His Mission • matthew 5:17–19: “I came . . . to fulfill.”
What an amazing statement! When we hear Jesus Christ speak, we should remove our shoes as if we are standing on holy ground, and strip every careless, commonsense attitude from our minds. In Jesus, we deal with God as man, the God-Man, the representative of the whole human race in one Person. The men of His day traced their religious pedigree back to the nature of God, and this young Nazarene carpenter said, “I am the nature of God.” So to them He was blasphemous.
Our Lord makes himself the exact meaning and fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy. His mission, He says, is to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He further says that any person who breaks the old laws (because they belong to a former dispensation) and teaches other people to break them as well, will suffer severe impoverishment.
If the old commandments were difficult, our Lord’s principles are unbelievably more difficult. Everything He teaches is impossible unless He can put into us His Spirit and remake us from within. The Sermon on the Mount is quite unlike the Ten Commandments in the sense of its being absolutely unworkable—unless Jesus Christ can remake us.
There are teachers who argue that the Sermon on the Mount supersedes the Ten Commandments, and that—“because we are not under law but under grace” (romans 6:15)—it does not matter whether we honor our father and mother, whether we covet, or so on.
To be “not under law but under grace” does not mean that we can do as we like. It is surprising how easily we can wriggle out of Jesus Christ’s principles by one or two pious sayings repeated often. The only safeguard against this is to keep personally related to God. The secret of all spiritual understanding is to walk in the light—not the light of our convictions or our own theories, but the light of God (1 john 1:7).
His Message • Matthew 5:20
Think of the most upright person you know who has never received the Holy Spirit. Think of the most moral, sterling, religious person, such as Nicodemus or his fellow Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, who was called “blameless” according to the law (philippians 3:6). Jesus says you must exceed that person in righteousness. You have to be not only as moral as the most moral human being you know, but infinitely more—to be so right in your actions, so pure in your motives, that almighty God can see nothing to blame in you.
Is it too strong to call this a spiritual torpedo? These statements of Jesus are the most revolutionary statements human ears ever heard, and we need the Holy Spirit to interpret them to us. Today’s shallow admiration for “Jesus Christ as a teacher” is of no use.
Jesus says our inclinations must be right to their depths, not only our conscious motives but also our unconscious ones. Now we are beyond our own abilities. Can God make me pure in heart? Blessed be His name, He can! Can He alter my disposition so that when circumstances reveal me to myself, I am amazed? He can. Can He impart His nature to me until it is identically the same as His own? He can. That, and nothing less, is the meaning of His cross and resurrection.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds . . .” The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was right, not wrong. Of course, they did things that were not righteous, but Jesus is speaking here of their righteousness, which His disciples are to exceed. What exceeds right doing? Is it not the addition of right being? Right being without right doing is possible if we refuse to enter into relationship with God, but that cannot exceed “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus Christ’s message here is that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who were very good at doing, though they were nothing in being. Otherwise, we will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Monks in the Middle Ages refused to take the responsibilities of life and shut themselves away from the world; all they wanted was the being. Many people today want to do the same thing and cut themselves off from one relationship or another. But that does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. If our Lord had meant exceed in being only, He would not have used the word exceed—He would have said, “Except your righteousness be otherwise than . . .”
We cannot exceed the righteousness of the most moral people we know on the line of what they do, but only on the line of what they are.
The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount must produce despair in the unsaved person; if it does not, it is because he or she has paid no attention to it. When you do pay attention to Jesus Christ’s teaching, you will soon say, like the apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 corinthians 2:16). The answer is this: “Blessed are the pure in heart.” If Jesus Christ means what He says, where do we stand? “Come to Me,” He says (matthew 11:28).