Summary: Human goodness is not good enough for God
Did you ever get an F in school? I did when I was a freshman in high school because I wanted to play more than study. Thus, at the end of an eight-week term I wound up with an F in biology, F as in Flynn. My parents were furious and promised dire retribution if I didn’t bring that grade up to a C.
My mother sat me down and made me virtually memorize the textbook. It seemed impossible, but when we got into it I found out that I could do it. I did it, and as a result I aced the final and came out with a C for the semester, much to my relief and the satisfaction of my parents.
Now let me ask you another question: Did you ever get straight A’s? I know of one girl who went through college and never got a grade lower than an A. Pretty good, huh? However, did you know that you can actually flunk out with straight A’s? Matthew 5:20 tells us that we can. Listen to what it says: "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." This text presents us with a sobering thought: human goodness is not good enough for God.
Now who were these Pharisees? We talked about them on this broadcast a few weeks ago, but now I want to look at them from a different angle. The word itself means separatist. The Pharisees were a group of men who had separated themselves from the rest of the Jews and formed a code of observance that was more rigid than the law itself.
Their rules went far beyond anything in the OT Scriptures. For example, in one of Christ’s parables he talks about a Pharisee who fasted twice a week. However, the law only required one fast a month. Thus, they became paragons of virtue and famous for their holiness. The average person would say, "I could never match that in a million years."
Yet Christ said that we would have to do better than what the Pharisees did. Wow! How can we do that?
Now who were the teachers of the law? These men were experts in the Torah and played a vital role in the education of people. Since most could no longer read Hebrew, this meant that they depended on the lawyers to teach them the law and its meaning. The thinking of the best of these teachers became a part of Jewish tradition, which was the official Jewish interpretation of the Torah. The Jews saw these men as the successors to the Old Testament prophets.
The teachers of the law, or scribes as the King James Version calls them, and Pharisees had added up the things that God wanted them to do. They taught that the law contained 248 things to do and 365 things not to do. Their goal was to fulfill all of these requirements.
How can we ever exceed this? In the Dead Sea Scrolls one of the key figures is the Teacher of Righteousness, and as a result of his teaching the Essene community were even more radical than the Pharisees.
Yet Christ directed his most scathing criticisms toward these kind of people. In Luke 16:15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight." Luke 11:39 says: "Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.’"