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Second Quarter 2016 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF MATTHEW
Week 3: April 9–15
COMMENTARY ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson attempts to make the point that the Sermon on the Mount is the “law” for the kingdom of God, an amplified version of the Ten Commandments.
The lesson fails to discuss the fact that Jesus was preaching to Jews who lived under the law, and He raised the bar far beyond the requirements of the law but took His definition of righteousness to internal, mental and motivational levels.
For example, the lesson does not deal at all with Jesus’ expansion of several of the commandments or of His explanation that He came to fulfill the law:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ (Matthew 5:17-33)
In short, the lesson overlooks some of the most potent part of the Sermon on the Mount and instead spends time with quote from various commentators who present this magnificent sermon as a call to holy works and, as EGW says, “the foundation principles of the kingdom of God.”
Jesus said anyone who lusts is guilty of adultery, and anyone who hates his brother is guilty of murder. The righteousness God requires is utterly impossible for a natural person to accomplish. In fact, a born-again, Spirit-indwelled person has trouble saying no to these temptations. A person who is not born again will be utterly unable to avoid such sin.
Jesus was showing the Jews that what God required of them was only possible through supernatural provision. He was emphasizing that they had to be driven to helplessness in the face the perfection God requires. Jesus was saying that they had to throw themselves on Him and allow Him to be their righteousness.
Another part of the Sermon on the Mount the lesson overlooks is the incredible promise passage that states that God knows what His children need, and we are not worry about what we eat, drink, or wear. The gentiles worry about those things; we are not to worry at all; if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things will be added to us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)
Moreover, the lesson does not address the powerful contents of the “Blessed are…” passage in Matthew 5:2-12:
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:2-12)
All those who suffer and are broken before God, not attempting to justify themselves or to please others, will be blessed. No matter what they lose, they will be blessed by God.
The lesson then jumps to Matthew 13 to show how to apply the principles of holiness from the Sermon on the Mount. But this juxtaposition is imposed, not implicit in the text. Thursday’s lesson says,
“Jesus then told the people parables intended to drive home the importance of not only hearing His word but applying it.”
In fact, Matthew 13 immediately follows the chapter in which the Jews accused Jesus of casting out a demon by Beelzebub. They committed the unpardonable sin in thus attributing the work of God to Satan. After that, Jesus began speaking in parables.
In fact, the disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Here is Jesus’ answer:
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it (Matthew 13:11-17)
Jesus did not teach in parables in order to better illustrate His point. He taught in parables to hide the meaning from those who had turned away from believing Him.
The lesson states that in order to do what God asks of us, we have to separate ourselves from all the things of the world, of flesh, and let God’s Spirit fill us.
In fact, we can’t turn and separate ourselves. God has to change us and transfer us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13).
The Sabbath School lesson turns the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus in Matthew 13 into a moral lesson, and object lesson designed to promote obedience to the tenets of Seventh-day Adventism. In reality, these passages reveal much, much more. They reveal the truth about our depravity and our true need of a Savior. They reveal that God is faithful to His own word and will do what He says He will do. They reveal that only when we trust Him can we be certain that we are eternally secure.
These passages take our eyes away from ourselves, from internal scrutiny about our motives and obedience, and instead place our eyes on the Lord Jesus and upon God’s faithful word. They humble us before Him.
The Lord Jesus, who died, was buried, and rose on the third day, Is our Righteousness when we believe and trust Him. He doesn’t wait for us to comply; He calls us to Himself, and He pays the price of our sin and baptizes us into His body by His Spirit. He is all we need!