How's Your Righteousness? - A Meditation on Matthew 5:20


By Rev. Eric Brown

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” - Matthew 5:20

Imagine the best person you know. The person who is the nicest, kindness person around. Maybe the most holy or spiritual person you know. The guy who just accidentally puts you to shame with how good he is, the gal you wish you could be. Back in Jesus' day, that was sort of how people viewed the scribes and the Pharisees. They were to the top of the top. The Scribes were just so smart and knew so much, and the Pharisees were just so respected and virtuous... oh to be like them.

And then, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drops a law bomb. Jesus makes the astonishing assertion that our righteousness needs to exceed, needs to be beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, since we're folks 2000 years down the line, and we see how often the scribes and the Pharisees behaved wretchedly, we're not that impressed – but what Jesus says is unthinkable. You can't be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees! It would be like saying, “be richer than Bill Gates” - it's almost non-nonsensical.

But then Jesus teaches the fullness of the Law. It's not just about outward appearances. It's not just being a swell. It's not just a question of well disciplined virtuous deeds, but what of your words, your thoughts. Indeed, to hate is as bad as murder, to call someone a name is hell-worthy. That's the righteousness that God in His Law demands.

Of ourselves, we aren't approaching that. Nowhere close! But Christ Jesus, His righteousness is indeed beyond that of the scribes and the Pharisees. His righteous life, death, and resurrection in fact establishes the kingdom of heaven, and He establishes it for you. In Holy Baptism He poured all of His righteousness upon you – said it's yours. In fact, everything that is Jesus' now is yours. He gives you all that He is. So, in Christ your righteousness does exceed the scribes and the Pharisees. And He gives this to you freely – we won't boast or brag about how “great” or “virtuous” we are – we know the Law too well to ever claim that. But you are righteous in Christ, and the kingdom of heaven is yours because you belong to Christ Jesus, and He gives you all good things.

Rev. Eric Brown is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois and the co-host of the HT Gospeled Boldly Podcast.

Created: July 31st, 2017