Exceeding Righteousness

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.

The Diploma

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. ~ Matthew 5:17-18


Thousands of high school and college graduates walk across stages and receive their diplomas each spring. They’ve fulfilled all scholarly criteria vital for their success. And because they’ve done so, these students are no longer bound by the school’s rules. After graduation, that student is free, no longer bound by regulations or academic expectations.

But imagine if students could receive diplomas without completing their work. What if a man or woman could graduate due to someone else’s finished work?

Jesus didn’t come to change God’s standards. Jesus, our teacher, didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, He came to fulfill them. Jesus gives us salvation through his finished work on the cross, and every believer who is in Christ is no longer bound by the Law or the Prophets. We grow in Jesus who changed everything for us, by completing God’s Will written in His Word.  Jesus is the turning point for the people of God.

Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system by becoming--once and for all—a sacrifice that eternally redeems us (Heb. 9.22). Also, Jesus fulfills the priesthood. He’s our high priest, and this fact allows us an eternal pathway and connection to God (Heb. 7:23-24). Jesus fulfills the geographic temple worship by becoming our temple, so we now worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Jesus fulfills the law of circumcision by sending the Holy Spirit to circumcise the heart. By doing so, God’s people are no longer defined ethnically, but they’re spiritually created into a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people of his own possession that proclaim His Glory to the world (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus didn’t come to change the law, but he fulfills it through his death and resurrection. We no longer live under the Old Covenant for he’s given us the New Covenant. Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15).  Let us receive and rejoice in the New Covenant purchased by the blood of Christ.

 Jesus didn’t change the demands of the law, but fulfills them so that we can receive salvation through his finished work on the cross. We receive our “diploma of salvation” based on the work of Jesus.

Rejoice in the fulfillment of the Law! Rejoice in the completed work of the cross!