Matthew Chapter 5 – A Beautiful Life? (Part 1)

Matthew 5 - A beautiful life

Dr Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on 28 August 1963. It is one of the most extraordinary pieces of rhetoric you will ever hear. In just 1700 words, the Baptist pastor and civil rights leader painted a picture of a life of freedom, kindness and respect that was as attractive as it was compelling. Sadly, however, Dr King was unable to deliver on his vision as he was brutally assassinated eight months later. Even though some race laws were repealed and there were short term changes, racism did not disappear and still blights many societies across the world today.

As we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we see that it takes things to a whole new level. Not much longer than MLK’s speech, Jesus’ sermon was 2,200 words. And in a similar way, Christ sets out a radical agenda and glorious vision for what life in his kingdom will look like. There is, of course, one great difference between the two speeches. Dr King’s death dealt a tragic blow to the realization of his vision. However, the Lord Jesus Christ is sketching out the reality which his death, along with his life, resurrection and pouring out of his Spirit would achieve. Do you see? Jesus’ kingdom manifesto is no dream. Far from it. It is the beautiful life which God has put within our reach through the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 1-4, we saw how the true Davidic King, the Son of God burst onto the scene calling us to turn back to God and follow him. And in Matthew 5-7, Jesus paints a wonderful picture of the life he has come to give us – indeed the beautiful life he has been calling his people to from the beginning. There is so much gold in these chapters that we cannot do justice to all of it in one post. But two truths from Matthew 5 should strengthen pastors in our ministry today. First, notice that this beautiful life that Jesus offers is nothing new.

1. Jesus calls us to all that the Old Testament promised and much more (5:1-20)

The famous beatitudes are full of OT echoes. For example, v3-4 picks up Isaiah 61. They remind us that those who admit they need help, like the people who came to John for baptism in Matt 3, are on the right track. Psalm 37 is echoed in v5, reminding us that Jesus’ arrival heralds a radical regime change. The riches of God’s world will flow not to the power-grabbing but to those who are humble and gentle and submit to Christ. Those who seek God, who hunger and thirst for righteousness will find satisfaction (v6, cf. Psalm 42). Those who are pure in heart, who single-mindedly wish to serve God alone, will enjoy relationship with the Lord (v8, cf. Psalm 24). God’s delight will be on those who pursue his peace in human relationships (v9, cf. Psalm 34 & Isaiah 52). This gentle and humble kingdom life that Christ offers fulfils all that the OT promised.

But this beautiful life is also counter-cultural, which is why it is marked by joy in suffering (5:10-12). As the OT implies in many places, faithfulness to God comes at a cost. And many EPW pastors know only too well that those in the kingdom are also persecuted, reviled and lied about. Pastors should not panic. Instead, we should remember the great reward that is waiting for us, which is knowing God in all his fullness. And we should recall the great company we’re in, with all the faithful people of the OT, especially the prophets. Do you see how Matthew keeps underlining the continuity between the life which God called his people to and the life he now holds out to all who will come to Jesus in repentance and faith?

He continues in 5:13-20. God’s people are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Rather than be distracted by the hundreds of uses of salt in the first century, pastors will do well to keep their eyes on the main point. When salt is added to food or applied on an open wound, we notice immediately that it is there because it is so different! Jesus’ arrival makes it possible for us to live this beautiful, joy in suffering, merciful and gentle life. And if we live like that, we will be noticeably and dramatically different from those around us. Isn’t that is the same point Jesus makes in v14-16? Twice in Isaiah (42:6; 49:6), God called his people, Israel, to be a light to the nations. Sadly, they failed to live as God’s distinctive people and so dragged his reputation through the mud. But members of Christ’s kingdom are the light of the world and the city on a hill. Jesus wanted those first disciples to live this beautiful life. And he tells them that if they do embrace their identity then those who had been waiting for God to set up his messianic kingdom would recognise it and welcome it, v16. They would rush to be part of it, giving thanks to God for fulfilling all his OT promises in the Lord Jesus himself, which Matthew emphasises in v17-20. Do you see?

Jesus came to offer us the fullest version of the life sketched out in the OT law and prophets. Life with Christ is not less than the OT promised but much more than the scaled back and watered-down version lived by the religious leaders of his day. Because of Christ’s coming, our righteousness can surpass the small-minded, box-ticking, rule-keeping, pseudo-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, v20. We can choose the all-embracing, extensive, all-satisfying, God-honouring life that Jesus makes possible. However, that does raise an obvious question for every pastor and indeed for every Christian. Is our view of what it means to follow Jesus full enough, rich enough, satisfying enough? Are our expectations high enough? That takes us to the second truth to notice as Jesus urges us not to settle for less than the beautiful life he has just outlined.

2. Jesus calls us not to settle for less than life to the full with him (5:21-48) 

Six times in this section, Christ takes an example of the scribes and pharisees’ narrow and specific application of the law and blows it wide open. In doing so, it becomes clearer why Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed theirs. When it came to living for God, there was no doubt that the scribes and pharisees met their own slimmed down standards. They were experts at tithing herbs, working out who was and wasn’t their neighbour, and avoiding technically breaking their word. But only because they had reduced living for God to manageable standards. And Jesus comes along and says only he can offer life to the full and we would be crazy to settle for anything less. Notice how in each example, Jesus exposes how they religious leaders had set their standards far lower than they should have done.

So, as far as Jesus is concerned, if I’m angry with you or insult you then I deserve the same judgment as a murderer, v21f. Why? Because it all comes from the same root and it doesn’t fit with the life he is offering. I shouldn’t just tick the box for obeying the 6th commandment. We should deal with our anger, whether it is simmering in church (23-24) or leading us into legal disputes (25-26). Similarly, we shouldn’t settle for anything less than a life in which our lust is confronted and put to death and marriage is honoured (27-32). Likewise, instead of seeking to get out of honouring promises by swearing on almost anything other than God, Jesus says: just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – anything more comes from the devil, v33-37.

Nor does he want us to use the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as a licence for selfishness, v38-40. And finally, rather than simply ticking the box of loving our neighbour, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for them, v43-47. Isn’t it striking? Each time, Jesus elevates the demands of the law in a way that is confronting and yet deeply attractive. Because kingdom life with Christ is bigger and more demanding and more extravagantly kind than anything we may have expected. And if we doubt that Jesus thinks so, notice how he concludes this section. We are called to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect, v48. Jesus’ point isn’t that we can be flawless like God. But nonetheless we have been invited to share in this beautiful life. And so, ultimately, we won’t want to settle for any less than a life that is marked by the same love and mercy and integrity and grace as God himself.

As we conclude, I wonder if this raises a second question for us to consider: have we been settling for less than we should? As Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it in his helpful exposition, ‘It is the most profound question a man can ever face in this life and world. Is there anything special about you? …Is there something of your Father about you?… If God is your Father, somewhere or another, in some form or other, the family likeness will be there… God grant that as we examine ourselves we may discover something of the uniqueness and the separateness that … proclaims that we are children of our Father which is in heaven.’

To read previous posts in this series and other blogs, visit:

Equipping Pastors Worldwide Blogs