Matthew 5:21-48

Pastor Nate Bucher

Matthew 5:21-48


So often people tend to mischaracterize Scripture and say that it’s not very applicable. Or it’s not clear enough to instruct what I really do in my life.  Those naysayers have not had the pleasure of reading this portion of our text, or have not thought it attainable.

We are covering a lot of text today. And I’m sure most pastors don’t enjoy this passage on the account that we see and hear Jesus say some very direct things. And realize the expectations of how His followers will live their lives is quite demanding. We often refer to this as the narrow road — the Christian life. Many more would take it if it were not so exacting.

So Jesus set up this passage with an introduction of sorts to this “meat” portion. He spoke about Him fulfilling the Law rather than abolishing it. It hasn’t gone anywhere — the expectation stands to be Holy.

One of my professors just spoke of this, how we intend to classify the laws between ceremonial, civil, and moral. There are those types of distinctions, but he challenged us to think about the intent behind the law. He used the example of the command to build a parapet around the roof of your house….. What’s the point of this? So people won’t fall off your roof…

The point of that law in our context is not that we all need to have a parapet, but rather that we value human life. Humans were made in the image of God — all life is valued —  So in turn we do things that help show that we value life, throughout many scenarios in our daily life. I know…You’re thinking this is a big tangent — but it gets back to us understanding the Law in light of our lives in the 21st century.  Jesus cares about how we live — and He right now wants give in His time and ours some real life scenarios on how the Law applies to us.

How do I actually live according to the Law?

These are clear teachings that Jesus is getting at in this passage. Keep one thing in mind — Jesus is not just interpreting the Law — but revealing the true intention and expectation.


Let’s briefly discuss the structure of this passage — as many of your Bible headings show you there are 6 sections with a topic each —  And even in length we see the first one is by far the most in depth then they get shorter and shorter.

Jesus follows a pattern as well —  You have heard that it was said…..but I say to you….  This is where people woke up — This Rabbi is speaking with authority over the text.  That but I say to you is a big statement.

But I want to suggest as some of the other commentators also suggested is that we take this whole passage in two chunks —  Two groups of three 21-32 & 33-47 then 48 is a summary of sorts.  Verse 33 says “Again”, then repeats the exact same wording as verse 21.  There is only a pause — not a shift — a refocus on the main point. We are going to take this topic by topic to see what Jesus interpretation is, but deeper what His intention and expectation is.

Intentions of the Heart

Read verses 21-26 – Anger leads to devaluing human life.

Read verses 27-30 – Lust is the seed of outward immorality.

Read verse 31-32 – Laxity of this law had led to consumeristic tendencies of men — The value of marriage is that the two have become one — Matt. 19

All three of these topics are getting right at our own lives — from the first century to now, and in the future until Christ returns — these ring true in our lives. The depth that Jesus has just shown and will continue to show is not just outward action. No, it is far more exacting than that.  As we pause after our first triad of scenarios I want us to see this point

Point 1:

Last week was the set up for us to gain clarity of this very point.  It not just murder — its not just adultery — its not just divorce.  What’s the heart motivation behind all of those — The next three point us back to that same point as we will soon see.

Read verse 33-37 – Oaths are not to be taken, but rather we do what we say we’re going to do—show up!

Read verses 38-42 – The point of eye for eye was not to exact an inordinate amount of retribution— but rather, we should want to right a wrong that we’d go above and beyond.

Read verses 43-47 – Hating our enemies comes from the laws of separation — be separate — but Jesus gets to the heart – love even those who despise you.

All of these scenarios are pointing directly to our heart. We as Kingdom Citizens want to be aware of what is motivating our actions – yes, but even more where is our heart in these matters? We indeed strive for an authentic heart — one that is pure — even if no one sees our impurity.

This last verse is a beautiful summary comment by Jesus that leaves us at first overwhelmed — but then hints at the hope we hold!


Be Perfect

Read verse 48

At first glance this verse seems out of reach — unattainable. It is. We must be perfect — just as our father in heaven is perfect. That is a tall unattainable order — It’s part of our colloquial speech — “nobody’s perfect”.

Except the one speaking on a grassy hill to His own disciples and crowds of people. Jesus is always summing up his whole driving force of point one — Your truly authentic heart will lead you to perfection. 

If you live by the law, not just by outward actions — but have a transformed heart that is pure — that there is no seed of sinful thought, desire, or emotion, then you shall live perfectly. The goal of the Law is to drive us to the perfect mirror image of God — But you’re right in saying — but that’s impossible. We do have a seed of sin within all of us — I continue to sin, we all continue to sin even as followers of Christ.

But here Jesus is telling us to be perfect — Therefore — just do it. This leaves us standing in disbelief. As it should — because we read the stark expectation — we now must think about the hope in this teaching.

The goal of perfection leads us to understand that we are incapable and need a Savior. We need an advocate — we need someone to stand in our place.

It’s the one who speaks these words. Jesus wants us to know — the expectation is perfection. But He is inviting all that hear His words to watch and seeWatch and see that He is the one that will live that perfect life. Just as the Father in Heaven is perfect.  Watch and see that He is the one that will be that Savior— that advocate — that substitute.

Jesus is telling all of us to strive for living our lives in light of the Law — to actually live transformed lives — not just outwardly but inwardly. Yet — when we fail — Jesus speaks up and says I’ll count my perfection for your imperfection. Grace — unmerited favor — we don’t deserve it — yet he shows it. This is very good news. Yes — live out the intention of the Law — But. Joyfully accept His grace.

Point 2:

A Kingdom Citizen diligently pursues perfection but ultimately relies on grace.

That is what it looks like to live according to the Law — as Kingdom Citizens. We strive to live authentic heart transformed lives day in and day out. There are no days when we should ever feel like — eh its a throw away day— No, we are to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Yet when we can’t be — we come to Jesus and repent of our sins and trust in His grace.


Though these are hard teachings — they have a very high expectation. They are very clearly applicable — both outwardly and inwardly. But, I think there are some very concrete ways that we can do in light of this portion of the Sermon.

Take away – 1

We must be actively aware of our sinful tendencies that no one can see.

Take away – 2

We must strive to rid our lives of sin as outlined by Scripture.

Take away – 3

We must daily remember our deepest need for the Gospel of Grace.


This is how our lives are to look in light of the law — Kingdom Citizens aware — striving — and remembering. This is why you and I need Jesus — because there will be times of falling to live perfectly — it’s intertwined within our nature.

But, if you are someone that is hearing these words — seeing this standard in a new light —desperately understand your need for a Savior. Without trusting in Jesus as your Savior — you’re simply striving for perfection for not. Maybe you’re for the first time feeling that conviction — seeing your sin — mourning over it — Then trust Jesus as your Savior. Trust that He was our substitute, that He is your righteousness to the Law, that He is the one to advocate on your behalf. Then repent of those sins — turn from them — strive to live your life in light of the expectations of Scripture.

It is simple — trust— in the grace of Jesus. Obey — His Word — His Expectations. Then live as a Kingdom Citizen — striving to live perfect as He is Perfect!