Just to add a correction before I continue, Christ actually raised the bar 6 times in Matthew 5:17-48, in certain areas, he just didn’t say “you have heard it was said,” but there are at least three variations of this statement. Now that is out of the way, let us continue…
The other day, I came across a video by Dennis Prager on Facebook from his Prager University Facebook page. In this video, Mr. Prager discusses how conservatives and liberals handle life, or as Mr. Prager puts it in French: Le faits de la vie-the facts of life. Now, this posting isn’t political, but Mr. Prager posited something interesting that is central to the Gospel-sin and the human condition because of sin. The video in its entirety is found below:
The topic of this posting is going to be how we view ourselves in relation to God, and how Scripture addresses that. Most of us are in a state of denial when it comes to acknowledging our own sinful nature. We want to view ourselves as good! This is the most common response to the question of whether a person is going to heaven or not. The person being asked usually defaults to: “Well, I’m a good person, I mean I haven’t killed anyone or stolen anything in my life. So yeah, I think that God will let me go into heaven.” The problem with this train of thought is that God already, before the words are even out of the person’s mouth, is giving a rebuke to that statement. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s give some context from Scripture to paint a picture.
It’s the Ancient Middle East, the Roman Empire controls everything from Spain as far as what is now the Sinai Peninsula. The Empire controlled the whole Mediterranean Coast basically. In Israel, there is strife against the Romans. But that is not all the Israelites have to contend with, it’s also the religious ruling class and the Temple priests. These people have interpreted the Mosaic Law (the law of God given to them by Moses) for day to day living. However, for the religious ruling class, living according their interpretations is only superficial and they rate their holiness by comparing the things they have done to what others have done. This behavior is evident in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). In that parable, the Pharisee says: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
Essentially, during this time, the religious ruling class in Israel interpreted the law in a way that would benefit them the most. And this lasted for a very long time… Just over 400 years in fact.
Then Jesus came along with some pretty awesome stuff to share.
In Matthew 5, Jesus addresses some of the teachings of the Pharisees and their interpretations of the Law. First off, Jesus prefaces his whole sermon by saying he isn’t abolishing the law, but rather came to fulfill it. And then he goes into raising the bar. Takes each of the primary teachings of the Pharisees by saying, “You have heard it said…” and then follows the teaching or command. But then Jesus follows up with, “But I say to you…” Jesus raises the bar by stating that the level where the Pharisees had placed the bar for themselves was not God’s level, in other words-Jesus upped the ante on the Pharisees. See, the Pharisees thought they were being good enough and that God was pleased with them. But Jesus came along, raised the bar, and basically relegated the Pharisees back down into the muck with the rest of us sinners.
We, as sinners, don’t appreciate God raising the bar on us. But the fact of the matter is this: the bar never moved. Where it sat is where God meant it to be. It was us who basically rewrote God’s law into something easier for us to hand. However, the purpose of God’s law was not to show a way to salvation, but to awaken our souls to our sinful nature and that we cannot love God unless God is in us. 1 John tells us this that when a person does dark deeds that the love of God is not him. Works by the law does not provide for a salvation, this is also proven by the book of James when James writes, “Anyone who keeps the whole law but offends even the smallest bit, is guilty of all of it.”
We want to believe that we are all innocent and that life just isn’t fair. But the reality is that all evil in the world is man-made. Every person I meet, I see the depravity of man. This may be a cynical or pessimistic way of looking at life, but here is what I mean: each person may not be evil, but they contain evil within them and have the capability to use it on a huge scale. This is evidenced by some of the huge criminals of history.
Scripture also says that:
- -No one is righteous
- -Our righteous acts are like filthy rags to God
- -All have sinned and are deserving of the wrath of God
So, from world examples and from Scripture, we can see that mankind has no innocence in it or anything to offer to God to let us into heaven or to save us at all really.
We lost our innocence when Adam took that bite out of the fruit.
But that is not the end…There is a way to regain our innocence-but not by our own will and acts.
God sent Jesus to reclaim us and present us to Him as innocent. With the death of Jesus on the cross, he provided atonement for our sins, and with the resurrection of Jesus, he provided a way to salvation by proving to us he is master and supreme over everything-even death. The author of Hebrews likens Jesus in heaven to the Temple High Priest-making intercession and pleading on our behalf to God, protecting us from God’s wrath!! Jesus, with his death and resurrection, has reclaimed the innocence of man to himself and it is imputed to us by the grace of God. This is done by God for the simple reason that no man can claim they have the way to heaven. God has exclusive rights to salvation and nothing can change that. So, yes-while the harsh realities of life are man-made evils, we have a great hope that it will not always be this way. Turn to Christ, die to yourself, take up the cross of Christ, and follow God and Jesus by faith, and see that what God has done for me, He can even do greater things for you.