Can our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees?
“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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20
A while back I saw a blog post in which this portion of scripture was presented, and the words: “This scripture scares me…” were added afterwards. I meant to blog about it then and systematically break it down using the word of God to clearly present it to you guys. But alas, I forgot. Well last night as I was listening to a sermon by John MacArthur and he covered this passage. I remembered I wanted to write about it. May God’s word be clearly presented and a blessing to His people. Amen.
It’s always detrimental to take scripture out of its original context. The meaning and words are all a part of God’s whole revelation of Himself to His people. To take out a piece of the whole, means that a part is lost and the whole is no longer just that. We must get back to epository preaching wherein the entire counsel of the word of God is presented. Only then will we truly learn of our Savior Jesus Christ and be able to walk in Him.
For example lets use the scripture above in bold text.
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus starts his sermon on the mount by teaching revolutionary principles that the people (Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducee, others) had never heard before. While the Pharisees emphasized external righteousness before God i.e. thou shalt not murder, steal, commit adultery, and so on. Jesus instead focused on the internal status of the person.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:2-6
Notice anything? The attributes that Christ has listed are those that are manifested internally. Poor in Spirit (humble, able to recognize that one is a sinner in need a of savior), Mourn (those who mourn over there sin before God), Meek (willing and obedient to God’s leading, and are humble and patient in affliction), Hunger and thirst for Righteousness (have an inward desire to do right, which is a result of regeneration by the Holy Spirit).
Jesus was setting these self righteous “Religious” leaders up to drop them completely to the floor. They already knew, although they would never tell anyone, that they were not living up to the standards that Jesus had just set. They were merely “externalist” (I just made up this word), Meaning they only cared about having an external righteousness before men. They appeared to be righteous and holy but inside they were far from God. Jesus made us aware of that fact:
“And he said to them, ”You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15
They were proficient at looking good in front of men, but because God is all powerful and all knowing they were never able to fool Him. And as a result they were an abomination to God.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27
Next, Jesus makes a powerful statement. He lets those looking on, his disciples and us, know that unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of these hypocritical Pharisees then we will never enter into heaven.
What was Jesus saying? Well we must continue to read to find out:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ’You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ’You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
“It was also said, ’Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ’You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all.” Matthew 5:33-34
What is Jesus doing here? Well, he is setting the law of God back to were it was suppose to be. You see the pharisees with their oral law had dumbed down the law of God in an attempt to make it’s goal more attainable for them. They were able to appear righteous before men by never actually committing the acts Jesus listed. But God would have no part of that. The Lord squashed the Pharisees and their compromising law beliefs and reset the standard of righteousness that God intended the law to at.
A perfection and righteousness unattainable by men. Not just a law of doing right but in thinking right as the result of a changed heart.
Now that Jesus had re-established the Law to its Holy Standards we see that the pharisees way of “keeping the law was not keeping the law at all. They were hypocrites at best.
Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. Well in our flesh we are unable to do that. But I know a Man, a God, who came down from heaven to this earth and lived a perfect life. He went to the cross at Calvary and gave His life so that those who believe can be saved.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction.” Romans 3:21-22
By faith, our righteousness (which comes from Christ) exceeds the hypocritical ”righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees.