Before the people got carried away with Jesus’s words that day on the mountainside, he wanted to make sure that they didn’t misunderstand something—God’s people still had rules to live by, and they were even more strict than those the Pharisees and religious leaders imposed. Listen to what he said:
Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:17-20 CSB
Just in case you thought following Jesus meant getting out of lawful living, think again.
The laws God set in place with Moses were still the law of the land for those who followed the Son of God. Jesus was very clear that he was not here to abolish the Law or even the Prophets. God’s Word, the Old Testament, still held and had value and meaning for God’s people. We don’t ignore the Old Testament in following Christ because it’s all about Jesus. We just didn’t see it before, without the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is letting them and us know that his coming, everything he did and said during his time on earth was to fulfill what the Law and Prophets had proclaimed, and he’s still got some to fulfill with his return and reign and judgment. Don’t throw away that Bible yet!
In the coming verses, Jesus is going to be giving some practical examples of what he’s talking about. This is how he will show us what it means to keep the commands of God under Christ. Our status in the kingdom of heaven rests in how we keep or not keep, teach or not teach the commands of God. Notice that he didn’t say that you’d lose your salvation by failing to perfectly keep a certain law, but he did say it would affect how others and God views us.
What does affect our entrance into the kingdom will be our righteousness.
And it must be better than that of the scribes and Pharisees. I’m sure that sent shivers down the spines of many on that mountainside, for who could be as good as a Pharisee? They were reminded constantly by this high-minded religious group how low they really were. Remember, Jesus would later use the Pharisees as an example of how they showed off their righteousness, when he told the story of the Pharisee who prayed: “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men.” He would also call them white-washed tombs. Pretty strong words for the same people he was calling us to be more righteous than.
I think, because he was reflecting on an Old Testament prophet’s words:
Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith.Habakkuk 2:4
Our righteous living must be grounded in faith.
Everybody does good from time to time, but good deeds without faith is worthless (read James on that); that’s why faith precedes good deeds for the one who follows Christ. When we trust in him, he covers us with his righteousness, which then motivates us to do good, running right past those scribes and Pharisees in true righteous living.
There’s so much more to come on how Jesus fleshes this concept out to those listening on the mountainside, so take time today to make sure you’ve got the basic idea set in your mind:
Faith in Christ = Works of Righteousness
Know Christ and live by your faith in him. In this, you will be known as great in the kingdom of heaven, by his…
Grace and Peace