17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
It is a bit providential that this would be the passage that comes on a week where I have been discussing the weaknesses of Protestantism. Along with the error of Sola Scriptura, Luther also made the error of teaching Sola Fide, or “Faith Only.” By this, Luther meant that only by a person’s intellectual assent (faith) to certain facts about the Christian religion could one receive salvation. And with the exception of a certain passage in the book of James, this is likely the passage that most completely decimates any notion of “Faith Only” salvation. Granted, any discussion that falsely pit faith vs. works can easily become a battle of semantics, but if you read Luther, it is very clear that he was not saying that faith does not necessarily lead to works.
Back to the passage itself.
What follows after this passage, in my personal opinion, are some of the most difficult moral commandments to be found in the Bible. We’ll dive into those in subsequent weeks, but for now, let’s forecast what follows. Jesus does not “Relax” any of the commandments that were found in the Mosaic Covenant. Instead, he does two things: 1) He takes the commandments a step further and 2) Reveals the deeper intent behind those commandments.
Also, worth noting is the statement about righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and pharisees. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time these parties are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. We will learn much more about them later on, but suffice it to say at this point that they represent the Religious Establishment. More specifically, the Pharisees represent the strictest sect within Judaism in the first century world. But as the reader will discover later, the Pharisees strictness pertained to the outward show of pretentious obedience. Furthermore, they obeyed the smaller aspects of the law like tithing the herbs in the garden while neglecting the bigger points of emphasis in the law such as justice and mercy. They displayed themselves as virtuous on the outside but were corrupt on the inside. Certainly, this is a continuing concern within Christianity today. Jesus wants us to obey the law completely, not only in outward show, but with a deep inward obedience.
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