Sermon: Have You Earned Heaven?
Scripture: Matthew 5:20
In this week’s lessons, we see that no amount of human righteousness can ever please God, but only the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ will lead to eternal life.
Theme: The Righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees
The statements of the Sermon on the Mount are the righteous foundation of all God’s dealings with men, and when they are accepted they drive a man to the Lord Jesus Christ where alone he finds salvation. On the other hand, if they are not accepted, they will turn a man from Jesus and they will cause a man to hate him and despise his teachings.
To a large extent, this must have been true as Christ spoke the Sermon. For he was undoubtedly heard by many, particularly among the religious leaders, who stood opposed to every word he uttered. These would have reacted to his teachings as anyone would react to that which condemns him. Jesus had said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those words must have hurt, for the leaders of people, the scribes and Pharisees, knew that they were neither poor in spirit nor poor in material things, and yet they had boasted that they knew the way to heaven more than others. Actually, they were rich in pride. Jesus had said, “Blessed are the meek,” but they were anything but meek. He had said, “Blessed are the merciful,” and they were not merciful. In fact, there is hardly a phrase in the first section of the Sermon on the Mount that would not have hurt as they heard it. They must have acknowledged, at least inwardly, that they had indeed lost their savor and that they gave no light.
At this point Jesus actually named the scribes and the Pharisees directly, and in naming them he brought to an end the false standards of religion and morality that they had so carefully erected. They thought that they had been scrupulous in interpreting and obeying the law. They thought they were righteous. But Jesus said, “For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). In other words, he was saying that God will never be satisfied even with such a supposed high standard of righteousness as theirs.
This was a difficult saying, of course, and it was difficult for a number of reasons. First, because the scribes and the Pharisees were so highly regarded. We have a negative image of the Pharisees and the scribes today because of what Jesus Christ said about them and because of the higher standard of righteousness that he revealed. But this was not true beforehand. For the most part, they were all highly honored. They were so highly thought of, in fact, that even Paul, years later when he stood up before Herod Agrippa to plead his case, boasted that formerly as a Pharisee he had lived after the strictest sect of the Jewish religion (Acts 26:5). Hence, even then it was a thing of praise. The scribes were also honored as the great masters of the law.
Why will a rejection of the Sermon on the Mount cause one to turn from Jesus?
How do we tend to view the scribes and Pharisees today? How were they generally regarded in Jesus’ day? Why did they respond to Jesus as they did?
Reflection: How does Jesus’ teaching produce the response of unbelief and hostility today? Give examples from the Sermon on the Mount, and describe why people reject it.