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: Lowering God’s Standards
The second reason why Jesus was critical of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is that this external righteousness actually whittled down the standards of the law and therefore nullified it in many important points. These men were great definers. That is, they could tell you to the smallest degree exactly what each of the commandments meant. When the law said, “Thou shalt remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” they could tell you precisely what one could do on the Sabbath and still keep the law, and what one could not. Thus, it was possible to move about, but only a Sabbath day’s journey; to eat, but not to cook food; to bandage a person who became hurt, but not to apply ointment or anything actively to promote healing, and so on. Jesus said, however, that when you have done that, you have still not kept the law of God; you have only kept your watered down version of it. And it is quite possible not to go more than a Sabbath day’s journey, not to cook food—or in our day not to go to work, not to take in a movie, not to play golf (or whatever it may be)—and still disobey God’s commandment.
Is that not also true with you? God gives a commandment, and oh, how we rationalize. We can make a commandment of the Lord say anything we want it to say in order to permit us to do what we want to do. God says that human righteousness is unacceptable to him because human righteousness will always function like that.
Then, too, human righteousness is always self-glorifying instead of God-glorifying. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question: “What is the chief end of man?” It answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” If you are going about to establish your own goodness, however, what you are really going about to establish is your own glorification and not the glorification of God. You are like the Pharisee in Christ’s story. The Pharisee went into a public area of the temple and prayed, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). Jesus said in effect, “Do you mean to say that God hears that kind of prayer, the kind of prayer that asks him to look at how good a man is? Of course not.” He argued that the kind of prayer God hears is the prayer of the publican who says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Jesus knew that when a man will do that, then God will get the glory, even if by God’s grace the man does eventually come to live an upright and exemplary life. Paul knew it too. That is why he wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
What is the second reason why Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees? Can you give an example of this?
How is human righteousness self-glorifying?
Prayer: Ask the Lord to show you any areas where you might bend one of God’s commandments to make it say what you want.