Summary: 1) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES 2) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS GOD REQUIRES, 3) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS GOD GIVES
There are many differences between Americans and Canadians. One prominent public one is the moral expectations that Americans require of the political leaders. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, has been striving expensively and perhaps successfully for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States. With South Carolina’s Republicans voting yesterday and Super Tuesday just ahead, great debate has been going on if Americans are ready for a Mormon president. What’s the standard of morality expected?
Quote: Marlisa Fullmer, a Morman reflecting on the situation said: “If following the Nicene Creed is the only determining factor for being Christian, then I guess we’re not Christians,". She stated that: the Prophet Joseph Smith, the first head of the Morman Church, was himself a declared candidate for the U.S. presidency in 1844, when he was shot to death by an anti-Mormon mob while being held in an Illinois jail. (National Post: January 18, 2008. http://www.nationalpost.com/newsletter/story.html?id=247793).
With the amount of scrutiny of political candidates, you wonder how anyone can run. But let’s take it one step further. What if the requirements for the job said that you had to be more gracious than Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Guandi. Who could run? Who would be qualified to hold the office?
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (ESV)
Please turn to Luke 18
It is the false teaching of salvation by self-effort that Jesus confronts head-on in this verse and which all of Scripture, from beginning to end, contradicts. As Paul makes clear in the Book of Romans, even Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was saved by his faith, not by his works (Rom. 4:3; cf. Gen. 15:6). In Galatians the apostle explains that “the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22). Outside of sin itself, the Bible opposes nothing more vehemently than the religion of human achievement.
Luke 18:9-14 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ’God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (ESV)
The least-esteemed and most-hated man in Jewish society was the tax-gatherer, a fellow Jew who had sold out to Rome for the purpose of collecting taxes from his brethren. He extorted all he could get from the people, keeping for himself everything he purloined above what Rome required. He had forsaken both national, social, family, and religious loyalty for the sake of money. The Pharisee, on the other hand, was the model Jew, highly religious, moral, and respectable. Yet Jesus said that, despite the tax-gatherer’s treachery and sin, he would be justified by God because of his penitent faith, whereas the Pharisee, despite his high morals and religiousness, would be condemned, because he trusted in his own righteousness and good works.
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus teaches that the sort of righteousness exemplified by the Pharisees was not sufficient to gain entrance into His kingdom. To Jesus’ legalistic, works-oriented hearers, this was doubtlessly the most radical thing He had yet taught. If the meticulously religious and moral Pharisees could not get into heaven, who could?
After showing the preeminence (v. 17), permanence (v. 18), and pertinence (v. 19) of Scripture, Jesus now shows its purpose. From the context of those preceding three verses it is clear that He is still speaking of “the Law and the Prophets,” the Old Testament Scriptures. In saying that true righteousness exceeds the kind displayed by the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said that, whatever they did with man-made tradition, they did not live up to the standards of Scripture.
The implied truth of Matthew 5:20 is this: The purpose of God’s law was to show that, to please God and to be worthy of citizenship in His kingdom, more righteousness is required than anyone can possibly have or accomplish in himself. The purpose of the law was not to show what to do in order to make oneself acceptable, much less to show how good one already is, but to show how utterly sinful and helpless all men are in themselves. (That is one of Paul’s themes in Romans and Galatians.) As the Lord pointed out to the Jews in the first beatitude, the initial step toward kingdom citizenship is poverty of spirit, recognizing one’s total wretchedness and inadequacy before God.