19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20
In any good public speaking or preaching class, you are taught to get the attention of your audience. In addition to introducing your subject, you are supposed to draw the listener in to want to hear more. There are lots of ways to do that and what Jesus does in this sermon is a prime example. Jesus tells his audience that the most religious people in society are not righteous enough to enter the kingdom. I can imagine everyone in the crowd sitting up a bit, leaning forward, wondering what in the world that could mean. If the religious elite couldn’t cut it who could? Was Jesus being heavy-handed? Was he trying to add to laws that already seemed so heavy for the people? He had their attention.
Jesus goes on in the rest of his sermon to unpack what he means. With the benefit of that teaching, we know that He is redefining righteousness. The Pharisees believed they needed to break into the kingdom through their actions – rather than entering simply by repentance. We live out of our righteousness; we don’t live to acquire it. Have you ever heard the saying, “don’t live to work, work to live?” The scribes were living for the pursuit of righteousness but righteousness is not the goal. The goal is the fullness of life that is found in righteousness. Obedience to the commands of scripture does not make you righteous but it can guide you into a fuller life. We are righteous because of what Jesus has done for us but we can live righteously if we want to enjoy what he purchased for us.
Take a moment and ask yourself this question: Why do I pursue righteousness? Think on Jesus’ redefinition of righteousness. Repent (which means change your mind) by sitting still, and asking the Holy Spirit to realign your heart to pursue Him and His righteousness so that you may truly live.
By Aaron Bjorklund