Religious and Lost!
By Sean Gooding
Matthew chapter 5:17-20 (continued)
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In my previous article we discussed “salt” and “light.” We explored some of the qualities that they both have and then made the journey to examine ourselves in light of these two measures that Jesus gave us to gauge ourselves by. I will tell you that I realized I need to continue working on being better “salt” and “light.”
I have learned in the process of having and raising children, how patient the Lord is with me and each day I awake thankful for a new day. God is “salt” and “light” in my life as His child, and I long to be the same for my kids. My kids need to be extremely forgiving with me. What about you? Are you “salt” and “light” for your kids? It is scary sometimes how the people we need to be the best for—are the very people we take for granted. May the Lord have mercy on us.
Today we will move on to Matthew 17-20; in those verses we will come to understand what true righteousness is and how we get it. Jesus lived amongst a people who were religious to a fault but not righteous. Many times Jesus confronted the religious persons who thought they were righteous but they were sinners, and He often consoled the sinners who were actually righteous in Him.
Jesus, the Fulfillment of the Law, Verses 17-18
Jesus is the absolute fulfillment of the Law. First of all He obeyed the Law down to the very last “jot” and “tittle,” these are grammatical marks that distinguished between words in the Old Testament language of Hebrew. Jesus came to do what no other man on earth could do at the time, actually live out the Law in its entirety.
He was and is the only man who never violated the law even in the smallest detail. Not only did he DO the Law, He lived the Law. He lived out the spirit and attitudes of the Law based on absolute and unabashed love for God and His fellow man. No other person had ever done that.
The religious leaders around Him could claim that they lived out the letter of the Law, but none of them could live out the spirit of the Law. These religious men were bigoted and self-righteous, looking down on others and without compassion or mercy. So while they could claim that they lived out the letter of the Law, they absolutely could not and did not live out the spirit of the Law. They did not love God wholeheartedly and many of them—if not most of them—did not love their fellow Man. We find a wonderful account of this lack of love for the Lord in Matthew 19:16-22, in the story of a “Rich Young Ruler”:
“And someone came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’
Then he said to Him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?’
Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.’”
This young man was quick to point out that he had lived out the letter of the Law, but in loving his wealth more than the Lord, he had missed the spirit of the Law. God cannot and will not tolerate this kind of divided love. And in the prisons of our fleshly bodies and minds we are not able to love God this way.
We need to have true righteousness from God to be able to live this out. This is the very point that Jesus was making in these verses we are examining in Matthew and the verses that preceded them. We cannot live out the Law in deed or spirit apart from Jesus. He has to live it out for us.
And Jesus did that very thing. When He said “It is finished” to the crowd below Him as He breathed His last few breaths, He was not just stating that the sacrifice for sin had been finished, but the very act of one man living out the law in its entirety both in deed and spirit had been accomplished.
Jesus had done for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus fulfilled the Law both by living it out and then by becoming the spotless and perfect sacrifice on behalf of those of us who cannot and will not live out the Law in either action or spirit while trapped in these bodies.
We Are the Breakers of the Law, Verse 19
We break God’s Law! There is no need for us to fuss over this if we are to truly be honest about ourselves and make and honest assessment. We break God’s Law over and over again. This is true from the time that we are rebellious children to the time we are stubborn, set in our ways seniors; we break God’s Law.
Jesus said in verse 19 that if we were to break the least of the commandments, then we would have broken all of them. The great writer James wrote this in his epistle, James 2:10:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
We often think of “big sins” and “little sins.” Or “white lies” and “mistakes.” These words are not in God’s vocabulary. He calls all actions and motives that fall short of His perfection, SIN! To be disobedient to your parents was just as serious to God as murder. Let that sink in for a while. We shade sin in terms of black, grey and white. God simply measures them against His holiness and anything short of perfection is not allowed.
What then is the solution? Is there a remedy for our sinful and lost condition? How can we attain the level of righteousness that is required for God to not execute His just wrath upon us? We know that we sin; often we sin without any real conscious thought—we just do.
Our actions have become so ingrained is that we act without pre-cognition. We simply react as we have always done with no care or consideration of the rightness of an action before God. How do we then change our nature? How do we make it so that our natural reaction is to behave with righteousness in any and all situations? The answer is in verse 20. Let’s take a look.
Real Righteousness, Verse 20
The Pharisees and Sanhedrin of the Jesus’ day thought they were righteous. They actually lived as if God owed them something. In Luke 18:11 we find this prayer being offered by a Pharisee,
“The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: God, I thank You that I’m not like other people–greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
What this dear man did not understand was this: Because he was so self-righteous before God he was actually guilty of all the sins he and just renounced. He was greedy, he was an adulterer and he was as thievish as the tax collectors he despised. He could not see that he was a sinner before God and that he was not dong God any favors with his life.
He and many self-righteous people of our day act as if they have God on speed dial and He is in debt to them. We have entire religious movements today of men and women who act as if God owes them a big house, a big car or multiple cars, and that their kids should have the best of the best. They treat God as some kind of servant to their fleshly lusts.
This was how the Pharisees and other religious leaders lived, in an air of entitlement. This is not true righteousness. Jesus then gave an example of true righteousness in the same account in Luke 18:13-14:
“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
For our righteousness to exceed the self-righteousness of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and of the religious pundits of today we need to humbly confess that we are sinners. This is not a one-time act at the point of salvation but a daily assessment of our need for God’s grace and mercy each and every day. A daily acknowledgement that if it were not for the compassion of the loving Lord of the universe we would be dead and burning in hell and rightly so.
The only righteousness that God recognizes as far as mankind is concerned is the righteousness of the Person of Jesus the Christ. We must have our sinfulness covered in His righteousness and then, and only then will our righteousness exceed the Pharisees and present day religious leaders.
In this way, God will see Jesus’ righteousness over us and accept us as His own. But even then, to maintain a proper relationship with God Himself we need to daily admit and confess our sinfulness and the sinfulness of our families and neighbors. Think of Job in chapter 1 offering sacrifices on behalf of his children’s sins.
Think of Daniel confessing the sins of his nation before the Lord in Daniel 9. We must be in a constant awareness of our sinfulness before God. This is true holiness. Our humility and constant understanding of how sinful we are and how gracious and righteous God is will grow our love for Him and our love for our fellow man. We will begin to have compassion; we will live mercifully and graciously.
We will begin to love God more than anyone or anything else and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We will begin to live out both the letter of the Law and its spirit. Our insides will change, our minds will change and our actions will change. We will live simply to obey and honor God and when we fail, and we will, we will quickly fall in confession of sin and trust in His mercy. We will actually desire not to sin, even when we do.
We will start to hate the sins we are doing and love the right we find hard to do, (see Romans 7: 14-25). We will lose any attachment to worldly possession and view them as agents to be given away so as to show God’s love and grace.
Our earthly poverty will no longer bother us as we simply trust in God’s provision to make sure that we have whatever we need and we will gauge success not by what we have, BUT by what we can give away for His glory. This is the righteousness that Jesus was talking about and it is still the righteousness we need today.
Are you covered in Jesus’ righteousness? It is the only righteousness that God accepts. Your self-righteousness has and will fall short of holy perfection! Jesus is the One you are looking for. Humble yourself today and call on His name. In His name is life eternal and deliverance from the wrath of the living God! Don’t wait, today is the day of salvation.
Sean Gooding, Pastor Mississauga MBC