In the first article, we looked at the background and overview of the “Sermon on the Mount”. We saw that this sermon teaches about the righteousness/character of God. Without this righteousness, it is impossible to please God or enter into the Kingdom of heaven. As said, there are two types of righteousness in this world, the righteousness of man (found in all the different religions invented by mankind) and the righteousness of God.We learned that the scribes and Pharisees had their own kind of righteousness, which caused them to invent their own rules to follow, instead of following God’s Word in the Old Testament. They had a list of one good deed to perform each day, for every day of the year. They also had a list of negative rules (things to avoid). Much of their righteousness actually opposed the clear teaching of the Word of God. All of their emphasis was placed on the exterior, leaving the mind free to be as corrupt as possible because, according to their thinking, no one could see what was going on there (that is one reason Jesus Christ baffled them so many times, because being God, He knew exactly what was going on in their minds). So, hypocrisy was and is a way of life for those who try to live by the righteousness of man.
Jesus uses this powerful sermon to contrast the righteousness of man with the genuine righteousness of God. I would like to take a look at the contrasts in the “Sermon on the Mount”. One good way to spot these contrasts easily, is to look for the following phrases, “You have heard that the ancients were told” and “But I say to you”. What they had “heard” was a bit different from what Jesus was telling them (because they had heard the teachings of men while Jesus was giving them the teachings of God). This is one of the greatest truths that we must learn in trying to distinguish the righteousness of men from the righteousness of God, that is, the righteousness of men is based on mankind’s words while the righteousness of God is based on God’s Word. Jesus was not giving the people a new religious teaching, He was explaining the Word of God. We know this from His own words in the “Sermon on the Mount”:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Mat 5:17-18)
Is your righteousness based on a religion that is based on man’s word? If so, then you are following the righteousness of man and it is not good enough. You need the righteousness of God as it is found in His Word, the Holy Bible. Now let us examine the contrasts.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ‘ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ (Mat 5:21)
This is what the people had been taught. As long as you do not physically murder someone, then you are okay, even if you have murdered them more than once in your mind. Jesus, on the other hand, takes it one step further and enters into the mind which motivates the actions.
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Mat 5:22)
Murder actually begins in the mind. When you dwell on an action or word someone threw your way that will lead you to anger which will fester and be seen by the attitude that you have toward this person. This is a slippery slope because the anger mixed with the attitude only needs the right opportunity for a disaster to take place. Jesus does not keep the focus on the exterior, He moves to the source of the problem, the interior. How do you view your fellow man (a creation of God just as you are)? Do you view Him the way that God does, fearfully and wonderfully made or do you view him with hatred and disgust, calling him a good for nothing fool? Which righteousness for you boast in, the one that has not physically committed murder, yet is free to day dream about it night and day or the one that motivates you to love every person as a special creation by God? The first form of righteousness may keep you out of court but it will not keep you out of hell. Let’s take a look at the next contrast.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; (Mat 5:27)
Again, the righteousness of man emphasizes the physical act yet does not get to the root of the problem, the mind. Jesus steps right on the root of the problem when He says,
but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:28)
The act of adultery does not start with the act of adultery. It begins in the mind. That is why Jesus says that if you “look” (the word for look is not a quick glance but an intense stare) with lust (playing out the bedroom scene in your mind) then you are just as guilty as the man who actually commits adultery because the act has already begun and it is only a matter of time before the body partakes of what the brain is already fantasizing about. In the eyes of God, married men who look at pornography are no different from married men who have extramarital sexual affairs. They have both committed adultery. If you struggle with pornography then I would suggest that you read this article. The same is true for married women who fantasize about other men. The righteousness of man may keep you out of divorce court but it will not keep you out of hell. Which righteousness do you live by, the one that says look but do not touch? That is the righteousness of man and all it does is create hypocrisy because you live a double life; the one that you put on for the rest of the world and the one that you live behind closed doors (or in your mind). Let’s take a look at the next contrast.
“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; (Mat 5:31)
The righteousness of man is very lenient on the subject of divorce. The religious men of Jesus’ day were able to divorce left and right for whatever reason, as long as they divorced according to their rituals. The righteousness of man always emphasizes ritual over substance. The lives of the divorced wives were never taken into consideration. Jewish history tells us that the divorces could be over minute things such as burning food or adding too much salt. The real reason for the divorce is clear, the men were turned on by a woman, sought her out as a wife, took her, had her, then saw another woman who pleased them even more (back to the mind, do you see the connection to what Jesus was saying with looking and lusting?), found a “good excuse” for divorcing their wives (so that they could not commit adultery), divorced them, and then took another. The process could be repeated unlimited times as long as the rituals were kept. Jesus cuts them to the quick with His response to this pattern.
but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of immorality, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman (divorced for the previous mentioned reasons) commits adultery. (Mat 5:32)
The “any reason at all” now becomes “one reason”, marital unfaithfulness. What does your form of righteousness teach about divorce? Have you been told that you can divorce for any reason as long as you go through the rituals? If you want to know why God hates divorce so much I would suggest that you read this article.
There are many more contrasts here in chapter 5 but I want to conclude here. These 3 that we have looked at are enough. Based on your view of murder/hatred, adultery/lust, and divorce, you can determine which type of righteousness you live by. If you are living by the righteousness of man then you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. You need to admit that you have been wrong and accept God’s righteousness as it is explained in His Word. Next time we will look more in depth into the character of the righteousness of God. May God bless you as you seek after His righteousness.