Summary: The standard of holiness has never been lowered, and the need for grace never more seen.
A Higher Standard
Matt. 5:20, 48
I’d like to be a track star. How cool would it be to stand before a roaring crowd that has stood to its feet because I set a new record in high jump! And I could do it, you know—if the record for high jump stood at two feet. Unfortunately for me, the record is almost 2.5 meters—well over seven feet. Well, what if I get in a track meet with Senior Citizens—surely, a man in his mid-forties ought to come out well then, you would think. But, sure enough, if I were to enter a Mastertrack competition—designed for men 40 and over, I would wind up competing against someone like Phil Fehlen. Never heard of Fehlen? Well, he witnessed history—he was there in 1956, Phil to witness the first 7-foot high jump, by Charlie Dumas. Forty-two years later, Phil made history himself: a world M60 high jump record of 1.72 (5-7 3/4). And he did it on the Fourth of July, only a day after his 63rd birthday. How good was his jump of 5’7" 3/4? How good was the jump? The Age-Graded Tables at Mastertrack.com show that 1.72 meters at age 63 is equivalent to an open mark of 2.48 -- 8-1 1/2! (MasterTrack.com—accessed through Ask Jeeves)
And that’s the problem with me being a high jump star—the bar is too high—I can’t jump five feet much less seven. The standard is just too high.
The bar has been raised in life as well. In our text this morning, Jesus told the disciples that their righteousness had to exceed that of the pharisees. Now, what does this mean to us? Simply put—to be a child of God one must live by a higher standard. Let’s explore the text and make some observations about the standard for godly living.
I. The Standard of Godly Living Has Been Raised.
A. Christ took the highest standard of religion in his time—and said it wasn’t enough.
1. Understand something about the Scribes and Pharisees—they were the religious elite of the day.
2. But Jesus noted something important about these men—they were “doing religion” not for God, but for recognition.
3. They wanted to be the religious elite—it was a matter of pride.
B. Simply put, God is not impressed nor wants an empty ritualism.
1. To be a religious person, to keep the law, to shine one’s own righteousness for all to see, means nothing—if it isn’t real.
2. These men were religious frauds—and their righteousness was an outward one only—keeping the law was all they were concerned about.
C. Do we have any such frauds today in the church around this world?
1. Well, do we have Sunday Saints who sing in choirs on Sunday and cheat their workers on Monday?
2. Do we have people who will do acts of kindness, benevolence, generosity, only if they get a public pat on the back?
3. Do we have people to make up their own standards of behavior and treat those who cannot live up to the standard with disdain and outright hatred?
4. If so, phariseeism is alive and well.
5. Jesus declared that such a lifestyle will not get one into heaven, period.
II. Examples of the Raised Standard Have Been Offered.
A. Christ spoke with an authority as he laid out examples of true righteousness.
1. When he used the formula, “you have heard it said . . . but I say unto you” he was claiming authority to fulfill the Law
2. Many see the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus acting as a new Moses—he had come to raise the standard of righteousness—and he had the authority to do so.
B. Virtually every type of human relationship was examined as illustrations of the life God wants his people to live.
1. Quickly read the intros to the examples.
2. Each of the examples that follow have a common thread—Jesus took the standing law, or interpretation of the law, and said that it didn’t go far enough: the law was concerned with outward manifestations of sin.
C. It’s not enough to have good behavior—Jesus made godly living a matter of the heart.
1. Anyone of us in this room can point to someone who has worse behavior than ourselves. “At least I’m not like so-and-so;” “I don’t beat my wife;” “I’m not a drunk;” “I don’t cheat on my taxes;” “I would never kill anyone;” and on and on and on.
2. The problem is, we are not to judge ourselves by others’ behaviors—God judges us by what goes on in our hearts.
III. The Reason for Raising the Standard Has Been Given.
A. What did Jesus mean by “be perfect?”
1. This is not an admonition about sinless perfection—remember in 5:6, the blessed disciple still hungers and thirsts for righteousness; and in 5:7, they still need mercy (Lenski, p. 253).