[Jesus said] “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. 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. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 5:17-20)
That last verse scares the daylights out of me. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And immediately my mind goes, “Okay, I’m sunk. I’ll never make it into heaven.” Because the whole universe knows that my righteousness is worth basically nothing. Does it exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? I’m lucky if it exceeds that of the cranky neighbor down the street!
And I think Jesus means to scare us! Oh, not permanently, of course. But He means to make us think. How is it possible for us to have that kind of righteousness? Can we try harder to live a good life? Anyone who’s tried that knows it isn’t going to work. The evil thoughts and desires just come crowding in even stronger. It’s a hopeless job.
Well, if that won’t work, what will? Now, that’s a good question! And the Bible answers it for us again and again. Paul, for instance, talks about all the so-called “righteousness” he used to depend on until Jesus called him to faith. He says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:7-10a).
Only Jesus has that kind of righteousness. And He has promised to give it to us—to take our sins and exchange them for His righteousness, because we trust in Him. Jesus took our sins all the way to the cross. There He put them to death, along with the judgment that stood against us. We know this is true because God raised Jesus from the dead. Now Jesus calls us and everybody to trust in Him. He will give us His own holiness and goodness, and the best of all, everlasting life. Will we enter the kingdom of heaven? Yes—completely and purely because of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me Your righteousness. I love You. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
Originally published in The Lutheran Hour on February 2, 2023
Used by permission from International Lutheran Laymen’s League, all rights reserved
1. How do you feel when you read the Ten Commandments? Why?
2. When you fall into sin, what do you do?
3. How does Jesus’ righteousness comfort and strengthen you as you live your daily life?