Did Jesus introduce a radical new morality? This really wasn’t my intention from the start, but we’re finding ourselves working our way through one of my favorite parts of Scripture, one that I think is so important for Christians to properly grasp, but one that is so often misunderstood and misinterpreted by well-meaning Christians. That is the Sermon on the Mount.
It is often proposed that, within that sermon, Jesus introduced a radical new ethic, a radical new morality, something that had never, ever been seen or heard of before.
The basis of that premise is Jesus’s six statements where He said something to the effect of, “You have heard,” and then He goes on and says, “But I say to you.” Often times, when He says, “But you have heard,” He cites something from the Old Testament law, from the Mosaic Law. His counterpoint is offered, as it were, or interpreted, as it were, as a radical change, a big shift in ethics and morality, but I submit to you that that is a spurious interpretation, one that will get you into trouble, into misinterpretation, because Jesus, of course, would never be correcting Himself.
In essence, that’s what these interpreters have Jesus doing. He says, “You have heard it was said,” and then He supposedly quotes something that you find in the Law of Moses, which, of course, He being God, was the one who gave the Law of Moses.
Then, Jesus is saying, “But I say to you,” and giving a counterpoint that is a contrast, that is different, allegedly, than what is said in the Mosaic Law. You have Jesus correcting Himself. Jesus doesn’t correct Himself. God doesn’t correct Himself. That’s impossible.
You notice in the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we’ve been looking at for our last few Little Lessons, Jesus began in Matthew chapter five and verse number 21, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder.’ And,” now He quotes, “‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'”
Now, He has two statements that they had “heard.” You notice that He doesn’t correct or offer a counterpoint to the first one because the first one is, in fact, a direct quotation from the Old Testament, “You shall not commit murder.”
That’s one of the 10 commandments. The part that Jesus corrects or gives the counterpoint to is the second part, “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court,” because, you see, Jesus goes on to say, “But I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.”
His counterpoint is based on the second quotation that He gave. This is not a quotation from the Old Testament. If you have a Bible that puts all the Old Testament quotations in caps, that part, in verse number 21, is not in caps. Where’d that come from? That came from the scribes and/or the Pharisees, the teachers of the day whom Jesus was bringing correction to their teaching.
Notice, in all these counterpoints, for example, in this one, when Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit murder,'” He doesn’t say, “But I say you commit murder.” How can you possibly contradict, “Thou shalt not commit murder”? No, He’s bringing a counterpoint to what the Pharisees taught, “Whoever commits murder shall be guilty before the court or liable to the court.” He goes on to address that secondary thing that scribes and Pharisees were teaching. We went into this in detail in a previous Little Lessons.
We’ll find this to be true in all six of Jesus’s “you have heard, but I say to you.” In every case, I’ll point them out as we go through and become very, very clear to you He wasn’t correcting Himself, He wasn’t contradicting the Mosaic Law, He wasn’t changing fundamental morals and ethics that were established long before the Law of Moses in the conscience of every single human being divinely by God who creates all people and gives them a conscience. No, a thousand times no.
I can prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that what Jesus went on to talk about here about the guiltiness of being angry at your brother and calling him a good for nothing and calling him a fool, which are indications that you’re not working for reconciliation, you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself, you’re building walls, I can prove to you that, under the Old Covenant, that wasn’t lawful because in order to say that Jesus was bringing a new ethic, you have to say that the new ethic that He brought wasn’t part of the Mosaic Law.
Loving your neighbor as yourself was part of the Mosaic Law. When you call someone a fool, you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself. When you say, “You good for nothing,” you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself. When you resort to name calling, you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself because no one likes to be labeled and being called names.
Now, to prove that point further, I’m just going to cite one verse from the Law of Moses. It’s found in Leviticus 19 and verse number 17. I believe I’ve actually previously covered this in a Little Lesson. Because we’re going through the Sermon on the Mount, I’ve got to repeat myself and it bears repetition. Luke 19 verse number 17, “You shall not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart. You may surely reprove your neighbor, but you shall not incur sin because of him.” There’s room for conflict. There’s room for confrontation.
Of course, love confronts because love works for reconciliation. When you’re offended, you have to confront if you really love. These people that say, “Well, I just forgive and harbor a grudge the rest of my life,” that’s not love at all. In fact, that’s addressed in the very next verse in the Mosaic Law.
Let’s read Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people.” See, some will say, “Well, under the New Covenant, God is concerned not just about the outward stuff, but He’s also concerned about the inward stuff.” Well, guess what. God has been always concerned about the inward stuff. Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were forbidden to harbor grudges or to hate. Those are inward things. “But you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord,” says the Lord. Thank you for joining me on today’s Little Lesson. We’ll pick up right here on our next Little Lesson. Thanks for joining me.