You must be perfect

“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The perfection Jesus demands includes loving our enemies. It expands, though, to include every commandment from God. If we are to be saved from sin, evil, and death by obedience to God’s Law, then our obedience must be perfect. Any failure, any shortcoming, leaves us falling short of perfect. For each of us who has sinned, even once, we deserve no blessing from God. We deserve only punishment.

Poison is measured in parts per million. God’s Law is stricter yet; his Law has zero tolerance for sin. Obedience to most of the commandments is like a chain with one or two weak links. If we break the Law at any point, we have broken the entire Law. Our obedience is like a toy balloon filled with air. One tiny hole, the point of a pin or needle, destroys the entire balloon. Even the smallest sin makes each of us imperfect, unable to deserve anything good from God.

A human tendency wants to receive credit for trying our best, for having good intentions. We want to do some good things that might cancel all the wrong we have done. Jesus denies this path to us. If we are to be saved by obedience, we must be perfect. If we are going to find our own way to God, we are not allowed a single mistake. Once we have fallen short of God’s standards, even in a little way, we have lost any chance of earning anything good from God. We deserve only anger and destruction.

Jesus declares God’s Law in all its purity and all its power so we will lose hope of saving ourselves. All we can do is throw ourselves on God’s mercy. None of us is perfect. Our righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. We need the righteousness of Christ. We need him to fulfill the Law for us. We need his blessing—his gift—which makes us acceptable in the sight of God by erasing our sins, replacing them with the good works of Jesus.

Jesus died on the cross to pay the full price for our sins. His blood washes away our sins. Because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross and the life he sacrificed, the water of Holy Baptism cleanses us from all sin and unrighteousness, giving each of us a personal guarantee that Jesus died for us. In Baptism we are clothed in Christ. His good works are credited to our accounts. God the Father looked at his Son on the cross, saw our guilt, and treated Jesus as we deserve. Now he looks at each of us, sees the goodness of Jesus, and treats us as Jesus deserves. In this way, we have become the children of God.

In God’s eyes we are already perfect. We will not see the perfection God sees in us until the Day of the Lord, the Day of Resurrection, but God sees it today. What God sees and what he promises has already begun to shape our lives, making us more like Jesus. We are glad for that transformation, and we are eager for it to be completed, but our hope is not in our imitation of Christ. That imitation is a result of our hope, not its cause. The only source of our hope is Jesus himself—his perfectly obedient life, his sacrifice, and his resurrection. J.

Love your enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47).

Many people come to Jesus hoping that he will make their lives easier, that he will spare them from the problems of this evil world. Jesus warns of persecution in this world, remarking that those who have received the blessings of God are the same people who will be persecuted in this world. Jesus offers several examples of ways that people of the world take advantage of God’s people, adding that we should not resist them. Now, instead of saying that Christians will have no enemies or that we will conquer all our enemies, Jesus acknowledges the existence of those enemies and commands his followers to love our enemies.

In the Stoic philosophy/religion of ancient Greece and Rome, people were taught to be disinterested. Apathy was a virtue to the Stoics. People were taught not to treat others on the basis of what they had done for one in the past or on the basis of what they might do for one in the future; instead, all people were to be treated fairly and equally. Here, Jesus points out that God acts in the same manner: he gives sun and rain to all people, no matter how good or holy those people are. When good things happen, all people benefit; when disaster strikes, all people suffer. God does not use sicknesses and accidents to sort the good from the bad. If an airplane crashes, we cannot judge the goodness or sinfulness of the passengers by analyzing who survived and who was killed.

We are told to be like God, treating everyone the same. Yet Jesus makes it clear that the disinterested approach of the Stoics is not good enough for God. We are to love everyone, even our enemies. We are to imitate Jesus. He did not resist those who sentenced him to death, those who mocked him, or those who nailed him to a cross. Instead of resisting their evil, Jesus prayed for them, asking his Father to forgive them for their sins.

This kind of love surpasses our usual way of living. We are more likely to measure other people by what they have done for us and by what they can do for us. The other religions of the world protest this selfishness. Still, only Jesus has been able to live according to the higher standard. As Jesus calls us to be like him and to be like his Father, he knows that he is asking something difficult from us. When he tells us to love our enemies, he knows from his own experience how unlovable those enemies will be.

God hates sin. God hates sinners. Whenever we sin, we are God’s enemies. Though it seems a paradox, God also loves his enemies and wants to rescue us from our sins. When we were still enemies of God, lost in sin, Jesus died for us. He took our guilt upon himself and absorbed God’s wrath so we could be treated as the sons of God. We could become, in God’s eyes, righteous people who deserve God’s rewards. Jesus grants this blessing to his people. When he commands us to love our enemies, Jesus requires us to be living pictures of his love, the love that has transformed our lives. J.

Turn the other cheek

“But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:39-42).

Jesus gives radical examples of not resisting evil—so radical that, over the centuries, many Christians have tried to reduce them to something manageable. They have said that these examples are metaphors, not to be taken literally. They look for excuses, ways to explain that Jesus does not mean what he says. We accomplish the good deeds we can, and then we claim that we have turned the other cheek and have gone the extra mile. At the same time, we justify ourselves for not giving to everyone who asks. We tell ourselves that blind obedience to this rule would enrich liars and con artists while forcing our own children to starve.

Can we compromise the teachings of Jesus and still call ourselves his followers? Can we remove the challenge of selfless living from Christianity and still call ourselves Christians? Jesus calls us to forget ourselves, even to allow ourselves to be abused by the world. Trying to make his rules less radical is the equivalent of denying Jesus, saying that we do not know who he is.

Turn the other cheek. If other people want to hurt you and insult you, allow them to hurt and insult you. When you fight back, you are no better than they are. Most religions recognize this principle. “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus said. Now he demands extreme meekness from his followers.

Give up your cloak as well as your tunic. The tunic is just a shirt—desirable to have, but not necessary. The cloak is a coat to wear in cool or rainy weather; at night it becomes a blanket. The cloak is much more valuable than the tunic. To surrender more than was demanded from you is meekness to the point of absurdity. Still, Jesus requires this from us.

Go the extra mile. Roman soldiers could force subject people to carry a burden for them, but only for a distance of one mile. Simon of Cyrene was grabbed from the crowd and required to carry the cross of Jesus (Matthew 27:32). Most people probably would agree that the Roman law was unjust, even with its one-mile limit. Instead of preaching against the law, Jesus tells his followers to do twice as much for others as the law requires.

Give to everyone who asks. Do not keep anything for yourself. Do not judge the honesty or the worthiness of the person who asks to borrow from you. Money and property are not as valuable as love for God and love for every neighbor. If we resent the way other people ask for a portion of our money or our property, we have forgotten to love those neighbors as much as Jesus loves us.

We can try to adjust these laws to meet our diminished level of goodness. Instead, Jesus wants us to use these laws to judge our poor amount of goodness. His perfect standard is far beyond the reality of the way we live our lives. When we acknowledge the difference between his standards and our accomplishments, then our eyes are opened and we see our need for a Savior.

The scribes and the Pharisees constantly rewrote God’s laws to make them practical. Jesus goes the opposite direction. He tells us to be like God even when being like God is not practical. As we realize how badly the world has twisted our thoughts and perceptions—how hard it is for us to be meek and generous, loving and selfless—we see why we need Jesus as our Savior. His radical perfection is the only antidote to our shortcomings. Jesus lived up to his own standards. He turned the other cheek. He went the extra mile. Now Jesus gives us credit for his perfect goodness. Our sins have been removed, so that God sees in us the perfection of his Son. J.

Do not resist

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:38-39)

The Law God delivered through Moses provided a means of restitution and punishment when one person hurt another. An essential part of that Law demanded that the punishment must fit the crime, that a person would suffer no more harm in being punished than he or she had caused. If he put out another man’s eye, his eye would be put out; if she had knocked out another woman’s tooth, her tooth would be knocked out. A murderer would be executed (“A life for a life”). God’s Law did not bring about vigilante justice. Punishment came only after a trial in which evidence was presented and a verdict was determined.

Jesus now says that we should not seek the maximum penalty, the punishment that fits the crime. He says, “Do not resist an evil person.” This principle has been applied various ways: some civil rights demonstrators practice “non-violent resistance” to try to change the laws; other people oppose the death penalty for any crime, even murder. Many people try to apply Christ’s principle of “return evil with good” to their lives. Most of the religions of the world possess this teaching in some form.

Jesus does not strip the government of its responsibility to punish criminals. According to Paul (Romans 13), protection of the innocent and punishment of the guilty is a reason for governments to exist. Jesus is not speaking to governments or to society in general; he is speaking to individual believers. Jesus reminds us that, in a sinful world, we do not need to sink to the level of the sinners that surround us. Let the government punish them as the government sees fit. Instead of demanding the maximum penalty allowed by the law, we are called to forgive those who sin against us.

“Do not resist and evil person.” We are not called to condone evil by silence, but neither are we to prevent evil by “fighting fire with fire.” We seek to overcome hate and anger and lust and dishonesty. We must also overcome any desire for revenge upon those who still practice those sins. We do not make the world better by fighting against evil; we make the world better by being better ourselves.

Even as we hunger and thirst for righteousness, even as we are active as peacemakers, we strive to follow the pattern of Jesus. He rescued us from evil by being a victim of evil. He did not use truth and justice to defend himself in his trials. His case spoke for itself; his innocence was obvious. Jesus was condemned, though, and sent to his death. His silence puzzled Governor Pontius Pilate. The silence of Jesus was different from the protestations of innocence Pilate usually heard in the courtroom. Jesus wants this difference to be seen in our lives as we imitate him.

Evil has already lost the fight. Jesus has won the war against evil by his suffering and death and resurrection. He now makes us his partners in that victory. We do not need to resist evil. We live our lives, confident of victory. Rather than sinking to the level of sinners as we fight against sin, we rise to the level of Jesus by his victory over sin. J.

Yes and no

“Let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ [Let your yes be yes and your no be no]; anything more than this comes from evil [or from the evil one]” (Matthew 5:37)

If we could follow this simple rule from Jesus, we would rapidly develop reputations as honest, reliable, and trustworthy people. If every time we said “yes” it meant yes, and if every time we said “no” it meant no, people would understand us and would rely on our words. If we never said “yes” or “no” unless we knew that was what we meant—if we remained determined to hold to our answer and our promise—then no one would need to place us under oath. They would trust every word we said.

Why are our answers unsteady and unreliable? Sometimes we are afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” We risk a “yes” or a “no” even though we don’t know the answer or aren’t completely convinced. Sometimes we say things we wish were true, even though they are not true. Sometimes we say things we know other people want to hear, even if they are not true.

Because we live in a sinful world, we can imagine situations in which a lie is more ethical than the truth. In extreme cases, telling a lie might save a life. In more everyday cases, telling a lie might keep another person from feeling sad. The Bible does not say “Do not lie” with the same severity as when it says “Do not murder” and “Do not commit adultery.” Still the witness of Scripture favors honesty over deception.  Scripture favors truth rather than falsehood. Jesus says, “I am the Truth.” He is the pattern we are meant to imitate. The devil, the evil one, Jesus identifies as the father of lies.

So we can be like Jesus, we want our words to be honest and reliable. We want to mean yes whenever we say “yes,” and we want to mean no whenever we say “no.” When the world tries to back us into lying, we prefer to stay silent as Jesus remained silent while he was accused. When we speak the truth, we want that truth to be helpful to others, not hurtful; we want to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) rather than using the truth as a weapon to harm others.

We do not live up to these standards. We often fail to speak “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” When we do not measure up to God’s standards, we still possess his blessings of love, mercy, and forgiveness. His love is true and dependable. When he promises to forgive us our sins, his “yes” always means yes. J.

Swearing oaths

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:33-36).

An oath is a promise of truthfulness—either to report the past truthfully or to do a future job faithfully. An oath is a promise made under the authority of a greater power, usually God himself. The most famous oath in our culture can be heard in courtrooms regularly: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Presidents and members of Congress, judges, juries, new citizens: all are asked to swear oaths that they will be faithful in their duties.

Some Christians take this teaching of Jesus so seriously that they refuse to place themselves under oath under any circumstances. Whether they are witnesses in a trial or are becoming new citizens, they ask only to affirm their truthfulness, not to swear an oath. Other Christians point out that Jesus allowed himself to be placed under oath during his trial for blasphemy—he did not object to the oath. Old Testament prophets in several places describe God placing himself under an oath as he talks to his people. (Hebrews 6:13-20 comments on the oaths God swears.) Clearly, swearing an oath is permissible under certain circumstances. When something important is at stake, swearing an oath is acceptable. When strangers need to be convinced that you are telling the truth, swearing an oath is acceptable. Aside from lying under oath, swearing an oath is sinful only when done carelessly, to no purpose, about things that are not important, or among people who already know you.

Jesus was not thinking of this sort of quibbling as he preached. Swearing oaths may be necessary in this sin-polluted world, just as divorce is necessary under certain circumstances, but neither divorce nor swearing oaths becomes good out of necessity. Living in this world, we must sometimes do things we would not do in a perfect world. Jesus wants our eyes to be in the ideal world and not limited to the rules and regulations of this life.

We respect human life so much that we would not even insult another person. Marriage matters so much that we avoid lust. In the same way, we respect the name of God so much that we use it to talk to God or to tell others about God; we do not misuse it for other purposes. Even things in this world that matter so much that they require us so swear oaths have less importance than the kingdom of God. If we use God’s name to assure someone that we are speaking truthfully about the things of this world, God’s name is not being promoted. God’s name is demoted when it is used for minor matters, purposes for which it is not intended.

Even in the Ten Commandments, God demands that we respect his name instead of misusing it. God does not want us to avoid speaking his name; he wants us to use his name when we speak to him in prayer or when we tell other people about him. People of the world continue to use God’s name for lesser purposes. We hope to keep his name holy. We remind the world who Jesus is and what he has done. We teach the people of the world how Jesus has kept his promises and rescues people from their sins. J.

Divorce

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Jesus does not believe in “no-fault divorce.” Every divorce is someone’s fault; every divorce is a result of sin. Jesus speaks of unfaithfulness as a legitimate cause of divorce. If one member of a marriage has been unfaithful to the other, the second member may file for divorce without sinning, because the unfaithful member has already broken the marriage. The Church has recognized, at times, that “unfaithfulness” does not always involve a third person. “Unfaithfulness” may include abandonment of family responsibilities, violence in the home, or addiction to alcohol or other chemicals or to other destructive behavior. When a marriage is irreparably harmed by such unfaithfulness, the victim does not sin when he or she seeks a legal end to the marriage. Measuring the harm done and weighing the chances of repair are judgments that must be made carefully. Otherwise, the spirit of this teaching of Jesus is lost.

Jesus says that a marriage broken for poor reasons, or for no reason at all, is not really broken. Those who leave their marriage for no good reason sin against God. They are guilty of adultery, as are their new partners. Jesus’ words seem almost mild as he describes the man who casually ends his marriage. Jesus does not say, “You have sinned”; he says, “You make her commit adultery.” Likewise, to label as second marriage “adultery” seems unfair if the husband broke the marriage; the woman and her second husband ought to be beyond blame, it seems, if that is the case.

Jesus assumes that we are shocked by sin and do not want to cause another person’s guilt. Jesus is not speaking to unbelievers who have no religious reason to respect marriage. He speaks to the believer who regards every marriage as a picture of Christ and his Bride, the Church. Jesus urges us to remain faithful, to regard divorce as “not an option.” Saint Paul later would explain that if an unbeliever should divorce a Christian, “Let it be so; in such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (I Corinthians 7:15). The words of Jesus do not apply to those cases.

In a sinful world, divorce must exist. Divorce comes from sin and carries the burden of sin. Nowhere does Jesus identify divorce as unforgiveable sin. The firm marriage remains a picture of Christ and his love for the Church; the failing marriage is a flawed picture which mocks Christ and his love. God never plans to divorce us and force us into unfaithfulness. If we are unfaithful to him, he still wants to forgive us. If we stubbornly remain unfaithful, though, God might end the relationship and force us to choose our false gods that have taken his place. His strong desire is to keep us faithful to him. He wants to be our first love. He wants to keep us from sinning. Jesus came to forgive sinners, to rescue us from our sins, and to make us his Bride again. J.

Eye, hand, and heart

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

Jesus tells us to get rid of anything that might tempt us into sin. Anything that keeps us from being pure in heart should be removed from our lives. After all, the sacrifice of something valuable—even part of the body, an eye or a hand—is worth the price of heaven. Does your favorite television program tempt you to sin? Do not watch it anymore. Is there a magazine or book that tempts you to sin? Get rid of it. What about a site on the Internet that tempts you to sin? Stop visiting it. Is a friend tempting you to sin? If you cannot persuade your friend to stop tempting you, then end the friendship. It is better to lose the friendship now and still have eternal life than it is to preserve the friendship and risk eternal punishment.

Elsewhere, Jesus challenges his followers to hate their parents, spouses, children, friends, jobs, and even their own selves. We must love Jesus more than any of these. Anything that comes between us and Jesus is a threat to our salvation. Anything that might make us willing to break the commands of Jesus is a danger that should be avoided.

To place ourselves entirely out of danger, we might have to lock ourselves in a church building and never enter the world. But people have tried that in the past, and it didn’t work. Even in the church building we still sin. Moreover, locked in the church building, we neglect many of the commands of God that tell us to love and to serve our neighbors. We will find it better to stay in the world and to learn self-control. Maybe we can teach our eyes and our hands not to sin. If we were to remove both eyes and cut off both hands, though, our hearts and our minds would still be sinful. Jesus recommends radical surgery, but removal of eyes and hands does not go far enough to meet his standards. We need new minds, new hearts, and new spirits.

Jesus promises to bless us by making us new from the inside out. His life and death and resurrection make us brand new. As King David prayed in Psalm 51, and as the prophet Ezekiel promised in Ezekiel 36:26, Jesus gives us new hearts and new spirits. Jesus makes us pure in heart, and being made pure in heart rescues our eyes and our hands as well.

We still live in a sin-polluted world. From time to time, we will be tempted to sin. Our sins are forgiven through Christ and the cross, and Christ is always blessing us with new lives. Every day we are born again by his power. The mistakes of the past are washed away and already forgotten. The future is guaranteed to us by his promises. J.

Adultery and lustful intent

“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” (Matthew 5:27-28).

For the second of six times, Jesus quotes from God’s commandments and explains the meaning of that commandment. In this case, the commandment prohibits adultery. Generally, adultery is defined as consenting sexual relations between two adults who are not married to each other. Some people would further add that, if neither of them is married, the sin is called fornication rather than adultery.

Jesus is not interested in quibbling over definitions. He quickly explains that more is involved in adultery than the act. Even the luring look is already a sin. When Jesus speaks of “lustful intent,” he distinguishes the temptation that might occur in one’s mind when one notices an attractive woman and the mind that seeks to be tempted, the mind that decides to look and remember the temptation.

Being tempted is no sin. Even Jesus was tempted. Every time he was tempted, Jesus said, “no.” Saying “yes” to temptation is a sin. Enjoying temptation, searching for temptation, clinging to temptation: these are sins.

To look at a woman—or a man, or a child; or a photograph, a movie, or a web site containing tempting images—for the purpose of lust is sin. Nothing loving exists in lust. Lust is the opposite of love. Love cares about another person and wants what is best for that person. Lust merely wants to be satisfied. Lust changes a person into an object, especially when that person is already captured in a photograph or movie or web site. Sadly, we have become accustomed to viewing people as objects for our entertainment—so much so that people in public places often gaze at strangers as if those strangers were there to provide entertainment.

We should control our minds. When we find ourselves tempted to use the image of a person for our private entertainment, we should say, “no.” Jesus saw every person, even strangers, as people to love, people to serve, people who had needs he was able to meet. When we imitate Jesus, we will also regard people as persons to love, never as objects to use.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to succeed, we cannot make ourselves pure. We need Christ’s forgiveness for our inappropriate thoughts and imaginings. We already possess this gift. With forgiveness comes the promise that we will see God. Because we will see God with our own eyes, we want to keep our eyes pure today. Because we will see God, we want to love and serve our neighbors rather than using our neighbors for our own purposes. J.

Come to terms quickly

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26).

Clearly these words relate to those that precede them, the teaching about leaving a gift at the altar and going to reconcile with a brother. Jesus seems to be illustrating the dangers of allowing a wrong to fester uncorrected for too long. In this world, punishment—such as the debtor’s prison Jesus describes—follows our sins and mistakes when we fail to get along with one another and when we do not correct the wrongs we have committed.

Punishments in this world remind us of the final Judgment of the Day of the Lord, as well as the punishment of sinners that will result from that Judgment. Perhaps this lesson of Jesus is a parable about Judgment Day. Jesus already explained that the commandment not to murder covers more territory than the simple act of taking a life. With that in mind, Jesus says, we had better consider how the lives we live measure up to the standards that he will use at the final Judgment. We must change our lives today, making sure that we are not found guilty on that Day, because hell is a prison from which there is no escape.

Most religions dedicate themselves to this proposition: we must become better people, causing less harm to one another and to our world, accumulating less guilt for that final Judgment. Goodness, though, is not only motivated by escaping punishment. Goodness is sought for its own sake, to please God, and to be the people he intended when he created us. We want to be better now. We want to turn our lives around so we walk on the paths that God has provided us.

Who will be our adversary on that Day? The people hurt by our sins and wrongdoing might testify against us, but the real Adversary is the one whose rules we have broken. We take sides against God whenever we do what he told us not to do, and we also take sides against God when we fail to do the things he commands. Our Maker, who knows what we are meant to be, has given us clear instructions about how to live. This Maker will also be our Judge. If Jesus is the Adversary and the Judge and the Officer of the prison as well, we have no hope of escaping punishment on that Day.

Therefore, we seek to be right with Jesus today. We try not to be angry at our brother. We try not to insult the people around us. We try to meet the higher standards of Jesus, but we fail. The good deeds we manage to perform cannot balance our shortcomings. Our best intentions, our worship and prayers, and our efforts at holiness all might seem to help us come to terms with Jesus quickly, before that Last Day comes when it is to late to come to terms. Left to ourselves, though, we cannot be right with Jesus. Left to ourselves, we still find ourselves facing an eternal prison sentence.

Is there no answer to this problem? The answer has already been given; the answer was found in the blessings which Jesus spoke at the beginning of the sermon. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Jesus has given us a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—Jesus has given us his own perfect righteousness. He gave it as a free gift. Now we are right with him. He is no longer our Adversary, because he has paid our debt in full. Not a penny remains to be paid.

If we are right with Jesus now, we will be right with him on the Last Day. He will not be our Adversary; he will be our Defense Attorney, reminding his Father why have a place in his kingdom, as Jesus also is doing today. On that Day, we will not be thrown into prison. On that Day we will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven; we will inherit the earth.

If that is the case, why does Jesus spend so much time teaching the commandments of God and explaining what they mean? Jesus explains the Law to show us how badly we need his gift. He explains the commandments to open our eyes, so we will see that our righteousness is not good enough for his kingdom. Jesus does not want us to try our best and fall short. Therefore, he is brutally honest with us today, telling us how far we are from his kingdom when we try to get there on our own. Some people, when they read the teachings of Jesus, try to tone them down, making them practical and achievable. They miss the point. Jesus was not exaggerating; he really wants everyone to be as good as he describes. He also wants us to despair of reaching that goal on our own. Only then will we treasure the gift of forgiveness he gives to us.

Forgiveness is no license to sin. We still try our best to live up to Christ’s high standards. We try to be good, and Jesus tells us what “good” looks like. He even shows us what “good” looks like, because the standards he teaches match the life he lived. Because we are forgiven, because we are on the path to heaven, Jesus helps us become more like him. His love and his forgiveness transform our lives so we can bear his image. We are not doing it for him; Jesus is doing it for us. J.