“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 NASB
Good Works – It seems reasonable to suggest that Yeshua anticipated the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. It’s hard to read His teaching in Matthew 24 and not conclude that He saw a time when the Temple would no longer be the center of the sacrificial system. When the Temple fell, Judaism had to rethink one of its fundamental elements – Temple sacrifice. Neusner comments, “When the Temple of Jerusalem stood, sacrifice served as the medium of atonement for sin, just as Scripture insists, and, when the Temple was destroyed, deeds of loving kindness took the place of sacrifice.” This comment and the statement of Yeshua in Matthew 5 help us solve a riddle about practicing faithfulness today. Today there is no Temple. Today we must express our worship of God without the daily sacrifices. Yes, I know that Paul points toward the temple within, but we must still deal with the external obligation. Yeshua not only anticipates a time when there is no Temple, He also sees that there is an appropriate substitute for Temple worship in the absence of the holy place. Yeshua calls this substitute “good works.” Neusner clarifies the idiom by using the English expression “loving kindness.” Both of these English expressions point us toward the same Hebrew word, hesed.
Oh, I forgot. You thought that “good works” meant acting with benevolence toward someone else, or picking up litter on the street, or putting extra into the offering, or giving someone a comforting hug. You thought that “good works” were words that describe your cultural understanding of the terms. You forgot that Yeshua spoke Hebrew in the first century. That’s where Neusner helps. He uses the English “loving kindness.” That takes us right to the English translation of hesed. Hesed is the substitute for Temple sacrifice. But then hesed has always been the alternative to Temple worship. In fact, before there ever was a Temple, hesed was exactly the way the world recognized those who belonged to God.
The Greek text reads kalos ergon (beautiful-good works). This translates the words but not the idiom. The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels uses the Hebrew expression ma’asekem hatovim (the good works). But I believe that Neusner’s expression, loving kindness, is better since it covers more than charity. Fulfilling the obligations of hesed is the essence of worship. It was the essence of worship for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was the essence of worship for David. And in the absence of the Temple, it is the same for us. Certainly Paul would say so. Obedience is at the heart of worship.
So write that check to charity. It’s a good thing. But don’t think that charity is the end of the story. Obedience has always been better than sacrifice and without the Temple, it is the way men know who belongs. Do hesed and you will worship at the Temple.
Topical Index: good works, kalos ergon, ma’asekem hatovim, hesed, Matthew 5:16
 Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, p. 147.