The Declaration of the Kingdom of Heaven

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel narrative of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ as it was written and recorded by the apostle Matthew. More specifically today’s passage is found in the first thirty verses of the fifth chapter. “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying” (Matthew 5:1-2).

 

            “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward ion heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).

 

            “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

 

            “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach. Men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

 

            “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:21-26).

 

            “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

 

            When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find the beginning of what has commonly been known as Jesus’ “Sermon On the Mount.” The fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew marks the beginning of this Sermon on the Mount and what I would like to describe as a sermon  describing the righteousness of the kingdom. The more I have read these chapters and passages of Scripture throughout the years the more I have been brought to the conclusion that this entire sermon is centered around a righteousness that is not according to the Law which was given unto Moses nor a righteousness which was practiced and taught by the scribes and the Pharisees. In fact if you read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you will find Jesus speaking to and underscoring the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. What’s more is that when you read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you can and will be brought face to face with the incredible truth surrounding this righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees which was entirely and altogether separate from the righteousness of the kingdom. When Jesus came to the earth as the Word made flesh He did indeed come to fulfill the Law which was given unto Moses, however, we must also recognize and understand that He came to introduce an entirely and altogether new righteousness—one that was centered within and upon heaven. It is impossible to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and not encounter and come face to face with the tremendous truth surrounding this righteousness of heaven which not only pleases the living God but also which satisfies the Law which was given unto Moses atop the mountain of God in the wilderness.

 

            I am absolutely and completely convinced that when you read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you can and will be confronted with a righteousness that is indeed truly different from the righteousness which was perceived according to the Law of Moses. That which makes this truly interesting and unique is when you consider the fact that the Law of Moses had been around for centuries and generations at this time. By the time Jesus of Nazareth emerged and arrived on the scene the Law of Moses had not only been around during the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel, had not only been around during the time of the conquest of the Promised Land, had not only been around during the time of the judges and kings of Israel but had also been around during the time of the prophets and captivity of the chosen people of God. What’s more is the Law which was given unto Moses atop the mountain of God had survived the captivity and exile of the children of Israel, had survived their return from the land of the Chaldeans and their subsequent return to their own land, and had even survived during four-hundred years of silence which would be marked by the final word which had been prophesied by Malachi who was the final prophetic voice of the Old Testament. Pause for a moment and consider how long the Law of Moses had indeed been around at and by this time for it had survived countless generations spanning judges, kings and prophets as well as captivity and four-hundred years of silence.

 

            If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture it’s that by the time Jesus of Nazareth had arrived on to the scene the scribes, the Pharisees, the elders of the people of Israel, the chief priests, the Sadducees and the teachers of the Law had already been around and established within the land. In order to truly understand the words and language which are found in this passage of Scripture I am absolutely convinced it is necessary to recognize and understand that at the time Jesus delivered this Sermon on the Mount the religious system and people had already been steeped in generations of religious tradition and adherence to the Law which was given unto Moses. When Jesus emerged on to the scene at this particular point in history the Law of Moses and strict adherence to that which was commanded and instructed within it had already been established within and had saturated the culture and society of the people living in Jerusalem, Judaea and Galilee. What’s more is Jesus even addresses and speaks to this righteousness which came from the Law of Moses which the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees and the like taught men as being such which pleased the living God. For years the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees and the religious community had not only taught from the Law of Moses but had also set out to understand and expound upon the Law in the midst of the people living and dwelling in the land. The scribes and the Pharisees together with the other religious leaders during those days had devoted countless hours to reading and studying the Law of Moses—not only that they might “understand” it but also that they might teach it.

 

            I sit here today thinking about the words which are found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew and I can’t help but be brought face to face with the awesome and incredible truth surrounding the rules, the regulations and the traditions which were present within the land during those days and by the time the Lord Jesus had arrived on to the scene. It is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and understand this for when Jesus emerged and arrived on to the scene he would do so during days and times when an entire religious community would be established in the midst of the people who not only taught the commandments, decrees and statutes within the Law of Moses but also who taught their own traditions and doctrines of men. In fact the fifteenth and twenty-third chapters of this New Testament gospel narrative describe both the teaching of the commandments of men as the doctrine of God as well as the religion and hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees. Despite their best efforts to be those who not only taught but also “adhered” to the Law which was given unto Moses the scribes, the chief priests, the Pharisees and the entire religious community had produced a system of legalism, hypocrisy and religion in the midst of the people. The scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests and others had taken the Law of Moses and had developed an entire system that would give the appearance and impression that following it would indeed please the living God and yet would be anything but that. When Jesus emerged on to the scene He would come challenging the “righteousness” which the scribes, the chief priests, the Pharisees and the religious system of that day perceived themselves to have within themselves.

 

            The more I read the words which are found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the New Testament gospel the more I am brought face to face with the incredible truth surrounding the words which we find in the fifteenth and twenty-third chapters of this same New Testament gospel. The words which we find in these two chapters must be carefully understood—not only in direct connection with what we find within these chapters but also what we find in the fifth chapter beginning with the seventeenth verse. It would be within this Sermon where Jesus would emphatically declare that He had not come to destroy the Law or the prophets but to fulfill. The Lord Jesus would declare unto His disciples and those who would come unto Him how heaven and earth would pass but not one jot or one tittle of the Law would in no wise pass from the Law until all would be fulfilled. What’s more is that Jesus would go on to declare how whosoever therefore would break one of the least of the commandments found within the Law and would teach others to do them would be called in the least in the kingdom. Moreover whosoever therefore would not only teach but also do that which was commanded in the Law of Moses would be considered great in the kingdom of heaven. It would be directly on the heels of these words the Lord Jesus would declare that except their righteousness would exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees they would in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven. Oh we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of these words which were spoken by the Lord Jesus for not only did He declare that He had not come to destroy the Law of Moses but He also declared that He came to fulfill the Law of Moses. Furthermore Jesus would declare unto His disciples and audience that unless their righteousness exceeded and surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees they would in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.

 

            I firmly believe it is necessary to begin with and from the seventeenth verse of the fifth chapter of this gospel narrative for what we find here in this passage of Scripture presents a righteousness adhered to be the scribes and the Pharisees—one which they believed pleased, honored and glorified the living God who dwelt in heaven. With these words the Lord Jesus would suggest to His disciples and those who were listening to His words and hearing His voice that the scribes and the Pharisees believed themselves to have a righteousness which pleased, honored and glorified the God who dwelt in heaven and yet Jesus would declare unto His disciples that if and unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and the Pharisees they would in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Oh we must needs recognize and pay close attention to this for the Sermon on the Mount would not only be a presentation of the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven but it would also be a direct contrast to the righteousness held to be the scribes and Pharisees which was a strict adherence—not only to that which was found in the Law of Moses but also that which was found in their own traditions. The words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples and audience in this passage of Scripture emphatically declared how there was a righteousness which was adhered to by the scribes and the Pharisees and in all reality the whole religious community—a righteousness which they believed was worth modeling and patterning ones life after. The chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees and the religious community during those days believed that they not only understood that which was spoken by and through the Law which was given unto Moses atop the mountain in the wilderness but also how to truly obey that which was commanded and instructed in the Law.

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found within the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew and I can’t help but be brought face to face with that which is found in the fifteenth and twenty-third chapters of this same New Testament gospel. Jesus made it very clear that there was indeed a righteousness which was adhered to and followed by the scribes and the Pharisees—one which they believed pleased, honored, glorified and satisfied the living God in heaven—however, if the righteousness of His disciples and those who would hear His voice and obey His word did not exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees they would in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. In all reality that which we find in this passage of Scripture is an indictment toward and against the scribes and the Pharisees—and not only an indictment toward and against them but against the righteousness which they believed themselves to have possessed within themselves in the sight of both God and man. How absolutely incredible it is to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and to find Jesus of Nazareth in what have been His first true sermon delivered unto His disciples and the multitudes comparing and contrasting the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees with the righteousness of the kingdom—a righteousness which was entirely and altogether different from that which the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees and the entire religious community adhered to during those days.

 

            It is with all of this being said I am absolutely convinced there is a great need to consider the words and language which is found in the fifteenth and twenty-third chapters of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew. There is not a doubt in my mind that we as people of God must needs consider the words which are found within these two chapters when seeking to understand that which Jesus was teaching and preaching in the Sermon on the Mount for what we find in the Sermon on the Mount is not only a presentation of the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven but also a clear and present contrast between the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness of religions. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF RELIGION AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE KINGDOM! I firmly believe with everything in my heart that during the days in which the Lord Jesus walked upon the earth there was an earthly and natural righteousness that was not only centered upon the Law of Moses and that which commanded within it but also the traditions of men which were taught as the commandments and doctrine of the living God. It is truly astonishing to think about and consider the fact that when Jesus came to the earth during these days that He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets rather than abolish it, however, He would also draw a clear distinction between the righteousness which was perceived by the scribes and Pharisees to be pleasing in the sight of the living God and the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus came that He might fulfill both the Law and the prophets and we must needs understand that the way He would do that was not necessarily be teaching that which was commanded and instructed in the Law of Moses but striking at the very heart of what obedience to the Law of Moses truly meant in the sight of the living God.

 

            The more you read the words which are found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of this New Testament gospel the more you can and will be brought face to face with that which was taught within the Law of Moses—that which was taught by the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees and the religious community during those days—and how Jesus would take what was taught in the Law of Moses and essentially turn it on its head and demand an even greater obedience. Perhaps one of the greatest truths found within the Sermon on the Mount is that this righteousness of the kingdom is not found in the outward appearance of the Law in the physical and natural sense but rather within the heart of men and women. The righteousness of the kingdom of heaven is such that does not originate nor does it necessarily begin with an outward and external obedience to the Law of Moses but rather to an inward reality and manifestation within one’s heart. That which Jesus taught and sought to convey within this Sermon was that true righteousness and obedience to the Law of Moses—true faithfulness and obedience in the sight of the living God—was not demonstrated nor was it manifested by and through external adherence to the Law but rather within our hearts. Jesus clearly set forth that true righteousness begins within our heart rather than any outward or external actions we think might please, honor and glorify the living God. Jesus would seek to convey unto His readers that true righteousness in the sight of the living God which pleases Him is not found in external and outward demonstration and manifestation but within the heart of an individual.

 

            As I continue reading and studying the words which are found in this passage of Scripture I can’t help but be brought face to face with the absolutely astonishing truth surrounding this righteousness of the kingdom of heaven—a righteousness which did not originate within external adherence and obedience to the Law of Moses but one which addressed that which was in the heart. If we are truly willing to be honest with ourselves we must needs understand that the Law of Moses wasn’t entirely nor was it altogether about an outward and external observance and obedience to what was commanded within it but rather it was a mirror which provided men and women with a glimpse of what was present within their hearts, within their souls, and within their minds. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Law which was given unto Moses atop the mountain of God in the wilderness was not necessarily a set of commandments, statutes and decrees as much as it was a mirror that would reflect the condition of their heart and soul. You cannot look into the Law which was given unto Moses atop the mountain of God in the wilderness without coming face to face with the condition and nature of your own heart. In fact this is what I believe the Lord Jesus called and drew the attention of His disciples and audience to when teaching and speaking these words. I firmly believe that what we find within the Law of Moses is a powerful reflection of the condition of that which is found within our hearts—a reality which is further explained and presented in the fifteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew.

 

 

            It is with this being said I now invite you to turn and direct your attention to the words which the apostle Matthew presented in the fifteenth chapter of this gospel narrative. The words and language we find within this passage of Scripture calls and draws our attention—not only to the traditions of men which were taught as the doctrine of the living God but also to the underlying condition of our own hearts. If you want to truly understand the words and language which are found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of this New Testament gospel I am convinced we must needs turn and direct our attention to the words which are found in the fifteenth chapter. The words found here call and draw our attention to the truly awesome and wonderful truth surrounding the righteousness which was taught by the scribes and Pharisees—a righteousness which they not only believed pleased, honored and glorified the living God but also sought to accuse and condemn both Jesus and His disciples for living their lives independent and apart from. That which we find in the fifteenth chapter of this New Testament gospel is a powerful picture of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees which they not only adhered to themselves, and which they taught unto others but also which they would accuse, condemn and attempt to indict both Jesus and His disciples for not following and adhering to. At this point I would like to call and draw your attention to the words which are found in the fifteenth chapter of this gospel beginning to read with and from the first verse:

 

            “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, it is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by men; and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:1-9).

 

            “And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, KNowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. The answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matthew 15:10-20).

 

            Please don’t miss the words which are found within this passage of Scripture for within this passage of Scripture we find Jesus of Nazareth emphatically declaring unto His readers and audience that the scribes and Pharisees did in vain worship the living God for they taught as doctrine the commandments of men. What’s more is Jesus would also declare of the scribes and Pharisees that they drew near unto the living God with their mouth and they honored Him with their lips while their heart was far from Him. Immediately following these words Jesu would proclaim unto His disciples that it was not that which went into the mouth which defiled a man but that which came out of the mouth that defiled him. Jesus would then go on to declare that every plant which His heavenly Father had not planted would be rooted up and how the scribes and the Pharisees were blind leaders of the blind. All of this would be followed by Jesus declaring unto Simon called Peter and His disciples how that which entered into the mouth goes into the belly and is cast forth from the body into the draught. However, those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart and are that which defile a man. Moreover the Lord Jesus would declare how out of mouth come forth those things which are present and found within one’s heart. It is precisely for this reason Solomon would instruct his sons and his readers to guard their heart for out of it would flow all the issues and manners of life. Furthermore Jesus would go on to declare that it would be from the heart which proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness and blasphemies.

 

            We must needs recognize and understand the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for what we find here highlights and underscores the truth surrounding the heart and how the heart is the true source of all evil, wickedness, transgression, iniquity and sin within our lives. Jesus would declare how it was not which entered the mouth which defiled a man but rather that which proceeded forth from the mouth. What’s more is that Jesus would immediately follow this by declaring how that which proceeded forth from the mouth flowed from the heart which was present within oneself. Thus with these words Jesus would declare how the true litmus test and barometer of the condition of one’s heart is that which proceeds forth out of their mouth. Not only this but when we think about and consider the Law of Moses we must needs recognize that it wasn’t merely given as a list of commandments, decrees and statutes for which man was to adhere to, follow and obey but it was given as a mirror to reflect the condition of man’s heart. It is absolutely impossible to read the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew as well as other writings of the various New Testament authors and not encounter and come face to face with the incredible truth that the Law of Moses was indeed given as a mirror unto man that they might come face to face with the true nature and condition of their heart. This is precisely what Jesus sought to teach and convey within, through and by this Sermon on the Mount as He would seek to bring His disciples and audience into the place where they were willing to honestly and truthfully look at their hearts and truly come face to face with the condition of their hearts and what was present within them.

 

            Having said all of this I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which are found in the twenty-third chapter of this New Testament gospel The words which the Lord Jesus spoke on this particular occasion call and draw our attention to an indictment of the scribes and the Pharisees. It is absolutely impossible to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and not encounter and come face to face with the absolutely incredible truth surrounding the scribes and the Pharisees and how they were those who believed themselves to be righteous in the sight of both God and men. As you read the words which are found in the twenty-third chapter of this gospel narrative you can and will be brought face to face with the absolutely astonishing and captivating reality surrounding the scribes and Pharisees and how they were those who believed themselves to be righteous in the sight of the living God and yet how they were those who adhered to their own standard and measure of righteousness which did not please, nor did it honor and glorify the living and eternal God. That which we find in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew serves as a powerful invitation unto us to pay close attention to that for which the Lord Jesus would indict the scribes and Pharisees—those who believed themselves to have had a righteousness which truly pleased, honored and glorified the living God. It would be in this particular passage the Lord Jesus Christ called and drew their attention to their own self-centered righteousness which had absolutely nothing to do with the living God but how they appeared before and unto men. In fact this is precisely what is found in the sixth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew. Oh it is with this in mind I invite you to turn and direct your attention to the words which are found in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew beginning to read with and from the first verse:

 

            “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not yet after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypcorites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make on proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear b heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For. Ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisees, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:1-33).

           

            Oh please don’t miss the importance of what is presented in this passage of Scripture for what we find here draws and calls our attention to the tremendous and incredible truth surrounding the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees which they not only adhered to but also believed please, honored and glorified the living God. There is something to be said about the words which our Lord spoke unto his disciples and followers who had come unto Him concerning the scribes and the Pharisees. It is with these words Jesus did indeed and did in fact indict the scribes and the Pharisees for their own hypocrisy in the sight of both God and men. What’s more is I am absolutely convinced when reading the four gospel narratives written by the gospel authors that the people which were present during those days were not only being oppressed by the Romans, and were not only being oppressed by tax collectors but they were also oppressed by the religious leaders and system of that day. Even within this very passage Jesus goes on to describe unto His listeners and audience how the scribes and Pharisees would place upon the shoulders of men grievous burdens which were difficult to bear. What’s more is that not only would they place these grievous burdens on the shoulders of men but they would also refuse to lift one finger to help them shoulder the weight of these burdens. Not only this but they would prohibit and restrict men and women from entering into the kingdom of heaven as they themselves would not enter. Oh what a truly astonishing truth is found within this passage of Scripture and how it brings us face to face with the awesome and powerful reality of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and how their righteousness would actually be a grievous burden upon the shoulders, minds, hearts and souls of those who were alive during those days.

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of this gospel narrative and I am brought face to face with the tremendous reality of the words and language Jesus used in this sermon. There is not a doubt in my mind that the words which Jesus used not only sought to convey a righteousness of the kingdom of heaven which was that which truly pleased, honored and glorified the living God but it was also a means for those who would gather themselves unto Him to deliver themselves from the tremendous and heavy burdens which the scribes and Pharisees placed upon their shoulders. I firmly believe that what we find within chapters five through seven of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew are a powerful invitation given unto the disciples of Jesus and the multitudes which came unto Him to a life of freedom and liberty in the sight of both God and men. It is absolutely impossible to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and not come face to face with the incredible truth that the Lord Jesus was giving His disciples and His audience a means of delivering themselves out from under the cruel and oppressive whips and scourges of the religious taskmasters which were present during those days. I read the words which are found within these chapters and I come face to face with the truly wonderful and powerful truth surrounding that which Jesus was indeed trying to do in the hearts and lives of His disciples and those who would gather themselves unto Him—something which He would also give them a wonderful and powerful invitation later on in this New Testament gospel. In fact I am convinced that before we delve into the words which are found within these verses we must needs turn and direct our attention to the words which our Lord spoke unto his disciples and followers which the apostle Matthew recorded in the eleventh chapter:

 

            “Come unto me., all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

            There is not a doubt in my mind that Jesus was well aware of the condition of the hearts and souls of those who were present during this generation. I firmly believe Jesus knew and understood how there were countless men and women present during those days who were feeling the weight, the burden and the pressure of that which was placed upon them by the religious taskmasters present during those days. On this particular occasion the Lord Jesus gave and issued a powerful invitation to all those who labored and were heavy laden and he would give them the promise that He would give them rest. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this for not only did Jesus invite those who labored and those who were heavy laden but Jesus also gave them the promise of rest. Furthermore the Lord Jesus instructed and invited them to take upon themselves His yoke and learn of Him for He was meek and lowly in heart. Not only this but Jesus would also declare unto them how they would find rest unto their souls for His yoke was easy and His burden was light. Oh please pay close attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for they bring us face to face with the absolutely incredible truth surrounding the tremendous oppression that was present during those days. During the days in which the Lord Jesus came unto the earth those which were present in the midst of the land of Judaea and Galilee were not only being oppressed by the Romans, and not only were they being oppressed by the tax collectors but they were also being oppressed by religion. How absolutely incredible it is to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and to consider how there was an entire system found in the land during those days that was oppressing the people with heavy burdens which were grievous to be borne and too difficult to bear.

 

            I read the words which are found in the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew and I can’t help but find a wonderful and powerful indictment against the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees as well as an invitation to deliver oneself out from underneath their cruel and oppressive burden of religion, legalism and hypocrisy. There is something to be said about the words which are found in the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew for what we find in the midst of it calls and draws our attention to the truly wonderful and powerful invitation given unto the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus to deliver themselves from the cruel and oppressive whip and burden which was placed upon them by the scribes and the Pharisees. It was Jesus Himself who declared unto them that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and the Pharisees they would in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. This is important for us to recognize and understand for within the rest of the chapter Jesus sets forth a clear and present distinction between the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees which was entirely and altogether based upon the Law. Within and throughout the second half of the fifth chapter of this gospel narrative we find the Lord Jesus speaking unto His disciples and followers concerning that which they had heard being said and taught unto and among them but how He was calling them into an entirely new and different way. Jesus would indeed speak unto His disciples and followers and would declare unto them that which they heard and that which they were taught but how the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven went much deeper than outward and external obedience and adherence to the Law of Moses.

 

            If you begin reading with and from the third verse of the fifth chapter you will find what has been commonly. Referred to as the “Beatitudes.” With this being said I am convinced that what we find in verses three through twelve of the fifth chapter is so much more than simply the “Beatitudes” but can be clearly understood as “Be-attitudes” or the attitude of being within the earth. The words which are found in this passage of Scripture are incredibly unique when you take the time to consider them for there would be a series of nine statements the Lord Jesus would make which would begin with the word “blessed.” The Lord Jesus would begin and open this Sermon on the Mount by describing unto His disciples and the multitudes which gathered themselves unto Him that which would cause and allow them to be blessed and/or happy within this life. The words which our Lord spoke at the very beginning and outset of the Sermon on the Mount are and have been commonly known as the “Beatitudes,” and we must needs recognize and understand them as direct means of calling and inviting men and women into the place where they allow their lives to be entirely and altogether transformed by the kingdom of heaven. There was indeed a righteousness which was present in the midst of the earth—a righteousness which was taught by the scribes and the Pharisees—and yet that which the Lord Jesus came to bring unto men and women during those days was a righteousness which was not earthly in nature but rather that which was heavenly and divine in nature. There was indeed a righteousness which was centered upon religion, however, there was a righteousness which the Lord Jesus sought to present unto His disciples and the multitudes that would not only deliver them from the cruel and oppressive burdens of the scribes and Pharisees but would also please and honor the living God.

 

            Within the first twelve verses of this passage we find the Lord Jesus describing a certain group of people who were present in the earth—those who would be entirely and altogether set apart from others within that generation. If you take the time to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you will find Jesus speaking of “the poor in spirit,” “they that mourn,” “the meek,” “they which do hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” “the peacemakers,” and “they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. There was a specific class and group of people which were present within the earth which the Lord Jesus sought to present and reveal unto His disciples and the multitude which had gathered themselves unto Himself. The Sermon on the Mount would begin with the Lord Jesus speaking of the poor in spirit and declaring how theirs would be the kingdom of heaven. Jesus would go on to speak of those who mourned and declared how they would be comforted and the meek for they would inherit the earth. Not only this but Jesus would also speak of those which did hunger and thirsted after righteousness for they would be filled. Jesus would go on to speak of the merciful who would obtain mercy and the pure in heart who would see God. In addition to this Jesus would speak of the peacemakers for they would be called the children of God and those which were persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs would be the kingdom of heaven. Jesus would continue speaking unto His disciples and the multitude by speaking something which I’m sure would take many of them by surprise—namely concerning their being persecuted and when men would say all manner of evil against them falsely for His sake.

 

            AN INTRODUCTION TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE KINGDOM! There is something we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for what we find here in this passage of Scripture is a truly awesome and powerful invitation given unto the disciples of Jesus and those who would gather themselves unto Him that they might deliver themselves out from the cruel and oppressive weight and burden of the religion and “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees. That which we find in the opening verses of the fifth chapter and that which we find at the opening of the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation to a new and different righteousness that would be lived and fleshed out in the midst of the earth. Essentially that which we find within the Sermon on the Mount is two different types of righteousness which would be present in the midst of the earth during those days. On the one hand there would be a righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees which was steeped in religion, legalism, hypocrisy and the traditions of man while on the other hand there would be a righteousness of the kingdom which would be based on the condition of one’s heart in the sight and presence of the living God. The best way to understand the words which are found in the opening verses of the fifth chapter is a powerful picture of that heart which not only inherits the kingdom of heaven but also that which sees God and that which truly honors, pleases and glorifies the living God. In the opening verses of this passage of Scripture we find the Lord Jesus inviting men and women into a place which at that time might have been entirely and altogether foreign and uncommon to them. What we find in this passage of Scripture must be carefully understood as Jesus’ presenting the righteousness of the kingdom as a means of producing within the earth an entirely new and different people which were separate from the scribes, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the Law and the like.

 

            As I prepare to bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which are found within this passage of Scripture. In verses three through twelve we find Jesus introducing this Sermon on the Mount with what I would like to describe as the “Be-attitudes” or “the attitude of being.” If you want to truly understand the righteousness of the kingdom and what life was like in the midst of this kingdom Jesus came to establish you must needs recognize that Jesus came not only introducing a righteousness that was entirely and altogether different than that of the scribes and the Pharisees but Jesus also came introducing and establishing a kingdom that would exist within and upon the earth in the midst of empire. There is a great need to read the words which are found within this passage of Scripture in light of that which is found in the final verses of the fourth chapter for within it we find Jesus calling men and women to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. This reality and concept of the kingdom of heaven being at hand would be further demonstrated and expressed within this passage of Scripture as the words and language contained therein bring us face to face with what the kingdom should look like and how it should operate in the midst of the earth. If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture it’s that there was indeed a righteousness that was entirely and altogether different than that which the scribes and Pharisees exercised and there was a kingdom Jesus came to establish which would be altogether different from the empire which Rome had established in the midst of the earth.

 

            I have written in previous years concerning the establishment of a kingdom directly underneath and in the midst of the Roman Empire. Jesus came establishing a righteousness that was entirely and altogether different from the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees directly in the midst of them and Jesus came establishing a kingdom which would exist in the midst of the Roman Empire. Not only would the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven be entirely different from the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees but the kingdom of heaven would be entirely different from the nature, the character and the principles of the Roman Empire. Within this kingdom you find Jesus encouraging and inviting His disciples and followers to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to meekness, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart and to be peacemakers. What’s more is that directly linked and connected to this kingdom is the understanding that there might and very well could be persecution as men and women could be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. What makes this altogether and incredibly intriguing when you think about it is that persecution would not be manifested in the midst of those days until after Jesus had suffered and died in the flesh, after Jesus had been buried in the grave and been raised from death to life, and after Jesus would ascend unto the right hand of the Father who was in heaven. There would indeed be persecution that would beak out against and upon the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus, however, that persecution would not truly take place until the days of the Holy Spirit, until the days of the apostles and the days of the early church. Even with this being said, however, Jesus prepared and made ready his disciples to not only be persecuted for righteousness’ sake but also to be reviled, persecuted and have all manner of evil spoken against them falsely for His sake.

 

            What we must needs recognize when reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture is that Jesus not only invites us as His disciples into a righteousness that was different from that of the scribes and Pharisees but He also invites and instructs us concerning how we are to live in the midst of the oppression of politics as well as the oppression of religion. If you want to truly understand these days you must needs understand them as being days of tremendous affliction and oppression—both from the Roman Empire as well as from the religious system. That which Jesus sought to accomplish and fulfill in the midst of these days is establishing a kingdom of righteousness that would be able to exist side by side with and in the midst of empire and religion. A KINGDOM IN THE MIDST OF EMPIRE AND RELIGION! This kingdom of heaven would allow men and women to live in the midst of both empire and religion completely and utterly set free from all manner of oppression and affliction that would be leveled against them by politics and by religion. That which the Lord Jesus invited His people into during these days—and not only during these days but also during the days to come—was to be able to live and exist in the midst of a strong and powerful oppression of religion and politics. In all reality we would be hard pressed to say that we aren’t living in such days to some degree during the days in which we are living. There would be very few who would be able to argue the point that we are and have been living during days of tremendous oppression and affliction imposed upon individuals by both religion and politics. What’s more is that I am convinced that the Last Days are going to be very much like the days in which Jesus walked upon the earth for just as men and women were oppressed and afflicted during the days of Jesus by religion and politics so also will men and women in the days leading up to the coming of the Lord Jesus be oppressed and afflicted by religion and politics.

 

            Having said all of this it is absolutely necessary and imperative to recognize and understand that we as the disciples of Jesus have been called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus would very clearly declare that a city which is set on a hill cannot be hidden neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel but on a candlestick. Jesus would then go on to instruct and invite his disciples to let their light so shine before men that they might see their good works and glorify the Father which is in heaven. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely necessary and critical it is within our hearts and lives for we have been called to be men and women who live our lives according to the righteousness which is of the kingdom of heaven. We have indeed been called to be men and women who let our light so shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. At the end of the day the very heart and center of it all is the glory and honor of the eternal and living God which is the Father in heaven. There is a great need for us to recognize that being citizens of the kingdom of heaven does not mean we are not citizens in whatever nation we are presently live but rather that our true citizenship is not of this earth. We are indeed strangers and pilgrims upon the earth and as such we ought not to live our lives according to and after the same manner as those which are present in the midst of the earth in the generation in which we are living. We must needs be those who recognize that we have been called to be such who live our lives in complete and utter submission and surrender to the King that we might truly live and operate in the midst of this world and generation as citizens of the kingdom who truly please, glory and honor Him.

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