We’ve spent the last couple of days looking at what Jesus Himself says are the characteristics showing true, saving faith in Him, which is shown by our humbling ourselves and our desires and instead obeying His Word. Today we begin to look into what He has to say about false religion that we’ve been taught to believe will save us. Jesus is clear: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20)
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law of Moses, but to fulfill it; those who obey them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven; those who do not carefully obey will be called the least. This doesn’t suggest that good deeds earn salvation, but it does make an important point about God’s intent for those prior messages (Matt 5:17-19). Jesus demands a standard which is impossible without saving faith in Him.
He makes two distinct points here: the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees is false. John the Baptist called them out as a “brood of vipers” in need of a repentance that will actually “bear fruit” instead of just looking good to other people (Matt 3:7–8). As Jesus emphasizes in the rest of the sermon, God cares far more about what is in a person’s heart than how other people perceive them. God values true purity motivated by true love more than technical rule-keeping motivated by spiritual pride. So true “righteousness” is something better than the rotten version paraded by religious hypocrites.
The other point is that nobody can be truly, perfectly righteous. No person can live a life of moral purity worthy of heaven “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Paul adds in the following verse what Jesus’s disciples come to understand: those who come to faith in Christ are “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). Jesus is preparing His followers to understand that we need a righteousness only He can earn for us. Just how righteous do we have to be? “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) False religion of Judaism (and many false religions since then) teach that you can earn your way into heaven by your righteousness earned by your works and your religious activities.
The Sermon on the Mount is designed to show the folly of that. Jesus systematically attacks all the aspects of that false Judaism and dismantles all of them and crushes them under the weight of their shortcoming. And essentially, He tells them, “Instead of being proud about your religious achievements, you need to see yourselves as poor in spirit. You need to mourn. You need to be meek and humble. You need to hunger and thirst for righteousness you don’t have. You need to be merciful. You need to be pure in heart. You need to be peacemakers.” Instead of being proud and feeling like we have attained the standard that God requires to enter His kingdom, we need to be broken and crushed under the reality that we cannot enter His kingdom by our works unless we’re as perfect as God is; and everyone falls short.
As Jesus begins to wrap up this sermon, He gives us final warnings. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:13-14) He points out that it’s hard for sinners to come out of the lies of false religion because their minds have been blinded by Satan to the truth. It’s difficult because it isn’t immediately visible, it’s hard to find, the gate is small, and It’s hard to enter. And not only that, but when you do enter, the way itself is hard to follow.
So few find it, few enter, few walk that narrow way. They’re kept out by their own sin, they’re kept out by their own blindness, and they’re aided and abetted in that by false prophets: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matt 7:15) They’re the ones selling tickets on the broad road leading to destruction, dressed in wool proclaiming themselves as true prophets – “but inwardly they are ravenous wolves”.
The Lord tells us that we “will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16-20). Look at the lives of teachers, preachers and proclaimed prophets. With a bit of research, they should be easily unmasked by seeing the corruption of their lives. I’ve wondered about some that I’ve read and studied their Bible studies, and did a bit of digging and discovered that “something that seemed off” indeed became clear. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
No matter the goods you can buy on the broad road that leads to damnation, there is only one way to be justified before the Father to gain entrance into His eternal heavenly kingdom. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
When He said “I am He” to the soldiers seeking Him in the garden, His words were so powerful that the soldiers fell to the ground (John 18:4-6). Using the words meaning that He is Lord “I Am”, He added “the way”. He didn’t say A way; He meant that He is the ONLY way. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1) is the source of all truth, thus He is The truth. “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.” (Ps 119:142) Jesus came to fulfill the law of the prophets and by our faith in Him as the Son of God, gift us by His grace His righteousness that we can’t achieve any other way. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)
Jesus had just been telling His disciples about His impending death, and now He claims to be THE source of all life. “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (Jn 10:17-18) The deliverance He provides isn’t political or social deliverance (which most of the Jews were seeking), but a true deliverance from a life of bondage to sin and death to a life of freedom in eternity (Jn 14:19).
In these words, Jesus declared Himself the great “I Am,” the only path to heaven, the only true measure of righteousness, and the source of both physical and spiritual life. He staked His true claim as the very God of Creation, the Lord who blessed Abraham, and the Holy One who inhabits eternity. He did this so the disciples would be able to face the dark days ahead and carry on the mission of declaring the gospel to the world.
So how do we follow Him today? The same way the disciples did long ago. They heard the words of Jesus and believed them. They took His words and obeyed them. They confessed their sins to Jesus as their Lord and God. They believed that He died to take the punishment of their sins and rose from the dead to give them new life. They followed His example and command to tell others the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. When we follow Him in “the way”, we can be assured of following Him all the way to heaven. Thank You, Lord!