You Had Better Get It Right

Bible Book: Matthew  5 : 17-20
Subject: Righteousness, Grace

Even little children understand that there are some things you had better get right and understand to be true, or you can get yourself into big trouble. For example: I came across a little document entitled "Great truths about life that little children have learned." Here are some of them:

*No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.

*When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair.

*If your sister hits you don't hit her back; they always catch the second person.

*Never ask your three-year-old brother to hold a tomato. *You can't trust dogs to watch your food.

*Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac.

*Never hold a dust buster and a cat at the same time. You cannot hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.

*Don't wear polka dot underwear under white shorts.

Now there are some things you had better get right if you're going to be rightly related to God, both in this life and in the life to come.

Jesus is going to answer a question in Matthew 5:17-20 which is extremely critical for life as we know it today, and that is: Is there an absolute basis for truth, for law, for morals, for what is right, and for what is wrong; and if there is-what is it? Jesus' answer is-there is an absolute, and that absolute is found in the word of God.

Now we continually hear today that because times have changed, the Bible no longer fits our world. But the truth is really the opposite. The Bible always fits because, as you are going to see, the Bible is God's perfect, eternal, infallible, inerrant Word. In fact, it is the standard by which any true "fit" is measured. The problem is not that the Bible does not fit the world; the problem is the world does not fit the Bible. Not only because the world has changed, but because the Bible has not changed. You had better have the real and true understanding of the word of God right. Because real Christianity is determined by how you relate to the word of God, and how the word of God relates to you. Though you may not realize it, Jesus gives us three very strict and very serious warnings in this passage of Scripture, that if we will follow will make sure that we will "get it right."

I. Beware Of People Who Deny God's Truth

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law, or the Prophets, I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." (v.17)

Now this is very important. If you are a Christian and Jesus Christ is your Lord, then you should see the word of God the same way Jesus saw the word of God. Without question, he saw it as God's permanent truth.

Some people even try to separate the Old Testament from the New, as if all we need is the New Testament, as if we don't need to pay any attention to the Old Testament. But here we see that the Law and the Prophets, which refers to the Old Testament, is exactly what Jesus has affirmed in the strongest possible language. The word for "destroy" is a word that literally means "to tear down, to make null, or to make void."

Jesus never said or did anything that would ever bring even an ounce of doubt on one word of God's word. He affirmed every single word of it. In fact, there are two things the Bible says never changes.

First of all, the Lord never changes and number two, His Law never changes. Now the Constitution of the United States can be amended, and an amendment can be repealed, but the Bible can neither be amended nor repealed; it's truth is permanent and enduring. That's why he says in verse 18, "For assuredly, I say to you till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." Now the word "jot" translates the Greek word iota that was the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet.

In Jesus' day it would have represented the Hebrew letter yodh, which was the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The yodh looks something like an apostrophe. Then he said, "one tittle." That translates a word that literally means "little horn," which is even tinier than the jot. In the Hebrew language there are two letters that look almost identical, and if it were not for an additional "tail" on the end of one of those letters, they would look exactly the same. It is similar to the crossing of a "t." What Jesus was saying in effect was, the Bible is so permanently true, that not even the dot of an "i" or the cross of a "t" will pass away until every single word has been fulfilled. Let me tell you why that is so important.

As truth goes, so goes morality, and we're seeing that played out right here in modern day America. The greatest single change that has taken place in America in my lifetime is the way Americans view truth. In 1962 a Gallup poll revealed that 84% of Americans believed in absolute truth. Thirty years later, a 1992 Gallup poll revealed that only 30% of Americans believed in absolute truth. That goes as well for our view of the Bible. In 1960 65% of Americans said they believed the Bible was true.

Today, only 32% believe the Bible is true. The name of the game today is relativism; your idea is just as good as mine; my idea is no better than yours; one religion is just as good as another; there's no such thing as truth, only personal opinion.

I'm reminded of a dialogue that took place in a class one day when the teacher came in and welcomed the students and said, "Now I want to lay down some ground rules. First, since no one has the truth, you should be open-minded to the opinions of your fellow students." Well, at that point a young lady raised her hand. She said, "Elizabeth, do you have a question?" Elizabeth said, "Yes, I do. If nobody has the truth, isn't that a good reason for me not to listen to my fellow students? After all, if nobody has the truth why should I waste my time listening to other people and their opinions? What would be the point? Only if somebody has the truth does it make sense to be open-minded, don't you agree?" The teacher said, "No, I don't. Are you claiming to know the truth? Isn't that a little bit arrogant and dogmatic?" Elizabeth said, "Not at all.

I think it is dogmatic and arrogant to assert that there is not one person on earth who knows the truth. After all, have you met every person in the world and quizzed them exhaustively? If not, then how do you know? In fact, I believe it's absolutely opposite of arrogance to say that I will alter my opinions to fit the truth whenever and wherever I find it. If I happen to think that I have a good reason to believe I know the truth, and would like to share it with you, why won't you listen to me? Why would you automatically discredit my opinion before it is even spoken? I thought we were supposed to listen to everybody's opinion?" The teacher in a fit of frustration said, "Well, this is going to prove to be an interesting semester." Elizabeth said, "Ain't that the truth."

I heard about a man that called 911, and he screamed out, "You've got to send somebody to help me! My wife is lying on the floor and I don't know what is wrong with her." The operator said, "All right, settle down, what is your address?" The man said, "613 Eucalyptus Street." She said, "Sir, can you spell that for me?" There was a long pause and he said, "Look, if I drag her over to Oak Street can you pick her up there?" I will agree you can't rely on everybody, but you can rely on the Son of God, and you can rely on the word of God. Beware of people who deny God's truth.

II. Beware Of People Who Disobey God's Truth

"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (v.19)

Now listen carefully to what Jesus tells us there. He said that the way we are going to be judged by God will be very simple. God is going to evaluate us as to whether or not we obeyed the law or not, and then secondly, He's going to evaluate us as to whether or not we taught other people to obey His law or not. In other words, you're going to be judged not only by how you personally obeyed God's word, but also as to how you influenced other people to either obey or disobey God's word.

Greatness in God's kingdom is going to be determined not by your gifts, your abilities, your success, your popularity, your reputation, or even the size of your ministry; greatness is going to be determined by how you perceived the Bible, how you practiced the Bible, and how you promoted the Bible.

If you want to know what is wrong with the generation of young people we have reared going into the 21st Century, you'll find the problem right here. William Damon, Director of the Stanford University Center on Adolescence, said this: "There is never in the history of the civilized world been a cohort of kids that is so little affected by adult guidance and so attuned to a peer world." He is exactly right. The reason for that is, we have too few adults, too few parents, too few men and women of God who are both obeying the Bible as they should, and teaching it to others as they should. The Greek word for "break" is a word that means to "cut loose, release, dissolve." It has the idea of annulling part of God's word, or making it void, or setting ourselves loose from its requirements.

May I give you the most dangerous word a Christian can ever use when it comes to the Bible. It is the word "but." I cringe every time I hear a Christian say, "Well, I know what the Bible says *but." We've

got too many Christians who are "butting" the Bible all over the place instead of obeying it and doing what it says. That's why we have a generation of young people that either don't believe in right from wrong, or many times can't tell the difference.

I heard about a student that was going around the campus of a university wearing a big lapel button with the letters BAIK. Someone asked him what that meant? He said, "That means 'Boy, am I confused.' "The person said, "Don't you know that 'confused' is not spelled with a "k?" The student looked at him and said, "Man, you don't know how confused I am." Well, what happens when we don't model truth and teach truth and train our young people to believe that there is such a thing as truth? It is not just confusion, but outright corruption.

Josh McDowell cited some figures that shows what happens to young people who are not taught, and do not accept an objective standard for truth: 36% are more likely to lie to their parents. 48% are more likely to cheat on an exam. 74% are more likely to watch MTV and believe in pre-marital sex.

They are two times more likely to try to physically hurt someone. Two times more likely to watch pornography. Two times more likely to get drunk. Two and one quarter times more likely to steal. Three times more likely to use illegal drugs. Six times more likely to attempt suicide.1

I want to tell you the most dangerous person to young people today is not the drug dealer on the street corner, not the prostitute, nor even the internet pornographer; the most dangerous person to our young people today are these people in universities and colleges, and even pulpits, who either deny that God's word is true, or who disobey it and claim to be right.

III. Beware Of People Who Distort God's Truth

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."(v.20)

Now if there is anything that would have caught the attention of the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount it would have been this single statement. Because the Jews had a saying, "If only two people go to heaven, one will be a scribe and the other a Pharisee." You talk about religious; you talk about rigid; you talk about reformed; scribes and Pharisees competed with one another in how strict they could be in their religion. They were not content with just the Ten Commandments.

On to the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law, they added on 248 commands, 365 prohibitions, and 1,521 amendments. In order to make sure they would not take God's name in vain, they would not even pronounce God's name. To avoid sexual temptation they would lower their heads and not even look at women. To avoid defiling the Sabbath, they outlawed 39 activities that might be construed as "work."

The Pharisees and the scribes had distorted God's word by teaching that being right with God was a matter of keeping a bunch of rules and a bunch of regulations. They had distilled the formula of salvation down into a bunch of do's and don'ts. The problem was they were more interested in religion than they were in being righteous. Paul was a Pharisee, and he understood their problem because he used to have their problem. He pinpointed it in Rom. 10:3-4: "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." The Pharisees didn't understand that righteousness is not a matter of law, it is a matter of grace.

One of the greatest lessons that anyone will ever learn when it comes to righteousness is this--the righteousness that God requires from you is the righteousness that God gives to you. Listen to Rom. 3:21-22: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference." You see, the Pharisees on the outside looked as if they were fulfilling every letter of the law, but what they were missing was the spirit of the law. What Jesus was saying was this: "Unless your righteousness goes deeper than theirs, unless yours is a righteousness not of the head, but of the heart, you do not know what kingdom living is all about."

You can take a pig out of the pigpen and wash that pig until it's absolutely spotless. You can spray it with the finest perfume; you can put a pink ribbon around its neck and put it in a tuxedo. But as soon as that pig can, it will go right back into the slop. Why? You haven't changed its heart. As someone has well said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and it annoys the pig." What the Pharisees had done was substituted the baggage of legalism for the blessing of salvation.

It reminds me of a story I read about a man at Los Angeles International Airport who was worried about missing his plane. He didn't have a wristwatch and he couldn't locate a clock, so he went up to a total stranger and said, "Excuse me, could you give me the time?" The stranger said, "Sure." He sat down the two large suitcases he was carrying and looked at the watch on his wrist. He said, "It's exactly 5:09; the temperature outside is 73º and it's supposed to rain tonight; the humidity is 93%, the barometer is 29.14 and falling; in London the sky is clear and the temperature is 38º Celsius; in Singapore it's cloudy and 70% chance of rain; there'll be a full moon tonight here in Los Angeles*."

The man interrupted and said, "You mean your watch tells you all of that?" He said, "Oh yes, and much more. You see, I invented this watch and I can tell you there's no other time piece like it in the world." The man said, "Mister, I want to buy that watch, and I'll pay you $2,000 for it right now."

The man said, "Oh no, it's not for sale." He reached down to pick up the suitcases to walk off. The man said, "Wait a minute! I'll give you $4,000 and I've got the cash for it." The man said, "Mister, I can't sell it. You see, I plan to give it to my son for his 21st birthday and I really invented it for him."

The man said, "Look, I'll give you $10,000 and I've got the money right here." The man said, "$10,000?" He said, "Mister, for $10,000 it's yours."

The man was absolutely elated. He paid the stranger, took the watch, put it on his wrist and said, "Thank you so much and turned to leave." The stranger said, "Wait a minute." With a big smile he handed the man the two heavy suitcases he had been carrying and said, "Don't forget the batteries."

May I tell you something? That's exactly what it's like when you try to establish a relationship with God through the baggage of legalistic religion. Quite frankly, life is heavy enough without carrying around any extra baggage. You see, here's what you need to understand about what God's word says about salvation and being right with God. When the roll is called up yonder the grade on your report card that will make it won't be "A" for excellent; "B" for good; or even "C" for passing. The only grade that will make it is "G" for God's grace.


I heard about a little boy who did his household chores and left his mother this note: "For cleaning my room, $5.00. For washing the dishes, $3.00. For raking the leaves, $10.00. Total: $18.00. Mom, you owe me." The mother read the note while the boy was at school and put $18.00 on the table. With it she left this note: "For bearing you nine months in the womb, taking care of you when you threw up for three months, no charge. For cooking your breakfast every day, no charge. For washing and ironing your clothes every day, no charge. For staying up all night every time you were sick, no charge. For taking you wherever you want to go, no charge. Total: Grace." When the boy read that note he ran to his mother and said, "Mother, whatever you want me to do let me know and there won't be any charge."

True righteousness is not earned by religious works, bought by charitable giving, or deserved by good deeds. It is received by grace through faith. If you intend to go to Heaven you had better get that right.

Endnotes 1 Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, Thirteenth Generation: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? (New York: Vintage Books, 1993)