The Surpassing Righteousness of Christ
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
We are in the middle here of a quick study of the Sermon on the Mount. My goal for this study for us is to get a handle on the things that Jesus talked about that were really important for people to pay attention to in their lives. Jesus said that if we followed Him we would have the light of life. We would be able to see the actions that lead to living best! What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means we trust and obey what He taught and did!
In verse 20 of our passage here, Jesus says that
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will certainly NOT enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus makes this statement to indicate that following the Scribes and Pharisees as an example will lead people to ruin. In order to understand what He means we will first have to consider what righteousness is and what God’s standards are for declaring people to be righteous.
- Man’s Righteousness Before a Righteous God
Righteousness: Being and doing what is right.
Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one.”
- Comparing with religious leaders v.20
Here is the problem with this comparison:
- What you are doing is not good enough.
- What they are doing is not good enough.
In the light of our inability to be and do what is right according to God’s standards of goodness, we remain obligated to those standards!
- We are not to give up because what we do is not good enough!
- God’s standard for righteousness
Jump ahead to 5:48 which is the end of this section about righteousness and the law. You must be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect.
It takes understanding the bad news for us to understand what Jesus has done for us and how that is the best news ever!
- Jesus can make you righteous before God
Justification, Redemption, Sacrifice of atonement
Three great terms of Romans 3:19-26
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; (based upon your own behavior) rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
II Cor 5:21 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Ok, since we are declared righteous because Jesus justifies us, redeems us and atones for our sin, of what importance is the law?
The answer is that the law remains very important!
- Jesus’ Directives Concerning Obeying the Law
- The Law and Prophets are not abolished by Jesus
The people in the OT didn’t keep them either. No one ever has. There is no one who is righteous in themselves and never will be.
The problem with the law is not with the quality of the laws given. The problem with the law is that I am not good. And neither are you. Now, if we used a typical cultural means of deciding who is good or not, then we can do ok. But God is remarkably unconcerned with how we judge righteousness and remains fully invested in His own definitions, since He remains God.
- God’s purposes in giving the law still matter
The law is a reflection of God’s character. We are to live reflecting God’s character. The law is good!
How great would the world be if everyone kept the Ten Commandments all of the time?
The blessing of God will always be attached to keeping the law and curses always follow sin. This is the way that the world works. To pretend otherwise is to be very foolish!
- Jesus has fulfilled parts of the law
The law can be divided into three parts:
The moral law: always in play forever
The national laws that relate to Israel: never applied to Gentiles and never will. We are not Jews. And we do not need to be Jews. Jesus has made a new identifier of people and that is to be “IN CHRIST.” If Jews are to be the people of God today, they must be “In Christ” just like Gentiles.
We must be careful in our glorification of Israel, in my opinion. Jesus is the issue, not Israel. All the blessings and promises given to Abraham belong to those who are in Christ. If you rely on keeping the law then you will experience the curses associated with that covenant.
The ceremonial or priestly laws that relate to the temple and sacrificial system. Jesus has fulfilled these. It is no mistake that Jesus talked so much about the destruction of the temple. There have been no sacrifices for sin since 70AD!! There have been no sacrifices needed for sin since approximately 30 AD!!
III. How Should We Approach the Law?
- We should take it seriously
Law keeping is important for our relationship with God. It sets us right in His world!
- We must understand the law through Jesus
“But I say to you!” This is such a radical phrase. Jesus is claiming authority to interpret and define the law for you!
Look at the arguments that Jesus has with the religious leaders concerning the Sabbath. And think about this one argument in particular that Jesus makes:
Mark 2: 23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus extends the law in most cases from the outward observance to the inner issues of the heart. But in the case of the Sabbath, the religious leaders were using it like a weapon, hurting people with its strictness (this is not our problem, by the way). Jesus brings the Sabbath back to the issue of rest and serving the good of people. In the New Testament, every one of the Ten Commandments is reinforced and strengthened, but not so the Sabbath.
- We should love the law!
Psalms 119: 97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
Psalms 119: 113 I hate double-minded people, but I love your law.
Psalms 119: 163 I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law.
165 Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.
John 14:15 15 “If you love me, keep my commands.
The law is not your problem. Sin in you is your problem. The law is the messenger that points out your sin. Don’t shoot the messenger. Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near!!!