Jesus’ followers were confused.
Part of the reason that they joined Jesus’ little group was because no one else wanted them. They didn’t have the same credentials, background, or education as the religious elite, the “Scribes” or the “Pharisees”. In day school, they were passed over by all of the rabbi’s who were looking for pupils. They weren’t qualified for the most honored positions of the day.
But now each of them had a story. Jesus had come by where they were working, looked directly at them, pointed them out of the crowd, and said, “follow me”. And they did. This new rabbi–rebellious, different, loving, humble, powerful–he *wanted* them. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of them in the past, what mattered was what Jesus thought of them in the moment, and he had called them his followers.
That’s why they were confused by what Jesus had just said: “If you want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees.”
It felt like another rejection.
Their deep fear that they weren’t really good enough, that the other rabbi’s were right, that the Pharisees who looked down their smug noses at them were seeing things as they actually are, had been confirmed. We don’t measure up. If we have to *more righteous* than the *most righteous* people we know, what hope do we actually have?
Perfection is the standard. You must be perfect. Jesus said again.
It was hopeless, they thought. I’m hopeless.
Yet Jesus would turn their sorrow to joy, as he always did. The bad news would quickly become good news. The bad news was that perfect righteousness was the standard; the good news was that Jesus was going to give them what he earned. Jesus would provide the credentials necessary to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Perhaps you’ve felt like you don’t measure up to God’s love. Perhaps you’ve been living under the burden of religion that says, “do more, be better, try harder” for God to love you. Maybe you’ve been trying to muster up enough courage to come to God, just so you can make an excuse about all of your perceived failure.
The message of Jesus is that none of that matters anymore. The righteousness and perfection that God demands is given to us by Jesus, precisely because it is something we could never earn. And that is really good news.
Tomorrow we will explore more about what it means for us that Righteousness is a free gift because of Jesus. Services are at 10:30 and you can watch live online at http://live.restoreworship.org. All of the sermons from the "Christmas Gifts" series can be found online here.