|The book of Matthew presents Jesus as a new Israel. You know how we are with new. So, it’s not difficult to imagine the tension that created between Jesus and religious leaders. We affirm that Jesus fulfilled Israel’s mission. It’s not that God rejected the Jewish people. Although they failed many times, their journey with the Lord was not a waste. Instead, all that we read in the Old Testament is part of God’s redemption plan leading us to Jesus.
But use your simple human emotions to appreciate why that put Jesus at odds with other teachers and leaders. Does that mean there’s no need for people like the Pharisees? Is this new teacher suggesting we’re all wrong about what it means to be faithful to God?
Jesus assured his listeners that his goal was not to get rid of God’s law. Again, Christ fulfilled it. Matthew 5 begins Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The sermon begins by turning the world’s assumptions about God’s blessings upside down. It gets even more pressing. “You have heard that it was said,” was his way of calling to mind the law of God.
The people hadn’t only heard it was said. They heard that many times. They studied what it all meant. Listening to God’s law was a regular part of their daily existence. So, to hear Jesus follow up with, “but I tell you,” probably sounded like an offense to God.
It wasn’t, of course.
What Jesus was showing them was the fulfillment happening in real-time.
Whereas before you could get by with not doing certain things, Jesus pressed us now to go further. So, I could hold myself in high regard if I had never participated in the act of adultery. But now the challenge of Jesus was to recognize even any mental act of adultery was just as bad.
That is a confrontation for self-righteous people.
He used another example.
A man could come up with almost any excuse to divorce his wife. If he received a divorce certificate, it was a done deal. He could, in a sense, wash his hands clean because he did it the “right way.” “But I tell you,” Jesus said, that you also bring harm to your wife by doing so.
Self-righteous people know the letter of the law. They know all the rules. They’ll challenge you on it. And they’ll let you fall on your face if you get caught not following them. But using the rules to justify yourself doesn’t get at the core of Christ’s fulfillment. To live as God’s people is not merely adhering to rules. It’s living as redeemed people.
It seems Jesus wants us all to realize the same thing. I need to stress the all there. Self-righteous people tend to know too much about what others need to do with their life. So much so they miss the ways they miss the mark. All of us are more guilty than we realize.
Self-righteousness is a form of control. We put ourselves on a pedestal above others. Closer to God, of course. That’s how people like the Pharisees kept other people in their place.
Touting control is silly when you follow the One who created everything. We have very little control, actually. The best way we can live is by allowing God to show us our blind spots. Asking the Holy Spirit to help us avoid self-righteousness. Trusting that the fulfillment we see in Christ is part of the fulfillment of our redeemed lives with God.
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