Before Jesus arrived on the scene, the Jewish religious leaders known as the Pharisees taught that the only way to get into the Kingdom of Heaven was through righteousness. Righteousness is the quality of being right in the eyes of God. Essentially, righteousness is the term that identifies God’s perfection in attitude, behavior, thought, and understanding. Obviously, this is an impossible bar for ordinary humans to reach; however, the Pharisees believed they were God’s chosen people and therefore able to attain righteousness by observing a collection of religious rituals and traditions. They were wrong.
When Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, he started off by saying that entrance into the kingdom of heaven would require righteousness that goes well beyond anything the Pharisees were able to acquire through their own effort. In fact, Jesus said that understanding you are unable to attain righteousness on your own, is the starting point. Jesus taught that to achieve righteousness, we first need to realize our need and have an appetite for a deeper relationship with God. Next, Jesus said that having mercy for the less fortunate was a hallmark of those worthy of receiving righteousness. This was a problem for the Pharisees, because they believed the less fortunate were being punished by God and therefore should not be given any consideration.
God’s unchangeable, unalterable, absolute holiness can only be attained as a gift from God. Jesus came to offer this gift to the world. When we place our trust in the teachings of Jesus and focus our lives on loving God and loving others, we are on the road to righteousness. Jesus taught that following this path would not be easy. Followers of Jesus are often disrespected by unbelievers; however, walking in the footsteps of Jesus is what is required to find our way into the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees believed they could earn their way into the kingdom of heaven, and they were so impressed with themselves that they were completely unable to identify the Son of God standing right in front of them. Jesus came to let everyone know that entrance into the kingdom of heaven would require a total lack of self-aggrandizement and a total dependency on God. The punishment for our inability to achieve God’s righteous standard is death; however, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross on our behalf, so that we might live. When we place our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are blessed with the gift of righteousness and granted eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Praise God for sending his Son! Praise God for His grace and mercy!