Virtuoso Jesus. . . in you?

May 8, 2014

Matthew 5:20  (in context)

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.


On the surface, Jesus makes a confounding demand with this statement. Suppose you were a passionately committed beginning violinist. And what if I said to you, “Unless your performance can surpass that of the great virtuoso violinist, Josh Bell, you might as well pack it up and go home. Forget about it.” What could be more discouraging than this?

Despite the way they have been characterized over the centuries, we must understand the Scribes and Pharisees were not bad guys. They were actually the most respected First Methodist Church people in town. (o.k., First Baptist Church People)  ;0) The Scribes and Pharisees were in the NBA of Scriptural Holiness. Olympians, All-Stars, Hall-of-Famers- pick your most powerful sports analogy and apply it to religious devotion and you are getting close. It would be impossible to beat them at their game. 

That’s probably what infuriated them so much with Jesus. He changed the game. The new rules? It would not be about the perfection of performance any longer. The new deal was all about the perfection of Love. And the perfection of Love would not be a performance but a deep inner passion; not a righteousness of a higher degree, but of another order.

Wesley has a ton to say about this verse. Here’s a snippet.

Their righteousness was external only: Christian righteousness is in the inner man. The Pharisee “cleansed the outside of the cup and the platter”; the Christian is clean within. The Pharisee labored to present God with a good life; the Christian with a holy heart. The one shook off the leaves, perhaps the fruits, of sin; the other “lays the axe to the root,” as not being content with the outward form of godliness, how exact soever it be, unless the life, the Spirit, the power of God unto salvation, be felt in the inmost soul.    

This comes not from sustained religious striving but from the infused righteousness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Holy Love.

We must keep remembering the secret of THE SERMON: As with Jesus, so with us.

Sola Sanctus Caritas.

Get your copy of Wesley’s Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount HERE. Use the code DAILYTEXT for a 25% discount. 

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at

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