Teaching the Law - 1
Lesson 7

During their seventy years of captivity in Babylon, the Scriptures were little known among the people of Israel. In studying the books of Ezra and Nehemiah it becomes clear that the people in general had largely lost sight of their worship of God. Upon their return from captivity and the restoration of Israel as a nation, Ezra, Nehemiah and others sought to bring about a restoration of the word of God to the people, and they associated with them men who would teach the people the pure principles of the Scriptures. In the days of these leaders, the truth was taught and much good was accomplished.

The Babylonian captivity had effectively confirmed in the minds of the leaders in Israel that their success and welfare was bound up in their observance of the law. However, after the passing of these early leaders and expositors of the law, a new generation arose and these did not follow in the footsteps of their predecessors but sought by their teaching to put a hedge about the law and to so fence it in with so much explanation that it could not be subverted, nor the people led away from it. These rules, or traditions as they were called, grew to a level of acceptance that in time placed them above the law they were designed to protect.

As a result of this method of teaching, the oral law kept increasing and the regulations multiplying. The words of the rabbis became law and the Scripture could only be interpreted in light of their sayings. As a result, the rabbi came to be looked upon as a sort of deity and was feared even as God. The people were taught to believe anything and everything; and whatever came from these men, was to them the word of God though in many cases, their sayings directly contradicted Scriptural principles. It was to meet these false teachings that had to a large extent replaced the Scriptures giving the people a false concept of true faith and religion, that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus sought, without directly attacking their false ideas, to lead them to a true understanding of the Scriptures, and thus of the nature of His kingdom. He began by pronouncing a blessing on those whose character traits make them candidates for His kingdom.

1. Who were the first group upon which Jesus pronounced a blessing?

Matthew 5:3
Matthew 5:3

Note: We know from the New Testament record that the Pharisees were proud and self-sufficient. (See Luke 18:11.) Such teaching as Jesus was giving was contrary to anything the people had ever heard.

2. Who are the second group Jesus mentioned?

Matthew 5:4
Matthew 5:4

Note: The mourning of which Jesus speaks here is the true heart sorrow for sin which the truly repentant feel when they comprehend the sacrifice that Jesus made to redeem them in contrast to their own ingratitude and rebellion. It is such mourning that will be comforted.

3. Who were the third group Jesus spoke of as being blessed?

Matthew 5:5
Matthew 5:5

Note: Patience and gentleness under wrong are not characteristics prized by the natural heart, yet Jesus places meekness among the first qualifications for His kingdom. True meekness was unknown among the rabbis. “Every one of the beatitudes struck against some rabbinical view of the law; therefore the rabbis claimed that Jesus was seeking to break down, to subvert, and to change the law.” F. C. Gilbert, Practical Lessons from the Experience of Israel, 92. The common people were not used to hearing such a meaning given to the Scriptures and as every one of the beatitudes was a direct contradiction of what the rabbis taught upon the same subject, the religious leaders were quick to point out to them that Jesus could not be a true rabbi or teacher, as He was opposing the wise men and words of the law.

4. What is the reward of the meek?

Matthew 5:5
Matthew 5:5

Note: It was through the desire for self-exaltation that sin originally entered the world and our first parents lost dominion over this earth. It was through renouncing self that Christ redeemed that which was lost and He says that we are to overcome as He did. See Revelation 3:21.

5. In overcoming Satan and gaining our salvation, what form did Christ, as our example, take?

Philippians 2:5–7
Philippians 2:5–7

Note: Jesus, the brightness of the Father’s glory, came as one whose mission it was to serve others. He was so emptied of self that in all He did, nothing of self was revealed. His every act was subject to the Father’s will. To overcome as He overcame is to subordinate every act of our lives to the will of God.

6. As His ministry was drawing to a close, what could Jesus say was the result of His life and work?

John 17:4
John 17:4

7. In following Him as one of His disciples, what does Christ bid us do?

Matthew 16:24
Matthew 16:24

Note: The cross was an instrument of death and the symbolism of taking up our cross is a metaphor, or figure of speech, indicating the death of self.

8. Speaking of this death to self, who does Paul then say lived in him?

Galatians 2:20
Galatians 2:20

Note: The death of self is the denial of all selfish ambition and self-exaltation; a life that reflects the selfless life of service that Jesus lived. It is love of self that destroys our peace. While self is alive we stand ever ready to guard it from humiliation and insult; human nature is ever struggling for expression. However, when self is crucified, we are no longer anxious to have the highest place. We have no ambition to press ourselves into a position so as to be noticed. We look to Jesus, waiting for His hand to lead, listening for His voice to guide that in all things, our lives may be an expression of His way and will.

9. Who did Christ next pronounce a blessing upon?

Matthew 5:6
Matthew 5:6

10. In beholding Christ in His Word, what change takes place in us?

2 Corinthians 3:18
2 Corinthians 3:18

Note: All who long to bear the likeness of Christ will be satisfied. If the eye is kept fixed upon Christ, the Holy Spirit will not fail to bring us into such close fellowship with Him that we will reflect His likeness in character.

As Jesus announced those upon whom heaven’s blessing rests, there was nothing that appealed to the people’s desire for personal gratification or national greatness. For years they had looked for the coming of the Messiah as the time when they would enter a new era of national greatness and hold dominion over the hated heathen. Christ, however, portrayed those who walk the path of humility and a self-renouncing love for others as being the heirs of His kingdom.

As the people listened to the words of Christ, they realized that to accept this new religious teacher as the Messiah would be to turn their back on all their brightest hopes and expectations. This was a disappointment most difficult to accept. The religious leaders, capitalizing on this disappointment, began to whisper that Jesus could not be the Messiah as He was seeking to do away with the Law, making it of none effect.

11. Reading the thoughts of the religious leaders, what did Jesus say regarding any change in the law?

Matthew 5:18
Matthew 5:18

Note: The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet was the Jot. Some letters have what is known as crowns or small points on the top of them about twice the size of the dot on an “i”. The Jot, or “Yoth” is one of these. Thus Jesus declared that not the smallest part of the smallest letter of the alphabet could be changed or disregarded. Heaven and earth could more easily pass away than the smallest tittle of the law to fail. See Luke 16:17.

By now, the people began to wonder what would become of all those Pharisees who taught them their view of the law and who placed their standard of righteousness as the correct one? Clearly, the standard of righteousness advocated by the Pharisees did not compare favorably with the words they had just heard spoken.

12. Knowing what was passing through their minds, what did Christ say regarding the standard of righteousness they must attain to?

Matthew 5:20
Matthew 5:20

Here was an open challenge. The rabbis had given their definition of the law, and Jesus said they were in error and that there was no salvation in them. Their standard of righteousness only addressed the outward actions but Christ’s addressed the character and inner life.

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