His Message – Matthew 5:20
Think of the most upright person you know who has never received the Holy Spirit. Think of the most moral, sterling, religious person, such as Nicodemus or his fellow Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, who was called “blameless” according to the law (Philippians 3:6). Jesus says you must exceed that person in righteousness. You have to be not only as moral as the most moral human being you know, but infinitely more-to be so right in your actions, so pure in your motives, that almighty God can see nothing to blame in you.
Is it too strong to call this a spiritual torpedo?
These statements of Jesus are the most revolutionary statements human ears ever heard, and we need the Holy Spirit to interpret them to us. Today’s shallow admiration for “Jesus Christ as a teacher” is of no use.
Jesus says our inclinations must be right to their depths, not only our conscious motives but also our unconscious ones. Now we are beyond our own abilities. Can God make me pure in heart? Blessed be His name, He can! Can He alter my disposition so that when circumstances reveal me to myself, I am amazed? He can. Can He impart His nature to me until it is identically the same as His own? He can. That, and nothing less, is the meaning of His cross and resurrection.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds…” The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was right, not wrong. Of course, they did things that were not righteous, but Jesus is speaking here of their righteousness, which His disciples are to exceed. What exceeds right doing? Is it not the addition of right being? Right being without right doing is possible if we refuse to enter into relationship with God, but that cannot exceed “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus Christ’s message here is that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who were very good at doing, though they were nothing in being. Otherwise, we will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Monks in the Middle Ages refused to take the responsibilities of life and shut themselves away from the world; all they wanted was the being. Many people today want to do the same thing and cut themselves off from one relationship or another. But that does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. If our Lord had meant exceed in being only, He would not have used the word exceed-He would have said, “Except your righteousness be otherwise than…”
We cannot exceed the righteousness of the most moral people we know on the line of what they do, but only on the line of what they are.
The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount must produce despair in the unsaved person; if it does not, it is because he or she has paid no attention to it. When you do pay attention to Jesus Christ’s teaching, you will soon say, like the apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). The answer is this: “Blessed are the pure in heart.” If Jesus Christ means what He says, where do we stand? “Come to Me,” He says (Matthew 11:28).
- How can Jesus help you become “pure of heart”?
- How can you become a better disciple for Christ?
Father in heaven, we ask you now to show us how we can move down the path of discipleship and exceed what we are called to do.