To all,
19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

We established last week that Jesus was making two proclamations that are foundational to understanding Him in the gospels (vss 5:17-20). First, verses 17-18 make the case that everything Jesus is going to teach agrees with the Old Testament Scriptures and second, verses 19-20 reveal that everything Jesus is going to teach, disagrees with the Scribes and Pharisees.

We also concluded along with Boice that: “Jesus came not primarily to live in us by his Spirit, not primarily to obey the law, by keeping it perfectly – although these things are also true – but to die and in dying to cancel the claims of the law against all who would receive him as their Savior”.1

The second part of the two part proclamation addresses the fact that “whoever does them and teaches them (the commandments) will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (vs 19) They do and teach the commandments. Since we’ve understood that we are no longer under the law (see Gal 3:10, 13; Heb 7:19), how do we teach and do the commandments and how exactly does our “righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees”?

Let’s walk through this carefully. Paul spoke to this same issue in Romans as he lays out “the Righteousness of God through faith” in chapter 3. He explains in Romans 3:21-22 that “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” He then explains how this works through Jesus propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (vs 25). He then asks the question in vs 31 “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Romans chapter 4 reveals Abraham was the example of living by faith and his offspring would not be saved through the law but through the righteousness of faith, through a promise. This righteousness of faith lived out is best understood with a pattern revealed in Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and have been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” This life of faith as lived out by the Holy Spirit is explained in chapter 7:6 “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” This pattern is the confirmation of the New Covenant as foretold by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:33 stating God would write His law within us and write it on our hearts. Ezekiel also spoke more vividly of the New Covenant with a coming time when He would remove our heart of stone, He would put His Spirit within us and cause us to walk in His statutes (Ez. 36:26-27). Our righteousness only exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees as a result of salvation received by faith and lived out by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We will soon find out that the scribes and Pharisees missed this, as Jesus will rebuke their wrong interpretations of the Word.