As the sermon on the mount progresses, Jesus moves from discussing the importance of the Law to what it looks like to be a follower of the Law. He tells his hearers that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This would have been nearly impossible, as these groups strove to follow the myriads of rules and regulations that, in their mind, demonstrated righteousness. So what would this new righteousness look like? Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, whose focus was “orthopraxy”, that is doing the right things, Jesus said a person had to think and feel the right thing. This is a far different standard indeed.
Over the next several verses, Jesus would upend standard after standard as the people of his day knew them. Perhaps the most radical thing that Jesus said is something that we, today, might miss. Following on the heels of each known rule, law, or commandment, Jesus would declare “But I say.” This was revolutionary talk for any teacher. No teacher would dare to speak to the law, or of the law, in their own authority. They would quote and reference other teachers or prophets to buttress their opinions. Jesus does no such thing. Speaking as only one with supreme authority could, he repeatedly bases the change on his own word and nothing more. Since he is referencing the law, Jesus is clearly and boldly stating that he is God and has the power to make such pronouncements because such statements could only come from God. He doesn’t try to explain himself or qualify his statements, he just simply says, while you have heard it say X, I’m telling you Y, and that’s good enough. Right here Jesus is claiming the prerogatives of deity, as only deity could.
This is a reminder that we are not just dealing with a prophet, teacher, or wise man, but the true Son of God and what he says goes. Nothing he says ever takes away from the law he references, but shows us where the bar is a bar that, for humanity, is unattainable. Thankfully for us, what is impossible for man is possible to God, and as a Christian, we walk not by ourselves and in our own power, but with the very spirit and power of God. You haven’t killed someone that’s great, but have you ever insulted and put down someone? Have you ever demeaned and disrespected another person? If so, you are guilty. Have you ever looked at a person and thought only how they could serve you and meet your needs, saw them as an object and not a person? Guilty. Have you ever demanded your rights and let obstinate pride stand in the way or reconciliation? Guilty. Time and time again, we see the standard set by God and know that we have fallen far short.
In such situations, what are we to do? Surely, we can no longer think it acceptable to try to live by our own standard and be judged accordingly. Hopefully people aren’t reading this and thinking they have nothing to fear from standing before God the judge all alone and on their own. Therefore, Jesus had to come to fulfill the law, because we are incapable of it. Therefore, we must stand on His righteousness, because ours is as filthy rags. Speaking of putting away pride and rights, God, in his mercy and grace is the one to take the initiative and work at reconciling man with God. It was man that made the mistake; it was man that broke the law; it was man that has trampled upon the grace and goodness of God; and it is man in his stubborn pride and arrogance, that time and time again turns his back on God. It is God that reconciles; it is God that forgives; it is God that loves, and it is God that bore our sin, shame, guilt, and punishment. No wonder we sing of wondrous love and amazing grace.
So where do you stand – on your law, your rules, your rights? Or, do you stand on Jesus Christ and His righteousness?