Excerpt from The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur. Thanks to Ken Silva at Apprising Ministries www.apprising.org
Op-Ed:The modern-day pharisees of the Emergent/Emerging Church and other cults that call Jesus’ name yet jettison everything He taught would de well to read this book. Jesus is who the Bible says He is. He is not who the EC gurus’ spirit guides have told them He is…
After the Beatitudes, Jesus goes straight into an extended discourse on the true meaning of Old Testament law. The rest of Matthew 5 is a systematic, point-by-point critique of the Pharisees’ interpretation of Moses’ law. Jesus is correcting some of their representative errors. Some commentators have suggested that Jesus is altering or expanding the moral requirements of Moses’ law for a new dispensation. Jesus Himself emphatically said otherwise: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 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” (vv. 17–18).
Furthermore, every principle Jesus used to refute the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law was already either stated or plainly implied in the Old Testament. We’ll see that very clearly in our survey of this section. But what is most important to notice here is that Jesus deliberately sets His description of authentic righteousness against the religion of the Pharisees. The brunt of the sermon is aimed squarely at them. The Sermon on the Mount is in essence a jeremiad against their unique brand of hypocrisy. That is the singular theme that ties the whole sermon together. Furthermore, when He singled out these specific misunderstandings of Moses’ law, Jesus was clearly impugning the Pharisees’ pet doctrines.
He was publicly denouncing what they taught. Everyone in the crowd understood that. It was impossible to ignore. Jesus made no effort to make the dichotomy subtle or to outline His differences with them in a delicate fashion. He went for the jugular against their most closely held beliefs. He even mentioned the Pharisees by name and expressly stated that their righteousness was inadequate—lest there be any ambiguity about whose doctrine He was refuting. Immediately after saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20), he began dismantling their whole system. He attacked their method of interpreting Scripture, their means of applying the law, their notions of guilt and merit, their infatuation with ceremonial minutiae, and their love for moral and doctrinal casuistry.
The major arguments in this section of the sermon are structured in a way that contrasts the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law with the law’s real meaning, as expounded by Christ: “You have heard that it was said to those of old. . . . But I say to you . . .” Six times in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus used that formula or a variation of it (vv. 21–22, 26–28, 31–32, 33–34, 38–39, 43– 44). When He spoke of what “you have heard,” He was describing the Pharisees’ teaching. And in each case, He refuted it. Again, He was not changing or expanding the law’s moral requirements; He was simply reaffirming what the law always meant.
Your commandment is exceedingly broad,” David said, as he meditated on the law (Psalm 119:96). The meaning of the Ten Commandments is not exhausted by the wooden literal sense of the words. Jesus says, for example, that the sixth commandment forbids not only literal acts of murder, but murderous attitudes as well—including undue anger, abusive speech, and an unforgiving spirit (vv. 22–25). The seventh commandment forbids not merely acts of adultery, but even an adulterous heart (v. 28). The command to love your neighbor applies not only to friendly neighbors, but also to those who are our enemies (v. 44).
Superficial readers are sometimes inclined to think Jesus was modifying or raising the bar on the standard of Moses’ law. After all, He quoted directly from the sixth and seventh commandments (vv. 21, 27), and He cited the Old Testament principle known as lex talionis (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”—v. 38; cf. Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21)—then He followed those quotations with “But I say to you . . .” To a casual listener, it might actually sound as if He were changing the law itself, or making a new law that stood in contrast to what the Old Testament had always taught. But remember: Jesus Himself unequivocally denied that notion in verses 17–18. Instead, what Jesus is doing in this portion of the sermon is unpacking the true and full meaning of the law as it was originally intended—especially in contrast to the limited, narrow, and woodenly literal approach of the Pharisees. Their hermeneutic (the method by which they interpreted Scripture) was laden with sophistry. They could expound for hours on the law’s invisible fine points while inventing technical twists and turns to make exceptions to some of the law’s most important moral precepts.
For example, the fifth commandment is clear enough: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). But the Pharisees had a custom whereby “if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban’—(that is, a gift to God), then [the Pharisees] no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother” (Mark 7:11–12). In fact, if someone had thus pledged his inheritance to God and then used any of his resources to care for his parents in their old age, the Pharisees would deem that act of charity a sacrilege, because it was a violation of the Corban vow. Jesus told them, “[You have made] the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (v. 13, emphasis added). That was precisely the kind of hermeneutical tomfoolery Jesus was correcting in the Sermon on the Mount… (The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, 134-138) John MacArthur