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The Wrong Kind of Right

Posted by jon on November 30, 2010 in but seriously... |

Several weeks ago I preached on around this point and I wanted to share just one except from my message. Of course if I learned anything from my Mercer education it is to give credit to my sources. I heard Pastor Judah Smith, from the City Church in Seattle, on his podcast touch on this and it really struck me to unpack it a little more.

In Matthew 5 Jesus is giving his famous “Sermon on the Mount”. If you grew up in church, like I did, you’ve heard it many times. And perhaps, like me, you missed verse 20 as well. After a litany of whom shall be blessed in the Kingdom and an example of how to pray Jesus warns that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees’ you have no chance of entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus then goes into the very familiar revision to the law. Jesus tells the people the law says don’t kill but anger is the same as murder. The law says don’t commit adultery but to think it is the same thing. And then if the bar had not been set high enough he rounds out chapter 5 by saying it after all this just be perfect and you should be set to.  

Now I know I may be breaking news to some of you but I struggle with a lack of perfection. I know, its hard to believe. But what is Jesus playing at setting the standard so high as to equate a thought with adultery. He sounds like a parent who is tired of disciplining a child, “No, don’t touch your sister…don’t even look at her!!!” or “Don’t even think about taking one of those cookies!”

Jesus set the standard, the starting point, at perfection. And in addition to expanding the expectations of the law he also said that our righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees’. Now the Pharisees often get a bad rep, and perhaps deservedly so, but they were if nothing righteous in the eyes of the law. That was their whole deal. Their life was all about following the rules. They literally made a career out of following the rules and Jesus said their righteousness was insufficient. If they weren’t righteous enough I see little hope for the rest of us.

I read one commentator who said Jesus was condemning the Pharisees’ false righteousness and we had to be genuine in our faith. Maybe that’s it but I think its something more. I don’t believe Jesus was giving us more rules to follow. It wasn’t a matter of how well we could behave. Jesus was trying to totally shift our perspective.

You see, when we focus on our righteousness coming from the law it makes our righteousness about what we can do. The Pharisees considered themselves righteous because they followed all the rules. From that perspective we should be praised when we succeed (which I believe if we were keeping score would be rare).

When Jesus said our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees he wasn’t referring to our behavior, but rather the actual righteousness we relay should be different. The righteousness Jesus referred to was not a word used to describe us; instead the righteousness was itself the subject of the lesson.

The Pharisees’ righteousness was insufficient because it was law focused and thus self focused. Where the law brings us back to the self, a righteousness based on grace points all the glory to the one who provided the grace. Jesus was showing us that our efforts were insufficient but that Jesus as God made flesh would provide an all sufficient righteousness based on a grace that all the glory to the Lord.

It is after all the difference between insisting on repairing your own car when you know nothing about cars and someone offering you a new car. Focusing on a law based righteousness makes us judgmental and worried about messing up. But when our righteousness is found on grace it makes us relive that we are no more worthy of grace than anyone else and we welcome in other to share in the grace we have found.

Where have you found your righteousness?

God is Everywhere.

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