Monday, August 1, 2016

True Righteousness

Jesus:  17 “Do not misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the Prophets. No, I came to accomplish (fulfill) their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved (fulfilled). 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law (scribes) and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT)

Matthew 5:17 begins the main body of the Sermon on the Mount. Many Biblical scholars believe that Matthew 5:20 is the key or most important verse of the Sermon on the Mount: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NIV). The main theme of the Sermon on the Mount is true righteousness.

During Jesus’ time and even today, many religious leaders had an artificial and external righteousness of the Law of Moses. The true righteousness God desires and Jesus described begins internally, in the heart with love, faith, and obedience to God and love and mercy toward one another (see e.g., Genesis 15:6; Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Leviticus 19:18, 34; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalms 40:6-8; Psalm 51:10, 16-17; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 22:34-40). Wholehearted love for God and love for one another summarizes the entire Old Testament Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:34-40; see also Matthew 7:12; Luke 10:25-28; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-14; James 2:8). True righteousness works from the inside out because it first begins with a repentant heart and then produces good fruit (Matthew 3:2, 8-10; Matthew 21:32, 43; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34; Galatians 5:22-23; Hebrews 8:8-12). Thus, the actual conduct of Jesus’ followers does in fact “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20, KJV; see also James 2:14-26).

The Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day were concerned about the minute details of their external conduct and religious rituals (see e.g. Matthew 15:1-2; Matthew 23:1-4), but they neglected the important matter of internal (heart) character – justice, mercy, compassion, truth, peace, humility and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24; see also Jeremiah 5:1; Micah 6:6-8; Zechariah 7:9; Matthew 12:7; Luke 11:42). True righteousness flows out of an obedient and loving heart for God (see Matthew 12:34; Matthew 15:18-19). This common theme runs throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount, and that theme is true righteousness (Matthew 5:1-Matthew 7:29).

People have many beliefs and ideas about Jesus, but it is important that we do not believe that Jesus has come to abolish or end the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17; see also Romans 3:31; Romans 10:4). During Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the other religious establishment charged Jesus with disobeying the Law (see e.g., Matthew 12:1-2, 9-14). Even today, many people continue to believe that the New Testament teaching on salvation by grace mean they can ignore and disobey the Law and the Prophets. In other words, many saved people believe that obedience to the Law and Prophets are of little to no consequence. True, the Holy Scriptures teaches that we are saved by God’s glorious grace and not by our works (see e.g., Ephesians 2:5, 8-9; Romans 3:20-28). Jesus’ teaching on the Law and the Prophets from Sermon on the Mount plainly teaches that those who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:19). As Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states unequivocally that those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven are those who faithfully do the will of God (Matthew 7:21, 24-27; see also Matthew 12:50; James 1:22; 1 John 3:7-8; 1 John 5:18). In fact, Jesus rejects those who continually practices lawlessness and disobedience against God and His Word (Matthew 7:23; see also 1 John 5:18). Therefore, obedience to the Holy Scriptures is central to the teaching of Jesus and the Christian life. All Scripture is important to God and profitable for wisdom, good works, righteousness, and salvation (see 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Jesus is the living Word of God (John 1:1-5, 14), and His life fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Luke 24:27, 44-47).

Some Old Testament laws were clearly set aside in the New Testament. Examples are the ceremonial laws of animal sacrifice (e.g., see Hebrews 9:1-10:18), and the dietary laws of ritual cleanliness (e.g. see Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:19; Acts 10). Likewise, the Old Testament Levitical priesthood, after the order of Aaron, is replaced by the New Testament priesthood of Jesus Christ, after the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 6:13-8:13). Also, the Old Testament covenant sign of circumcision is replaced by the New Testament sign of baptism (Matthew 28:19; see also Acts 2:38; Acts 15:1-35; Galatians 2:11-21; Galatians 5:2-4; Colossians 2:11-12). Also, the civil penalties of the Sinai covenant (that is, the penalties to be applied by Israel's human government for the violations of law) do not seem to be binding in the New Testament. Jesus speaks of divorce being permitted in cases of adultery, whereas the Law of Moses prescribed death for the adulterer (see Leviticus 20:10), and so divorce would have been automatic, complete and final. At the same time, however, it is equally clear that much of the Old Testament Law is carried over into the New Testament without change. For example, the laws against idolatry, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting, etc. The Ten Commandments may conveniently serve as a summary of these Laws.

Clearly, Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount: “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” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). In the case of the ceremonial laws such as animal sacrifice and the shedding of blood, Jesus’ sacrificial death fulfilled these Old Testament laws and rituals. Similarly, the dietary laws represented moral cleanliness in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial laws of clean and uncleanness by declaring everyone righteous and morally clean when they wholehearted accepted and believed in His sacrificial life, death, and resurrection (see Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:21-28; Romans 5:1-2). Furthermore, Jesus fulfilled the moral laws by fully obeying God and God’s Word when tempted and tested by evil in the solidary wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; see also Hebrews 4:15). For Jesus, the Law and the Prophets were not set aside or abolished but had to be kept and obeyed in every way. The Law and the Prophets are not arbitrary but an expression of God’s own love and character. For the entire Law and the Prophets can be summed up in love, and God is love (Matthew 22:34-40; see also Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 4:16). Hence, the Law and the Prophets express the very nature of love and thus the very nature and character of God (Exodus 34:5-7; see also Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 108:4; Nehemiah 9:17; James 5:11). As Jesus’ followers, true righteousness seeks to obey the very nature and character of God – mercy, compassion, peace, kindness, truth, and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6-7; see also Galatians 5:22-23). These internal qualities are the righteous requirements that fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

In summary, Jesus’ life and teaching called the people back to the original messages of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets that taught heartfelt love and obedience to God and love and mercy towards others are more important than legalistic observance, ceremonies, and rituals (Romans 13:8-10). True righteousness and even perfection come when we wholeheartedly love God and love all people, both good and evil (Matthew 5:48; see also Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 6:36).

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees with His reply, they met together to question Him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap Him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire Law and all the demands of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
Ross, Mark E. Let’s Study Matthew (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

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