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Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds..,
Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds...
We turn our attention to the Lord's first recorded sermon in Matthew's gospel, and look at another tidbit of the Lord's discourse. Having emphasized the importance of keeping the law of God, Jesus then said to the people, "...unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)
As I attempt to place myself in the crowd of listeners on that occasion, this statement is perhaps among the most alarming and distressing. Jesus has just indicated to the people that if they desire to enter God's kingdom, they must be more righteous than their own religious leaders. The thought may have crossed the mind of some, ‘Then how can any enter in?'
Over the next three years, Jesus would reveal the trouble with the scribes and the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:2-3, the people heard Him say, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." The Lord continued to tell of their desire to be seen by men (Matthew 23: 5-7, “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,) their bloated ego (Matthew 23: 7-10, “And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi, But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.”) Turning His attention to the religious leaders, Jesus referred to them as "hypocrites", citing a variety of reasons, no less than seven times “Woe unto you ye Scribes and Pharisees…”(Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). In that same light, He referred to them as blind guides or fools five times (Matt 23: 16, 17, 19, 24, 26). The Lord made it known to the people that their religious leaders were hypocritical blind fools, not to be followed, lest you fall in the ditch with them.
How might one exceed their righteousness?
3) Pray to God from the heart. (Matthew 6:5-8 – “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”)
Friend, do not lay your confidence in the preacher. It may be that for us to enter the kingdom of heaven, we too may need to exceed the righteousness of the religious elite around us. When it comes to a religious question, don't simply default to, "...my preacher says..." Your preacher may be a blind guide, leading you into the ditch. Jesus encouraged the people of His day to stand on their own feet when it came to serving the Lord, and not to lay their eggs in the preacher's basket. What a shame it would be, at the time of judgment, to find nothing but rotten eggs from laying our trust in the wrong place.
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