In verse 20 Jesus says, For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were known for scrupulously keeping the law. They went so far as to create 600+ laws to put a fence around God’s law so that one wouldn’t unintentionally break God’s law.
Jesus says that a person’s righteousness has to surpass what the Pharisees and teachers of the law did in order to get into heaven. In other words, a person has to out Pharisee a Pharisee to be righteousness enough to work one’s way into heaven… in essence one has to be perfect to work their way into heaven.
To prove His case, Jesus shows how impossible keeping the law truly is. It is not just about murdering others… it is belittling them with our words (21-26). It is not just physical adultery… it is lusting in our mind and heart (27-30). Divorce isn’t about a just procedure giving a proper certificate… it is for infidelity only (31-32). And throughout the rest of the chapter Jesus lists case after case of how difficult it is to keep the law.
No one could construct enough guardrail-laws to keep the human heart within the confines of the Law. The Pharisees couldn’t do it and a person has to surpass the Pharisees to get into the kingdom of heaven that way.
The answer to the dilemma that Jesus has created isn’t answered until later in chapter 7 where he says, Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (24).
And what is (are) His words we are to put into practice. Well, clearly it is what He has just taught. If we step back a bit… we see that the call He gives just before chapter 5 is to ‘come follow me’ (4:19) and this is the essence of Jesus’ call to discipleship… to follow Jesus… to emulate Jesus. This is what His disciples do.
Lord, God, I cannot work my way into Your kingdom. I would have to be perfect and that possibility ended a long, long time ago. My only hope is to follow Jesus and allow Him to lead me into Your kingdom. Today I renew my commitment to follow Jesus. Halleluiah.
Jesus, I am Yours… Amen.