Summary: Jesus commands us to have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and Scribes. Just how do we accomplish this?

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“Surpassing the Righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes”

Mt. 5:20

Fr. Christopher M. Nerreau

Introduction: (READ PASSAGE) - In our gospel passage today Jesus commands us to have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and Scribes. (v.20)

• Intrinsically many of us already understand God requires us to be righteous. The problem is we don’t understand how to achieve it. For the most part, we seek to fulfill this task by the sweat of our brow.

o A couple years ago I was at the beach watching a little boy attempt to drain the ocean with a bucket; he would take a scoop out of the ocean, walk over to the beach and dump it.

o We have about as much a chance of achieving the righteousness of God in and of ourselves as the boy had in emptying the ocean with a bucket. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we are not very good are we…

• So the question facing us today is – “Just how do we obtain the righteousness of God?”

Proposition: It is not possible for us to possess the righteousness of God on our own. We must have the help of God Himself.

Interrogative sentence: Today, do you possess the righteousness required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

Sermon Preview: It is my goal that by the end of this sermon you will be able to answer that question. So let’s look at the passage a little more closely as we see:

• The Problem of The Pharisees

• The Promise Of Christ

• The Prerequisite Of The Kingdom

Transitional Sentence: Let’s begin by looking at…


Explanation: Jesus begins (vs. 20) with a call to righteousness, a righteousness that is greater than that of the Pharisees and Scribes.

THE BIBLE SAYS: 5:20 “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

The Scribes and Pharisees

• Scribes – A teaching class that transcribed the scriptures and was very familiar with them.

• The Scribes held a great deal of clout in the society of Jesus, they were a prestigious people.

• Pharisees -

• a member of a Jewish sect of the intertestamental period noted for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the written law and for insistence on the validity of their own oral traditions concerning the law.

• The Common People –

• The Jews believed the Scribes and Pharisees were holy, as holy as they come.

• When I was a kid I thought my priest was “perfect”. I often wondered how he managed that.

The Challenge Of Jesus Statement

• Jesus command that the disciples surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees would have come as a great challenge to them. In their minds there were no people more holy than the Pharisees. They could not imagine trying to live a more devout life.

The Problem of the Pharisees

• The Pharisees emphasis was outward and showy by their own effort.

• Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for these people:

o Mt 6:1 – “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men.”

o Mt 6: 2 – “When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet”

o Mt 6:5 - “When you pray [do not] stand and pray …street corners to be seen by men.”

o Mt 6:16 – “When you fast do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do.”

• Jesus summarizes by pointing out that we are not to Mt 6:19 - “store up for yourselves treasures on Earth.”

• Jesus advice to the religious elites Mt 23:26 - “You blind Pharisee, first, clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

Illustration: Have you ever looked at a car from a distance and thought – “Wow, that’s a really nice car. The outside is shinning and glimmering… Then you walk up a little closer and notice that the inside is a total mess.

This is a good description of the spiritual life of many of the Pharisees. On the outside they gave a great show but inside they were a mess.


o Jesus was not challenging their religiosity, He was challenging their hearts. Righteousness could not be accomplished by effort because it leads to pride.

o The first step in obtaining the Righteousness of God is to look introspectively and ask ourselves – “Is my Christian life just a show?” - “Why do I pray”, “Why do I go to Church”, “Why do I tithe”, “why do I help others”, “why do I _______?”

o Today we must move beyond a showy, prideful, self-righteousness toward a trust in God.

Transitional Sentence: So we see that the problem of the Pharisees was that they attempted to obtain righteousness within themselves and it lead to pride… Now let’s look at…

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