Good parents in every country of the world have one thing in common: they want their children to become happy and productive people. To send the children on their way, parents teach their idea of success life. Sometimes that idea does not bear the best fruit.
God wants his children to learn how they can achieve true happiness, and his only son, Jesus, communicated his wishes in the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapters 5-7. Jesus’ sermon is more than platitudes. It is not a speech designed to please people. Instead, it is the ultimate parent’s love, and intelligence poured into a message designed to teach people the righteousness that exceeds.
Jesus began with the Beatitudes, the most effective starting point. Do you want to be happy? Do you want happiness for your children? Jesus showed how in only the first 11 verses. But, everything Jesus said in three chapters finds its central theme in Matthew 5:20, and it’s a tall order. Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!”
Like a picture in a frame, the verse contains the entire theme of the three chapters of the sermon in one statement. If we want heaven, we must possess the righteousness that is greater than that of the experts of the law of Moses. All of the beatitudes are brief vignettes of how right-doing looks. Most of the remainder of chapter five is a picture of the opposite.
The contrast is remarkable. There is a right way to become the kind of person God wants, and there is a wrong way to do it. Righteousness, doing what God says, is the right way, while all of the excess and evil of the world comprise the wrong way. Through chapters five, six, and seven, Jesus carefully summarized his lesson in Matthew 7:13-14. We decide if we will get busy acquiring the righteousness that exceeds or if we are going to choose to live in and for the world and its inordinate desires.
The Beatitudes, examples of the righteousness that exceeds, are linked to Matthew 5:21-48, examples of what God expects from the hearts of his children. Right thoughts make the right actions. Sinful thoughts produce sinful actions. Murder, anger, unloving speech, improper worship, adultery, lust, divorce, vain and hurtful oaths are examples of the lives of sinners.
In contrast, loving one’s enemies and praying for persecutors comprise the righteousness that exceeds along with the beatitudes. Jesus’ words are a dramatic change from the thinking of the world. It is summarized in Matthew 5:47 as Jesus said, “And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?”
“What more do you do?” Jesus has given us the challenge, hasn’t he? It isn’t enough to appear good or righteous. Jesus summons us to do more. Perfection or completeness is the goal of one who follows Jesus. Right living is how God wants his children to live happy and productive lives.