Today’s Reading: Matthew 5:17-48, 7:12
“You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let’s call the whole thing off!”
People have been singing this song by Louis Armstrong to me my entire life. My maiden name is Fortado but has two different pronunciations. You see the family name was pronounced one way back on Madeira Island (sounds like fur-tah-doe) and then “Americanized” when my great-grandfather landed on Ellis Island (sounds like for-tay-doe). So, you may have heard my name one way and then later heard it another.
In the next section of his sermon on the mount, Jesus did a similar play on words. Several times he starts out by saying, “You have heard…but I say…” He uses these contrasts to show his followers how his teaching fits with the Old Testament law. This is how he explains it before he gives several examples:
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” – Matthew 5:17-20
Then Jesus goes on to describe what this righteousness should look like by using “You have heard…but I say…”:
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!…
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…
“You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery…
“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows!…Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’…
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also…
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you… – Matthew 5:21-43
Jesus sums it up well later in his sermon when He says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Now here comes the icing on the cake. Jesus not only challenged his followers to let their righteousness surpass that of the religious teachers, he goes on to set a new standard – perfection.
“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48
Be perfect, be mature, be whole, be completely consecrated to God. Be exactly who God created YOU to be! Be the kind of person who lives the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. Go beyond the bare requirements of the law and live to the full potential of God’s purpose in your life. Don’t settle for anything less than the perfect life God designed you to live.
I love this message of holiness but I have to constantly remind myself that this is not a message of self-righteousness. I cannot do or be any of these things consistently based on who I am – I am just not that nice of a person on my own strength. I need God’s gift of righteousness through His son Jesus Christ in order to be the “perfect” child of God He has created me to be.
But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:15-21
God’s grace and forgiveness does not give me permission to keep sinning, instead it makes it possible for me to stop sinning. God’s gift of righteousness allows us to live in triumph over sin and death through Jesus Christ. Christ did not die to give me freedom to sin but to give me freedom from sin. Today I can stand before God “perfect” by simply consecrating myself to God and submitting my own lack of righteousness to His gift of righteousness. “You have heard…but I say…” Today I can live by what He says instead of simply following the least measure of the law. Praise God!!!
You have heard it said that no one is perfect, we all sin every day. But I say, let us not become so comfortable with that thought that we do not accept God’s gift of righteousness and allow Him to daily make us into the person He has called us to be. Let us allow God’s grace to do more than just cover our sins but transform us into a new creation.