Continuing our look at Matthew 5, consider these verses:
[Jesus said:] “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20 NAS)
The words in 5:20 (last verse above) is the one that catches me. My righteousness? I can’t even compete with the person down the street or illegal person across valley or the prisoner. My righteousness is, in fact, not very righteous. Then Jesus lifts the bar of righteousness above that of the most righteous people in Israel. But even if I could meet their standard, I will not enter the kingdom of God. Where is the hope?
Jesus raised the bar even higher than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In the beginning of this section, Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Law, entirely. Everything stated, no, demanded, in the Law finds its fulfillment in Jesus. He will accomplish all this.
Jesus as true man lives up to the perfect standard in the Law. Even more, as true God whatever he does is righteous. Thus, the perfection of the Law is not seen in our achievements, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ. While the Law tells us in shorthand what is the will of God, Jesus is the living reality of the perfect will of God.
If I want to meet the standard that Jesus establishes, then my own righteousness will fail. Is there any hope? Paul brings us the good news on this point. It is not our righteousness but the righteousness of Jesus, the divine swap.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS)
…that I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,(Philippians 3:9 NAS)
Jesus’s righteousness is ours, not by effort, not by begging, not by coercion, not by manipulation, not by impressing others. It is by the gift of God, 100% free, and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.
You heard and believed the message of truth, the Good News that he has saved you. In him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit whom he promised. This Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we will receive our inheritance. We have this guarantee until we are set free to belong to him. God receives praise and glory for this. (Ephesians 1:13-14 GW).
The demand of the Law and established in its fullness in Jesus is also met by Jesus. Then God considers (reckons to our account) Jesus’ righteousness as ours. There is no better news than this.