“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” (Matt. 5:20 NIV).
Jesus’ statement had to be one of the most shocking things he ever said. The Pharisees were considered the top cats of religion. But theirs was, as one writer (not of the brotherhood!) said, selective obedience. And external observance.
The verse is considered a key, if not the key, verse in the Sermon on the Mount, rightly so, it would seem. It prohibits us from seeing the sermon as the great but unattainable ideal. This is to be lived out and done right.
The better righteousness (right-doing) is one of kind not degree, God centered (see 5.48), motivated by God’s approval (so chap. 6), kingdom prioritized.
When Jesus spoke these words, they must have rocked the listeners to their core. Following the Lord was a whole new enterprise, one that forbade the normal assumptions, turned the definition of goodness upside down, and made holiness not only an inner quality but a worldwide mission of salt and light.