MORE RIGHT THAN A PHARISEE
When Jesus ate with unclean people without washing his hands, the religious people were offended. Once he started touching lepers and teaching gentiles, they felt something was not right. But when he violated the sabbath by healing people, they knew he had gone off the deep end. He was throwing out the law of Moses. What kind of Rabbi disregards the clear teachings of the Torah?
Jesus addressed their concerns in his famous “sermon on the mount”. After pronouncing blessings on all the “unblessables” (Mt. 5:3-12), and encouraging them about their value and importance (Mt. 5:13-16), Jesus set the record straight about his view of the law.
Fulfilling the law
“I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Mt. 5:17)
Jesus is not against the law. He fulfilled it. As their rightful king, he was the light to the nations that Israel was called to be. All the rules, all the temple instructions, all the sacrifices, all the rewards for faithfulness and the curses for unfaithfulness; he fulfilled it all.
Now he was making a new covenant open to Jew and gentile alike. It wasn’t just with Israel, but with all of us! God was keeping his promise that all people on earth would be blessed through the descendant of Abraham.
Doing right matters
Jesus was not saying it doesn’t matter how we live now that there is a new covenant. Oh, it matters! Instead of relaxing the law, Jesus raised the standard. He said,
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:20)
The pharisees were known to have the highest standards of righteousness around. The teachers Jesus refers to spent their whole lives reading, copying and interpreting the law. How can a person’s righteousness surpass those guys? Jesus raises the bar on what it looks like to be a person who does what is right. You must become a good person.
Becoming right matters more
Doing what is right doesn’t make you righteous, but the one who is righteous will do what is right. Becoming the right kind of person is the focus of the rest of his teaching in this sermon. And for that we need to get behind behavior to the heart of the matter.