Righteousness Exceeds ~ 20200621 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
06/21 [Father’s Day] Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200621_righteousness-exceeds.mp3
Today is Father’s day, and I want to look at Matthew 5-6 where Jesus teaches us about our relationship to our Father. We are all in different places regarding our relationship to our fathers. Some of us have lost a father, some never knew their father. Some love and admire their father, others have been deeply wounded by their father. Some of us are fathers of young children, some fathers of adult children. But Jesus points us to the perfect Father, his Father in heaven, and he addresses us who have been adopted into his family, who can now also call God ‘Father’.
The Light of Our Works Give Glory to Our Father
Jesus is teaching us what our lives are to look like as his followers. We are to be like a city set on a hill, like a lamp up on a stand, giving light to the world. Children are often scared of the dark, and life is hard when you stumble around in the dark and stub your toe. But understand, not everyone loves the light. When the lights are turned on, the cockroaches scurry for cover. Jesus said ‘the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil’ (Jn.3:19). We are to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand. We are told to ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ Let the light of your commendable conduct shine in such a way that people see you and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
How does this work? I remember (and it has been a long time since this has happened), when our children were younger, and we would herd them into a nice restaurant to have a special dinner together as a family, when we entered you could feel the people we were seated near brace themselves as this large family intruded on their otherwise peaceful dinner. On several occasions, as a neighboring couple would finish their meal and get up to leave, they would come over to Deanna and I and say ‘your children are so well behaved!’ Like I said, this was a long time ago. We would thank them and let them know that it was by the grace of God. But what they were doing was exactly what this verse is talking about. Sometimes they would direct a complement toward our children, but they would always bring it back to the parents, recognizing that we were ultimately responsible for our children’s behavior. ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ When our conduct is like a light shining in a dark place, it reflects on our upbringing, on our parenting. It reflects on our Father in heaven. We are always representing our adopting Father in heaven. We are either bringing him honor and glory or we are shaming his name.
The Heart of the Law
Jesus continues by pointing us back to the law of God.
Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill the law of God. He came to do what we cannot. He says that we are to do and to teach the law of God. He condemns those who relax one of the least of these commands. And he says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, or we will never even enter the kingdom of heaven. God’s children must conduct themselves as his children. And then Jesus goes on to expound some of the commands of God.
In verses 21-26 he reminds us of command #6 in the 10 commandments, ‘you shall not murder,’ and he addresses the root of anger in our heart, and commands us to seek reconciliation.
In verses 27-32 he reminds us of command #7 ‘you shall not commit adultery,’ and he addresses the root disease of lust in our heart.
In verses 33-37 he reminds us of command #9 ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor’ and he tells us that we should not even have to take an oath; that we should be known always to speak the truth.
In verses 38-42 he reminds us of the law of retribution; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Ex.21:24) and he teaches us that rather than demanding and exacting the justice that is due to us, we should rather be wronged and go the extra mile to serve others.
In verses 43-48 he reminds us of the requirement to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev.19:18), and he extends this to love of even our enemies.
Jesus doesn’t relax the requirements of the commandments; he says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. He digs down to the heart issues that underlie the outward actions. The religious leaders, seeking to justify themselves by their conduct, made them merely about outward observance, and defined exactly when and how far and to what the commands did and did not apply. Jesus says the issue is our hearts; what do you love? Is your heart formed after the heart of your father? Do you bear the resemblance of your Father and his heart toward people?
Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Our hearts must be reshaped by the new birth to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Our hearts must grow to resemble the heart of our heavenly Father.
Not Works Righteousness But Real Spirit Wrought Righteousness
Please don’t misunderstand, Jesus is not driving us to pursue a righteousness that we earn by our good performance. The point of the law is that we can’t, that we fall short. The standard is absolute. The standard is perfection. The law teaches us that we need a hero that fights the battle for us; who can fulfill the law for us and give us his perfect righteousness as a gift that we don’t deserve. This is exactly what Paul understands in Philippians 3. He counts his earned righteousness under the Law as loss and rubbish,
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them, to accomplish them. He fulfilled the commandments in our place, as our hero, and he clothes us in his perfect righteousness as a gift, received by faith. He makes us his own.
But do not make the other mistake that because Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf that it no longer matters how we live. Now that we have been clothed in his perfect righteousness as a gift, now that we are reconciled to God through the death of his Son, now that we have received the gift of the Spirit of the living God through faith, now, the Holy Spirit living inside begins to transform our hearts to make us into what we are. We are perfectly righteous before God by faith in Jesus’ finished work, and we are becoming righteous day to day, as the Spirit brings about his holiness in us as we let our light shine before others.
Seek the Reward of your Father
Jesus goes on in Matthew chapter 6 to warn us:
And after teaching us to pray to our Father in heaven, he continues:
At first read this passage seems to directly contradict what went just before. In 5:14 he said ‘You are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand;’ in 16 he said ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ Now in 6:1 he says ‘Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.’ Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works,’ and ‘beware of practicing you righteousness before others in order to be seen by them.’ How do we put these together? Do we let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works, or do we beware of practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them? Do we let our light shine before others, or do we only practice our righteousness in secret to be seen only by our Father who is in secret? Do you sense the problem here?
Jesus is cautioning us against a dangerous and seductive motive. He is commanding us to let our light shine before others, but he is warning us not to do so in order to pursue the praise of others. Our hearts love praise. We want to be praised by others. We want the affirmation and approval of people. How many people desperately seek the affirmation and approval of their earthly fathers? How many people have been deeply wounded because no matter what they did or how hard they tried, they could never measure up and never feel the approval of their father? We naturally long for the approval of those who are important to us. Jesus is warning us against the danger of seeking the praise and approval of people.
I want us to see something here. Do you see how repeatedly Jesus encourages us to seek the reward? He warns that if you pursue the praise of people, their praise will be all the reward you ever receive. But if you seek to glorify your Father, if you give in secret and pray in secret and fast in secret, then your Father who is in secret and sees in secret will reward you.
This is the context of verse 19:
Do not seek the praise that comes from people. Seek the reward that comes from your Father who sees in secret.
Here’s the thing, we do long for approval, especially approval from those who are most important to us. If we live to pursue the affirmation of people, that will be all we get, and that won’t last. But if we seek the approval of our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God, we are guaranteed to get it, and it will last forever!
Remember the parable of the talents?
Two of the servants put what he had entrusted to them to work. The one buried what he had been given. When the master returned, the servant who distrusted his master and did nothing with what he had been given was thrown out, but the two who had put what they had been given to work both experienced exponential increase, and heard these words:
The reward we are to pursue is the approval of our Father who loves us and who has freely given us much. Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it must be a righteousness that flows out from a Spirit transformed heart, who does not practice righteousness in order to be praised by other people, but rather ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org