You have heard . . . but I say – It is all about the heart

#17 in the Sermon on the Mount Series

Jesus the Radical

For those of us who have grown up on the church, it may be difficult to grasp how radical Jesus was in his day. One definition of the adjective radical is:

thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company. (

Jesus sought to bring a change to the way that his hearers understood Scripture and put it into practice.

Six times in the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus identifies where his hearers have a deficient understanding of Scripture (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). He uses the contrasting language of “you have heard . . . but I say to you” to introduce specific points of where the religious leaders of the day missed the intent of Scripture.

Jesus sets himself up as a higher authority

Greek Testament

The first way that Jesus is radical is that he sets himself up as an authority higher than any the hearers have known. Here is a man that is putting himself above all the teachers of the day and above all that had gone before.

If Jesus is just a man like every other man, this would be an act of supreme hubris. Yet, as God in the flesh, he has the authority and the right to stand in judgment of the teachers of the law.

Jesus indicates we need a change of perspective

The second way Jesus is radical is the extent to which he applies Scripture. When you look at these six contrasts, the error is not that the teachers misunderstood the texts. The error lies in their not going deep enough in their understanding. The teachers focused on behavior and Jesus focuses on the heart.

There is something in man that wants to have rules so that he can judge his performance. People typically feel as though they are pretty good and generally live up to the standard they have set for themselves. Even the most strident nonconformist displays this. The nonconformist judges himself by his nonconformity to others’ rules. We judge ourselves by our behavior, our outward acts.

Jesus tells us that we are correct in controlling the outward acts, but this type of self mastery is not sufficient to claim obedience to Scripture. To really obey requires that we peel back the skin and get below the surface to motivations and attitudes. In these six contrasts, Jesus tells us:

  • It is not enough to keep from murder, we must also keep from hatred
  • It is not enough to keep from adultery, we must control lust
  • It is not enough to follow the correct procedure for divorce, we must understand that divorce is only to happen when a partner has been unfaithful
  • It is not enough to keep vows, we must live our lives so that our word can be trusted
  • It is not enough that we limit our revenge to an eye for an eye, we must live lives of sacrifice for others
  • It is not enough to love those who love us, we must also love our enemies

Jesus shows us that from God’s perspective, rule keeping is not enough. We must get behind the behavior to the motivation for the behavior. Jesus indicates that it is our hearts that God is after, not unwilling obedience.

It is all about the heart

Two observations:

  1. If we make rules for ourselves or others, they need to be in keeping with a correct understanding of Scripture. There is nothing wrong with correctly condemning behavior that Scripture condemns or promoting behavior that Scripture promotes.
  2. The rules should be used as barometers to show us how well tuned our hearts are to God. If we are giving grudging obedience then we have work to be done to identify the source of the grudge and deal with it.

But in the end, it is all about the heart.