Summary: What God is after is a love relationship with His people – not legalism.
RIGHTEOUSNESS PAR EXCELLENCE
1. I have been an “average person” much of my life.
• During my school years, I was an average student in my class. I studied and worked and aimed as high as I could, but I knew there were always those other students who would consistently achieve higher grades than I did.
• I played cricket, rugby, tennis and participated in swimming and athletic competitions. And while there were the few occasions in tennis and athletics where I excelled, by and large I was an average guy.
• When I went to university at age 17, I was at least ten years younger than all the other theological students in my class and felt totally out of my depth. They would be off discussing deep issues I had never even considered and authors I had never even heard of. Though at the end of my third year I did finish at the top of my class, for much of the rest of the time, I felt quite a lot less than average!
• In my years of ministry, especially in this country, a large part of it has been spent in very average sized congregations. While others have moved up the rungs of the ladder to larger and more influential churches, I have opted to spend my time in congregations of around this size.
• Financially, we have always lived among the average income earners and have not had any “Jones’s” with whom we needed to keep up.
2. I guess I just prefer hanging out with more with average people than with the elite of any group. I tend to feel much more at home and the sense of competition is just nowhere near as intense.
3. The scribes and Pharisees were the Spiritual elite of Jesus’ day and their interpretation and definition of righteousness had become the benchmark by which everyone else’s practice of righteousness was judged.
• Now here we find Jesus, who has just spoken in the Beatitudes about the way to enter the kingdom of heaven involving acknowledging our own utter spiritual poverty and bankruptcy, mourning our condition, coming in meekness and purity of heart and so on
• Where we are NOT trusting in or relying on any righteousness or goodness of our own – “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling”.
• Here we have Jesus telling us that “unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.
• This sounds like double-talk. I thought we were already included and blessed on the basis of NOT trusting in any righteousness of our own – and now here we are told that we will only get in if we are better at keeping the law than the scribes and Pharisees!!
4. Jesus, please. Something is not adding up for me and I am sure also for others of us here. I’m not one of the spiritual elite. I’m just an average guy and I mess up a whole lot. No way am I going to be better at keeping God’s law than those professional law keepers. Does that mean there is no hope for people like me?
• Well, before we get too hot under the collar and start dismissing all this stuff as just a bunch of confusing religious mumbo-jumbo – let’s allow Jesus to explain His perspective on God’s Law.
5. The first thing we hear Him say is “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”.
• These words must have sounded almost as strange and unbelievable to those disciples as they do to us. After all it was the scribes and Pharisees who were so openly critical of Jesus and accused Him of being a breaker of God’s law – one who DID NOT observe rules about washing hands, about the Sabbath, about eating and drinking with known sinners, about allowing unclean lepers to touch him, about allowing a prostitute who had been caught in the act to go free, and on and on.
• So how is it that He proclaims to not only fully uphold all of the Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets – but go on to fulfill it? What does that mean?
6. The Jews of Jesus’ day had several things in mind when they referred to the Law.
A. It was used to refer to the Ten Commandments
B. It was also used to refer to the first five books of Moses – also known as the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
C. The term “the Law and the Prophets” referred to all of our Old Testament