A Crushing Blow: An End of Yourself
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:20
Jesus ends this prequel about the Law with a striking blow to every sinner’s heart. As we mentioned before, we have to remember the context in which Jesus was living in. The Pharisee’s and the Scribes were the ruling religious leaders at this time. They were ruthless in obeying the Law, even to count the number of steps they took on the Sabbath. They were legalistic, highly religious and ultimately, graceless morons. The common people felt the weight of the Pharisee’s demands to be perfect.
This is why Jesus says to the people, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). The people were weary and burdened with legalistic teaching that left them empty and frustrated. Jesus then delivers a crushing blow to the people listening as He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses the Scribes and Pharisee’s, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus doesn’t eliminate the burden on the shoulders but increases the load, but with a purpose.
How many times have you seen a Pharisee dependent upon someone or something? Never. They are always self-sustaining. They keep the rules, obey the Sabbath and judge those who do not have such a moral capacity as them. Even in Luke 18 as the tax collector is beating His breast and cries, “Have mercy on me a sinner!” the Pharisee is standing a good distance away praying, “Thank you God that I’m not like other men. Thank you that I am not like this tax collector.” Even in the middle of praying, the Pharisee has no ability to depend upon anything but His own righteousness and moral achievements. Jesus is trying to get us to the first beatitude: blessed are the poor in spirit.
Jesus ultimately gives this crushing blow to the crowd listening because He wants them to get to the end of themselves. He ultimately wants them to realize their desperate state before God and repent of their sins. The call of Christ isn’t to be better than the Pharisees but either to be perfect or repent and trust in Christ’s sacrifice. This is why Jesus is going to later expound on the heart level issues within the Law.
He gives this crushing blow to expose to the hearers that they cannot keep the Law. We will see Jesus continue this line of thought as He expounds on anger, lust, divorce, oaths and love. Jesus says if you are angry with your brother, you have already murdered him in your heart. Jesus says if you lust over another, you have already committed adultery with her. It’s easy to be a legalistic Pharisee who looks clean on the outside but the heart is deceitful and sinful. Jesus then delivers the final crushing blow at the end of chapter 5 by saying, “You therefore must be perfect as I am perfect.” He is trying to get us to rock bottom to see that He is the only answer.
Apart from Christ, there is no hope. Apart from Christ, there is no Salvation. Apart from Christ, there is no grace. Apart from Christ, I am nothing. But when Christ exposes my heart and allows me to taste the sweetness of His grace then I am overjoyed and grateful. Jesus speaks to a people weary of trying to live up to the Pharisees and tells them that the standard is much higher. Furthermore, the standard is so high that you will never be able to live up to it. But Jesus has made a way for all of your sins to be reconciled. He has cast all of your sin onto Himself and given you His perfect righteousness. Therefore, if you repent and turn to Jesus, you will be perfect, just as Jesus is perfect.
So then, we see that Jesus is demanding a certain level of righteousness from this passage. He is demanding perfection. He is demanding that every thought, every deed, every action is pure and blameless. We all know that we are guilty before God. Jesus does not leave the story hanging with bad news. Jesus supplies a righteousness that is foreign to our soul. Jesus lives that perfect life for us. Jesus is perfectly obedient in motive and action. Jesus is perfect. So while God demands perfection and we obviously are not, Jesus steps in and exchanges His perfect righteousness for my dirty soul. God gives to you in Christ what He demands of you in the Law – perfection. Let us then rejoice in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”