Summary: We make Christ known when we practice exceeding righteousness... when our attitudes, thoughts, words and actions all reflect the spirit of Christ.
Title: Being Better than Looking Good
Text: Matthew 5:21-26
Thesis: We make Christ known when we practice an exceeding righteousness… when our attitudes, thoughts, words and actions all reflect the spirit of Christ.
Epiphany Series: Encountering Christ in Epiphany
• On the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany Jesus urges his followers to be known as people whose inner dispositions are consistent with their exterior behavior. Resisting the urge to take a life is good… but resisting the anger that fuels the urge to lash out is even better. “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
This week I read a story about a boy who was sitting on the curb beside his lawn mower. As he sat there his pastor came by riding a bicycle. The pastor noticed the dejected look on the boy’s face and stopped to see if he could help… and after chatting a bit the pastor offered to trade his bicycle for the lawn mower. They made the trade and each went his way.
A few days later their paths crossed again and the pastor said, “I think you got the better deal. No matter how much I crank on that mower you swapped me, it just won’t start.”
“Oh,” said the boy, “It’ll start if you cuss it.”
“Well,” the pastor responded, “You know I can’t very well do that. I’m a pastor and I forgot about cussing a long time ago.”
The boy answered, “Just keep on crankin’, it’ll come back to you.”
You’ve probably said or heard it said that some things are enough to make a preacher cuss.
My suspicion is that most everyone, including pastors, has become angry enough to be on the verge of cussing over some thing or some one.
However, I did hear of one older gentlemen who was rather proud of the fact that he did not have a single enemy in all the world. He could not think of one for whom he felt animosity or who might hold animosity against him. When asked the secret to this pleasant and peaceful state of being he responded, “It’s easy! I just out lived all the dirty buggers.”
As we continue our reflection on the Sermon on the Mount I would like for us to see the key to the pattern of teaching that will unfold this week and next week. In Matthew 5: 20 Jesus makes an astounding statement that had to have rattled the cages of his listener’s perceptions of what it means to live a good life. Jesus said, “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.”
Jesus’ comment was sweeping in its implications. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were perceived to be people who most closely adhered to every jot and tittle of the law. If anyone was to have lived so as to earn the right to go to heaven, it was the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They kept the rules. They were meticulous in their attempts to fully define the law. So much so, that they took the 10 Commandments and carefully parsed each commandment so that everyone would know what they had to do, or not do, in order to have kept the law. The law was sacred to the Jewish people.
Yet Jesus quotes the law, then contradicts it and then substitutes his own teaching in place of it. Essentially, it would seem that Jesus literally had the audacity to point out the inadequacies of their sacred law.
Having made that bold and sweeping statement, Jesus went on to explain what he meant in Matthew 5:21-48. Jesus makes his point through a series of six illustrations, all of which follow a distinct pattern.
1. Statement: Each begins with the statement, “you have heard that it was said…” In saying this he is directly referencing the official teaching of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
2. Contradiction: He then says, “But I tell you…” In saying “But I tell you…” Jesus is making a contradictory statement. Jesus is taking exception to what the Pharisees and teachers of the law believed fulfilled the requirements of the law.
3. Explanation: He then explained what he meant.
In all of this Jesus simply distinguishes between keeping the “letter” of the law and keeping the “spirit” of the law. Jesus is saying that you can keep the letter of the law and yet still have broken the spirit of the law. Jesus was saying that just because outwardly you manage to keep the law, inwardly you may have sinned and broken the law. In this series of examples Jesus is teaching his followers that their exterior and interior lives must be consistent if they are to be truly righteous people.