THE GOSPELS 35
JUST KEEPING THE LAW IS NOT ENOUGH
At the end of His discourse on the law, Jesus makes one of His most arresting statements: “Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous in their teaching of the law. Every legal point was stressed, and the way they interpreted the law was the rule by which they judged everyone. The principles of love and mercy never entered into their thinking. They were proud, and paraded their piety for all to see. These were the people who demanded the crucifixion of Jesus because He broke their interpretation of the law.
We are all fallible creatures, and our interpretations must always be tentative. Jesus is about to spend a great deal of time emphasizing that what God intended by the law that He gave to Moses was something quite other than what the Jewish leaders had interpreted it to mean. I was severely castigated by a preacher once because I said we do not ever have absolute knowledge, and that we walk by faith and not by sight. He was quite certain that his interpretations were the same as the will of God. A great semanticist once said that two of the most important words in the English language are “to me”. In other words, when I make a statement which evaluates something, or interprets something, I should always say that it seems like that “to me”. I should always recognize my fallibility, and never assume that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. I must strive to know the truth, but, as we all do, I must depend on the mercy of God to forgive when I fail.
The righteousness of the Pharisees was an absolute certainty that they knew the law, and they insisted that their interpretation of it be observed. Thus they became judges and condemners of all who disagreed. In such a religion, there is no room for love and mercy. Jesus summed up the law as, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”. There was no room for this in the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
What does this mean to us, then, in our lives today? Does it mean keeping the law is unimportant? That anything is all right if we just love everybody? Jesus anticipates this, and strongly says that one who breaks the least commandment, and teaches others to do so, will be least in His Kingdom. He also insisted that not one small part of the law would pass away until all was fulfilled. This statement is fraught with more meaning than most ever notice.
The law, in all of its parts, was given as a preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.
The prophets prophesied His coming, and the religious parts of the law typified what He would be like. For example, the “sacrificial lamb” and the “High Priest” were both types of Jesus, and of His actions to save mankind. The commandments were all designed to change the heart and spirit of man into a proper relationship with God. The law would only be fulfilled when Jesus brought all of His children, i.e., all who accepted Him, into
the fold of God. The law, which was the law of love, is only fulfilled in one’s life when
he makes Jesus the Lord of his life and walks in the light with Him daily. None of the
law will pass away, for its principles will remain in force to bring all to repentance and back into the Garden of Eden with the Father. Through the blood of Jesus, this will fulfill the law.
So, for our righteousness to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we must continue to observe the law, as Jesus interpreted it in His Sermon on the Mount. But we must also be humble and meek enough to repent of our mistakes and weaknesses. Never using our opinions to judge others, but acting in love, and in the best interests of all God’s creatures, we must always show the spirit of Jesus Christ. That far exceeds the arrogant, self-righteous keeping of the law that was characteristic of the scribes and Pharisees and would never cause division or conflict in the family of God.