Jesus’ Life and Ministry
A High Standard for His Followers
THE religious leaders consider Jesus a transgressor of God’s Law and recently have even conspired to kill him. So as Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount, he explains: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill.”
Jesus has the highest regard for God’s Law and encourages others to have such also. In fact, he says: “Whoever, therefore, breaks one of these least commandments and teaches mankind to that effect, he will be called ‘least’ in relation to the kingdom of the heavens,” meaning that such a person would not get into the Kingdom at all.
Far from disregarding God’s Law, Jesus condemns even the attitudes that contribute to breaking it. After noting that the Law says, “You must not murder,” Jesus adds: “However, I say to you that everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice.”
Since continuing wrathful with an associate is so serious, perhaps even leading to murder, Jesus illustrates the extent to which one should go to achieve peace. He instructs: “If, then, you are bringing your [sacrificial] gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”
Turning attention to the seventh of the Ten Commandments, Jesus continues: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’” However, Jesus condemns even the steady attitude toward adultery. “I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus is not here speaking about a passing immoral thought but about ‘keeping on looking.’ Such continued looking arouses passionate desire, which, if opportunity affords, can culminate in adultery. How can a person prevent this from happening? Jesus illustrates how extreme measures may be necessary, saying: “If, now, that right eye of yours is making you stumble, tear it out and throw it away from you. . . . Also, if your right hand is making you stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you.”
People are often willing to sacrifice a literal limb that is diseased in order to save their lives. But according to Jesus, it is even more vital to ‘throw away’ anything, even something as precious as an eye or a hand, to avoid immoral thinking and actions. Otherwise, Jesus explains, such persons will be thrown into Gehenna (a burning rubbish heap near Jerusalem), which symbolizes eternal destruction.
Jesus also discusses how to deal with people who cause injury and offense. “Do not resist him that is wicked,” is his counsel. “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him.” Jesus does not mean that a person should not defend himself or his family if attacked. A slap is not delivered to hurt physically but, rather, to insult. So, what Jesus is saying is that if anyone tries to provoke a fight or an argument, either by literally slapping with an open hand or by stinging with insulting words, it would be wrong to retaliate.
After drawing attention to God’s law to love one’s neighbor, Jesus states: “However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” Providing a powerful reason for doing so, he adds: “[Thus] you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good.”
Jesus concludes this portion of his sermon by admonishing: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus does not mean that people can be perfect in the absolute sense. Rather, they can, by imitating God, expand their love to embrace even their enemies. Luke’s parallel account records Jesus’ words: “Continue becoming merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Matthew 5:17-48; Luke 6:36.
◆ How did Jesus show high regard for God’s Law?
◆ What instruction did Jesus provide to root out causes of murder and adultery?
◆ What did Jesus mean when he spoke about turning the other cheek?
◆ How can we be perfect as God is perfect?