Friday, January 6, 2012


One purpose of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was to confront the false teachings and practice of the Pharisaic Cult. The religious leaders of that day had created a “self-made religion” (Cf. Colossians 2:23) entailing the strict observance of some six hundred laws. The only way that an approach like that can work is to reinterpret God’s laws to make them more manageable. That’s what they had done. Jesus, the perfect law-giver and keeper reaffirmed the law’s relevance (Matthew 5:17-19) and corrected their mis-interpretations (Matthew 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43).

Of the many amazing statements in the sermon (Cf. Matthew 7:28), one stands out: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus’ listeners were no doubt surprised by that. The scribes and Pharisees made a good show in their religious efforts. They attended the synagogue, read the Scriptures, fasted, prayed, and gave alms (they would even sound a trumpet—Matthew 6:2). They were impressive in their religious credentials and self-righteousness. But it was not enough.

Jesus later reiterated this truth to Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night with an unasked question--for which Jesus gave him an answer. He was a Pharisee (John 3:1), a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1), and “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). But Jesus’ response to him was not that he should try harder to do better. He looked past the religious veneer to his heart and stripped away all of his religious achievements—“You must be born again,” He said (John 3:7). Man’s self-righteousness is inadequate no matter how impressive (Cf. Isaiah 64:6). Something greater is required.

Jesus “told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14). The Pharisee assured himself by measuring himself against someone he supposed to be less righteous than he was. This is an age-old practice that was repeated by some in the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 10:12). The wrong thinking is that if I can find some miserable soul less religious than I am than I must be doing okay. The problem is the standard is not ourselves, it is perfection (Matthew 5:48), it is Christ.

That was the revelation Saul received when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He was a Pharisee. By his own profession he had been “found blameless”…”as to the righteousness which is in the Law” (Philippians 3:6). When he met Jesus two things were made readily apparent: 1) His own righteousness was worthless; and 2) Christ’s righteousness alone is adequate. He henceforth considered the first to be “rubbish,” and found the second to be of “surpassing value” (Philippians 3:8). Philippians 3:9 further explains the difference: “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived by the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul found, in Christ, the righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees and which is alone is approved by God. True righteousness, adequate righteousness, the kind of righteousness which perfectly justifies (declares righteous) a man, is not obtained through our own religious machinations—it is received by faith in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, THAT WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM.”

Not the labors of my hands, can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone.

Pastor Jerry

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