For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Vs 20 (NASB)
This is one jam-packed chapter. There is so much here that we could deal with. But I think verse 20 sums up the content pretty well. Jesus is addressing a crowd that is probably made up mostly of Jews. And what He has to say to them is pretty radical stuff. It is far from what they were used to hearing from the religious leaders of their day. Jesus begins by pronouncing blessing on those that mourn, that are unassuming, hungry and thirsty, persecuted, poor, etc. This would have made no sense to these people. In their minds poverty, hunger, and other circumstances that cause mourning, were the result of someone having offended or disobeyed God. Why would God bless someone like that? Jesus then takes on the law of Moses. This was sacred stuff to these people. But Jesus raises the stakes. He makes several statements that begin with the phrase, "You have heard…" Then He follows it up with "But I say to you…" He is taking righteousness to a whole new level – from external observance to internal transformation. He is dealing with the state of the heart, not man's ability to keep a bunch of rules and regulations. That's when He says…
But I warn you––unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all! – (NLT)
Jesus was not impressed by the religiosity of the Pharisees. He knew it was all a facade, meant to impress others. But inside it was empty. They were hypocrites. Yet the people were fooled by their charade. They looked on these religious leaders as the spiritual elite. They were considered the righteous of the righteous. But Jesus knows better. He knows their hearts. And He is not impressed. So He tells those in his audience that their "practice of religion" must be better than that of the Pharisees. This had to be disheartening for His listeners. I'm sure they were wondering how in the world they were going to pull that off. They couldn't keep all the rules. And Jesus seems to be upping the ante. According to Him, even thinking about a woman with lust in your heart was the equivalent of adultery. Who could keep this kind of standard?! Jesus wants them to love their enemies. You mean the Romans too? Or the Samaritans? If a Roman soldier conscripts you to carry his pack for a mile, you really expect me to carry it two – willingly?
Jesus was bringing in a whole new order. This was radical, revolutionary new thinking. It was not going to be business as usual. God's standards are higher than man's. And God knows we can't keep His standards. At least not without some help. He knows we need a new heart. We need to be changed from the inside out. Behavior modification is not the answer. It's heart transformation. And that is what Jesus came to bring about.
Father, help me to see just how radical a change you have brought about through Your Son. This isn't about a new and improved me. It is about an all new me. This is about radical transformation of my entire being, starting with my heart. Open my eyes and help me to see that Your ways are not our ways. You have a new plan. It isn't about rule-keeping and self-righteousness. It's about us becoming new creations by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Thank You for Your grace that makes the transformation of my life possible. You are molding and making me into a new creation with a new heart. Thank You. Amen