An Ancient Hot Take with a Modern-Day Punch
“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.” – Matthew 5:17
Do you have any “hot takes” or strong opinions that you hold even if you’re in the minority? These are great for stirring debate or grabbing headlines in the newspapers. Depending on who you ask, hot takes could include viewpoints such as:
- “Pineapple belongs on pizza.”
- “LeBron James isn’t one of the top ten greatest basketball players of all-time.”
- “The Star Wars prequels are better than the original movies.”
Here’s one of my current hot takes: Chick-fil-A sauce is better when mixed with buffalo sauce. This is one of the spicier (pun intended) takes you’ll hear on one of our most popular sauces, but I urge you to try it the next time you give us a visit. Once you give it a chance, you’ll come over to my side.
As we continue in our series on the Sermon on the Mount, we begin to see Jesus proposing takes hotter than any we’ve considered so far in this article. These statements demand our attention because they don’t just cover food tastes or entertainment preferences. The stakes are vastly higher when we start talking about salvation.
Consider this statement, which Jesus makes at the end of a discussion about the value of the Law and Prophets in the new kingdom: “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.” (Matthew 5:20, NLT)
In order to understand why this take is so hot, we must understand the religious culture of Jesus’ day. Back in this day, the Pharisees were considered by their peers to be elite in terms of their religious commitment. Their dedication to following the law and upholding religious rituals was umatched.
The Pharisees didn’t just follow the commands in the Old Testament (often referred to as the “Hebrew Bible” by scholars). They also followed a second set of commands called the “Midrash” to prevent them from getting too close to breaking the actual Torah. For example, if the Torah commanded the Israelites to honor the Sabbath, the Midrash provided regulations that prohibited certain work-like activities, such as plowing a field or kindling a fire.
With this in mind, imagine what Jesus’ original audience would have thought when the first heard Jesus say that they must become more righteous than the Pharisees. They likely would have seen this as an outrageous or an unattainable standard. Jesus might as well have asked them to be smarter than Albert Einsten or more athletic than Michael Jordan.
While it’s true that Jesus was calling people to a higher standard, he was also seeking to change their understanding of righteousness as a whole. Jesus wanted the people to see that justification before God wasn’t about following a set of rules or regulations. He knew that no matter how hard they tried to meet the standard, they would always fall short. Jesus’ call to enhanced righteousness was a call to a new kind of faith and trust in God, where each person would recognize their own inadequacy and inferiority apart from God’s incredible grace and mercy.
Let us never forget the wonderful gift of salvation made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. There’s nothing that we can do to earn our salvation, but praise God that it’s available to anyone who chooses to trust in His name.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” – Ephesians 2:8-9