True Righteousness

MATTHEW 5:17-20 | Ian Thomas

February 17th, 2019 (*Note: No audio available)

Main Idea: Jesus upholds and fulfills the Scriptures and welcomes us into the life of true righteousness

I. Christ & The Bible (5:17-18)

Jesus begins by clarifying his relationship to the Scriptures and the OT Law; he has come not to “abolish” them (to destroy or to overthrow), but instead he came to “fulfill” them. 

This means you can’t understand the Scriptures without understanding Jesus, and you can’t understand Jesus without rightly reading the Scriptures.

“When we start with Christ in the gospel and go back from there into the Old Testament, we find that the Old Testament eventually leads us back again to Christ.” ~ Graeme Goldsworthy

If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, then the Scriptures must be upheld in their totality, even down to an “iota” (smallest letter in the Greek alphabet) and the “dots” (strokes that make up a letter). 

Jesus’ coming and what he accomplishes does change our relationship to certain types of laws in the OT (ceremonial & civil), but the spirit of the Law is to be upheld in its deepest meaning.

Application: Are we reading the Bible as if it’s all about Jesus? Or are we reading the Bible like it is all about us? 

“The Bible, then, is not a collection of Aesop-like fables, fictional stories that give us insights on how to find God and live right. Rather, it is both true history and a unified story about how God came to find us in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived and died in our place so we could be saved by grace through faith and live with him forever in a remade world, the Garden-City of God. From this basic plot there emerges profound insights, principles, and directives on how to live. But the Bible is not primarily about us and what we should do. It is first and foremost about Jesus and what he has done.” ~ Tim Keller

II. Christians & True Righteousness (5:19-20)

Since Jesus has come to fulfill the Law and since he upholds the entirety of the Scriptures, we should not seek to relax or work our way around them. To relax them will result in being the “least” of the Kingdom, because it will cause us to miss the King. 

Verse 20 is a startling statement, since the Scribes and the Pharisees were the standard of righteous and faithful living in this time period. They were upheld as the great moral examples of their day and taught the people what God’s word says and what it requires.

However, Matthew 23 condemns the scribes & Pharisees for “cleaning the outside of the cup” but being filthy inside. He calls them “whitewashed tombs” who look good externally, but are actually dead inside.

The “righteousness” of the Scribes & Pharisees is only skin-deep; it is only focused on the externals rather than the whole person.

“The Sermon (on the Mount) in many ways is an epitome of a moral philosophy on what righteousness is…All the while, there is a subtle and powerful redefinition of what true righteousness is- it is not merely external piety but is the faithful purity and integrity of the inner person, the heart, as opposed to the Pharisees, whose righteousness is only skin deep… The ‘righteous’ person, according to Matthew, is the “whole” person, who does not only do the will of God externally but, most importantly, from the heart. This is both radically continuous with the ethics of the Jewish Scriptures and radically in conflict with Jesus’s debaters, the Pharisees” ~ Jonathan Pennington

There are two types of “righteousness” set up here:

  1. Outside-In Righteousness (Pharisees)

  2. Inside-Out Righteousness (Christians)

This “exceeding righteousness” is not a new set of behaviors or swapping out old actions for new ones. This is about becoming a new kind of person altogether. This exceeding righteousness is not about “being better” but rather about “becoming new.” The only way we can have this true righteousness is to receive it as a gift.

“The Pharisees and scribes were denounced by our Lord as being hypocrites. But they were unconscious hypocrites. They did not realize it, they really thought all was well. You cannot read your Bible without constantly being reminded of that terrible danger. There is the possibility of our relying upon the wrong thing, of resting upon things that relate to true worship rather than being in the position of true worship.” ~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones