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. Matthew 5:20
The Sermon on the Mount is the essence of Jesus’ teaching and the Gospel. Many of the religionists of Jesus’ day found him annoying because he took the Law and applied it in uncomfortable ways. Through the 1500 or so years since the Law had been given, the religionists had managed to twist and compromise the Law so that it would be easier to obey and more complimentary to their comfortable lifestyle. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Law focused on the outside—acts that could be admired as righteous or those acts that could be condemned as wicked and which rendered their perpetrators as outcasts. Jesus made everything more difficult by interpreting the Law to encompass the motivation and the heart condition of its adherents.
For example, in Matthew 5:21-42, Jesus begins each new topic with something like, “You’ve heard it said [in the Law]…but I say…” Where the Law says don’t commit murder, Jesus says don’t even be angry with someone or call him demeaning names. Where the Law says don’t commit adultery, Jesus says don’t even think wrong thoughts about a woman. Jesus is looking at the heart condition that initiates the sinful behavior.
Sometimes we’re not far removed from those hypocritical Pharisees who seemed right on the outside but were filled with unrighteousness on the inside. We have to be convinced that the thing of most concern to our Father is our personal relationship with him by which everything else is determined. If our heart is right, our attitudes, our words, and our behavior will be right. We will act out of who we are and not who we pretend to be.
Remember that old metaphor about the cup of tea? When the cup is agitated, only what’s inside will come out. When Jesus fills us, any bumps along the way allow him to spill over and saturate whatever and whomever is around. No pretense necessary.
Lord, change our hearts constantly; fill us with your Spirit; and cause us to glorify you in all we think, say, and do. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.