Summary: Making clear His attitude toward the Old Law, Jesus challenged the religious leaders teaching and raised the bar when it came to righteous living.

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Righteousness Begins in the Heart

Matthew 5:17-20

To some who were confident of their own righteousness (don’t miss that statement) and looked down on every¬one else, Jesus told this parable:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Phari¬see stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people—robbers, evil¬doers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justi¬fied before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be hum¬bled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)

Here is the most religious man in his society, one who in their eyes went above and beyond when it came to keeping the laws of God. Like a world-record high jumper who sets the standard by which all others are measured, here is the one to whom all others compared themselves and saw themselves as coming up short. The other guy is the least esteemed in that culture. A tax collector employed by Rome, considered by his countrymen as the ultimate traitor with no spiritual worth. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus sees things differently? Jesus sees the best as the worst and the worst as the best. He condemns the seemingly right¬eous rule keeper and commends the cowering tax collector.

Jesus in the beatitudes had just pre¬sented a radical view of one blessed by God. One can only imagine what went through the minds of those present when told they were fortunate if they saw themselves as sinners, mourned that condition, humbly submitted to God’s leading, lived with an insatiable desire for holiness, exhibited a merciful spirit, cultivated a pure heart, and then, as a result, would pay dearly for such attitudes and actions. And then to be told that they and they only were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When told how blessed and important they were, they had to won¬der who was this guy making these strange proclamations? His teaching was radical and very different from the other religious teachers of His day. Was He a prophet? Was He the promised Messiah? Was He just another want-to-be reli¬gious leader? He was different, and the sharp contrast between His view of the Old Testament and the religious leaders’ view was apparent. In fact, Jesus’ com¬ment (vs. 20) that “unless your right¬eousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of God,” was beyond radical, as these were the “law keepers,” the religious world’s example of righteousness, the world-record hold¬ers when it came to law keeping. Their righteousness was the standard by which everyone else was judged. And Jesus openly questioned their righteous¬ness!

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