Summary: Because God’s Word mattered to Jesus, it should matter to us and we should do everything we can to live according to the principles we find there.
Over the years, I’ve found that one of the issues that Christ followers struggle with the most is how we are to apply the Old Testament in our lives. In fact, five years ago when I preached a series of messages based on questions submitted to me by all of you, that was the most common question that I received. So, just like I did back then, we’re going to turn to the words of Jesus to help us answer that question.
This morning is our third in a series on the most famous sermon ever preached – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. So far, we’ve seen Jesus describe the character of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven and the present and future blessings that go along with being part of that kingdom. And we’ve also discovered that those blessings aren’t just for His followers – they are to be passed on to others as we live as salt and light in order to influence the world around us.
Once again this morning, we’ll pick up where we left off, so turn with me to Matthew 5 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 17:
17 “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. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
We’ll begin by making some general observations about the words of Jesus and then we’ll see if we can’t use them to help us answer the question regarding how we are to apply the Old Testament in our lives today.
SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
We’re going to begin with the final words of this passage in verse 20:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
With those words, Jesus reveals that…
1. It is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven without faith in Jesus
From an external perspective, the scribes and Pharisees were very religious. They prided themselves on keeping all the detailed rules and regulations that had been developed within Judaism since the time God had given Moses the written Law on Mt. Sinai. So from a human perspective, if anyone could attain a righteousness that would punch their ticket into the kingdom of heaven, it had to be those religious leaders.
But from God’s perspective that righteousness was clearly only external and it was self-centered and therefore inadequate to earn a place in the kingdom. In effect, what Jesus was saying was this: It doesn’t matter how religious you are. It doesn’t matter how often you go to church or how much money you put in the offering plate. It doesn’t matter how eloquent you pray publicly or how many so called “righteous” acts that you do so that others will see them and think more highly of you. None of that measures up to the standard that I have set forth in my word. The only way you’re going to reach that standard is through faith in me, because I am the one who has completely and totally fulfilled that standard.
Nearly three years later, as Jesus prepared to die on the cross for their sins, the scribes and Pharisees still hadn’t responded to this message, so Jesus proclaimed a series of seven woes against them, beginning with these words:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Matthew 23:13 (ESV)
Not only had these religious leaders failed to enter the kingdom themselves, they had also prevented others from entering the kingdom by their insistence that people adhere to their legalistic religion.
This first observation has significant implications for all of us here this morning. First, if you have never recognized the insufficiency of your own external righteousness and placed your faith completely in the righteousness of Jesus, then you are not part of His kingdom. That’s not my opinion, that’s what Jesus said. No amount of religiosity is ever going to make you right with God. It is only by depending completely on the absolute righteousness of Jesus that you can be right with God.