As we begin this new year, many are thinking of new jobs, new financial streams of income, and a “new you.” Many are also thinking of new relationships. But how many are thinking of a new relationship to God’s law?
I was reading from chapter 5 of Matthew this morning, the first chapter recording the famous “Sermon on the Mount.” I don’t know how many times I have heard even those who don’t follow Christ say, “I like the teachings of Jesus. The things He said about love – the things He said on the Sermon in the Mount – those things are beautiful!” Let me agree. It is a beautiful sermon. But if you actually read what Jesus said, it is also terrifying! After the beatitudes (“blessed are the…”), Jesus tells us that if we aren’t salty enough, we are good for nothing except to be path pavement. He tells us that unless we are more righteous than even the most religious, we won’t see His Kingdom. He clarifies that we are guilty of breaking the laws of His Kingdom not only if we murder, but even if we get angry. The same is true of adultery – we are guilty of breaking this law not only when we commit the physical act, but when we lust in our heart! He proclaims that most who get divorced and remarried are committing adultery. He says that if we don’t keep our word, if we hold something against our brother, if we try to retaliate against our enemies, in fact if we don’t LOVE our enemies, we are not living up to the standard of His Kingdom, which is, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If we honestly read this beautiful sermon, we have to admit, we’re in big trouble!
This sermon is a “kingdom sermon.” It describes what God’s Kingdom is like, and how His kingdom people are to live. Right before this chapter, we read, “Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Jesus talked about His Kingdom, and He demonstrated the power of the Kingdom. In this context He gave us a sermon about the Kingdom. It is much like the giving of the law in the Old Testament. The law describes the character of God and what the character of His covenant people should look like. Paul accurately teaches that on our own, none of us can live as God’s people. On our own, with our sinful hearts, none of us can live as Kingdom people. That is the purpose of the law – to tell us we can’t be good enough on our own (read Galatians or Romans). What we realize when we see God’s standard is this – we need new hearts, indeed new lives, to truly be Kingdom people who live like the King! And only Jesus can make us new and give us the circumcised hearts that His people must have.
In other words, you won’t be able to live up to the requirements of the Kingdom unless you have been made a citizen of the Kingdom – unless you have been made into a new creation. Unless you have been born again. Only then, after this miraculous transformation, will you have a heart and a life capable of living like the King. It is then that you have a new relationship with the law and with this message of the Kingdom. It no longer condemns you as guilty and incapable of living right. When you are made new, it now describes who God is and who He has made you.