If you were given a pen and paper and told to write a definition of “righteousness,” what would you say? What kind of righteousness does God require of you? In today’s sermon, we can consider this subject and even come to an answer of what God desires.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
“Do not think” = Many believed that the Messiah would commence his own law, and put the Mosaic law to the side. As we will see, “. . . Jesus is taking pains to relate his teaching and place in the history of redemption to the OT Scriptures” (Carson). He wants the people to make no mistake that He is not doing away with the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.
“To destroy” = The word here literally means tear down in the sense of abolish or annul. Jesus does not contradict the Law in any of His teachings. He did not want to destroy devotion to the OT, but to enhance it.
“Law or the Prophets” = This phrase means the entire Old Testament. The Jews often referred to all of their Scriptures as either the Law and the Prophets or simply the Law. Remember the OT was the only written Scripture at that time. We cannot fully understand the NT without the OT, and the OT can’t be properly interpreted and applied without the NT. The OT idea brackets the body of the Sermon on the Mount, 5:17 and 7:12.
Connective: Jesus is making sure that His hearers know that His ministry and teaching is based on the OT and we better honor the Hebrew Scriptures.
“To fulfill” = Many people think that Jesus is here referring to one of two things. First, it is often said that Jesus fulfilled the Law in that He taught it as it was intended. Second, Many people say that Jesus fulfilled the Law in the sense that He perfectly modeled it. Jesus, in some sense, did both of these things. Yet, in the context of this comment, we must say that Jesus fulfilled the Law in the sense that He was the One to whom the entire OT pointed. He brought the Law to its intended goal, its fruition in the sense that He was the goal and the fruit. It is not so important that He modeled that perfect righteousness the OT called for, but that He was that righteousness. Do you see? He is the Messiah of God. See Lk 24:27, 44; Jn 5:39
“One jot or one tittle” = Hebrew yod, Greek iota Smallest stroke of the pen, smallest tails of letters. I don’t give one iota means smallest care. The dot of an i or the cross of a t. All of the Scriptures will last for all of time “till all is finished,” that is, accomplished. Even the OT saints knew this, Ps 102:25-26.
“These commandments” = I think Jesus now turns to what He is about to teach. He first made sure that His hearers realized that what He was about to teach did not contradict the OT, but enhanced it.
“Least in the kingdom” = Notice that those who fail in the teachings are not cast out of the kingdom. Yet, they are demoted in rank.
“Unless your righteousness” = We have now come to the key to the Sermon on the Mount. Scribes and Pharisees were the guardians of the Law. They studied it, taught it, and applied it. The people were submissive to them because of the position that the Pharisees held. They were the authoritative figures for the first century Jews. They could not be disputed or questioned. In most people’s estimation, no one was more righteous than the Pharisees and scribes! How in the world would anyone enter the kingdom of heaven if they couldn’t? How could the common folk enter in if their teachers couldn’t?
What kind of righteousness is Jesus calling for? I think we should take the answer to this question to its logical conclusion. Our righteousness is never enough, even if it is better than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. We need an alien righteousness, something from outside ourselves. The Gospel proclaims and the New Testament teaches that when we put our faith in Christ, His righteousness is given to us.