Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 8: Surpassing Righteousness

"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."  (Matthew 5:20)

Bill Gates, 2011's 2nd Richest Man
As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, this statement is the moral equivalent of saying, "Unless you are richer than Carlos Slim and Bill Gates . . ."  Jesus SEEMS to be saying here that no one can get into heaven. Period.

Just one verse earlier, however, he said that anyone who set aside the least of the commandments would be called "least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).  In that case, even a lawbreaker can get in.  He'll be "least," but he'll be in.

So which is it?  Verse 19, or verse 20?


Please don't make the mistake of thinking that Jesus was so stupid he could contradict himself in the space of a breath and not realize it.  Please don't compound that error by assuming Matthew was also stupid enough to include such gibberish in his gospel.  And, while you're at it, don't
insult 2000 years of Bible readers, teachers, and translators, either. 

Jesus meant BOTH statements.

First, understand this: you do not have to keep the law to get into the kingdom of heaven. You would have to keep it perfectly, and you can't.  Adam and Eve couldn't keep the Law when there was only one rule; certainly no one has managed to keep all of the other rules that have since been added . . . with one exception: Jesus.  You can't keep the law perfectly, but it's okay because Jesus did that for you, and it is his passport you use to get through the gate.  Jesus DID have a righteousness that surpassed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law . . . his righteousness was not merely outward observance, but heartfelt spiritual perfection.  When you accept the work he did on your behalf, HIS righteousness becomes yours (Philippians 3:8-9, 2 Corinthians 5:21).  Salvation, as many have said before, is a free gift and we can do nothing to earn it.  We are saved by grace.  To enter the kingdom of heaven, you have to be perfectly righteous, and only Jesus is perfectly righteous . . . but the good news is, he's willing to share.

Blessing, on the other hand, is bestowed by God as a result of active participation on our part.  When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied that it is to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5, cf Matthew 22:37-38).  Jesus said over and over again that, if we truly love him, we will obey him (John 15:10-14, 1 John 5:1-3, etc.).  To love Him, therefore, is not merely a sentiment; it is to obey His commands.  Paul points out that God plans to reward His servants in eternity, and that our reward is contingent upon our love for Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).  So to be great in the kingdom, one must love greatly, and that means obeying.  Or, as Jesus put it, "whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

You get in because Jesus is righteous.

You are called great because your love for him is more than lip service; it proves itself genuine by bearing fruit, the fruit of obedience.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)
When Paul wrote these words, the New Testament hadn't yet been written. "All scripture" meant the Tanakh, what we refer to as the Old Testament.  If you allow these scriptures - the very breath of God! - to water your heart, then the seeds planted there by the Holy Spirit will grow to maturity and bear much fruit.

These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.
Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. 
 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 
Impress them on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.                                                                                         (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

Above all, allow God to write His commandments on your heart.  Consider them His love letter to you. 
Oh, how I love your law!
   I meditate on it all day long....
How sweet are your words to my taste,
   sweeter than honey to my mouth!
(Psalm 119:97, 103)

1 comment:

  1. While reading “Sermon on the Mount Part 8: Surpassing Righteousness” it occurred to me that a point may need to be clarified. When reading these sentences:
    “You can't keep the law perfectly, but it's okay because Jesus did that for you, and it is his passport you use to get through the gate.”
    “To enter the kingdom of heaven, you have to be perfectly righteous, and only Jesus is perfectly righteous . . . but the good news is, he's willing to share.”
    “You get in because Jesus is righteous.”
    One may misinterpret and think that the righteousness of Jesus is what brings us into the kingdom while scripture indicates that it is his death on the cross that opens the gate..

    Jesus had to be born from a virgin to exclude him from Adam’s and Eve’s original sin. Jesus had to be and was perfectly righteous by following all of God’s commands.
    The most important event is His sacrificial death on the Cross.

    His death would be meaningless if He were not born as and had not lived as the “spotless lamb”. God the Father demanded a spotless blood sacrifice to atone for sin. Jesus was the perfect, ultimate and final blood sacrifice that atoned for all sins past present and future. Truly it was His death on the Cross as a righteous “spotless lamb” not born through sin that opened the gates to get us in.

    His righteous was mandatory but His sacrifice is the key to the gates of heaven.