Grace to You Resources
Grace to You - Resource

Let's have prayer together as we begin our study tonight. Father, we thank You for fellowship that You have provided in Christ. We thank You for how rich and how rewarding, how satisfying, how energizing, how thrilling, how hopeful it is to know You and to fellowship in Your body. We thank You tonight for the testimony that You love us, the testimony that you’re coming to take us to be with You. And Lord, we know that all of that is based upon one great thing and that is that we really do know You. That we really are redeemed. That we really are new creations. That we really are saved. Really born again and regenerated. We really do believe that we have truly acknowledged Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And Father, we pray tonight as we examine the reality of our faith, the reality of true righteousness, that You would help us to understand clearly what it is that You’re saying to us. Bless our fellowship around Your Word, in Christ's name, Amen.

We are going to be studying Matthew chapter 5, verses 17 to 20 again tonight, but to begin with, I’d like to have you look at Luke chapter 18. Luke chapter 18, verses 9 through 14 will serve as a fitting beginning for our study of Matthew chapter 5. This is Part Four in studying "Christ and the Law" from Matthew 5:17 to 20, but our thoughts can be set by examining Luke chapter 18. Notice beginning in verse 9, the parable that our Lord gives. "And He spoke this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and despised others."

Now, we got to stop here for a moment. Here are some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous; self-righteousness, the religion of human achievement. And so to those people, Jesus told this story. "Two men went up into a temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men - extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even as this tax collector. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'"

Now, there is an exercise in futility by a self-righteous man. As a Pharisee, he was considered to be the most religious person in his society. In his own mind, he was convinced that that was true. He was thanking God that he wasn't like other people, that he went beyond the behavior of other people and fasted twice in the week. And by the way, The Old Testament required one fast a year, so to fast twice a week would be about 104 times more than you needed or 103. On the other hand, the tax collector – in verse 13 – standing a far off, "Would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'"

Now, there’s the contrast. The least esteemed man in Jewish society was a tax collector because he was a Jew who worked for Rome. He exacted taxes from his own people. He was hired by Rome. He was the ultimate kind of traitor. He was despised by his society. He had opted out for money. He had forsaken his loyalty, his nationalism, his religion, if you will, for money. This one is in a corner, beating on his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." In verse 14, Jesus gave the point of the story. "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone that exalted himself shall be abased and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

That's the story about the bad man that went to heaven and the good man that went to hell. And it serves as a fitting beginning to what we want to look at back in Matthew chapter 5, because in Matthew chapter 5, verses 17 to 20, we have a very similar situation. Now the average person who read the account in Luke 18 wouldn't quite understand it, because most people think that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. And the man standing in the corner or crouching in a corner, beating on his breast, and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," is admitting that he really is classed for hell. And on the other hand, someone who doesn't extort and doesn’t commit adultery and who fasts twice in the week and who gives tithes of all that he possesses and is a super-religious person certainly is a person on his way to heaven.

Most people in human society believe that if you're good enough, you'll get there and if you're bad, you won't. But Jesus told a story in Luke 18 that said the very opposite. And then He went further in Matthew 5. Look at verse 17. "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. For verily, I say to unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Now our verse for tonight is verse 20. "For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Now, Jesus is saying here that if you're going to get into heaven, you have to be better than the scribes and Pharisees. I've asked a lot of people in my life, "How do you get to heaven?" And they’ll say, "By being good." And I said to one person one time, "How good do you have to be?" And he said, "Very good." I said, "Well, how is - how good is very good?"

"Well, it's – it’s very, very good." But the best of all the people in the society of Israel, the very best, will in no ways enter into the kingdom of heaven based on their goodness. And the worst in Israel's society, a tax collector, a traitor, went home justified, which poses the question, "How good do you have to be to get to heaven? What is the criteria?"

And that is precisely what Jesus is attempting to teach here. This marvelous text is so rich and so informative that we've only begun to scratch the surface. Let me just remind you of the thrust of verses 17 to 20 so you'll understand the meaning of verse 20 in its context. Jesus came along and He was teaching and His teaching was extremely paradoxical. His teaching was radical. His teaching was very different than that of the teachers of that day - the rabbis and the leaders and the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes.

It was very different. They were always dealing with the external. He was always talking about the internal. And He was so very different that the people felt that He must be just another revolutionary, just another incendiary that comes down through history and brings some new revelation, just another wandering preacher, a would-be messiah like so many others. His message sounded rather like a perversion of The Old Testament. And because this was somewhat the popular concept, Jesus felt it very necessary to clarify His relation to The Old Testament, to clarify his relation to the Law of Moses, to clarify his relation to the Scripture.

And so in this passage as He begins to articulate the manifesto of His kingdom, having established that He is King in the first four chapters, He launches into this sermon. And in this sermon, He wants them to know that His message is not something new. It is not something that is a dramatic change. He is not rejecting The Old Testament. He is not giving them something that obviates or nullifies or abrogates The Old Testament, but rather He clarifies that He has a total commitment to The Old Testament revelation. And by saying in verse 20 that true righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, He is simply saying, "The scribes and Pharisees have not lived up to The Old Testament standard. It isn't a new standard. They haven't even lived up to the old one."

And so in these marvelous verses, Jesus assures us that He is totally committed to The Old Testament, totally committed to it correctly interpreted, totally committed to it down to the very letters he says in verse 18. Totally committed to it so that obeying it is blessing and disobeying it is cursing, in verse 19. And so He’s not in any way inconsistent with The Old Testament. He’s not violating The Old Testament. He is fulfilling it.

And in these four verses, He gives four great truths about The Old Testament. Verse 17, the preeminence of the law and I told you that some weeks ago that what He meant by that was that it is still the preeminent thing. There is nothing like it. It was authored by God, affirmed by the prophets, and accomplished by Him. It is the highest source of revelation in existence. It is the only one. It is preeminent above all other books that have ever been written. And so He established in verse 17 the preeminence of the law. He had not come to destroy it in any sense, but to fulfill it.

Secondly, verse 18 presents the permanence of the law. He came to show that the law would not pass away. Nobody could come and do away with it. It had to be fulfilled in every sense and He, in fact, is the one who is in the process of fulfilling it. Now remember that when Christ came the first time, He began to fulfill the law. He is still fulfilling it and will fulfill it even in His second coming. So He talked about the preeminence of the law. It is the highest and the best. He talked about the permanence of the law. It will be fulfilled and until it is fulfilled, not one jot or one tittle shall be removed from it. And that, by the way, is Christ's view of the Scripture. It is all, down to the very letters, the authoritative Word of God and will not be set aside, but rather, shall be fulfilled and He is the one who will fulfill it.

And then thirdly, in our last study two weeks ago, we talked about the pertinence of the law - its preeminence, its permanence and its pertinence. In verse 19, He says, "This preeminent and this permanent law is binding on the hearts of men." And so, in verse 19, He says, "Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and teach men to so shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." It is so preeminent, it is so permanent, that incumbent upon us is obedience to it in even its least parts. "And anyone” – says Christ – “who dulls the sharp edge of God's law, of God's holy Word, and teaches others a watered-down sense of obedience or a watered-down set of principles, shall be called least in the kingdom. But whoever takes it at face value and obeys it will be the greatest."

Now, the preeminence and the permanence and the pertinence of Scripture lead finally, in verse 20, to the purpose. Why did God give the Scripture? Why a preeminent, permanent, pertinent law? Why does God give us this incredible statement of truth? Why does He give us all of these standards? What is the purpose? Verse 20 gives it to us really by not saying it, but by implying it. "I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven."

The purpose of God's law was to show you that you had to have more righteousness than you could come up with on your own. That's the point of it. That’s the purpose. Galatians 3:24 articulates it with this statement. "Wherefore" – listen - "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith." The law was the schoolmaster or the disciplinarian to bring us to Christ. The law was the perfect standard which would show us our sin. That was its purpose. The law was to show us that we couldn't do it on our own, that even the best - the scribes and the Pharisees, with all of their religiosity, with all of their trappings, with all of their ceremony and all of their ritual could not gain the righteousness required to enter the kingdom.

In other words, if you want it simply, folks, the law was given with the purpose of frustrating us, showing us our inadequacy. The law wasn't to tell us how good we are, the law was to show us how rotten we were. And that's why the man in the corner in Luke 18, beating on his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," went home justified, because he responded to what God's law intended to show him: that he was a sinner. Whereas, the other man, who was so self-righteous, saw really not at all the meaning of God's law, for he never responded to it in the way that God had intended.

And so this is really the theme of His whole sermon in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. It's true righteousness. The Old Testament is the source of true righteousness. The Old Testament gives the absolute standard. And so this great sermon and from the Beatitudes to the final illustration in chapter 7 of the houses built on sand and rock, the whole sermon is a masterful sermon on the righteous truths that govern a man's relationship with God. Because there was a phony system in existence at the time and Jesus wanted it known from the very beginning that the standard of righteousness that He required, that God required, was not available to them under the present system.

You heard people being baptized tonight saying that for years and years of their life they were a part of a system. They had gone to church and some of them were sharing how faithfully they had done that. They had gone to church week after week after week involved in all the ritual and all the ceremony and all the trappings, but never knowing the reality. That's true, and that can happen to you in any church where you substitute the form for the substance.

And so the law came with the purpose of showing us that the very best men among us couldn't make it into God's kingdom. The very best people that there were couldn't cut it. The kindest and the best, the noblest, the most religious, if they were depending upon their goodness, would be excluded from the kingdom. Except your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. You can't come into the Kingdom. You can't even be a part. And so this is the standard of true righteousness.

Back up for a minute to chapter 5, verse 3 and let's remind ourselves of where it all began. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And of course, the religious system of the time was not poor in spirit but proud, boastful, arrogant, feeling that they had arrived spiritually, and this is the very antithesis of that. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."

These people weren't mourning. They were blowing the horn of their own self-sufficiency. They were patting themselves on the back instead of mourning like the man in Luke 18 in the corner, they were parading before God and announcing to God their greatness. And of course, verse 5, "Blessed are the meek." They were anything but meek. They were boastful.

Verse 6, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness." They didn't hunger and thirst for righteousness, they thought they had their fill of it already. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." These people were not in the habit of showing mercy to anybody. They were merciless. "Blessed are the pure in heart." They were not pure in heart. They were white on the outside and they were filthy, vile and wretched on the inside. "Blessed are the peacemakers." They didn't make peace. They took away peace. They set themselves up above everyone else and created the division among the people. And so it went.

And in verses 14 – or 13 to 16, they were neither the salt of the earth nor the light of the world. And so Jesus, you see, is running right smack into the system of His day, right into the Pharisaical legalism of the hour that said, "A man gets to heaven. He gets to the kingdom on the basis of his own goodness." And Jesus comes in and says, "No! It is on the recognition of his own wretchedness. The law is not established for you to show how good you are. It is established to prove to you how bad you are because of your inability to keep it." And what they had done is they figured they were so good, there must be something wrong with the law, so they changed the law. And they came up with a whole bunch of rabbinical traditions that they could live by.

And so figuring from the basic theological concept that, "We are good," they then accommodated the standard to them. Whereas the sinner in the corner, beating on his breast, accepted a divine standard and saw that he didn't match up. And so Jesus says, "I am a king and I have a manifesto and it's no different than The Old Testament. It is The Old Testament standard. It is the law of God down to the very smallest letter and none of it has been abrogated and it demands a righteousness out of you that you on your own could never attain."

I want to answer some questions as we look at verse 20 and we'll get the picture very clearly. Question number one, who were the scribes and Pharisees? Who were the scribes and Pharisees? If we have to have a righteousness that exceeds them, we ought to know who they were. Scribes, grammateōn, from which we get the word grammar, grammatical, were simply those who dealt with the letter of the law, the interpretation of the law, the recording of the law. They wrote down the law. They studied the law. They were authorities on the law. They were scholars of the law. They were those who struggled with the fine points of the law.

And by the way, there were scribes among the Sadducees who were theological liberals. There were scribes among the Pharisees who were theological conservatives. The scribes' jobs were simply to copy the law, to study the law, to get the basic text of the law, to interpret the law and so forth. These scribes later became known as rabbis. They really are the pre- runner or forerunners or precursors to the rabbis. And the term 'scribe' refers to an office. An office. They were official scribes.

And by the way, in Israel, there were two kinds. There were civil scribes and then there were ceremonial scribes. Civil ones wrote down the affairs of government. They were like notaries, and they would take care of the civil duties. Ezra 4:8 discusses one of them by the name of Shimshai. But in addition, there were the ceremonial or ecclesiastical, scribes and they were always involved in studying the Scripture and expounding it and determining what it said and what it meant and so forth. They were the interpreters of the Law of Moses and originally came from the tribe of Levi. They gave literally – now get this – they gave literally their entire lives to studying The Old Testament and amazingly enough, they came up with the wrong conclusions.

Now, people will say today, "You know, all these people who are in all these other systems of religion and that claim to be Christians, liberals and cults and all these things, they study the Bible." Yes, well, so did the scribes and came up with the wrong answers. So did the Sadducees and came up with the wrong answers. So did the Pharisees. Came up with the wrong answers. Don't be shocked if it happens today, because unless your heart is right and unless you're truly redeemed and unless you're being taught by the Spirit of God, you’re going to come up with a human conclusion even though you're using a divine Word.

And so the scribes did spend their entire lives in the text of The Old Testament. They were the official scholars. Now, what about the Pharisees? Well, the Pharisees were not - was not an office. It was a sect. Within Judaism, there were several sects. There was the zealot sect, and the zealots were basically the political radicals. There was the Essenes and the Essenes were the kind of a drop out society. They were like the hippies of the time of Christ. They lived down in the Qumran community, on the edge of the Dead Sea, in a bunch of caves and they were the kind of spaced-out, antisocial types, you know?

So on the one hand you had the political radicals who were trying to overthrow Rome, who were going around stabbing Roman, and doing all kinds of things in a sort of underground. And then there were the Essenes, who were the mystical, almost monastic order, who were stuck out on the edge of the Dead Sea, near nobody. And then in the mainstream you had two other groups, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. And 'Pharisee' comes from a root word which means to separate. They were the separatists. They were the super-duper fundamental legalists of their day. They separated themselves from everything. They separated themselves from all Gentiles. They wouldn't get near one. They didn't want to be defiled. They separated themselves from any Jew who lived with less concern than they had for the law, so the Pharisees kind of lifted themselves out of Jewish society as a super-elite group who alone knew what it was to really walk with God. They convinced themselves that they were the real spiritual hotshots.

Now, they differed from the scribes inasmuch as they didn't particularly study the law as a scholar would. They simply developed out of the law a system of ritual. They developed a sect. And so the scribes, you see, could be, for all intents and purposes, Sadducees or Pharisees. They didn't necessarily have to identify with either. But the Pharisees took the Word of God and developed a rigid, ceremonial, ritualistic system, not so much based on the Law of Moses as it was on tradition. See, the problem was, they couldn't really keep the Law of Moses, right?

So, as I said earlier, if you believe you're righteous and you can't keep the standard, then you change the standard to accommodate your righteousness. That's what everybody in the world really does who doesn't know God. If they have any concept of the afterlife or any concept of heaven and hell, they figure out a system they can keep and then figure they're good enough to get to heaven. One gal was giving her testimony tonight and she said, "I just decided that I could do anything I wanted in the area of sin if I just did it in moderation and God would understand and I’d go to heaven."

You see, that's what people do. You can't live up to the Biblical standard, so you drag the standard down to where you can make it and then convince yourself and, you know, work on your mind to try to prove to yourself that you’re all right, because the fact of the matter is, if you believe the standard of the Word of God is absolutely true and you know you don't live up to it, you'll drive yourself crazy with guilt. So you got to lower the standard and that's exactly what the Pharisees did. They developed a codification of rules that they themselves could at least attempt to keep, did the best they could with that and convinced themselves that God hadn't got anybody better than them in the world, so if anyone would be in heaven, it would be them.

In fact, the Jews used to have a saying, "If only two people go to heaven, one will be a scribe, and the other will be a Pharisee." I mean, you couldn't get any better than them. And the average guy in the streets in this time in history would say, "Well, you know, I can't be as good as a Pharisee! I can't be like a scribe. I mean, those guys study The Old Testament day and night, day and night and they’ve got every hair split and every fine point memorized and they know that stuff cold." In fact, most scribes could probably recite verbatim the entire text of The Old Testament from copying it so many times.

And the average citizen would say, "I have no chance. I can't do that." And then he would look at a Pharisee and say, "I can't live like that. I can't keep all those rules. I'll never make it to heaven. Those people are so holy! Their whole life is given to the religious and the moral and the spiritual pursuit." But our Lord says, "They’re not going to make it." You can imagine the shock of verse 20, because Jesus doesn't talk in generalities. Today it would be like saying this. "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of this or that organization-" I mean just literally naming systems. It was a shock, because these people have looked up to them. But that was the standard.

Let's ask a second question. What was the nature of their righteousness? What was the nature of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? If we're going to find out what true righteousness is and it’s got to be more than theirs, what was theirs? And the question could be this: what were they depending on for their salvation? Well, you know the answer. What was a scribe or a Pharisee depending on? He was depending upon the external. He was depending upon the system of human achievement. "Look what I've done! Look what I’ve done! Look what I’ve done! I don't do that. I don’t do that. I don’t do this. I do this. I fast twice a week, give tithes of all that I possess," and so forth and so forth.

"We're holy on the outside. We've developed a whole system." So, let me give you several thoughts. First, their righteousness was external. It was external. In fact, it was external only, an outward observance of the law. They didn't get involved in adultery and they didn’t get involved in theft and they didn’t get involved in murder and they didn’t get involved in idolatry. Oh, but they had a lot of impure and rotten thoughts and they coveted like mad and they hated with a fury and they were cold in their heart toward God. The inside was all fouled up, but the outside, they were able to maintain, you see?

And that's why, as the Lord goes on, for example in verse 21, He illustrates the phoniness of their external religion by saying, "You know the - it was said by them of old, 'You shall not kill,' but," – verse 22 - "I say to you whoever is angry is in danger of the judgment." In verse 27, "You have heard it was said by them of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart."

Verse 33, "You have heard it’s been said by them of old, 'You shall not perjure yourself.’ But I say unto you, ‘Don’t swear at all.’" In other words, you've been living a system of external observance, but I'm telling you what God wants is to see what's on the inside. And that's what we'll be studying in the weeks to come. They were never concerned with the internal. They were always preoccupied with the external. Look at Matthew 23 for a minute. We'll be going back to Matthew 23, so you might want to put a little mark there. So much of this is paralleled there.

Matthew 23:25 gives us a good picture of the external character of their religion. It says, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess." In other words, you're great on the outside, but you don't do anything with the inside. "Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whited sepultures or tombs which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."

Now, that's pretty straight stuff, wouldn't you say? You are rotten on the inside, although you've cleaned it up on the outside. Exacting observance of ceremonies was the big issue, and their whole system was superficial. Now, people, just examine your own heart in this regard, because it is very easy to get wrapped up in a superficial kind of religion. It is very easy to go through the motions of prayer and go through the motions of reading the Bible and going through the emotions of attending church or a Bible study and there's nothing going on on the inside. And life can be superficial. These people had it all on the outside, but not on the inside, and that's why when they said to Him, "What is the greatest commandment?" He didn't give them some external thing, He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the first and greatest commandment."

And in Romans 13, the apostle Paul said, "If you just keep that one commandment, you'll be able to keep all the rest of them, because it's internal." Look back in Matthew 23, verse 1. "Then spoke Jesus to the multitude and to His disciples, saying, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.'" They did have a seat of authority. They were the ones who dispensed the Law of Moses. "All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do." In other words, when they sit in Moses' seat, and they preach to you Moses' Law, do it. In other words, even if a jackass speaks the truth, respond to it.

But on the other hand, if an angel from heaven tells you something that isn't true, don't listen. Galatians 1, in other words, if you hear the Law of Moses from them, obey it. Listen to what they say. But the end of verse 3 says, "But do not after their works; for they say, and don’t do." They bind heavy burdens and grieve us to be born and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. All their works they do to be seen by men. In other words, "When they speak the Law of Moses, do it, but don't pattern your life after them. They say and don't do."

And by the way, Jesus began His speeches or His sermons with eight Beatitudes directed at the Pharisees primarily, and He closed His message to them in Matthew 23 with eight woe to fall upon them, one woe for every Beatitude they didn't respond to. And so the scribes and Pharisees are working hard, shining up the outside and doing nothing at all with the inside. And that's why our Lord confronts them as self-righteous hypocrites. In Luke 16:15, the Scripture says similarly, "Ye are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."

In other words, you’ve got a great religious reputation, but God knows your heart. And what men highly esteem about you is an abomination to God, because it's all external hypocrisy. And so these people were trying, as so many have done, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but it can't be done. In Galatians 2:16, it says, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law." And at the end of the verse, "Not by the works of the law" - and then again - "for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." You cannot be justified by the law. You cannot be justified by the flesh. Impossible. And so all of their externals were fruitless and useless.

Secondly, in understanding the nature of their righteousness, it was not only external but it partial. It was partial. Verse 23 of Matthew chapter 23, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Now, listen. This is very interesting. "For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin." That's herbs and some kind of plant and seeds, little tiny things. "You tithe your little tiny things, you're right down to the nub on those externals, but you have omitted the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith. These ought you to have done and not to leave the other undone."

In other words, you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. In those days, when they wanted to drink something, they had a little strainer to get gnats out of it. And you’re picking the little, tiny gnats out of things and then swallowing a whole camel. Now, the point that He's making here is just this: you’re were real big on the little things and the external things and you ignore – imagine - justice, mercy and faith. You see, it was partial. They only accommodated themselves to what they could handle. Nothing more. Ritual religion, making your religion fit your capability.

They had their own little traditions. In fact, they substituted them for the law of God. And by keeping the traditions that they themselves had invented, they decided they were serving God. In Mark 7:7, Jesus said, "In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, such as the washing of pots and cups and many other things that you do. And you full well reject the commandment of God that you may keep your own tradition. Imagine! They abandoned the law of God that they couldn't live up to, invented their own and then convinced themselves that they were spiritual.

So, their righteousness was external and partial and thirdly, it was redefined. Redefined. And just make a brief statement on this. As I’ve said earlier, they made up their own rules, so what they wound up doing was redefining everything. "Well, yes, that's what God said, but what He meant was this," and so they gave it a new meaning. Just redefining it in terms of their own comprehension, taking an internal thing and making it external. And they redefined and invented a system they could maintain.

But of course, way back even in Leviticus 11:44, Scripture says, "I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves. You shall be holy; for I am holy." And Peter picked it up, didn’t he? In 1 Peter 1:15, "Be ye holy as I am holy." And yet what do they say? "I thank Thee that I am not as other men," and they go on to recite their own holiness. The standard of holiness was God! Look at verse 48 of Matthew 5, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."

So the Bible was saying to them, "You are to be holy." How holy? As holy as God. "You are to be perfect." How perfect? As perfect as God. Well, they knew they couldn't be that if they took the Bible at its face value, so they redefined it to accommodate their own unholiness. They lowered the standard.

And fourth, not only was their righteousness external, partial, redefined, but it was self-centered. Self-centered. They gained their own righteousness by themselves. They did it on their own. They manifested a – really, what could you say? A lack of dissatisfaction. They weren't dissatisfied and true holiness always comes out of dissatisfaction. When you’re dissatisfied with your life. When you mourn over your sin. When you cower in a corner as a beggar. When you hunger and thirst for a righteousness that you know you can't earn, then that's true righteousness. But for them, they knew they were righteous, they had worked out their own righteousness, all of themselves, and so we know it was self-centered. They didn't need God to make them righteous. They were righteous already.

It is to this issue that Paul spoke when he said, "For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should" – what? - "boast." They boasted because they had their own righteousness. So, here they were, scribes and Pharisees, with righteousness that was external, partial, redefined, and self-centered. Now we come to a third question: what is the nature of the righteousness Christ requires? Well, I already told you the answer. He requires absolute holiness. He requires absolute perfection. He requires internal righteousness and external. In Psalm 45, in verse 13, there’s an interesting illustration. "The king's daughter" - it says - "is all glorious within and her clothing is of wrought gold."

God wants you all glorious inside and pure gold on the outside. Just like He said about the Pharisees. He says, "You do what they do. That's alright. Just don't be in the inside what they are. Keep the Law of God on the outside, but be glorious on the inside." The standard of righteousness that Christ sets is absolute righteousness. Listen, beloved, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks where? On the heart. First Samuel 16:7, "And true righteousness is inside and true righteousness has to meet the standard."

You say, "How good do I have to be to get to heaven?" You have to be as good as God. "How perfect do I have to be to enter His kingdom?" As perfect as He is. "How holy do I have to be to get into the kingdom?" Just as holy as God is holy, that's how holy. You say, "Wow. No matter how religious I am, I can't do that on my own. I can't be as holy as God. I can’t be as righteous as God. I can’t be as perfect as God."

So that leads us to a fourth question: how is that kind of righteousness obtained? Where do you get that? I can't do it on my own. I can't be that righteous on my own and that's what Jesus meant, "Except that it exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees." And you say, "I can't be more righteous on my own than a scribe or Pharisee. How am I going to get that righteousness?"

Well, a wonderful story I have to tell you. Back to Galatians 2:16 It says this, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law" – listen - "but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even when – even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh shall be justified."

How then are we justified? By faith in Christ. How then are we made righteous? By faith in Christ. That, beloved, - and I want you to hear this – that is the message of the beloved apostle Paul. Romans 3:21, "But now the righteousness of God" – listen - "is apart from the law." You cannot attain the righteousness of God by trying, in your own flesh, to keep the law.

It is in the next verse, Romans 3:22, that he says, "The righteousness of God is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." Isn't that great? You say, "Where do I get that kind of righteousness?" By faith in Jesus Christ. In the fourth chapter of Romans, again in verse 3, what says the Scripture, "Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness." How righteous did Abraham have to be? Just as righteous as God. Just as holy as God.

You say, "Well, Abraham isn't going to make it, because Abraham committed a lot of sin!" You're right. Well, how could he ever attain that righteous – that righteous character? Well, it says right here, "He believed God and that was counted unto him for righteousness." Well, what a fantastic thing. Romans 5, he says it again, verse 17. "For if by the one man's offense death reigned by one, much more they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ."

The gift of righteousness. Isn't that great? It’s a gift. You can't earn it. It's a gift. You can’t earn it. It’s a gift. And if you're trying to gain your own righteousness, you're going to become lost forever. If you want to reach out and take a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ, His righteousness is offered to you. What a tremendous thought. Verse 21 ends, the fifth chapter of Romans, "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life" – how? "by Jesus Christ our Lord."

Listen, people, the only way that you can ever be righteous enough to get into heaven is by the Lord Jesus Christ imputing to you His own righteousness. It is a gift from Him that you could never earn. And in Romans 8:4, it says, "Through Christ, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us." It’s a tremendous concept. You know, if you're complacent about hearing this, then you're being complacent about the greatest truth in all the Bible, as far as we're concerned, that God has set a standard we could never attain, and then given us the fulfillment of that standard as a gift by simply putting our faith in Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, "The Jews," - according to Romans 10:3 - "are ignorant of God's righteousness." They’re ignorant of the standard and they go about establishing their own righteousness and have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. And what is it? Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes. If you want to know what Romans 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 are about, they're all about how to gain a righteousness that's unattainable by receiving it as a gift through believing in Jesus Christ. That's how you obtain the required righteousness.

First Corinthians 1:30 says, "But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness." Let me tell you something. When God looks at John MacArthur, he sees me just as righteous as He is. When God looks at John MacArthur, He sees me just as holy as He is. When God looks at me, He sees me just as perfect as He is. Why? Because Jesus Christ, when I put my faith in Him, imputed to me His own righteousness and I stand as pure as Christ, as undefiled as Christ. That's my standing, my standing before God.

How good does a man have to be to get to heaven? He has to be as good as God. How do you get to be as good as God? Only one way, by having God give you His goodness. How does God give you His goodness? When you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Bible says the righteousness of Christ is imputed to you. What a fabulous thought! So we ask the question, who were the scribes and Pharisees? What is the nature of their righteousness? What is the nature of the righteousness that Christ requires? And how does that righteousness become ours?

And then another question, a final question. What is the result to those who do not obtain this righteousness? What happens to people who don't ever take this righteous gift, who will very religiously work like mad to get in there? Passing out their information from door-to-door. I always think of that when I see the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses and all these cults. Man, they are working themselves to a frazzle to get in the kingdom and they are striving with all their might to obtain their own righteousness. They have said that Jesus Christ is not God and thus they have not only denigrated His personhood, but they have removed and abrogated and nullified His work on the cross and in the open tomb. And without Christ as God and without a substitutionary death on the part of the God-man and without a literal, bodily resurrection of the God-man, there is no attainable righteousness for men. And these people are working themselves right into the deepest hell imaginable and that's precisely what's happening.

It says our Lord says in Matthew chapter 5 very simply, "Unless your righteousness exceeds one that is external, partial, redefined and self-centered, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." It doesn't matter how religious you are. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you will be excluded from God's kingdom and I think that’s exactly what He is saying in this sermon. "Here is the standard of righteousness. You reach the standard by faith in Me and you'll enter My kingdom. You try to do it on your own and be as religious as you want and you'll never get there."

The kingdom of heaven is the sphere of God's blessing now and forever and you'll never enter that sphere apart from faith in Christ. Later on, in chapter 7, verse 13, He points out these two possibilities. He says, "Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many there be who go in that way." Listen, do you know there are many people on the road to heaven - they think - that the broad way here is not the road hell, it’s the road to heaven, as we pointed out many months ago now. But the broad road is on the way to heaven - they think. They’re all on there. They’re all religious. It says, "There are many there be who go in that way," and the 'many' who go in are defined in verse 21. "Not everyone who says unto Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven."

They're going to say, "Lord, Lord, here we all come! We're the religious!" Verse 22, many. It's the same 'many' in verse 13. "Lord, Lord, we prophesied and we cast out demons and we did wonderful works. And I will profess unto them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of iniquity.'" And then He goes on to illustrate how the fact is you have built a religious house, but you have built your religious house on the sand and when the waters of judgment come, your religious house will crumble and you will be doomed to hell forever.

On the other hand, He says in 7:14, "Enter the narrow gate; narrow is the way - is the gate – and hard is the way that leads to life and few there be that find it." You know what He is saying? He is saying, "There are lots of religious people. There are few regenerated people." You see? That's what He's saying. Examine your life. Are you really righteous or is it just a ritual? Do you really know Jesus Christ or are you counting on your own goodness? "No," Jesus said, "I’m not setting God's law aside. I will uphold God's law. I will purge God’s law from the barnacles of man-made corruption. I will reestablish its preeminence, its permanence, its pertinence and I will reiterate its purposes to show you that you're a sinner and when you turn that standard into one that you can attain to yourself, you have lowered it to the point where it will exclude you forever from the kingdom."

They had developed a religion of human achievement that was going to do nothing but damn them. Listen, you can't make your own standard. When I taught the book of Galatians, I told you an illustration. Imagine going to a football game and tickets are $5.00. And you arrive at the gate and you object furiously and you say, "I know both these teams well. Neither one of them is worth $5.00. I'll pay only $2.00. No more." The guy is going to say, "Get out of line, buddy. Let somebody else come up here. The tickets are $5.00." No matter how much you hold the point of view that they are lousy teams, no matter how much you impose upon the gatekeeper, he is not interested in all your arguments. You either pay the five bucks and go in or go home and forget it. Why? You're not in the business of fixing prices, you're just in the business of responding to the standard.

God has set the standard and God doesn't want people coming up to negotiate. The standard is faith in Jesus Chris. It's God's heaven. God lays down the terms and all you can do is respond. You enter on His terms or you stay out. Once, there was a Pharisee who tried the Pharisees' system. And man, this guy was super-Pharisee. Listen to him. Philippians chapter 3, verse 4. Paul is his name. "Though I might also have confidence in the flesh," he says. "If any other man thinks he has reasons for which he might trust in the flesh, I more. Listen, when you want to talk about self-centered religion, you want to talk about how good a man is in his own flesh, I was the best. I was circumcised on the eighth day." Required. "I was out of the stock of Israel. I was from the tribe of Benjamin. I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. Regarding the law, I was a Pharisee. Concerning zeal, I persecuted the church, touching the righteousness which is in the law. I was blameless."

Man! You say, "You're OK, kid. What credentials! You're a shoo-in." Verse 7, "Those things once were gain to me, but I counted them loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, I count all things but manure," - is the term - "for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." And He says in Verse 9, "I will be found in Him, not having my own" – what? - "righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

Paul says, "I am a living illustration. I’m a Pharisee who had all the credentials, but I count it manure in order that I may gain Christ and have His righteousness." Beloved, that's what salvation’s all about. Is that what you believe? Or are you still among those who are spending their lifetime trying to accumulate the right to enter heaven?

One of the great hymns says it this way, "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace. Foul I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die. Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee."

Let's pray. I know most of you here tonight are Christians and you love the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you, perhaps, have never given your life to Him. You are standing in your own righteousness. It's fruitless, but I promise you if you will pray that simple prayer, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace. Foul I to the fountain I fly; wash me, Savior, or I die." If you pray that prayer, God will wash you. He’ll cleanse you. He’ll give you a righteousness that you could never attain, a righteousness for now and forever. Father, we pray right now that all of us would examine our hearts for those of us who find there the confirmation that truly we have Your righteousness, we offer our thanks. But Lord, for those who may have doubts, who may have questions of whether or not theirs is the righteousness of Christ or whether or not they have truly received that gift of righteousness which is given to those who believe, we pray, Lord, that tonight they might reach out with an empty hand to take the gift, bringing nothing of their own, seeking no personal aggrandizement, offering not the deeds of the flesh, but as beggars, reaching out an empty hand to receive a gift of righteousness, they may receive the abundance that You give. God, may no one leave this place tonight who has not received the righteousness of Christ that makes our standing before You as holy as Your very self. What a gift! How grateful we are. For the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.


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Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time
Since 1969


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