The Righteousness of the Kingdom by Tony Nester

The Righteousness of the Kingdom
Pastor Tony R. Nester
Matthew 5:17-20

(Matthew 5:17-20 NRSV) ""Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. {18} For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. {19} Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. {20} For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

We're back into the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus keeps raising the bar. He gave us the Beatitudes; they direct us to humility, meekness, mercy, peacemaking, and purity of heart. Jesus said his followers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world — compliments that most of us run away from. We don't want to live under such high expectations.

Now Jesus raises the bar even higher. He says that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

Willie Nelson, the country music star, tells the story of an image of Jesus that appeared in 1987 on the wall of a town in South America. The tabloid magazines reported the story. People from all around gathered to pray in front of the image. Some people claimed they received healing from praying in front of the image.

But then a heavy rainfall poured down onto the wall and another image appeared — that of Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson. The people had been praying to a poster, covered over in whitewash, advertising a concert with duets by Julio and Willie Nelson.

A few days later the tabloids ran a different story. The new headline read, "That's not Jesus — it's just old Willie."

There's plenty of fake religion and counterfeit righteousness in the world. A lot of people are taken in by it. They swear by it. They condemn others by it. They justify themselves by it. They strap on bombs and kill as many people as they can in the name of it.

But it's fake. It's covered over in whitewash. One day the judgment of God will rain down on it and reveal it as counterfeit righteousness.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus directs us to a better righteousness. The word in our text is "exceeds". "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20).

Here the word "exceed" means to go beyond a limit. If you exceed the allowable deduction on a tax filing it means you went beyond the limit of what the law allows you to deduct. If you exceed expectations it means you go beyond the limits others had in mind for you. To exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees means to go beyond the limit ...


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