“Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and , the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20, Common English Bible).
Somewhere on one of my many bookshelves I have a book titled, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Today’s lesson is beyond one of the hard sayings of Jesus. This one is all but impossible. Maybe it should fit into a sequel book “The Really, Really, Really Hard Sayings of Jesus.”
Think about it this way. I love to play the guitar. I didn’t say I played it well, but that I love to play. I also enjoy playing with other people. I particularly like to play with people who play a little better than I play. They challenge me to be even better, to practice more and to get better.
I was reading online recently and Rolling Stone came out with their list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. The late Jimi Hendrix was number 1. Number 100 went to Lindsey Buckingham who was lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac. If I were to sit down and try to play with either of these guys or the 98 others in between, I wouldn’t feel inspired. After I got past my sense of awe, I might just give up playing the guitar period. No matter how good I might learn to play in the future, I will never the guitar riff of Johnny B. Goode to the quality of Chuck Berry (number 7 on the Rolling Stone list). To even try would be nothing more than frustrating.
Great guitarists to me would be like the average Jesus follower of the first century trying to compare their righteousness value to the Pharisees. These guys were the pros at being righteous. They knew the law. They know the importance of being pure, of eating the right foods, of observing the Sabbath. They knew it all and tried to live like it. The average “man (or woman) on the street” had no chance of matching righteous behavior with one of them. And Jesus is here saying, if we want to see the Kingdom of Heaven we have to not just meet the righteousness of the Pharisees, we have to exceed it. Thanks for nothing! We don’t have a chance.
And, before you go into all the times Jesus runs the Pharisees down, this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus mentions the Pharisees. John the Baptist calls them a bunch of snakes but Jesus wasn’t part of that conversation. For the person who is just following Jesus, for all they know at this point, Jesus is a fan of the Pharisees.
But, here is the rub. In the verses we looked at yesterday and the day before, Jesus says we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” How can we be those things if we can’t see the Kingdom of Heaven unless we exceed the Pharisees? It says to me that salt and light are a new standard of righteousness.
There is something about salt. It exists for something beyond itself. It flavors food. It purifies. It preserves. In the Biblical era salt was very valuable. I think Jesus is saying, as the “salt of the earth” we too are very valuable and we give the world flavor, we purify and and preserve. We live beyond ourselves and in that living beyond ourselves we are righteous.
The same thing can be said about light. If we are in the dark, a candle, a torch, a lantern, a flashlight can help us find our way. They exist beyond themselves. The same is true for the righteous. We let our light shine so others might find their way.
And, though we don’t see it quite yet, if you know your New Testament, you also know the one thing about the Pharisees is, they didn’t live beyond themselves. They might have been superstars of righteous living, but in this one crucial area they always seemed to fall short. The law was what was important, not the people. If we fail to put people first, we can’t expect to find righteousness. Living beyond ourselves so people might find the Grace of God in Christ Jesus is what makes us righteous and we only do that with the grace and faith God has already put in us.
How do you live beyond yourself so others might see the Living God?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved