Sermon Passage: Matthew 5:47-48
“And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:47-48).
I fear there is a disconnect between what we hear from the pulpit and what we experience in our lives. The church teaches the message of love, victory, and forgiveness, but counseling sessions reveal we constantly battle guilt, hatred, and defeat. Everyone in the evangelical movement believes and promotes unity and yet denominational divisions are strong. I might tolerate this in the general church world, but I do not want it in my life. I have a lot of religious involvement in my life, and I have to ask myself, “Is this the best religion can do?”
Jesus gave the marvelous picture of His role in our lives, picturing Himself as the Good Shepherd. The protection and daily care of a shepherd who values his sheep is His position in my life. He expanded the concept to include, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). He contrasts Himself with others who are thieves and robbers. He thunders to this conclusion. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word “perissos” is translated “more abundantly.” “Perissos” means “over and above, beyond, and extraordinary.” “Perissos” is superabundant! If Jesus’ provision is superabundant, I look at my life and ask, “Is there more? What am I missing?”
The Scriptures tell me I am not alone in these feelings. There was a young man Matthew referred to as the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). We do not know his proper name. In the materialistic realm, he lacked nothing. In health and physical life, he was at the peak of life experience. He had high self-esteem in his position as a ruler. Everything anyone could want to have had become his, yet, he confronted Jesus with a question that indicated he felt something lacking. He assured Jesus he had kept all the commandments of God, and still, he asked, “What do I still lack” (Matthew 19:20)? The Rich Young Ruler expressed the same thing I feel in my heart? Is there anything more?
The Parable of the Prodigal Son convinces us that there is something more than what we anticipate (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering the inheritance from his father, the son found himself living with the pigs. In Jewish tradition, this was the sign of total disobedience and the consequence of rebellion against God. The turning point in the story is “he came to himself.” He expressed his recognition in a question, “Is there something more?” While he was filling his stomach with the pods the swine ate, his father’s servants had plenty of bread. The only “more” he could conceive was to go home and become a servant. He had utterly violated his right to sonship; it would be generous of his father to allow him to be a servant of the household. There was something more in his father’s heart because He gave his prodigal son the best robe, ring, and sandals. The father had the fatted calf killed, and there was eating and making merry “for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
The elder brother, working in the field for the father, came home after a long day to find a party for his long lost brother. When he heard the reason for such merriment, “he was angry” (Luke 15:28). The father left the party and pleaded with his eldest son to rejoice and be glad. The elder brother responded, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29). Was he not crying out, “All this time there was something more, and I missed it? While working the fields and keeping the commandments I never experienced the party!”
Jesus told many parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. He spoke of a tenant farmer who struggled every year to produce a crop (Matthew 13:44). His family was in great need; his home was in disrepair. One day as he worked his field, his plow struck an obstacle. Thinking it was another rock he would need to dig out and remove, discouragement overcame him. Questions arose in his mind. “Isn’t there something more than this? Is this the best I can do for my family?” He uncovered the obstacle and found the answer. There was something more; it was a treasure!
Another parable of Jesus was of a merchant who traveled the world in search of beautiful pearls (Matthew 13:45, 46), finding many. Each pearl was beautiful and had some value, but wasn’t there something more? Indeed, there was! “When he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:46). He made many journeys and the discovered of many pearls, and he found something more!
Finding something more in the spiritual realm flows through the Sermon on the Mount, the fiber that holds its truth together. When Jesus presented the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), He startled His listeners, causing them to imagine He was contradicting the Law or the Prophets. Jesus made it plain He was not eliminating the Law or the Prophets; He was fulfilling them (Matthew 5:17). While His proposal may seem new and startling, it is the intent of the Old Covenant, offering much more in the fulfillment. Jesus called them to a life exceeding anything they had known. He said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The Greek word translated “exceeds” is “pleion,” meaning “many, much, greater.” It is used only one time in the English translation but twice in the Greek language, appearing before and after the word “righteousness.” Is there anything more? Jesus stated it as “more and more.”
In the sixth illustration (Matthew 5:43-48), Jesus used the word “more” (perissos). He said, “And if you greet your brethren only what do you do more (perissos) than others” (Matthew 5:47)? In this illustration, Jesus used “more” as a negative, making the answer to His question to be “no” or “nothing.” If you greet only those who welcome you, you do nothing more exceptional or more extravagant than the worst of sinners. You meet the status quo. His statement intends that the New Covenant, the Kingdom person, lives beyond the normal or average. The Kingdom’s life is superabundant and exceeding in love, off the charts! Jesus stated the Kingdom life in the strongest terms, “perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” What else can you expect from one who is a son of “your Father in heaven?” He is “more” (perissos)!
Matthew Chapter 6 is the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus presents the three fundamental elements of all world religions: charitable giving, prayer, and spiritual disciplines. Each of these elements demonstrates the usual pattern of the religious people of Jesus’ day. They conduct their religious activities to be seen of men. It is a show! “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds, before men, to be seen by then. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Jesus says they also pray to be seen by men, which demonstrates a hypocritical spirit. “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:5). The same hypocrites put on a sad countenance and disfigured their faces so all would know they were fasting. “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
The intent of Jesus’ statements about charitable deeds, prayer, and fasting is that there is something “more” (perissos) for the Kingdom person! “Your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:4). Communication with the Father’s heart is the same as “more.” Go to the secret place of your merger with Him, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6). Spiritual disciplines are not to impress others, but to deepen intimacy with the Father. “Your Father who is in the secret place” (of the inner heart) “who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:18). All the critical involvements of religion take on new significance. Is there not something “more” than just doing good deeds, making beautiful prayers, and skipping a meal? Yes! There is something extraordinary, extravagant, and beyond in the merger with your Father who makes you His son. Becoming sons is the “exceedingly more” of the Sermon on the Mount!
While this may sound intriguing and even religious, what is this “more” that goes beyond what the sinful world entices us with, and religions can offer us?
Jesus demonstrates for us this “exceeding righteousness.” The Trinity God presented it to us in the Old Testament Scriptures, but the scribes and Pharisees misread the Scriptures to cater to their level of righteousness. Now, Jesus, the helpless Man merged with the Father, expresses the “more” of the New Covenant. All Kingdom people will know the same intimacy that Jesus has with the Father. What is this righteousness that is “more?” “For I say to you, that unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). “Exceeding righteousness” becomes the springboard for six illustrations that demonstrate the “more righteousness.”
There are common elements that flow through all six illustrations. One is the extreme emphasis on the INTERNAL. This righteousness is not a correction of an outward activity; it is an elimination of an interior motive or appetite. Jesus moves from the external act of murder to the internal feeling of anger (Matthew 5:21-22). Adultery changes because God alters the inward perspective of our hearts (Matthew 5:27- 28). God transforms the ease of physical separation from one’s wife to a concern about what he is causing in her (Matthew 5:31, 32), and He replaces our methods of forcing honesty by oaths with inner integrity (Matthew 5:33-37). The redemptive heart of the Father overcomes our concern for equality and fairness in physical punishment or revenge (Matthew 5:38-42). Now in the final illustration (our passage), we focus on the righteousness of the Father becoming our appetite, motive, becoming His sons until we are perfectly like Him (Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus INTENSIFIED another element in this righteousness. When we see each illustration as acceptable righteousness, we also see it as impossible. Each illustration leaves us breathless, in stunned silence, and startled by such a ridiculous claim. This intensification builds throughout each example bringing us to the final blow. We are to “be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Such a claim could be grounds for total dismissal because it seems beyond the realm of possibility. Yet, Jesus, a helpless Man merged with the Father, demonstrates it before us. If we can merge with the Father and become sons as Jesus was a son, can this righteousness be conceivable for our lives? The same Spirit of the Father that lived in Jesus fills you and I, can this righteousness be found in us? Jesus presents a “more righteousness!”
The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus’ presentation of a relationship with God, the premise of the sermon. God invades a person’s helplessness with His nature and births a new creature. This merger, infusion, or saturation of God and man together in a relationship brings about the Kingdom person. Becoming a Kingdom person is the only feasible explanation for the “more righteousness” already discussed. While we must understand each illustration in light of this relationship or merger, Jesus does not distinctly state it in the first five illustrations. As Jesus comes to the last illustration, His focus is on the relationship! You are to be “sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). In this relationship, who He is will be who we are (Matthew 5:48). We are in such intimacy with Him that others see His nature in us. We are His sons!
Once more, let me clarify; we do not become God. We are helpless, our constant state, the boundaries in which we dwell. In this attitude of helplessness, dependency upon Him will flourish. It is the open door to intimacy with all that He is in His nature. We love our enemies as He does. We begin to understand this love for enemies is not a rare expression, occurring just when it is to our benefit. God was not trying to achieve something or create a historical moment of granting forgiveness through death on a cross. God expresses Himself every day through rain falling on the just and the unjust and the sun shining on the evil and the good. Jesus consistently expresses the nature of the Father, who is now intimate with us. When we embrace our helplessness, we release Him to merge with us and make us sons!
Is this not “more?” You might hear the actual voice of God once in your lifetime or sense His presence in worship on special Sunday services. In times of need, God might make Himself known to you, but who could dream of being intimate with Him so that you become the expression of His person. No wonder we place Jesus in a category of oneness with the Father that is “more” than we can imagine. Yet, this is the message of Christ to our lives. Jesus calls to live in the “more!”
This sixth illustration could easily be an extension of the fifth illustration. Who is the individual who insults us by slapping our right check? He is our enemy! Who is the individual filled with such hatred he wants to financially destroy us by suing us for our tunic (undergarments)? He is our enemy. Who is the individual who takes advantage of us and compels us to go one mile? He is our enemy. Who consistently uses us for his benefit by borrowing from us? He is our enemy. How am I to respond to him? I respond to him as the Father responds, for I am a son of my Father in heaven. I feel like He feels; I love as He loves!
In the practical activities of life, I allow the Father’s nature to demonstrate love through me. I will enable it to rain on the just and the unjust; I allow the sun to shine on the evil and the good. I am a son who is perfect as the Father is! The driving power of love is redemption, and the only redemptive force in the world is love. Love that is without a plan. In other words, it is not love that loves to be redemptive but is merely love. If love has an agenda, it is not like the Father. Love without a plan will be redemptive, but if we love to be redemptive, it is not love.
The Father’s demonstration of love through me is the “more” of love! I experience a “more righteousness” in the Father’s nature because of the “more relationship” of His intimate presence. I am perfect, just as my Father in heaven is perfect. It is enough to be His! His nature merged with my nature produces sonship, which is sufficient for me. In this fulfillment in my life, I experience redemption flowing to my world. It is not my agenda, but it is an expression of the Father’s heart through my heart. I do not select some to love to redeem them. I am simply a demonstration of His love, which allows redemption for all. Redemption is the picture of Jesus who died for all, whether they respond or not. He died to forgive all, whether they repent or not. He is an expression of redemptive love. I have become His brother; I am redemptive love (Hebrews 2:11).
oming soon …