Warm-Up: Matthew 5:17-48
The Clean Car?
I have a confession: I rarely clean my car. In fact, I once got in trouble in high school because grass had started to grow on a small pile of dirt which sat for too long in my car.
But here’s the thing, my car never gets extremely messy either. I don’t leave piles of trash or a huge collection of stuff in there. I mostly see the car as a means to get myself and my stuff from one place to the other and usually remove both those things upon reaching my destination. I just don’t vacuum or dust.
Funny enough, for the last couple years I thought I was doing pretty well with keeping a clean car. I often drive New Zealand co-workers to lunch and they compliment me on how “tidy” my car is. Most people here don’t care about cars that much, and since I didn’t have clothes or fast food boxes on the floor, they saw the car as tidy.
And then my wife drove my car.
After a couple days, she explained that she couldn’t handle the mess and we had to clean it. I explained that everyone at work was always impressed with how clean my car is. Her response has stuck with me: “It’s not clean by my standards.”
And to be fair, she was right. I go fishing a lot, which means there was a huge collection of grass all over the floor. After we did clean it, I couldn’t vacuum some of it up because it had bonded with the carpet after being there so long. I was also shocked by how dark the paper towels were after I wiped the inside of my windows. And of course, we finally found the glove I’ve been missing for two years.
Even though my car was cleaner than other cars around me, I couldn’t actually say it was clean. You see, there was an issue with my standards. They simply weren’t good enough.
Let’s talk about Righteousness
We often approach righteousness the same way. People compliment us on being kind or helpful, and then we compare our actions to those around us and start to think, “You know, I’m a pretty good person.”
And then Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.
I’ve read Matthew 5-7 many times, and it still takes me off-guard. Jesus explains the heart of the law and demonstrates how much higher the standards are than anyone thought. It’s not enough to not murder people, you must not have unrighteous anger or insult others. It’s not enough to never commit adultery, you can’t even look upon someone with lustful intent.
The list goes on, targeting many of the behaviors and actions that we pretend don’t matter. And then, in 5:48, Jesus gives this earth shattering statement that makes you realize just how difficult it is to be “good enough.”
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In other words, you can never be good enough.
But that’s not the end of either story
Going back to the car story, I was fortunate. My sweet wife helped me clean the car. If I was in charge of cleaning it, the car would still be a mess. But with her help and encouragement, it is actually clean.
On a much larger scale, we’re all fortunate. If we were in charge of making ourselves good enough for God, then we’d still be a mess. But Jesus came to earth, not only to help us, but to rescue us and transform us. Through his work and sacrifice, those who believe have been cleansed of their sins and are now perfect in the eyes of our heavenly Father.
So while we can never actually be good enough, Jesus actually was. He offers his righteousness to those who believe and can rest in the work he has done.