Matthew 5:20 – For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christ Jesus has called us to a radical obedience. The scribes and the Pharisees were good people who were consecrated to their religious practices. Everything about their lives reflected the practice of being devoted to the service of God. They fasted twice a week, gave themselves to a continual study of the Bible, and tithed on even the smallest of things. They were men like Saul of Tarsus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Aramathea who were blameless concerning the righteousness of the law (Philippians 3:6).
Yet, there was a greater righteousness about to be poured out: the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21). The full extent of the righteousness of the law would be fulfilled in those who would be born of the Spirit, and not taught by a rabbi like Gamileal – but by the Holy Ghost Himself (Romans 8:4; John 3:3-6, 16:12-15). Although the scribes and Pharisees followed after the law of righteousness, they did not attain it because they did not turn to the faith in Christ Jesus which would make it possible (Romans 9:31; Philippians 3:9). Christ Jesus became the end of the law for righteousness, but many who were ignorant of the righteousness of God continued to go about trying to establish their own righteousness instead of submitting to the righteousness of God made possible only through the new covenant (Romans 10:3-4).
When Jesus talked about righteousness, He talked about it in terms of radical obedience. Although He did not talk about the new birth in this context, He made known the consequence of a heart transformed by a new and living way. He made it clear how each person was called to a more radical obedience. Before, if a man killed someone, he was in danger of the judgment; but now, if a man was angry with his brother, he would be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:22). Under the law, men were required not to commit adultery; but now they were called to a higher righteousness: not to even look at a woman to lust after her because it would be the same as if the act were committed (Matthew 5:27-28). In the righteousness that would excel the righteousness of the law, men would be required to love their enemies and pray for those who despitefully used them and persecuted them (Matthew 5:43-44). Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to establish them; that is, to establish them in the heart of man through the New Covenant (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:4; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16; Ephesians 4:24; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
Pastor Mark Spitsbergen