I have been going through Matthew’s Gospel, and now I have arrived at the Sermon on the Mount. I plan on spending quite a bit of time studying this, and I will share my discoveries and thoughts as I go along. Before digging into the Sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks, let me point out the audience: disciples. Matthew wrote, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him” (Matthew 5:1). The sermon was directed towards people who were already following Jesus; they were already His disciples.
Why is this important to point out? Because I have heard people point to the Sermon on the Mount to argue for “works righteousness.” I have witnessed to people who believe Jesus was teaching that our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees (which is true), which means have to obey all the commands to be righteous (which is wrong…and impossible!). Our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, but all our righteous works are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteousness can never exceed that of the Pharisees. Jesus’ statement is not intended to boost out self-confidence or drive us to obey God’s commands in order to be saved. Instead, it is intended to remind us we are incapable of being righteous and to cause us to seek a righteousness that is not our own. In short, it is intended to drive us to the gospel.
The gospel reminds us that we are sinners and incapable of earning forgiveness through works. So, Jesus took our sin on Himself and died on the cross so that we could receive His righteousness. Our sin in exchange for Jesus’ righteousness…what an exchange! Ultimately, the Sermon on the Mount reinforces the gospel, not challenges it. Unbelievers are not being challenged to obey to become righteous. Instead, believers are being reminded that (1) their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, (2) they cannot exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and (3) they must rest in the righteousness of Christ that is imputed by grace through faith in His subtitutionary death. Praise God for sending Jesus Christ to take our sins so we could be made the righteousness of God!