Righteousness means not just right actions but proper thoughts and attitudes as well. Consequently, the perfect righteousness required to enter God’s kingdom is unattainable by our own efforts. It is ours only by God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Our Wisdom Journey today picks up as Jesus has just begun to deliver what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says here in Matthew 5:13:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
Old salt was used to cover pathways like we use gravel today.
We typically think of food when we think of salt. But in Christ’s day, salt was so valuable that it served as currency. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, which they could then sell for profit. To this day when we say that somebody is worth his salt, we mean he is valuable.
Back in Christ’s day, salt represented purity. The Gentiles would offer salt as an offering to their gods. Its shimmering white appearance created all kinds of superstitions. In fact, the Greeks called salt theion, or divine.
Salt was also used to slow down corruption and decay in food—it was a preservative.
So, Jesus is effectively saying that His disciples are to be hard workers, represent the true and living God, and preserve a decaying culture by living a godly life.
It is interesting that the Bible never says believers are sugar, but salt. Now that does not mean we should not be sweet, but our presence, our existence, our lifestyles should preserve in our culture all that is pure and holy and true.
Now Jesus continues in verses 14-15:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
I don’t know about you, but we taught our children how to sing that little song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Well, I think we should never stop singing that tune.
Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.” Here He says we are the light of the world. We are shining with the light of the gospel into our dark world.
People say to me all the time, “Oh, the world is growing so dark; what are we going to do?” How about turning on the light. Lighthouses were never made for sunny days but dark days. Likewise, the believer was built to shine—even back here in the dark days of the Roman Empire.
Just read a little history, beloved. When the church was founded, the Roman culture mocked heterosexuality as arrogant and narrow. In fact, bisexuality was considered normative. The Roman emperor Nero had married both women and men, without any public reaction.
Add to that the fact that child prostitution was legal, as well as drugs and pornography. If a couple had a baby girl and they had wanted a boy, or if their child was born disabled, they could leave it out on the front porch for animals that roamed the streets at night.
Seneca, one of Nero’s court advisers wrote a letter in which he said, “We strangle a mad dog … children who are born weakly, and deformed, we drown.”
What a dark world, but let me tell you, God decided that this was the perfect time in which to create the New Testament church. It was the perfect time to turn on the light for a dark and sinful world.
Now with that, Jesus emphasizes His own integrity and commitment to the Old Testament Scriptures here in verses 17-18:
“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.”
The “Law” and “the Prophets” together refer to the whole of the Old Testament. The “iota” and “dot” He mentions refer to the smallest Hebrew letter and the smallest stroke of a Hebrew letter. He is saying that every word, every inch of God’s Word, is true, and it will all come to pass.
Then Jesus makes this shocking statement in verse 20: “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What? Everybody assumed that if anybody was going to get into heaven, it would be the Pharisees; but Jesus says you have to be better than they are. And that effectively means that none of them—and none of us—are good enough to get in. And that is the gospel truth—“None is righteous, no, not one,” the Bible says in Romans 3:10.
With that the Lord cuts right to the heart of the matter; He gets past the façade and exposes the depravity of the human heart—the fact that we are all lawbreakers. Jesus talks first about anger in the heart:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (verses 21-22)
Jesus takes the sixth commandment and shows that malicious anger is at the heart of every murder. So, He condemns, not only the act of murder, but also the attitude of hatred.
Jesus goes on to urge people to reconcile. Do not let anger seethe inside until it boils over. Jesus says in verse 24, “Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Listen, beloved, the Lord places reconciling with someone as a higher priority than attending a worship service. Frankly, reconciling with someone is an act of worship that glorifies God.
Jesus moves on from anger in the heart to lust in the heart:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (verses 27-28)
The Pharisees believed that if you avoided the physical act of adultery, you would be okay with God. But Jesus raises the bar and says that lust is sinful.
So, with only these two commandments, we are all guilty before God of terrible sin—as are the Pharisees, the most righteous-looking and spiritual-sounding people on the planet. So, how sinful are we? The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
We are sin-sick. We are all terminally ill with sin. We all need heart surgery, and we need the Divine Physician to perform it—to cleanse every act and every thought of hatred and anger and lust. The apostle Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree”—the cross. Though His suffering and death, we are forever healed (1 Peter 2:24).
That is our only hope of forgiveness and getting into heaven one day. So have you come to Christ and admitted you are a sinner? You can do that right now. Pray, “Lord, I admit right now that I am a sinner. I am guilty of hatred and anger and lust and selfishness and more. The Bible tells me that You paid the penalty for all my sin on the cross. Please forgive me. I am trusting in You alone; I realize I can’t go to heaven because I deserve it, but because You paid for it; I want You, Lord Jesus, to save me now.”
If you prayed that sincerely, in faith, He has saved you just now!