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1. Good Enough? (Matthew 5:17-20)

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Matthew 5:17-20
March 7, 2004


Title: Good Enough?

You’ve probably heard this question before: If you were to die tonight and stand before God and he said to you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” What would you say to him?

When I ask people that question, a large part of the time the answer I hear back is, “I would tell him that I think I’ve lived a pretty good life. Hopefully the good I’ve done will outweigh whatever bad I’ve done.”

Maybe some of you feel the same way. Here’s the problem: Just how good is good enough? How good do you need to be to get into heaven?

What exactly is the cut off point?

It is not just a question that we ask today. It was also a question that people in Jesus’ day were very interested in. Knowing that, he answered it very clearly. Today, we’re going to look at his answer.

The Jesus Curriculum

We’re continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount, a lesson that Jesus taught to his followers. It’s a kind of handbook for the kingdom of God. Last month, we studied the character of God’s kingdom and the character of the kingdom’s citizens.

The Kingdom Code

Today we come to the beginning of a new section: The Kingdom Code.

If you remember where we left off, Jesus has just said that his followers should let the world see their goodness and that will have a profound effect on the people of the world. In this next section, Jesus goes on to describe what goodness looks like. Exactly what did Jesus mean? What kind of goodness was he looking for? And exactly how good was good enough?

The code is still in place.

Jesus begins by saying that he’s not starting all over from a blank slate.

Matthew 5:17-20 "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.

“Law and Prophets” was typical way of referring to the Scriptures, what we call “The Old Testament”.

Jesus is trying to head off any misunderstanding.

Someone might think that if the spiritually bankrupt belong to the kingdom of God, then Jesus must be saying that it doesn’t matter if you’re good—that it doesn’t matter if you obey the law.

But Jesus is saying, “I am not doing away with it, I am fulfilling it.”

It means that the OT points to him and by his life, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, and his return he completes the OT—he makes it happen, he brings it into reality. Jesus is not setting it aside and starting over with something different. He’s finishing the incomplete masterpiece that was begun in the Old Testament.

Several things in the Old Testament are radically changed by the coming of Jesus Christ. In the completed masterpiece, there are temporary measures that are no longer needed, like sacrifices. But that is like removing the scaffolding. It is far different than erasing the masterpiece.

[18] I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter,

The smallest Hebrew letter is yod.

not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

The least stroke is probably talking about the small differences between some Hebrew letters. he, hait, tov; vav, zion, dalet, resh

Basically, he’s using two expressions to say that no part of the Old Testament, no matter how small, no part can be set aside without being fulfilled, as it is being fulfilled right now in the life and teachings of Christ.

Since that is true, it is important that we keep to the code.

The code is to be practiced and taught.

[19] Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,

Better translation for “breaks” is “relaxes”.

but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The one who is really fulfilling his role as a citizen of God’s kingdom is one who follows God’s commands and teaches others to do so too. They will be recognized as the great ones in the kingdom.

The code requires perfection.

[20] For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,

The Pharisees were theological conservatives. They believed God. They believed his word. They wanted to live lives that demonstrated their devotion to God. So they were very careful about their behavior. They went to great extremes to make sure they were not disobeying God’s law. To the people of the day, there was no one more righteous than the Pharisees. But Jesus says, “If you aren’t better than them—the most righteous people you know—then

you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In essence what that means is that no one is good enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. How good is good enough? Perfect. 100%. Better than you are. More righteousness than you have. Even the most righteous people are not qualified to enter the kingdom.

If you’re thinking that when you’re standing at the entrance to heaven, you’ll be hoping that you’ve been good enough to get in, then Jesus says here in these verses that you’re in for a big disappointment. No matter how good you are, it’s not good enough. That leaves us all in a tough spot. It means that no one is qualified to enter God’s kingdom.

So…where does that leave us?

After reading these verses,
I realize that I need…

It means that we need something. These verses tell us four things that we need when it comes to being good.


I’m not righteous enough to enter the kingdom. Correct.

You need someone else’s righteousness.

Romans 3:20-22 No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. … But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

When we put our trust in Jesus, he gives us his righteousness. In God’s eyes, he makes us completely righteous.

Romans 8:3-4 What the law was powerless to do …God did by sending his own Son …to be a sin offering …in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.

The law has not been abolished. It’s still there and it still reveals God’s will. But through Jesus, I have met all its requirements.

There’s a second thing from these verses that we know we need.

the Old Testament

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This is speaking of the Old Testament. It is still God’s guide for us. It is still a revelation of his righteous character.

A third thing Jesus says that we need.

to do right

We don’t need to do the right thing in order to win God’s love and acceptance. We already have that. God’s love and acceptance are based not on what we do, but on what Jesus did for us.

We don’t need to do the right thing in order to look good to others. It doesn’t matter what other people think of us.

There are three good reasons why we need to do the right thing.

1st, the best reason to do the right thing is because it is good for us.

We often think of sin as a restriction from something good. “Keep away from that!” But sin is not a candy; it’s a poison. The reason God tells us to keep away is because it will kill us. So doing right is good for us.

Second, doing right is what we were made for. Good is what we were meant to be. He gave us righteousness (that means he forgave us and declared us righteous) so that his righteousness would change who we are, effecting every area of our lives. Christ saved us so we could become like him, not just in right behavior, but also in right thinking and believing.

Third, and perhaps most important, when we do right, we are preparing a gift to bring pleasure to the most important person in our life, Jesus. If you have been forgiven and you understand what Jesus has done for you, how can you not love him and want to show him that love? We often show love to people by giving them gifts. Do you know how we show our love for God?

1 John 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,

2 Corinthians 5:9-10 So we make it our goal to please him, … [10] For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Reading this verse, it’s easy to think of this judgment as a trial. We immediately feel guilty (like getting called into the principal’s office).

But that’s not what this judgment seat of Christ is like. Think of it instead as Dad’s birthday party. The family’s all sitting around. Now it’s time to open the presents. Everyone’s a little curious to see what each person got Dad for his birthday. As the presents are opened, they reveal each person’s creativity, thoughtfulness and affection for Dad.

One day we are going to stand before God at a celebration in his honor. By the way we live our lives we are preparing a gift for him, the one who created us, forgave us, rescued us, cared for us and brought us back to life forever. On that day, the gifts will be opened and the contents revealed. What will you be giving the King at his celebration?

When I was a much younger man, I had a best friend (let’s call him “David”). Both raised in Christian homes. Both committed to follow Jesus. David and I were both dating and we told each other everything. Both of us occasionally pushed the limits of “how far can you go?”, but we were trying to “save ourselves” for marriage.

One day, David and his girlfriend “went all the way”. At the time it seemed all right, since, after all, they were planning to get married soon. And so they decided to have sex “on credit”. (the lay-away plan)

As you probably guessed, shortly after, they broke up. David was sick, physically sick. Not just because it hurt to break up, but because he had spent something precious that he could never again recapture. A few years later, David met another woman and when they married, I know that David’s greatest regret was that he couldn’t offer his wife the wedding present that he really wanted to be able to give her: his virginity.

Please don’t misunderstand. That didn’t diminish David’s love for his wife or his commitment to their marriage. And she still loved him deeply—whether he was a virgin or not. But because of the mistakes he had made, David was unable to offer her the one-of-a-kind, unique, specific gift that would best communicate his singular devotion to her. It wasn’t until his wedding day that he realized the value of what he had left behind.

I believe that is the situation with our gift for Jesus. Only while we are here on earth do we have the opportunity to prepare our gift for him—a gift designed to bring him pleasure—our obedience.

(I know right now, heaven seems a long way off. Maybe you don’t really feel like preparing a gift for Jesus—you’d rather please yourself. I know. I often feel that way.)

But when we all stand before him on that day, I think we will suddenly realize fully the extent of what Jesus has done for us. On that day, we’ll finally get it. And we will want to be able to give Jesus everything. We’ll want to show him our love, our complete devotion and allegiance. But at that point, all the shopping days will be over. Whatever gift we have prepared is the only one we will have to present.

On that day, when all the gifts are opened, we might want to give Jesus more, but we will only be able to honor him with what we have already done with our lives here on earth. That is why it is so important to do what is right. Because of God’s grace, our relationship with him will never be threatened, but at his celebration, we will want to please him with the way we have faithfully followed him.

This verse also gives us another reason to do right. At that same celebration to honor Jesus, after we have honored him by opening our presents, the Bible says that we will be rewarded for what we have done. What does that reward look like? That’s for another day.

But let’s go back to our list. After reading these verses, I realize that I need…

to be genuine

Jesus said, “Your righteousness must be greater than that of the Pharisees. Although Pharisees were on very good behavior, Jesus criticized the Pharisees and scribes for being hypocrites.

Matthew 23:25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Play acting vs. sincerity.

Academy Award for best performance as a righteous person

External performance vs. Internal reality.

This is followed by six specific examples or applications.

What does it look like to be genuine in our obedience?

We’ll leave that for next week.

1 Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the The Kingdom Code series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on March 7, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

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