Summary: Jesus looked at the righteousness of those considered to be very religious in his day. Then he raised the bar to a level most would have considered impossible.
Understanding the Kingdom - Part 5
In Jr. High, as part of my school’s track and field team, it was tough for me to find a field event. I tried them all, except pole vault (only b/c I couldn’t get in the air). No good at any of them. I could run at one speed for a long time, but that didn’t necessarily translate into jumping, leaping, throwing or vaulting. One event in particular I remember trying was the high jump.
Right after I cleared one height, they’d raise the bar. That and pole vault are the only events I know where even the winners end in failure.
The world high jump record is 2.45 meters (that’s 8 feet ½ inch). That’s the greatest height anyone has ever cleared with their body. One person has done it once in 1993 – hasn’t done it again. It is the standard by which all great jumps are measured. If a jump doesn’t meet or exceed that height, it falls short of being the best that was ever done.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were almost universally respected for their righteous attention to the laws of God. They were, in a sense, “world record holders at law keeping.” Their righteousness was the standard by which everyone else was judged.
READ MATTHEW 5:20
20For 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.
Surpass means to go way beyond.
Jesus says, “If you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees by a lot.”
What you think is a world record isn’t near good enough for God. What you’ve been told is flawless is full of holes. What looks like perfection is actually repugnant to the Father.
How? People might have wondered. These guys hold the record! It’s just not possible. But Jesus looked at their record and said, “It’s not sufficient.” Then he raised the bar.
Jesus looked at the righteousness of those considered to be very religious in His day, and He raised the bar to a level most would have considered impossible.
That must have been a shocking statement to those who heard it. Jesus, you’ve been telling us we’re in. That God approves of and blesses people like us – the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek. Now you’re telling us this? We can’t be better lawkeepers than the Pharisees. That’s impossible. We’ll never get in!
To understand what Jesus meant by raising the righteousness bar, let’s look at:
Jesus’ view of God’s rules
How He wants us to treat those rules too.
First, how did Jesus treat God’s rules?
I. HOW JESUS TREATED GOD’S RULES
From a counter-cultural leader you might very well expect change. You might anticipate that the leader would want to do away with the previously accepted rules. And say, “Those things no longer apply. We’re going to create our own rules.” That’s what you might expect from a counter-cultural figure.
So the question for many concerning Jesus was this: “Where does this revolutionary stand on the issue of God’s rules?” Jesus knew people wondered this, so he said…
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (v. 17)
Abolish is a strong word – means to completely throw out. Jesus implies, “I know what you’re thinking. But my mission doesn’t include throwing away the Old Testament Scriptures – that is the Law or the Prophets.
People on the mountain must have thought, “What? You’ve just challenged everything we believe to be true. Sounds like that IS what you came to do!”
Jesus came to usher in an upside down Kingdom, for sure, but that didn’t have to mean breaking, changing, or doing away with God’s rules for living. He challenged their presuppositions but held fast to God’s principles. Principles that were being overlooked and misunderstood.
He says, “I didn’t come to abolish God’s laws and prophets, but to fulfill them.”
Jesus fulfilled every predictive prophecy about the coming Messiah, he fulfilled the doctrinal teaching of the OT, especially concerning the doctrine of God, and he fulfills the ethical precepts of the law – not the least of which is the OT sacrificial system where He himself became the sacrifice for our sins when He died on the cross. Jesus’ mission was to fulfill the law and the prophets in a rich diversity of ways.
In particular, here are…
Three things Jesus says about God’s rules:
They won’t disappear (v. 18)
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (v. 18)