Nearly sixty years ago when John Kennedy was running for President of the United States, he was dogged by questions about his religion. As you know, Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and as such he was thought to be a man who posed a serious challenge to the American mainstream. There were those who believed that he might receive his orders from the Vatican rather than the electorate. So, after weeks of questions, Kennedy decided to hold a press conference. He began by saying, “Reporters have been asking my opinion on the Pope’s infallibility. So, I asked my friend, Cardinal Spellman, what I should say. And he said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, Senator. All I know is that he keeps calling me Spillman!’”
Years ago a British investigator was asking a woman if she had seen the man who had set a building ablaze. When she said that she had, the officer said, “Could you describe his looks?” When the artist finished the sketch and held it up, he asked the women, “Would you say that this is the man who is responsible for the fire?” Instantly she replied, “Responsible? No, I’d say he’s highly irresponsible!”
You see, words have a variety of meanings in English. Take the word “end”. Webster gives us seven different definitions of the word, “end”. “End” can be a boundary, like an “end zone”. It can be a point at which something ceases to exist, like the “end of a rope”. It can be the cessation of an action, like the “end of a war”. An “end” can be a share of an undertaking, as in “he kept his end of the bargain”. It can be a synonym for death, as in “he met his end”. An “end” can be the player at the terminus of a football line of scrimmage like a “split end”. And an “end” can be a goal or an aim, as in “to what end are you working?” There seems to be no end to the meaning of the word “end”.
Perhaps that’s why there’s so much confusion about Matthew 5:17. You see, to abolish the law and/or the prophet’s message would mean to bring them to an end. It would mean that Jesus has terminated them, or caused them to cease. But Jesus is clear about that. He hasn’t come to do anything of the sort. Rather, He’s come to fulfill them. Now the word “fulfill” implies another kind of ending. To fulfill something means to complete it. And there are many who point to Romans 10:7 as confirmation of the fact that Jesus has completed the law. In fact, many point to the verse to say, “Jesus has set the law aside. He’s released us from it.” And the fact is that no one can doubt that interpretation until verses 18-30 are read. For in verse 20 Jesus issues a command that follows from all He’s been saying in the Sermon on the Mount up to that point. He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So how does all that work?
This Sunday in a message entitled, “Excessive Righteousness”, we will explore the depths of this clear command of Christ. What does it mean to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day? And how does this command square with the gospel of grace alone, through Christ alone, by faith alone?
We are in our fifth week of our series “A Charge to Keep.” Already we’ve looked at several clear commands of Christ from Matthew’s gospel. This Sunday is another important one!
In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
- Read Matthew 5:17-20. How does this text fit into the Sermon on the Mount? Especially given its positioning?
- Is verse 20 a “hard saying”?
- What is righteousness? How is righteousness defined in the Old Testament?
- How did the Jews of Jesus’ day define it?
- What is the connection between Moses and Jesus as evidenced in verse 17?
- In verse 18 the world “fulfilled” or “accomplished” is used. What does it mean?
- What does Jesus mean in verse 19 when He refers to “these commandments”?
- How is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees described in the gospels? What are the marks of such righteousness?
- The Bible infers three kinds of righteousness – Inherent, Imputed, and Imparted. What’s the difference between them?
- What are the fruits of imparted righteousness evidenced in the beatitudes?