Jesus shattered the ideology of the Pharisees when He lived on the earth. Their list of rules proved useless in producing the righteousness required to know God, and in pointing this out (Matt. 23), Jesus made many aware of their need for a Savior. He pointed people to their need for Him.
I am so much like a Pharisee. Oftentimes, I want a list of rules that will allow me to simply earn my way to God, a list that I can check off in succession to give me peace of mind that I’ve earned His approval for the time-being. But peace always eludes me, for with this method of earning my way to God I’m left to wonder, “What is enough to make my way to God? How good do I have to be? Is He satisfied with me, and is merely my effort enough to meet His standards?”
With these thoughts running through my mind, I come to Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount. I read statements from Jesus that are haunting, statements like:“…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 20).” “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (v. 22).” “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (v. 48).”
My guilt laid bare by the words of this passage, my initial reaction is to shrug my shoulders in despair and cry out as the disciples did in Matthew 19:
“Who then can be saved??!”
Aware of my great lack before the Holy God, I feel as though I could join John in Revelation 5:
“…and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev. 5:4).”
No one is good enough! Oh, who will save me from this body of death (Rom. 7:24)?
Relief floods my soul as I recall – the story does not end in despair! It is not finished with the Sermon on the Mount, and it does not end with the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” Remember Christ’s response?
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).”
And neither is the story finished with John’s sorrowful lament that no one is worthy to open the scroll. Remember what happens next?
“And one of the elders said to me (John), “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll…And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:5, 9-10).”
While the Sermon on the Mount marks me a sinner, Christ marks me as saved. Sent by the Father to die and rise again, the Son of God has paid for my penalty. It is Jesus’ righteousness I wear, and so with me, the Father is very pleased.
My question, then, of “What is enough to satisfy God’s standards?” is finally answered. The answer is Christ. Only He is enough. Only His righteousness will do!
Dressed in His perfection, I finally have peace. Peace with the Father, peace with my brother, and peace over my soul.
But the story is not finished here, either. Clothed in Christ, the remainder of my earthly life is yet to be completed. While the Sermon on the Mount makes me aware of my sin and points me to Christ as the only sufficient, all-satisfying righteousness I need, this sermon also tells me how I am to live as a believer. And it overwhelms me with daunting commands, commands like:“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (v. 29).”
But how do I kill sin?“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…(v. 44)”
And how can I love those who hate me???
Oh, Lord, how do I live this life of faith in You? Again, I see my need. My need for Him. Relief for my soul and the answers to my questions are, again, found in the far-reaching Truth of the gospel.
For Christ has defeated my sin! It no longer has mastery over me!
“For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:56-57).”
And because Christ has purchased me as His own, His Spirit now lives in me, giving me both the desire and the ability to live for the One who ransomed my soul.
“Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father! (Gal. 4:6)'”
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).”
By the power of His Spirit within me, I am able to flee sin and pursue that which is pleasing to my Father (2 Tim. 2:22). No longer under the curse of sin, and by way of His power, I can love even those who hate me. And as I continue this life of faith in Christ, He is changing me more and more into His likeness until the day that He will present me blameless before the Father, dressed in His perfection. It’s mysterious, glorious, and altogether miraculous! All that I need to live out this life is truly in Christ, in Him alone! I join Paul in the joyous refrain: “ Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:25)!”
What lessons does the Sermon teach you?