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Lesson 4: Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount *

Introduction: Last week's study ended with Jesus' saying that He came to fulfill the law, not abolish it ( Matthew 5:17-20). Not only would the law would remain according to Jesus, but our righteousness must exceed that of the religious leaders of the day. We concluded (I hope) that the law is like a map to help us in life, thus we did not want it to go away. And, we decided that since we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, we are miles ahead of the religious leaders of the day. Our study this week is Jesus' next topic - a surprising commentary about what it means to keep the law. How does detail about the law make sense if we are saved by grace? Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can discover!

  1. Temper Equals Murder?

    1. Read Matthew 5:21-22. When was it said, "long ago," that murder was wrong? (We can go back as far as Genesis 4 and the account of Cain and Abel.)

      1. Jesus adds that getting angry also subjects us to judgment. Is killing someone and getting angry with someone the same? (Obviously not, and Jesus does not say that. Instead, He says both are a sin.)

        1. Why would Jesus compare the two and suggest that they are related? (Recall how the moral law is a "map" to help us avoid harming our self by violating natural law? Getting very angry with someone is a preliminary step to murder. All of us have gotten angry, few of us have murdered, but this is wise counsel to keep us safe from murder.)

      2. When Jesus says calling someone "Raca" can get you hauled before the Sanhedrin, He means using this language was illegal under contemporary law. Raca seems to be a word that shows contempt for the other person. What does this have to do with anger and murder? (Have you ever noticed that in war we develop terms of contempt for those fighting on the other side? It makes it easier to kill someone if you think they are contemptible, without value.)

      3. We all know fools, the Bible frequently describes them, why can't we also identify fools? (Think again of our map. First step to murder is thinking someone is of no worth. Second step to murder is getting angry with the contemptible person. Next step, murder! This is a map that tells us where not to go.)

    2. Read Matthew 5:23-24. Years ago I read this, and for the first time it occurred to me that the problem was someone holding a grudge against me, not me holding a grudge against someone else! That seemed backwards. Why are we responsible for people holding a grudge against us?

      1. When this new understanding came to me, I thought of a former church member who deeply disliked me because I had taken a stand for God's word - or at least that is how I viewed it. Should we take steps to cure this kind of problem - one where we think we are innocent?

      2. This text kept bothering me until I wrote the former member a letter. She had an angry response, but it helped me understand her anger. I wrote a conciliatory note back. She shared our correspondence with some of her children. I don't think she will ever become my friend, but my letter not only softened her attitude, her children had a different view of my actions. One contacted me and came back to church!

      3. Why does Jesus tell us to reach out to those who hold grudges against us? (The map to murder is contempt and anger. Murder is the complete opposite of love. By reaching out in love, we try to reverse the course of those following the map to murder.)

  2. Litigation is Wrong?

    1. Read Matthew 5:25-26. As most readers know, I'm a lawyer and a law professor. Does the legal situation Jesus describes seem familiar to you? (Not to me. It sounds like a civil matter (a dispute between two people), but it ends with a criminal penalty (being thrown into prison). The best parallel to today is a criminal fraud. You take a person's money and you are exposed to jail time.)

      1. Is Jesus on the same topic as He was when He discussed people who have grudges against you? (I think so. Here, your adversary thinks you have defrauded him.)

      2. Is Jesus telling us that we should never go to court? (In the Old Testament we see that Moses was a judge ( Exodus 18:13) and the people were ruled by judges ( Judges 2:16)for a time. This type of judicial system is God-ordained! Therefore, God is not against a third-party dispute resolution system.)

      3. What is Jesus teaching us here? (When someone thinks you have cheated him in some way, try to resolve it as soon as possible.)

  3. Looking is Wrong?

    1. Read Matthew 5:27-28. Is this only a sin for men, or do you think Jesus' advice applies to both sexes?

      1. What do you think Jesus means? Is this like contempt, anger and murder? Clearly those three things are not the same, but do they lead in the wrong direction? (Yes, that is one of the lessons here. Read James 1:14-15. Sinful actions begin with sinful thoughts.)

      2. If you are attracted to someone who is not your spouse, have you crossed the line into adultery?

        1. How can you tell when the line is crossed?

    2. Many years ago, a handsome American President who was known to be a committed Christian confessed that he had committed adultery in his heart. I'm not sure he understood Jesus' teaching. How many women would be willing to have sex with a handsome American president? (Probably quite a few. If you could actually commit adultery if you wanted to, and you do not, I don't think you have crossed Jesus' line. On the other hand, if you would commit adultery if you had the opportunity, then you have crossed Jesus' line.)

    3. Read Matthew 5:29-30. Can recently blinded people commit adultery in their heart? (Why not?)

      1. If they can, what is Jesus teaching us?

      2. I just suggested this about Jesus' lust/adultery teaching: if you would commit adultery if you could, then you have sinned. Jesus seems to say here, take away the opportunity (blind yourself, cut off your hand) and you will be okay. Have I suggested the wrong understanding? (We know that blind and maimed people can sin, so Jesus must mean something else. I think He means we should be willing to take radical steps to avoid sin.)

      3. What kind of radical steps, short of maiming yourself, can you suggest? (Consider what sort of "non-sin" things lead you into sin? Even though they are not sin, avoid them!)

    4. Read Matthew 5:31-32. Why do you think Jesus raises the topic of divorce right after he speaks of insults, anger, murder, lust and adultery? (They are all related. This is a different aspect of adultery - divorcing your wife on a whim.)

  4. Love

    1. Much of what we have discussed so far deals with having the right attitude toward others. Read Matthew 5:43-45. How many people are your personal enemy? How many people persecute you? (Unless you are in some special circumstance (like living in a religiously hostile country), or need to work on your emotional intelligence, the chances are that you can only name one or two people at most.)

      1. What sense does it make to love and pray for those who are your enemy? (Think of the great opportunity for personal growth! This is a rare opportunity that we do not have with most of the people we know.)

      2. Do you think this teaching has anything to do with anger, name-calling and lust? Does it have anything to do with natural law? (Yes! Who is most likely to do you harm - your enemy. If you work to resolve the problems with your enemy, you lower the chances that your enemy will harm you.)

    2. Friend, sin starts in the mind. Jesus teaches us that if we pay close attention to our thoughts and attitude, we can promote the law of love and avoid crossing the line into sin and the harm that results. Will you commit today to be careful about your thoughts?

  5. Next week: Christ and the Sabbath.

* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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