Matthew 5:17-20 - Don't Try This At Home
Jesus looks at two extremes when it comes to keeping God's law and says 'Nope.'
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Read Matthew 5:17-20
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Listen to passage & devotional:
Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 62
Q. Why can’t the good we do
make us right with God,
or at least help make us
right with him?
A. Because the righteousness
which can pass God’s scrutiny
must be entirely perfect
and must in every way
measure up to the divine law.
Even the very best we do in this life
and stained with sin.
The Sermon on the Mount comes near the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry, and right out of the gate He seeks to squelch the two biggest misunderstandings that people would have about Him. He begins by stating that He in no way, shape or form will be an excuse for sinners who seek to abolish God's Law. The latest incarnation of this in our own society comes from those who seek to pit Jesus' love against God's law by claiming that it's unloving, and therefore un-Christlike, to uphold Biblical standards that come into conflict with people's personal choices.
Jesus lays out a stern warning to those who set aside even the least of God's commands, stating that they will be "called least in the Kingdom of Heaven."
Next Jesus calls out those on the opposite end of the spectrum: those who think they're so high and mighty and righteous that they can ride their own awesome law keeping efforts right into the Kingdom of Heaven. Not so fast, warns Jesus. If this is your plan, your righteousness better far exceed the pseudo-righteousness of the Pharisees. But these super-duper rule followers were so hung up in dotting the i's and crossing the t's that Jesus mentioned in v18 that they missed the righteousness of God standing right in front of them. Trying to make yourself right with God on your own is hopeless.
If this were the extent of Jesus' ministry, the gospel would be hopeless! Thank God it's not!
Last week we focused on one of the pillars of Reformed theology known as Sola Fide, a Latin phrase that simply means Faith Alone. By this we mean that you are made right with God solely because your faith in Christ and not because of works or rule keeping.
But this understanding, while good, needs to be nuanced a bit. You actually are saved by works. God will not set aside His holy, righteous and perfect standards. The nuance comes in that you are not saved by your own works, rather you are saved by Christ's perfect obedience which has been credited to you. God's law must be kept - down to the smallest letter and the least stroke of a pen. Nobody born in Adam had the ability to keep this law since we were all conceived and born in sin, but Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, could and did.
We'll spend most of the second half of 2023 looking at how you, as one who "can pass God's scrutiny" because you've been included in Christ, now relate to God's law. But suffice it to say for now, that although you are certainly saved by faith alone, you are not saved by a faith that is alone. As we'll see on Friday, true faith and trust in Christ produces a strong desire to live according to all of God's good and perfect law.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who defines goodness, holiness and righteousness and communicates them in His law;
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that as your faith in Christ alone increases, that so will your desire to live according to God's law;
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - Ephesians 4