On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus taught His disciples a “more excellent way” than the schoolmaster Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was the foundation of the gospel. It was fulfilled in Christ. Picture the foundation as a floor of a grand temple. To fulfill its purpose does not mean to destroy it, but to use it for its intended purpose. With the walls built, and the steeple upon its roof, the building is ready to function fully.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17)
The Law of Moses was the law of the Aaronic, or lesser priesthood, which focuses on sacrifice, repentance, baptism. The higher law, represented the higher, or Melchizedek, priesthood focuses on the gift of the Holy Ghost, salvation and exaltation. When Christ was crucified, He completely fulfilled sacrifice by the shedding of blood, but other parts of the old law were still efficacious, especially the Ten Commandments.
The Law of Moses was not a law of retribution as some erroneously assume (“an eye for an eye”), but a law of restitution, an important aspect of true repentance. It was “a law of performances and of ordinances, … which [the Israelites] were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:29–30). Those who understood the law “[looked] forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law [was] fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given” (2 Nephi 25:24–25).
The first part of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is called the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12). The word beatitude comes from the Latin beatus, which means fortunate, happy, or blessed.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To be “poor in spirit” means to be humble. When a person is humble, he or she is teachable and easily touched by the light of Christ.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
A commitment we make at baptism is that we will mourn with those who mourn and comfort those in need of comfort. But Christ called the Holy Ghost “the Comforter.”
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:26-27).
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
The meek are gentle and forgiving. Christ was truly meek. Meekness is not the same as weakness. It is choosing to be kind, even when powerful.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19).
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
In the sermon Jesus gave to the Book of Mormon peoples, it is recorded that Jesus said, “…they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (See 3 Nephi 12:6.)
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
God has told us that whatever judgment we pass upon our fellow sojourners on this earth, we shall be judged in the same spirit. If we are merciful toward our brothers and sisters on earth, the Lord will be merciful with us.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time (Moses 6:57).
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Jesus calls His principles, the “peaceable things of the kingdom.” His gospel is one of peace, not of violence, force, or coercion.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
…And if they persecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men that were before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven (Doctrine and Covenants 127:4).
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
More Counsel from the Lord
Jesus called His disciples the “salt of the earth.” Salt is both a seasoning and a preservative. Without it, food is bland and spoils quickly. The Lord mentions “savor” and tells His disciples that salt that has lost its savor is good for nothing. Followers of Christ should stand out from the world and the worldly as good examples of following His commandments.
Jesus called His disciples the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14; see also verse Matthew 5:16). Our light, however, does not use us as its source. We, as Christ’s disciples, reflect His light. We are meant to shine, so that others see and seek Him, the source of that light.
The Higher Law
The scribes and pharisees of Christ’s day were extremely concerned with outward appearances. Many were not so concerned about what they did when no one was looking, however. That’s why the Savior called them hypocrites and “whited sepulchers” (Matthew 23:27).
The Savior continued His sermon by calling His disciples to take the “high road,” to be more forgiving, kinder, slower to anger, slower to litigate, slower to require restitution. The “Golden Rule,” however, was not new to Jesus’ law. As it says in Leviticus 19:18:
“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.”
Jesus also told His disciples to watch their thoughts. We are not only judged by God of our actions, but for the set of our hearts, our thoughts, desires, and intentions. A person with an adulterous heart is culpable for those thoughts. (It’s important to realize that Satan cannot read our thoughts.)
*Parts of this article were adapted from the Sunday School New Testament Manual of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.