sermon on the mount

Except Your Righteousness Exceed That of the Pharisees

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (Matthew 5:17)”

This verse teaches us that righteousness matters, that obedience to God matters, and that what’s in our hearts matters. Jesus goes on to say, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)”

That’s pretty intimidating, when you consider how religious the Pharisees really were.

If you’ve been around 21st Century Christianity any length of time, you know that Pharisees are often presented in scripture as the bad guys. They hated Jesus because He challenged their pride. They hated poor people because they felt the poor were inferior and not worth their time. They misused and abused people. And their religion was often a show.

The same criticisms, for what it’s worth, have been levelled toward modern churches and Christians. Whether such criticism is warranted or not is a discussion for another day. However, I think we can all agree that Christians have failed from time to time. However, Christianity has done a lot of good in the world.

The same can be said for the Pharisees. Their benevolence (alms) programs raised large amounts of money for the poor. They were very devout in their faith. They prayed constantly and spent their entire lives in the scriptures, and taught others the scriptures.

They desired to strongly adhere to the law of God and to honor Him with their lives. What could be wrong with that?

And it’s that brand of righteousness that Jesus said we must exceed if we want to see the Kingdom of God.

To understand what the Lord was calling us to, we must understand what righteousness is. Thayer’s Bible dictionary defines righteousness (and the Greek word it was translated from) as “the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God.” In other words, righteousness is about gaining God’s approval.

The standard for righteousness, what it takes to earn God’s approval, is the law of God. The law of God is summarized in the 10 Commandments, 10 rules that God gave to Israel telling them what standard of righteousness they must hold in order to enter into His presence. For the sake of this study, we will examine the same two commandments that Jesus referenced in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

That shalt not kill, and thou shalt not commit adultery. Basically, don’t take anyone’s life, and don’t take anyone’s wife. It seems pretty simple. If you haven’t killed anyone, and you haven’t cheated on your spouse, you are well on your way.

However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out that if you have committed these sins in your mind, then you are guilty of them in your heart. Jesus said if you are angry with your brother without cause, you are in danger of the judgment. And, if you have looked upon a woman with lust, you have committed adultery with her in your heart.

In speaking these words, Jesus taught us that righteousness is not just about what you do (or don’t do), but also about what’s in your heart. Therefore, you can do all the right things, but still have the sin in your heart, and still be found unrighteous.

This is a tough truth, because we all have sin in our hearts. That was a problem for the Pharisees too, whom Jesus said were like sepulchres, ornate on the outside, but full of death on the inside.

Romans 7:18 tells us that in our flesh dwells no good thing, and Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

By His teaching in Matthew 5, Jesus has held a spiritual mirror up to our souls to reveal to us our true condition in order to show us the way of salvation, which is through faith in Him.

Galatians 3:24 says the law is our schoolmaster to drive us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Romans 4 tells us that faith is counted as righteousness.

The Pharisees’ faith was in themselves, and their own version of obedience to God. Christ said for true righteousness, one must trust Him. And as Charles Spurgeon said, “Any faith that falls short of the cross will leave you short of Heaven.”

So the way to have the righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees is to trust Jesus for your salvation and righteousness. He will grant you that righteousness if your faith is in Him.

How Jesus Opened the Sermon on the Mount

Seeing the multitudes gather for the miracles and teachings He provided, our Lord Jesus Christ withdrew to a mountain to prepare His disciples for the ministry they were about to begin. His preparation came in the form of a sermon, which included the basic fundamentals of the Christian life. This sermon, known as the Sermon on the Mount, demonstrated the Spirit-filled life by showing us how we should live, and how faith should manifest itself in our lives.

It’s important to understand the Sermon on the Mount in this context. Matthew 5 says that, seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up into a mountain, and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him, and He taught them. This sermon was directed at the disciples to prepare them for what He was about to call them to do.

If we understand the Sermon on the Mount in any other way, we make it a list of to-dos, and create a Pharisaical religious system to which no one can measure up.

In opening this epic message to His disciples, Jesus began with one word, “blessed.”

The word “blessed”, as we’ve discussed before, means to be happy, which means to be confident and secure.

The first thing Jesus does in speaking to His disciples is to remind them that they are blessed, that they are confident and secure. The “Beattitudes” that Jesus mentions in this passage are not a series of virtues to aspire to, but rather characteristics of life in Christ. The true Christian is humble, meek, merciful, desires righteousness, and often endures persecution.

Going through such times can often be discouraging, but Jesus sought to lift His disciples spirits by reminding them that they are blessed, that they are confident and secure. And the blessings that He promises are the blessings of the eternal Kingdom, where there will be no more sorrow or pain, where God will be our God and where He will care for us.

The blessings that He promises are that God will become tangible, our faith will be made sight, and we shall ever be with the Lord, and we will be rewarded for our service and sacrifice.

We truly are blessed, because we know that one day, Christ will return, receive us to Himself, and establish His Kingdom on earth, where we will enjoy the goodness He always intended for us.

Then, Jesus transitioned by reminding the disciples who they were. He told them, “Ye are the salt of the earth.”

Ye are the salt of the earth. Photo by Castorly Stock on Pexels.com

Much has been written about this verse over the years. From the preservative nature of salt, to the seasoning it adds, many commentators have discusses what it means for Christians to be the salt of the earth.

However, to properly interpret scripture, we have to learn to hear these words the way the disciples did. In that day, salt was a commodity. It was highly valuable due to its ability to preserve food. Known as “white gold,” it was often used to pay the salaries of the Roman soldiers, and was almost a universal currency. The point? Salt was very valuable.

When Jesus said. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” He was saying that, “in this world, you are what’s valuable.” When Jesus looks at the world, we are the treasure that He sees, and the treasure that He seeks.

This lines up with the Parable of the Treasure in the Field from Matthew 13:44, which says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”

Indeed, we are the treasure in the field, and Christ purchased the entire field, us included, with His blood on the cross.

Jesus wants you to know how precious you are to Him.

And finally, Jesus told His disciples that they are the light of the world. Our mission is to illuminate the world wherever we go. Just as a light bulb illuminates a dark room, we should let our lights shine through our good works, which will glorify God and lead others to a faith in the Gospel.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to examine the Sermon on the Mount, using this context as our lens of interpretation. If you feel that you have anything to add, or any questions, feel free to post them to the comments.

Blessed: What It Means

In His first major sermon to the multitudes, Jesus began with one word… “blessed.”

What followed was a list of people who could consider themselves blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are they that mourn… blessed are the meek…” and so on. The essence of the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 was that those who know the Lord, who reflect His nature in their very lives, are blessed.

The word blessed is the state of being. Those disciples to whom Jesus preached were not aspiring to being blessed, they already were blessed. The implied promise is that those who know the Lord and live by His Spiritual leadership will be blessed, but what does it mean to be blessed?

The word translated into “blessed” in Matthew 5 means to be happy. That makes sense, until you start to wonder what it means to be happy.

What does it mean to be happy?

Sadly, so many people in our world today struggle because they pursue happiness, but fail to grasp what it really is.

For some, happiness is a state of joy, and to maintain happiness, one must maintain a continual state of joy. This is unsustainable and impossible, and almost always leads to bad choices, sacrificing long-term blessings for short-term pleasures, and warps one’s sense of values.

For some, happiness is a state of accomplishment. The problem with this approach is that the satisfaction of accomplishments is usually short-lived. Ask any Super Bowl winning quarterback, and they’ll tell you.

No, happiness is a state of being confident and secure. To be happy is to realize that all of your needs have been met. To be happy means to have the human needs of love and esteem met. To be happy means to know that you are going to be okay.

With happiness being the confident and secure state, one can experience happiness regardless of emotional state. You can be happy and joyful at the same time. You can also be happy and sad at the same time. You can grieve while feeling confident and secure in God’s grace, so while you are expressing emotions of sadness and angst, you are still happy.

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America declares that God created man with certain unalienable rights, among which are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have the God-given right to pursue a state of confidence and security, but where shall we find it?

For some, it’s in the finances. So long as they can accumulate enough wealth to provide for their families indefinitely, they think they will find happiness, that is, confidence and security. The problem with this approach is that those who work, or invest, for money realize how fleeting it is. If your hope for happiness lies in money, you will always fear losing it, thus will never attain to confidence and security, and thus will never be happy.

For others, it’s in relationships. The problem with people is that we each bring our own hang-ups, baggage, traumas and triggers to the table, rendering us incapable of providing confidence and security to others. When others seek to find their happiness in us, they are almost always left disillusioned.

No, happiness can only be found in the Lord. By trusting the Lord, we learn that, not only is our eternal destiny secured, but God has also taken note of our needs in this life, and has committed Himself to providing for those needs. (See Matthew 6).

Therefore, it can be concluded that the more we trust the Lord, the happier we’ll be, even if the emotion of joy eludes us.

May you find God’s blessing today.