Calvary Road Baptist Church

“BEFORE YOU WORSHIP” Part 1

Matthew 5.23-24 

May I take you to our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount this morning? I would greatly enjoy taking you to the hillside location where His sermon is thought by almost everyone to have been delivered. However, it is far more beneficial for you to turn to Matthew’s account of His master’s great message that begins in Matthew chapter five.

The Sermon on the Mount is very conveniently divisible into several sections in which our Lord unfolded timeless truths to the thousands who heard Him preach just to the West of the fishing village of Capernaum. Many of you are know that our Lord launches with the Beatitudes, those nine verses that typically begin with the words “Blessed are the ....” However, my design this morning is to take you into less familiar territory in the Sermon on the Mount, to a portion of the sermon that is devoted to the instructions our Lord gave to His disciples, instructions given, no doubt, loud enough for all around to hear.

To refresh some of your memories and to introduce others of you, the Lord Jesus Christ taught what God demands. An important part of this is found in Matthew 5.17-20, where the Lord Jesus said, 

17  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Take note of what the Master was doing at this point. He was clarifying to His listeners the standard of righteousness. And He did so in two ways: First, in verses 17-18, our Lord positions Himself relative to the Law of Moses. He does this by referring to Himself three times in the span of two verses, saying “I am come,” “I am not come,” and “I say unto you.” Try to place yourself in the mind of a disciple or onlooker hearing Him speak. Before you sits a man, who is functioning and ministering outside the normal institutions of Judaism. He is not a priest and has never offered a single sacrifice (for He is without sin, though they do not yet know that). Having no formal training, He is, nevertheless, a Rabbi. Though not a scribe, He knows the Law better than anyone they have ever known. And His habit of spending time converting lowly sinners betrays His contempt for the Pharisees. Had you or I been a Jew of that day we might have wondered whether or not this Jesus of Nazareth was planning on doing away with the Law of Moses and overturning the teachings of the prophets. To allay such fears, the Lord spoke the words of verse 17. Notice two things found in the verse:

First, He reveals His anticipation: 

17  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. 

Is it not obvious from these remarks that He is trying to put to rest the fears of His audience or the concerns that He expects to arise among His listeners? It’s almost as if He says to them, “Understand this if you hear nothing else that I say. I have no intentions of destroying either the Law or the prophets.” The Law, here, referring to the first five books of the Old Testament and the prophets referring to the rest of the Old Testament.

Next, He reveals His declaration. His declaration begins with an assertion about Himself and the fulfillment of the Law: 

17  ... I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 

What does the Lord Jesus mean when He says that He came to fulfill the Law? There are at least nine different opinions among Bible scholars of what He meant when He said this. And though I have not the time or inclination to present each of those opinions, let me say that I am persuaded that fulfillment of the Law refers to the fact that Jesus, the Messiah, is the realization of what the Law pointed to and predicted. And what would His listeners walk away with after hearing this sermon? That although His life and teachings are radically different than other religious leaders of Judaism, He has no design on overturning the Word of God.

What about the religious practices of the Jews? He hasn’t said anything about that yet. Christ’s purpose, then, is to fulfill, not destroy those things taught and established by God. His declaration continues with more about the Law and its fulfillment, in verse 18: 

18  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 

Notice some very interesting things our Lord brings up: 

“Till heaven and earth pass....” 

This would suggest that our heaven and our earth are going to pass away some day. This planet and this universe are, apparently, not permanent according to the Son of God. The atheists would have you believe that the universe will have no end, just as they insist it had no beginning (unless you count their Big Bang). 

“One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law.” 

This lets us know that the minutest details of the Word of God are enduring. Rather disconcerting to those who do not believe this book is inspired. Amen? The “jot” is the smallest Hebrew letter, with the “tittle” being the smallest stroke of a Hebrew letter. “In English a jot would correspond to the dot above the letter ‘i’ (and look like an apostrophe), and a tittle would be seen in the difference between an uppercase ‘P’ and an uppercase ‘R.’ The small angled line that completes the ‘R’ is like a tittle.”[1] 

“till all be fulfilled.” 

God’s Word will come to pass. Those things which He has purposed will occur. This was, no doubt, a great comfort to the Jews who remembered God’s promise to father Abraham. But this raises a question, as well. The promise is that nothing shall pass from the Law until all be fulfilled. Does this mean that when all is fulfilled that the Word of God is no longer durable? Or does Christ mean, by Law, that the authority of the Law over Jewish people will end when the Law is fulfilled? I am of the opinion that the Lord is stating that the Law’s authority over the Jewish people will continue until the Law is fulfilled. And Who fulfilled the Law? The Lord Jesus Christ did when He died on the cross for my sins.

Next, He turns attention to the disciples and righteousness, in Matthew 5.19-20: 

19  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Did you notice anything different about these two verses and the previous two verses? As we examine these two verses, keep in mind that in the first two verses we read the Lord Jesus Christ dealt with His relationship with the Law. In these two verses, however, He deals with His disciples’ relationship to righteousness. Notice the two points that He makes:

First, the considerations He noted in verse 19. Christ here points out something that perhaps Jewish people had never thought of before. The position of His disciples in the kingdom, as leaders, as teachers, as spiritual guides, whether they were great or small, depended not on their adherence to the rules and regulations of the scribes and Pharisees, but to their obedience to the Law. This parallels Paul’s instruction to Christians about the Judgment Seat of Christ. Obedience and the realization of your potential is the key. And this has a great application for preachers, ushers, Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, and everyone else. Your obedience to God’s Word is just as important as your ability to teach God’s Word. No, it’s more important.

Now, let me point out a significant difference between the kingdom Christ speaks of and heaven. The kingdom refers to that kingdom on earth which is ruled over by the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming. It is called in Scripture “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God,” depending on the emphasis being where it originates or Whose it is.[2] This is very different than heaven for Christians. You see, God promised Abraham and his physical descendants an earthly hope, a kingdom here on earth. That’s why Joseph was so concerned about his burial in Palestine in Genesis 50.24-26. Christians, on the other hand, God’s children saved during this era in which we now live, have a heavenly hope. Two different people and having two different hopes. This is an important point. It is confusion on this truth which messes up a great many Christians, as well as cultists.

Now for the evaluation, verse 20: 

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 

Here the Lord Jesus Christ sets forth the prerequisite for entering the kingdom. Think about it. All their lives the disciples had thought of the scribes and Pharisees as being their living, walking, and talking standards of righteousness. The scribes and Pharisees portrayed themselves as such to the people. But our Lord points out that their standard of righteousness simply wasn’t enough. No matter how tall those religious men may have stood, they couldn’t stand quite tall enough to measure up to God’s requirements.

What a shock those words must have been to the disciples. And what a jolt the Lord gave to those who were in the audience. You certainly couldn’t legitimately complain against someone who declared His intentions to fulfill the Law instead of destroying it, and who argued for a higher standard of righteousness. Could you? But what it meant to the common man was that there was nothing he could do to gain entrance into the kingdom ... just like there is nothing you and I can do to gain entrance into heaven. You see, the requirements are the same for both places. Perfection is required, but it cannot be attained. Righteousness is unreachable. The payment for sin is too great a debt for any man to pay. Thank God there is a righteous One Whose righteousness is greater than the scribes and Pharisees, and He can gain entrance for us.

Let me make some concluding comments about these four verses before proceeding: First, the Lord Jesus Christ has set people easy about His relationship with the Law. He means the Law no harm. He seeks not to destroy it but to establish it, to fulfill it. And second, He points out that the standard of righteousness. His disciples had always known simply wasn’t good enough to get into the kingdom. So, He is setting His disciples up to understand that the Law of Moses wasn’t given to prepare people for kingdom life. It was given for God’s chosen nation to live under before they entered the kingdom. But to get into the kingdom, you had to attain an unattainable level of righteousness. Using the Apostle Paul’s terminology, they would have to have the “righteousness which is by faith.”

In verses 21-48 are six paragraphs that are divided into two groups of three paragraphs each. The paragraphs begin “Ye have heard,” “Ye have heard,” “It hath been said,” “Again, ye have heard,” “Ye have heard,” and “Ye have heard.” So, they are pretty easy to identify. The first three paragraphs tend to correspond to instructions found in the book of Deuteronomy with the second three paragraphs tending to correspond to instructions found in Leviticus. This is not exclusive, since those two books often deal with the same subjects, but generally speaking. Before we deal with today’s text, I want to provide you with some conclusions about the larger passage that we will not look at in verse by verse fashion, but will help you to more clearly understand what the Lord did and did not do in these six paragraphs found in verses 21-48: 

#1  The Lord Jesus Christ is not, in this greater passage, attempting to refute the false teachings that were foisted on the people by the scribes, Pharisees, and rabbis. Those things that were said by them of old time is a reference to the Law of Moses. And there are many reasons for believing this:

a) First, each statement that Christ follows with His statement is a reference to an Old Testament passage.

b) Second, the Lord Jesus Christ never shied away from confronting those who had done wrong. If these paragraphs were the Lord’s efforts to correct false teaching, He would have done His correcting right in the faces of the false teachers.

c) And third, the Lord Jesus Christ is not interpreting Scripture for these people. He is teaching. He is preaching. But He is not, as we shall see, doing much in the way of explaining. He is declaring the truth in verses 21-48, not correcting misconceptions.

#2  Failing to note this is the cause of much heartache, the Lord Jesus Christ’s words are not contrasted with the teachings of the Law in this passage.

a) The Lord had just said in Matthew 5.17-18 that He had not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. He had no problem with the Law of Moses. Why, then, try to interpret this passage as though He is trying to set straight some errors found in the Law that he disagreed with?

b) I want you to take note of the little word “but” found in verses 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, and 44. This little Greek particle is frequently translated into the English word “but.” But we should remember that it’s “but” with a “but.” That is, the word is not used by Matthew to indicate a contradiction. Rather, it seems as though the Lord Jesus Christ was saying to His disciples, “Ye have heard it said thus and so, but I, in addition, say to you this and that.”

c) And how do we know that the word is not showing a contradiction between the Lord Jesus and the Law? Because any type of behavior done in obedience to Jesus Christ’s words in verses 21-48 would not violate any portion of the Law of Moses. Thus, He was not contradicting or correcting the Law, but going beyond the Law. 

If the Lord Jesus Christ is not correcting false teachings in this passage, and if He is not straightening out deficiencies in the Law of Moses, just what is He doing here? I think He is doing two things: First, using the Law of Moses as a point of departure, the Lord Jesus Christ is showing His men that His demands upon them are greater than the demands of the Law, without in any way being contradictory the Law. And, second, He is showing that His demands are demands upon the heart, demands upon nature. No mere external obedience can please Him. What the Lord Jesus Christ demands of His disciples is perfection, Matthew 5.48.

We know that no sinful human being is or can ever be perfect, without divine intervention, without God’s help. So, let us understand, as we prepare to examine our text, that what the Lord is talking about throughout is a style of living that can only be lived by the child of God whose deficiencies are compensated for by God’s grace. You have to be perfect to be a disciple of Christ. But you are not perfect, and neither am I. Therefore, you need a stand-in. You need a Substitute. And that substitute is none other than the Lord Jesus Himself.

That background established, and remembering the importance of the disciples’ hearts in following their Lord, focus your attention on Matthew 5.23-24: 

23  Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24  Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 

To restate, our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount is at least in part His introduction to the people and His disciples of God’s higher standards, with the bar set so high no one can live up to it apart from God’s grace. The question is how this works out in everyday life. Consider that era of human history, and then we will apply the principles involved in our era. Every good Jewish person of that day would go to the Temple and offer sacrifices to atone for his sins, or to offer gifts of one type or another as a means of worshipping God under the Mosaic economy. But how many among the thousands listening to our Lord were aware that someone they knew had a problem with them, held a grudge against them, or felt wrongly or rightly that they had done them wrong? Is it not reasonable to guess that just about everyone knew of someone who took issue with them about something? There was no question in the Jewish community of that day that God was to be worshipped. God demanded worship. God commanded worship. God prescribed appropriate worship. God was worthy of His people’s worship. Yet what does the Lord Jesus Christ declare about someone committed to the worship of God? He declares proper priorities, does He not? The right thing must be done the right way.

To consider the matter from another perspective, one might wonder, “What is acceptable behavior between people?” Reconciling with people. Reconciling with your fellow man is so important that you are to lay aside all attempts to worship God until reconciliation has been accomplished, or at least attempted. And folks, notice that reconciliation is supposed to be attempted, according to this passage, not when you have a problem with someone, but when you are aware that they have a problem with you. The Apostle Paul well understood this principle, as evidenced by his words in Second Corinthians 5.18: 

“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” 

The Lord Jesus Christ instructs His men that from this point in their life is to be a life devoted to reconciliation. Reconciling men to God. But also reconciling men to men. Allow me to conclude our consideration of this passage by rehearsing to you three priorities reinforced by the Lord Jesus Christ’s comments in this portion of His Sermon on the Mount: 

Priority #1: YOU MUST BE RECONCILED TO GOD 

It is clear that our text presumes the worship of God. Every Jewish person would bow to the notion that the worship of God was imperative. But the worship of God is impossible until first the estranged sinner is reconciled to God.

Was this not the great lesson that was taught to Nicodemus? Though he was a prominent teacher of Scripture, he was not qualified to either see or to enter the kingdom because he was not born again, he was not reconciled to God. Thus, all his study, all his devotion, all his attention paid to God and the things of God, were for naught because he was not born again.

Therefore, my friend, no matter your concern for worshiping God, for serving God, for honoring God, or anything else relative to God. Until you are reconciled to God through faith in Christ you have no standing before God from which to worship Him. There are two kinds of relationships a human being can have, a vertical relationship and horizontal relationships. However, until you are reconciled to God through faith in Christ, there simply is no vertical relationship, and therefore worship is not possible. 

Priority #2: YOU MUST BE RECONCILED TO BROTHERS 

Our text relates the intention of one reconciled to God preparing to worship God. However, on his way to worship God, he remembers that his brother has ought against him. This does not refer to just anyone who has ought against you, but when a brother has ought against you, a fellow believer.

The text precludes the possibility of worshiping God so long as your brother or sister in Christ has ought against you. The Son of God points out that it is improper to attempt to worship God when you are aware that your brother has ought against you. Thus, it is not you who decides if reconciliation with someone is needed, but that brother or sister who feels aggrieved who decides.

Thus, the disciple of Christ has a responsibility to act on the opinions and persuasions of his brothers and sisters in Christ. If a believer has ought against you, the divinely imposed priority of your life immediately shifts from the worship of God to the reconciliation of a brother or a sister. 

Priority #3: YOU MUST WORSHIP GOD 

God is worthy of all worship and adoration and praise, is He not? This is indisputable. To this end were we created, Revelation 4.11. However, God has ordained, and His Son has declared that, so long as we live in this world, worship must be held in abeyance until reconciliation with a brother is attempted.

What must we understand from this ordering of the priorities of the Christian’s life? We must understand the importance of brethren dwelling together in unity, Psalm 133.1: 

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” 

This is reflected in our Lord Jesus Christ’s high priestly intercessory prayer, in John 17.20-23: 

20  Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21  That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22  And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 

Before you can worship God, you must first be reconciled to God. After you have been reconciled to God, you must then worship Him, with worshiping God in this life being practice for our eternal worship of God. However, because of our ongoing struggles against sin in this life this side of eternity, it will inevitably be that a brother or sister in Christ is aggrieved by you in some way. And because our unity in Christ is so profoundly important to our usefulness in His service and Him being honored among men, He has declared that worshiping Him must be put on hold until reconciliation with an aggrieved believer is accomplished.

But we must worship God. We simply must. Thus, is seen the importance of reconciling with the aggrieved brother or sister in Christ. You must seek and obtain that person’s forgiveness before proceeding to worship God.

“But I didn’t do anything wrong.” Okay. Then seek to persuade that brother who thinks you wronged him that you did not wrong him. Whatever it takes, within the bounds of propriety and doing the right thing, you must seek to be reconciled to your brother or sister in Christ. You must.

_______

[1] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, General Editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1983), page 30.

[2] George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, Vol I, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1978), pages 195-197.

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