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Exceeding the Pharisees


Matthew 5:17-20

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.

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

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.

But now, Jesus comes along and says, “If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees.”

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!

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.”

Jesus says, “I didn’t come to do away with any part of the Law or Prophets…instead 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:

  1. 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.”
  2. He says it is unchangeable: Jesus says that not even the least stroke of a pen will be changed.
  3. And then He says that God’s rules are relevant: They should be kept and taught.

Each commandment, even the least, is a commandment from God Himself…and that makes it important.

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…

And to help us better understand…to help us learn Jesus gives us some examples of what the scribes and Pharisees were doing.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Never apologize for standing on the word of God.