How good do you have to be to get to heaven? For most people, the answer is, “As good as me… I hope…”. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees thought the bar was set very high and literally spent their every waking hour trying to follow God’s commands. Then along comes Jesus, teaching that it isn’t the self-righteous who get to heaven, but the people who know they are unrighteous, the spiritually bankrupt. (See the previous posts .).
Imagine being one of those Pharisees, working hard to be good enough for God, and then hearing some guy from Nazareth suggest that the spiritual losers were doing better than they were!
Then Jesus made 4 radically confusing statements:
1 – He said He wasn’t abolishing the scriptures, but fulfilling them. (Matthew 5:17)
2 – He said all of scripture would remain intact, even down to the tiniest punctuation marks, until “all things are accomplished.”
3 – He said “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…’ (and vice versa – Matthew 5:19)
And then, when he had them really scratching their heads, He really made them furious:
4 – “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)
Huh? All the commands are essential, right down to the tiniest marks, but in order to get into heaven, you have to do much, much better than the guys who specialized in strict obedience to the laws? If you are confused, good, because that is what Jesus was trying to do. He knew that righteousness had very little to do with strict obedience and more to do with what was going on inside our hearts.
In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains true righteousness, giving several challenging examples.