Your Greatest Desire (Matthew 5.1-16)
We are given the reminder that there is only one class of disciple in God’s kingdom, the blessed class. God gives the same new heart to all and rewards all equally. You are the light of the world.
In going up the mountain to teach Jesus assumes the mantle of “the prophet like Moses” whom God told Moses he would raise up to teach his people (Deut 18.15, 18).
Deuteronomy means ‘second law’, and the book of Deuteronomy recounts Moses’ reiteration of the Law at the end of his life, just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Jesus’ teaching here is likewise a re-presenting of the Law, but it is more than that. Jesus is greater than Moses and has come to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (17).
His immediate audience is the disciples (1), though by the end of this teaching the crowds have caught up with him and – even if not his intended hearers – have overheard (7.28). They acknowledge his authority, the authority of one who speaks God’s words.
Before Jesus gets down to specific teaching about the Law he describes the qualities of the character of the disciple. This is important because a disciple is a person with a new heart, a God-given heart, as we saw when looking at 3.1-10 (noting Jer 31.33; Ezek 11.19; 36.26).
Obeying laws is impossible unless one has a God-given desire to do so, a supreme desire to do so. As Jesus says elsewhere, only a good tree can bear good fruit. Such teaching is not original to Jesus. The Psalms begin with a beatitude on the one who delights in the law of the Lord, likening him to a well-watered fruitful tree (see Psalm 1).
However the righteous character which Jesus requires of his disciples radically exceeds anything known previously. The beatitudes turn human values and wisdom on their head.
To call the persecuted blessed and expect them to rejoice and be glad in the face of evil and injustice – that requires an absolutely exclusive desire to please Jesus, to the extent that nothing else matters.
Apart from such character the disciple is of no use to Jesus. He is like salt that has lost its flavour or a light which is hidden. He will not point others to God or bring glory to him.
The images of salt and light, such common things, remind us that these qualities are not reserved just for saints; they are expected of all disciples. Spencer’s unfinished painting of Jesus teaching locates the scene not on a mountainside but at the annual Cookham regatta. Jesus preaches from a barge.
Apparently, Spencer chose this location because the regatta was the one occasion on which all classes in Cookham mixed together. It is a reminder that there is only one class of disciple in God’s kingdom, the blessed class. God gives the same new heart to all and rewards all equally.
What would others say is your greatest desire? If not to glorify God, what might it be?
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you might renew my heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit. May my greatest desire be to glorify you and the Father, even if that means suffering in this life. May all else be as filthy rags to me. In your great name I pray. Amen.
Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand
Photo by Fauzan Saari on Unsplash