“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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.~ Matthew 5:19-20
How can one exceed the righteousness of a Pharisee? They lived incredibly moral lives. They fasted twice a week for the nation of Israel. They honored the Sabbath. As the epitome of Jewish faith, they fought to protect the Scripture’s commandments. If they meticulously and diligently strived to honor the Old Testament laws, then what did Jesus mean when he said that unless our righteousness exceeds theirs, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven?
Jesus answers the question by teaching that the weight of the law exceeds the external adherence to the law. True Christian discipleship is not merely following the law, but obeying it from the deeper places within our hearts. Jesus redefines the importance of the Ten Commandments by elevating and enriching them. One should not murder, but also one must NOT permit personal rage to develop to the point of homicide. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law. He pours out the Spirit of the New Covenant. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33) Christ came, not only to change our behavior, but to transform our hearts.
The righteousness of Christ exceeds the external decency of a Pharisee. God doesn’t want merely people who obey his law externally, but desires a zeal within His people’s hearts for good works! Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ places his law within our hearts. Christ came so we would no longer have a righteousness that “comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Phil.3:9) Our righteousness depends on God and what He’s done for us through Jesus Christ.
Beloved, we no longer are under the Law of Moses. We’re now under the law of Christ. We no longer trust in our works to save us, but we have faith in Christ’s righteousness. Our Lord’s righteousness now calls us to complete the law of Christ by living for righteousness from the heart. God cares not only about our actions, but why we do things! He came to transform us, not just our behavior. He came to give us a righteousness that exceeds that of Pharisees, so that we will enter the kingdom of heaven.