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  • Writer's pictureMatt Beaney


For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5:20)

This, initially, sounds like a real challenge! If paying attention to the small details of the law is what constitutes righteous living, how can anyone’s righteousness surpass the fastidious Pharisees and teachers of the law?

Obedience from love

However, a cursory reading of the gospels will reveal Jesus’ scathing attitude to the righteousness of these religious groups. They kept the commands (and their additional rules), but as an external show. They kept them for themselves - their reputation - rather than in love for God or others. Jesus said of them,

"You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you. “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

So, to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers, our obedience to the Old Testament needs to be from the heart and for God.

Receiving Jesus

Another massive blunder that these bible egg-heads achieved was to reject Christ. He was the fulfilment of their scriptures. Their Bible pointed to Him, they were waiting for the Messiah, but they rejected Him. Jesus said to them,

‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.’ (John 5:39-40)

A Christian’s life is to be a righteous life. The proof of the work of the Spirit in someone’s life is that they will love and obey the law of God (Romans 8:7-9). However, the righteous life begins with receiving Jesus as Lord and Saviour. When He comes into our lives, He gives us the love for authentic obedience out of love for God and others. The poorest Christian outstrips the righteousness of the strongest showoff!




It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.

Suggested opener/Ice-breaker

What are you most looking forward to when the lockdown restrictions have ended?

Introduction - please share in your group

This week we are continuing in our series on The Sermon on the Mount by looking at Matthew 5:17-20. Here, Jesus is teaching that if we are to be 'salt and light', we must obey and teach the whole of the Old Testament. However, as those in the New Covenant - a new way of relating to God in Christ - we are to obey in light of Jesus and His work.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus has not abolished but has fulfilled the Old Testament. To fulfil means ’that to which something or someone points’. The ‘law and prophets’ (the whole Old Testament) point to Jesus. As Christians, we read it and apply it in the light of how Christ has fulfilled it.

For example, the Ceremonial laws - those that directed worship in Israel; the priesthood, sacrifices, temple design, festivals… were directed in great detail. All of these laws were fulfilled in Christ. The true intent of these laws is obeyed by us as we put our faith in Christ who is our priest and sacrifice and he makes us His temple. We are now in a ‘new order’.

‘Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary… They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.’ (Hebrews 9:1,10)

Until Jesus comes again, the Old Testament, in all its detail, is to be obeyed in light of Jesus. It's our attitude in this regard that marks us as either great or least in the Kingdom of God.

Finally, as we obey the Old Testament (in light of how Jesus has fulfilled it), Our righteousness will surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers. Their devotion was for a show, for their own reputation. On top of this, they rejected Jesus, the one to whom the Law and prophets pointed. As Christians, our heart devotion to God and our honouring of Jesus marks us out as having greater righteousness in God's eyes.

Discussion questions

1. Did God speak to you about anything in particular from Sunday's message or the blogs this week?

(You may want to read Matthew 5:17-20 again)

2. Hebrews 10:1 makes a very important point in regard to how we obey the Law and prophets (the Old Testament).

'The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.'

What are the various 'shadows' that Jesus fulfils?

An example is the Sabbath. It’s very important to note that you will find no teaching on keeping the Sabbath in the New Testament. So how are we as Christians to obey this Law? There are differences of view but I believe that Jesus has fulfilled what the Sabbath foreshadowed by giving us His ‘rest’. In Christ, we rest from our works.

‘There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.’ (Hebrews 4:9-10).

3. How does a Christian's righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law?

4. Our attitude to the Old Testament is very important. How are you doing in regard to reading and applying the Old Testament?

Serving, Investing and inviting

Let's take a moment to share and pray about how we are serving, investing and inviting into our community.

1) Who has God put into your life that we could pray for together?

2) How are you planning to serve invest and invite?

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