literalism and legalism will not be good enough to gain entry into the Kingdom.
You can’t make yourself righteous by placing yourself under the bondage of legalism, and the literal interpretation falls far short of the actual standards expected. You can’t work your way into the Kingdom and you can’t buy your way in either. But Jesus informs us that he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but rather to fulfil them. In Him alone we have the person who literally fulfils every command and everything required of the scriptures. He is the one who gave Himself for us, that we might be free from the bondage of sin and legalism, and be imputed with His righteousness instead – a righteousness that exceeds by far any that can be found by legalism.
In the following verses we saw how, for each of us, we need to see this and that part of our lives as on the cross with Christ, and redeemed and sanctified by that ultimate expression of Divine Love.
In this study we will finish looking at the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, and the reading is the same as for our previous study. In that previous study I focused on the love for enemies part of this text. By the natural way of thinking, this would be thought too extreme, too weird, in fact downright crazy. And yet the challenge of Jesus here directly connected with this is “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” So I challenged you to think about this – because how you treat those who are your enemies, or who persecute you, or who oppose you – how you treat these people reveals to the world and to the church whether or not you are a child of the Father.
As Jesus said, the Father causes the sun to shine on all and the rain to fall on all. In this life His care is no different to all mankind. And don’t forget this: it is while we were yet sinners that Jesus died for us. So while you were dead and in your sins, Jesus loved you enough, worked in your life through the Holy Spirit, and drew you to Himself.
If he can do that for you, he can do that for the Moslem neighbour next door. He can do it for the members of ISIL. He can do it for any of those groups or countries around the world that would cause you to fear. When was the last time that you prayed for the members of Boko Haram? Of course you can say that the Lord did not call you into that kind of ministry. Or you can simply make a point of saying some prayers each day for one or other of the groups around the world that have chosen to be enemies of Christianity.
Following after the Beatitudes right through to the text we have before us here, we have a repeated pattern. Jesus quotes the Old Testament. Next He gives the new teaching that, without contradicting the Old Testament, shows that to live in literalism and slavery to the Old Testament word results in being nowhere near close to what the Father requires. The new standard as explained by Jesus is always something that is impossible, in the natural, to achieve.
The passage before us today is just the same. And I think that the last part of it sums up the theme of most of this chapter: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I have a problem with this word ‘perfect.’ Whatever you are working at, someone will see a way for you to do it better. Whenever you have completed a work of art or even some decorations in the home, someone may be able to point out ways that it could be even better. And often that someone is yourself. You can do everything in your life to be perfect according to works, but you will only have succeeded, at best, at finding the degree of perfection of the Pharisees or the teachers of the law from Jesus’ day. Jesus said that this simply isn’t good enough. Our perfection must surpass that.
So I have to say this: in the natural way of things, perfection is absolutely and completely impossible.
So is that an excuse to ignore this word from Jesus? In no way! This word sums up the chapter, if you will excuse the pun, perfectly. There is something that we come to again and again, and it was hinted at by Jesus in verses 17 and 18:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
But then there is something we know – that at the end of Jesus life he uttered the words that can be interpreted as ‘it is finished’ or ‘it is accomplished.’
In Jesus all the Law and the Prophets is fulfilled, and He was perfect. This perfection was laid down unto death for us on the cross of Calvary. The perfect Son of God, taking on Himself the judgement and punishment that we all so richly deserve.
This is the best news that anyone in the world can hear. As we realise that it is ourselves who deserve the terrible death on that cross, and we identify with Christ, taking up our cross daily, so our lives are redeemed and sanctified. God will see in us not our own righteousness, which is as filthy rags. Instead he will see the perfection of His only Son.
So we need to realise that, for each one of us who belong to Jesus, we are Christ on this earth. It is not for us to slavishly bind ourselves again under the chains of law. This law is already fulfilled and the Father already accepts us in Christ.
So is this an excuse for sin? By no means! As I said earlier, in quoting Jesus Himself, there is the taking up of our cross daily, and each day identifying with that sacrifice of Jesus. And to see ourselves in the new life, the old is dead and gone. And, as Paul said, he who is dead has been freed from sin.
Praise the Lord!