For I tell you unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20, NIV).
Jesus came to establish a new kind of righteousness. In our world we havedefined this righteousness in terms of the things we do and don’t do. We confuse being a good citizen with being a follower of Jesus. We assume if we don’t drink, smoke, curse, chew or dance with girls that do we are righteous. Yet these are the same things the Pharisees and the teachers of the law put a high premium on. Jesus is clear that our righteousness must surpass theirs. How could this be? How could we possible be more righteous then the Pharisees when it comes to keeping the Law? We can’t!
Our second option is to explain this through the lens of modern Evangelicalism. All of us would quickly say that the only way our righteousness can exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law is through Jesus. Jesus is our righteousness. He really is, but far to many of us end here. While this is true this is not the complete story.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus leans in. He teaches us that there is more to the Gospel then my personal salvation. In Matthew 25:31 and following Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goat. He divides the sheep from the goats placing them on his right hand side. We pick up the story in verses 34-36:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
Notice the next few words in first part of verse 37, “Then the righteous will answer him.” Who are the righteous in this passage? The righteous are those who feed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, invited the stranger in, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited those who were in prison. These are the ones who enter into his kingdom.
Once again Jesus says, “For I tell you unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NIV).