Summary: Jesus' sermon explains in what ways our righteousness must surpass that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. This is the narrow path that leads to life. This is not just saying "Lord, Lord," but doing the will of God.
How’s your righteousness? At what level is your righteousness? That’s an important question. Listen to these words of Jesus in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees. In Jesus’ sermon on the mount which is Matthew 5,6 and 7, He appears to use the term “righteousness” to refer simply to obedience to the will of God. Our obedience to the will of God must be above the level of the scribes and Pharisees. That verse, I really think, is Jesus’ thesis statement for His whole sermon on the mount. It’s the main point that He drives home in the sermon.
The verses that come before it, v3-19, form an introduction to the sermon. They’re about who it is that is blessed, who it is that has the kingdom of heaven. And of course it’s very different from what the scribes and Pharisees would say about who has is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says they are the poor in spirit. They’re the people who mourn over their sin. They’re meek. They hunger and thirst for righteousness. They really genuinely want to do God’s will in their lives. They’re merciful. They’re pure in heart. They’re peacemakers. And they endure persecution and they keep doing what’s right. They’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And then in v17-19 Jesus clarifies something for His audience, because what He’s going to teach them in this sermon is going to be very different from what they’ve heard taught by the scribes and Pharisees who claimed to teach the Law and the Prophets. Since Jesus’ teaching will be so different, these folks might get the impression that Jesus is suggesting that we don’t have to follow the Law and the Prophets anymore. So Jesus clarifies that that’s not at all what He’s suggesting. The laws of the old covenant were still binding on these Jewish folks at this point in history. It wasn’t until the death of Christ that the old covenant was replaced by the new covenant (Gal 3:24-25; Eph 2:14,15; Col 2:16-17; Heb 7:12; 8:13; etc.) So Jesus tells them that until He has accomplished what He came to earth to accomplish, every letter of the Law of Moses is still binding on them. They do need to continue to follow that Law. Then He makes the point that the rest of the sermon will elaborate on. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What do you mean by that, Jesus? Our righteousness must surpass the Scribes and Pharisees? Jesus says, “Well, here’s what I mean. Take for example the area of…
I. Conflict with people (5:21-26)
Do you have any conflict or strife or discord or disagreements between you and somebody in your life? Do you have people that you have problems with or people that have problems with you in your life?
Well, 5:21, “You have heard that the ancients were told…” This is what the scribes and Pharisees would teach that God told our forefathers. This is what they would say the Bible says. This is their righteousness in the area of conflict with people. They’d say, “Just don’t murder. Just don’t kill anybody, or you’ll be liable to the court if you do.”
Jesus says, “That’s not going to cut it. I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” What court? No human court that I know of would find you guilty for just being angry with someone. I think He means the Court with a capital C. The heavenly court, God’s court. “You mean I can’t harbor anger in my heart toward someone?” “Not only that, but don’t expect the kingdom of heaven if you’re one who heaps insults on your brother, like raca or moree in the original text. Those were words in their language that would be used to really belittle someone and just tell them how worthless and nothing they are. The kingdom of heaven is not for people who verbally abuse other people. Sounds like Paul over in Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor (which means shouting) and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” That’s the same thing Jesus is saying.
But that’s not all when it comes to conflict in your life. Jesus says, “You also do what you can to reconcile any relationships that you’ve damaged. If you’ve hurt someone, don’t bother to come worship God until you’ve first tried to make things right with that person.” Remember – “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) “for they shall be called sons of God.”