Matthew 5:17-20

The Morality of a Kingdom Citizen
Pastor Nate Bucher

Matthew 5:17-20

The “Meat” of the Sermon on the Mount

We have come to a part of the Sermon that is considered the “meat” of His message.

And specifically Jesus is going to dive into what the morality expectation is for Kingdom Citizens.

But in this first portion he begins by answering a question that all of His hearers are questioning in their minds. Think about it — Jesus has started His ministry in such a different way than any of the normal rabbis. He is able to garner a large following, not by an academic pedigree. He is able to call His followers, not have His followers choose Him. He does signs and wonders. He speaks with authority. Rather than speaking of the wonders of old, or speaking with the authority of others. As Matthew has shown us — he has prophetic, royal lineage. He’s part of God’s people — but the crowds and the disciples can tell something is different about Him.

Remember He’s speaking about the New Kingdom — So the New Kingdom must have new expectations. So many that are hearing, are thinking— where does the Law of Moses fit into this Kingdom life. Or in more specific terms:

What is the point of the Law?

There is a great code that made the people of God stand out among their pagan neighbors. So has the Law gone away? Has it been replaced? Will there be some easier ways to live our life? Will I begin to feel like I can live guilt free?

These are important questions — though not audibly asked — must have been some of the thoughts of those hearing Jesus speak. Let’s dive in to see what it is that a Kingdom Citizen is to do with the Law.


What the Law Is

To begin, we need to do a quick study on what the Law is. Within the first line of the text the writer has capitalized the word Law. Which as readers of English help us understand that this is a proper noun — it’s a person, place, or thing with distinction of name. We are not talking about general laws — we are talking about The Law.

The Law that is being singled out is what we call the Law of Moses — or known in Hebrew as the Torah — which linguistically can also be understood as instruction.

For that is what the first five books of Scripture are — they are instruction about

Who God is.

What God has done.

Why God has a chosen people.

How those chosen people are expected live.

Those are the fundamental elements of the Torah.

The commentaries I studied all spoke about the great number of laws that were recorded for God’s people to live in the manner that God expected. There were 613 commandments in this part of Scripture (248 positive and 365 negative)[1]

The other part referred to in the first sentence is the Prophets — again its capitalized signifying its specificity. The recorded prophetic Word of God. Minor and Major books that make up the words that God put within certain people to proclaim His truth to His people.

So when we see the Law and the prophets we need to understand that Matthew is directing us to the Old Testament scriptures — The Hebrew Bible — Also known as an acronym TaNaK. Torah — Nevi’ im — Ketuvim. That sets our stage for the truth that Jesus is about to tell us about “The Law”

Let’s read 5:17-19

Let’s think — Abolish — set free — do away with. Fulfillment — completion — perform expectation. So, they haven’t gone anywhere — He’s telling the people point blank that there is no lifting of expectation. Rather, there is a filling — a making full.

One thing that stuck out to me as I was preparing for this is that we Christians all believe that Jesus performed the expectations of the Law perfectly and flawlessly — HE did for sure! Yet, why in the world would we think He would need to if He were going to just set aside God’s expectations of morality. It’s as if we evangelicals says — WHEW! Glad I don’t have to live up to that!

Jesus did it — So I can basically live however I want to….. 

Fulfillment of the Law

No way — Jesus says that yes, HE performed them but does not take them away. To which many of you are thinking — whoa, wait a minute — there are all sorts of ceremonial laws all sorts of laws pertaining to worship at the Temple. We Christians don’t abide by that — Paul says we’re not saved by the Law. We are not! Hallelujah! So wait — Nate — I don’t get it — So what is the point of the Law? Wait that’s the question we answering today; I’m glad you asked rhetorically…

To be honest this is quite the hot button discussion in many theological circles. It’s been debated for centuries what of the Law continues and what does not. But, let’s just look at what Jesus says about the Law and the Prophets. Not an iota or dot… some of your translations probably say Jot and tittle. Jesus is trying to say that there is not the smallest letter in the alphabet or the stroke of a pen — even the little flair on letters in the written words of the Law will pass away.

This is all until all is accomplished — all has been fulfilled — God’s sovereign plan has been fully enacted and He has returned and is ruling for eternity.

“Then time as we know it will cease, and the written words of God’s law will be needed no longer, for all things in them will have been fulfilled. Thus the law is as enduring as the universe. The final fulfillment of the one and the new birth of the other will coincide.” [2]

Expecatations of the Law

The expectations remain in place — be Holy as He is Holy. We are to abide by His expectations — It’s still the standard. There is a gravity of the high expectations. Jesus continues to exclaim that very gravity.

Read vs 19 again —

Therefore — since all of the above is true, then…. Who would relax the Laws of God? Well — ironically some of the rabbis were.  Jesus is pointing to the fact that interpretation had been contextualized to the society around them. Some of the scribes were minimizing the expectations or interpreting the moral standard as an unattainable goal. Which it is — yet we are to DO THEM — and teach other to do the same. We continue to fail morally in ways that are antithetical to God’s Word. Yet we strive to abide by His moral ways — we don’t relax the laws or reinterpret them to fit our selfish desires. So I think the first thing we learn from this text about being Kingdom Citizens with the Law is this:

Point 1:

A Kingdom Citizen takes seriously the high expectations of the Law.

We should rightly realize the just righteousness required by the Law. We should rightly abide by the Law! But you might say, but Jesus goes on to say the Law is summed up in this way – Matthew 22:37-40:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 





How do we love God with our all? By abiding by His Word! The morality that is prescribed by His Word is our measure.

The two audiences hearing this are hearing that Jesus is saying the expectations to live morally holy lives is in place. The Law shows them how to live that Holy life. The ritualistic cleanliness laws however were for a different context — they were for how we approach God in worship — in a worthy manner. But the new covenant believer is to live with an understanding that the Law is written on their heart — that the morality outlined in Scripture is something that we ascribe to live by — We can’t disregard the high expectations of the morality of the Law.

Trepidation and Hope

We now come to the last verse in this passage that gives us some trepidation and yet hope.

Read 5:20

The obvious trepidation is the fact that on first take of this — it sounds as if our human righteousness should be greater than the religious all-stars. If we don’t exceed that then we are not going to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus is beginning to drive home the point that righteousness is not just the outward acts of morality — but rather it is an inward heart matter.

Think about it — the Pharisees are the religious dream team — they have all 613 of the laws memorized in order to display outwardly all of their righteous works. They are the definition of “holier than thou”, which is also literally what they thought of themselves — but here, Jesus is saying that even that level of commitment to outward righteousness isn’t even enough.

Imagine what that sounds like those in the crowd. In my sports-driven analogies it’s like saying you need to be able to dunk over Michael Jordan while taking off from the free-throw line, even when you’re 5’2”. Or like saying you need to pitch as accurate and as hard as Nolan Ryan, but standing from the outfield bleachers. Or kick a field goal from 38 yards in the NFC Championship like Gary Anderson —well ok, maybe not that last one — but you get the picture.

It seems so far out of reach that it is impossible — and to those Pharisees in the crowd — to hear your life’s work of righteousness still falls short or wide left would be staggering. Again — Jesus wants us to see something deeper — keeping the law’s expectations are the way to love him and honor him. But yet, even keeping all of the laws as well as you can — you won’t be able to abide them perfectly. They are legitimately out of reach.

Jesus is introducing His teaching— His exposition on the Law in the life of the Kingdom Citizen. It’s not only outward acts — it’s not them alone. Rather it comes from a place of desire — motivation — from the heart.

Ok, well you might be thinking — this is all sobering, but still feels unattainable. As it should. This righteousness can only be attained by one. God Himself.  Jesus. For as we saw in the beginning of this entire passage — Jesus exclaims that His own coming was to fulfill the Law — to fill it — to perform every expectation.

His righteousness alone exceeds that of the scribes and the pharisees. It is only Jesus, the Christ who can abide perfectly by the Law — because He is completely without sin. This is good news. It is through the Law that we see ourselves for who we really are — humans with a spiritual bankruptcy. We are fallen — we are in need of righteousness. The Law points to our weakness — but Jesus reminds us that because He is God, He is the fulfillment of the Law. That the Law also points to Jesus — the one who fulfilled the Law we couldn’t.

The second thing this passage is pointing us to is this:

Point 2:

A Kingdom Citizen trusts in Christ’s righteous fulfillment of the Law. 

It is through His righteousness do we find ability to be accepted by God. He is our righteousness. When we trust Jesus’ as our righteous Savior — His righteousness literally becomes ours. The fancy churchy word for this is imputation.

His righteousness has been imputed to us — it’s not ours by nature or by effort but it is His that has been counted for us. So we have both ends of the spectrum in this passage — The Law is to be abided — we can’t, though we try — But Jesus does abide by the Law — and in turn we trust that His ability to fulfill the law becomes credited to us.

Though this seems confusing — this passage sets up the particular examples Jesus is going to use to help us understand the morality of Kingdom citizens.  I pray that I haven’t muddied the waters so to speak, but to clarify I think there are two things that help us grasp this truth.




Take away – 1

We must measure our morality by God’s revelation rather than by the world.

Take away – 2

We must trust His righteousness is enough for our failures.

This week we’ve had a lot of things happen within our church family. Things that we mourn over, things that hold each other up in prayer for. I was reminded by a conversation about feeling the strength of the Lord on account of the prayers of our family of believers. And I thought, how do people walk through these hard things without the strength of the Lord? I personally felt that this week — and am completely humbled by it. Even now the words I speak — with zero gas left in the tank — Yet, somehow God continues to uphold — to give strength — That is the beauty of living as a Kingdom Citizen — the weaker we are — the more glory He receives on account of His ability to be our strength.

These are the reasons I say this week in and week out — Whoever you are, that needs to hear this — we want you to be a part of that body. Not just physically here with us in Becker — But a part of the Church of Christ — those who are of a different kingdom. The eternal Kingdom. Trust in Him — Jesus as your Savior — He lived, died, and rose on yours and my behalf.  So that we might have His righteousness imputed to us.

That is good and glorious news. We share that with you now.

If you never have — respond with me as I pray — if you do respond, let me know so we can properly welcome you into the Kingdom!




1 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 107.

2 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 73