Exceeding the Pharisees
EXCEEDING THE PHARISEES
When I read through the Bible any time I see a verse or a passage that speaks of entering into heaven…or not entering into heaven…that verse or passage really catches my eye because I want to go to heaven…the other option is worse than we can ever imagine…so I really pay attention to verses that speak of going to heaven.
- 20 of the passage is one of those verses. Look at what Jesus says.
- Now keep in mind that he is speaking to
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
- If these people that Jesus is speaking to…If I want to enter into the kingdom of heaven…I must have a righteousness that surpasses…exceeds…goes beyond and above that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Now, I am pretty confident that we don’t fully comprehend the impact that what Jesus says here had on the people that He was talking to.
- When Jesus spoke these words the Pharisees and scribes were considered to be the most “righteous” people there were.
- They were very passionate about being obedient to God’s Law.
- They devoted themselves to its interpretation and claimed for themselves no authority apart from the law.
- The Pharisees and scribes calculated that the Law contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions and they aspired to keep all of them.
- In the eyes of the people the Pharisees and scribes were the “world record holders at lawkeeping”…and when it came to righteousness they were the standard by which everyone else was judged.
But now, Jesus comes along and says, “If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees.”
- This must have been a shocking statement to those who heard it.
- “How can we be more righteous than the Pharisees and scribes? It’s impossible! We’ll never get into kingdom of heaven!”
What is Jesus talking about here when He says “your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and scribes?” This is something I want to know!
- To help us understand let’s go back up to verse 17 and let Jesus explain.
In vs. 17 Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
- Now there is something significant to take notice of with this statement from Jesus.
- Notice how it starts: “Do not think…”
- The way that Jesus phrases this statement suggests that some actually did have the idea that Jesus came to do away with the law and the prophets.
- It may be that some of those who opposed Him, who were jealous of Him, were telling the people that that was what He was going to do…He is going to do away with what they have always heard and been taught…what they believe.
- But what Jesus is doing here is He is telling us how He feels about the Law and the Prophets…He is telling us how He feels about the word of God and His commands.
- He is going to make a comparison between Him, His followers, and the scribes and Pharisees…on how they should treat the word of God.
Jesus says, “I didn’t come to do away with any part of the Law or Prophets…instead He came to fulfill them.”
- The Law and the prophets contain various kinds of teachings:
- It contains doctrinal teachings (Torah – revealed instruction): we find instruction about God and man and salvation…and yet it was only partial revelation. Jesus fulfilled all in the sense of bringing it to completion by His person, teaching, and His work or sacrifice.
- Second, the Law and the prophets contain predictive prophecy. Much of it looks forward to the days of the coming Messiah. It was what was anticipated. Jesus fulfilled it in the sense that what was predicted came to pass in Him. He was also the fulfillment of the sacrificial system.
- And then the Law and the prophets also contain ethical precepts, or the moral law of God. They were often ignored or disobeyed. Jesus however fulfilled them by obeying them.
- Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law or the prophets…He came to fulfill them.
And look at verses 18-19…three things that Jesus says about God’s law: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
There are three things that Jesus says here about God’s law:
- He says that it is permanent; “I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.”
- He says it is unchangeable: Jesus says that not even the least stroke of a pen will be changed.
- And then He says that God’s rules are relevant: They should be kept and taught.
- Jesus Himself often quoted the scriptures.
- He kept them flawlessly Himself.
- Jesus manifested and expected total devotion to God’s rules.
- And in verse 19 He says that standing in the kingdom of heaven will be measured by one’s conformity to the law…their obedience to it…their faithfulness to it…and also by how they teach it to others.
Each commandment, even the least, is a commandment from God Himself…and that makes it important.
- To relax a commandment is to loosen its hold on our conscience and its authority in our life…it is to offend God whose law it is.
- And to disregard even a “least” commandment is to demote oneself into a “least” subject in the kingdom of heaven.
- Greatness in the kingdom belongs to those who are faithful in doing and teaching the whole moral law.
- If you want to be “righteous” then you respect God…and you respect His authority…and you obey His laws and His commands!
- That is how Jesus felt about and treated the law…and that is how He wants us to treat God’s commands.
And that is why Jesus says what He does in vs. 20. Look at it again: Jesus says, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees…
- In vs. 17-19 Jesus tells us what “real, sincere righteousness is.”
- It is obedience to God’s law…it is respect for God and His law…all of it…even what we might consider to be the “least” of His commandments.
- It is keeping it and teaching it…and when we have that kind of righteousness then we surpass above and beyond the kind of righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees had…
- And as a result…we have access into “the kingdom of heaven.”
And to help us better understand…to help us learn Jesus gives us some examples of what the scribes and Pharisees were doing.
- There are six sets of antithesis or contrasts and each one seems to be derived from the Law of Moses. We won’t cover all 6…we will cover just a few…Look at vs. 21:
21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ (But now the contrast). 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry (this is an unrighteous anger, it is hatred, malice, revenge) with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca (this was a very offensive term in their culture, it was apparently a very degrading term),’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool (empty headed, blockhead, stupid),’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
- Here is what the Pharisees and scribes would do or teach.
- They would say, “I can’t commit murder because the law forbids it and I am not going to break the law.”
- “But the law doesn’t say anything about destroying his character, his reputation, his dignity.”
- “I won’t kill him but the law doesn’t say that I can’t hate him.”
- You see, the scribes and the Pharisees knew the law…and they were very careful not to violate the law…but what they would do is find a way to go around the law…to circumvent it…they would find loopholes…they twisted it to meet their desires.
- They knew the law but they disregarded the spirit of the law.
Look at verse 27. Jesus says,
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; (Now the contrast) 28 but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
- These scribes and Pharisees would never have an affair…that would violate the law.
- But they wouldn’t think twice about fantasizing or lusting for another woman because the law didn’t specifically forbid that.
- They constantly found loopholes where they could justify their sinful actions.
Look at verse 31. Jesus says, “And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; (Now comes the contrast) 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
- These guys weren’t about to cheat on their wives by sleeping with someone else…that is clearly a violation of Commandment 7.
- But, they would divorce their wives so they could satisfy their lustful desire to marry someone else.
- Technically they thought they could do that to avoid committing adultery.
And look at verse 33. They knew about making vows or promises…and they knew that they were supposed to keep those promises…they knew it was wrong to lie….but they found a way around that…a way to justify their lying by making it all dependent on how you made the vow and what you sealed the promised by.
- If you promised “by God” you had to keep that promise….but if you promised by the “earth or by Jerusalem”….well you didn’t have to keep that promise.
And then there is verse 38. These Pharisees and scribes would never pay back evil done to them with a greater evil…but they would be more than happy to find a way to exactly get even.
- But Jesus says, “Don’t retaliate at all.”
These Pharisees and scribes studied the law…and they knew what the law said…and they prided themselves in keeping the law…as far as the letter of the law…they went out to their way to obey it.
- But the problem was, they looked for ways to not keep it…they looked for ways to justify their sinful actions…they knew the letter of the law but they didn’t have the spirit of the law….
- They weren’t sincerely devoted to the will of God.
- And that is why Jesus tells us that “unless our righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When it comes to the word of God…when it comes to the Law and the Prophets…we can’t change it to fit what we want…we can’t ignore parts of it…deny pieces of it…or choose what we like or don’t like and disregard the rest of it.
- It is permanent, it is unchangeable, and it is relevant…and when you or I or anyone else intentionally starts making it say something it doesn’t….when they intentionally deny what it does say…when they refuse to obey it…when they circumvent it…when they teach others what it doesn’t say…
- …then their righteousness fails to surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees…and they shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Never apologize for standing on the word of God.
- Like the scribes and Pharisees many today bend it…and twist it…change it…and add to it in order to draw bigger crowds…to be more prominent…to justify their own desires.
- And in doing so they will belittle, mock, and intimidate those who stand strong.
- But the thing to remember is this: They may gain a great following and be more popular….but you will enter into the kingdom of heaven…to stand in the very presence of God.
© Sunset Ridge Church of Christ 2023