Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill… Therefore whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:17,19
What Jesus was teaching was, early in his ministry, considered to be too loose with his application of the Law of Moses. Some even thought Jesus was throwing out the Law. The Law was the core of religious instruction and commitment for Jews during the time of Jesus. As a consequence, everything Jesus taught was compared by the religious leaders to their understanding of the Law.
Therefore, Jesus had to address this fear – this fear that he was somehow undermining or throwing out what the Jews had cut their teeth on. But he also showed how the Jewish leaders were not altogether honest in their criticism of his teaching.
Later in his life, Jesus showed how hypocritical the religious leaders were when it came to the Law. Among other things, Jesus said that they were good at focusing on the minutiae of the law, but they neglected the really big, important stuff. Like strict observance of Sabbath while ignoring the needs of people around them. Or refraining from actually committing adultery, while at the same time looking lustfully at another person.
Six times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “You have heard this…..but I say this…” What Jesus was doing was deepening the understanding of what the Law was saying. Jesus taught them that the Law went farther in its expectations than they were being taught.
Jesus was actually stricter, in many ways, than the religious leaders. He was not “cutting us any slack” when it came to obedience. He elaborated on this by saying, “…whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” Matthew 5:19.
Those who try to water-down the demands of discipleship miss the point. Jesus never said, “O, it’s okay if you goof up, my grace is all that counts.” Jesus turned up the heat on discipleship. Obedience is a big deal to him.
Prayer: Jesus our brother and our savior. Your sermon on the mount is a soaring description of what it looks like when we take your call to follow you seriously. Help us to put out of our mind any idea of slacking off on our discipleship, giving your less than the best of ourselves. Help us to follow you, no matter what the cost. In Jesus’ name. Amen.