A Righteousness of the Heart - Matthew 5:21-48
In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus makes clear that the people of God’s kingdom are to be a people who live in righteousness. But Jesus knew that the people of His day had a very confused understanding of what it means to live in righteousness.
The religious leaders of Jesus’s day (the scribes and the Pharisees) claimed to be teachers of the law of God, but what they taught wasn’t the true law of God. In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus begins to show the contrast between the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees and the true law of God.
Jesus is teaching that the law of the scribes and Pharisees wasn’t a pure teaching of the law of God, and in order to make His point Jesus uses six illustrations. The great preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones, said it this way:
Our Lord knew the importance of illustrating a principle, so here He gives six illustrations of the one truth . . . Our Lord’s chief desire was to show the true meaning and intent of the law, and to correct the erroneous conclusions which had been drawn from it by the Pharisees and scribes and all the false notions which they had founded upon it.
The Reason for this Sermon
Before spending several weeks considering these six ‘illustrations’ it’s important for us to recognize what Jesus is and is not doing. We want to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap as the scribes and Pharisees and wrongly understand and apply the teaching of Christ.
What Jesus is not doing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount
- Jesus is not correcting or replacing the Old Testament law
- Jesus is not establishing a new morality by which we earn God’s favor
What Jesus is doing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount
- He’s teaching that true righteousness goes beyond the letter of the law and recognizes the full intent of the law
- He’s teaching that true righteousness is a matter of the heart (Matthew 23:27-28; Matthew 6:1)
- He’s teaching that true righteousness does impact the way we live (1 John 2:29-3:10)
Things to remember as we consider this section of Jesus’s sermon
- A warning – We may be tempted to live like the Pharisees
- A hope – That we would live as people who hunger and thirst for righteousness
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Two Volume Set, Martino Publishing 2011 (1959)