Photo by CrossEyedPhotography/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by CrossEyedPhotography/iStock / Getty Images

A big key that helps understand the Sermon on the Mount is to pay attention to Jesus saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Then six times Jesus refers to the particular interpretation of the Torah by these teachers of the law.

With each one, Jesus says something like “You’ve heard it said to a people long ago (referring to the law), but I tell you,” and then Jesus lays his own interpretation on them.

He’s not knocking the law or trying to abolish it. In fact he makes that clear by saying, in fact, that if you don’t keep the law in a better way than these teachers, you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven! OK, he’s got our attention.

When you read Matthew 5:21-48, pay attention to these six things:

Murderous Actions

Jesus is so serious about relationships destroyed by anger that he elevates reconciliation above worship.


Jesus says he wants to talk to us not just about committing adultery. He wants to talk to us about the lust that’s in our hearts.


Religious men in Jesus time thought all they had to do was do the paperwork right for divorce, and they could send their wives packing for any reason they pleased. But Jesus says relationships are about deep faithfulness.


I want you to have an integrity that goes so deep that no swearing that you would do would add anything to your word.


There’s a technical legal term for what Jesus is talking about: lex talionis. It means, “An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth.” The idea was to allow punishment for crimes without taking extra revenge. In the United States we have a similar idea that sounds a little more vanilla, but it means basically the same thing: let the punishment fit the crime. So Jesus is saying this: You have heard it said that if you’re going to take revenge you can only take it in proportion to the crime that was committed; but I want to tell you, don’t even start. Don’t retaliate at all.


You have heard it said that you should love those close to you but hate your enemies; but I tell you to love beyond your own tribe to all people.

Jesus is not rejecting the law; his teaching is a profound deepening of what the law means. It’s not Jesus versus Torah. It’s competing interpretations of what the law is about. I’m not very good at obeying rules, but Jesus is going to show us that the key to obeying rules is doing it inside out.

As long as we’re trying to obey rules by just trying to make somebody happy who is pushing rules on us from the outside, we’re always going to fail; but if the keeping of rules grows from inside, from our love of Torah, then all sorts of new life is possible to us. But this is hard because we have learned that grace means that rules aren’t important or rules have no place in our lives.

Jesus not only wants you to keep the law, but he's saying he wants you to keep it in deeper ways than you’ve ever imagined before.

Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.
— Richard Rohr

Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and TCC. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.

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