The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were fond of demanding absolute, unquestioning obedience. They had laid down the law and, as they punctiliously obeyed their own rules, they demanded that their hearers do the same. They expected adherence to their own standard of righteousness.
Jesus, as we have seen, called his hearers to surpassing righteousness. Their righteousness must look different, and superior, to that of the religious leaders.
But, lest his hearers mistakenly believe that he, unlike the religious leaders, did not expect obedience to his words, he brought the Sermon on the Mount to a close with an exhortation to obedience. In vv. 13–27, he offers three illustrations to highlight the kind of obedience that surpassing righteousness calls for.
First, Jesus shows that surpassing obedience is narrow obedience (vv. 13–14). Here, he employs the illustration of a wide and narrow gate to show that the path to surpassing righteousness cannot be approached from whatever direction we choose. He defines what surpassing righteousness looks like and life is to be found in his words alone. Ungodly philosophies tell us that all religious and philosophical roads lead to the same destination. Jesus claims an exclusivity to his teaching. If we will travel the road that leads to life, we must travel the road that he commands. To ignore his words is to travel the wide road to death.
As you consider your obedience, ask whether you are gladly obeying what Christ has taught or soothing your conscience by obeying manmade rules that ultimately veer you from the narrow path that leads to life.
Second, Jesus shows that surpassing obedience is fruitful obedience (vv. 15–20). He employs the illustration of trees and fruit to highlight the reality that surpassing righteousness is not seen in through-the-motions obedience but in heartfelt, living obedience that stems from a vibrant relationship with him. Unquestioning obedience to the religious leaders’ manmade rules might produce morally upright religionists, but it will not produce the fruit that is in keeping with godliness.
As you examine your obedience, ask whether your obedience flows from a heart that is connected to God through his Son or whether you are merely keeping up appearances as a show of religiosity to soothe your conscience or impress others.
Third, Jesus shows that surpassing obedience is stable obedience (vv. 24–27). This obedience is stable because it is built on a firm foundation. When our obedience is rooted in Christ, it remains stable in times of tranquillity and times of turmoil. We will not find our faith failing in the storm because our faith is more than skin deep. We may experience doubts, but our solid foundation will enable is to emerge from the storm still rooted to our faith.
As you consider your obedience, ask whether it is rooted firmly to Christ or merely to a sense of obligation to your parents or your spouse or your friends. Your faith and your obedience are only as solid as the foundation in which they are built.
The illustrations flow around Jesus’ main point in this section: Surpassing obedience is heartfelt obedience (vv. 21–23). The religious leaders boasted all sorts of good works. Jesus even acknowledged those works at times. He acknowledged them as regular Bible readers (John 5:39), fervent prayers (Matthew 6:5), faithful givers (Matthew 23:23), and avid missionaries (Matthew 23:15). If favour was found in the works alone, they would find abiding favour with God. And yet we know that nobody was as harshly criticised by Jesus than the hypocritical religious leaders.
Jesus wanted his readers to understand that, while surpassing righteousness cannot be divorced from obedience, neither can it be confined to heartless obedience. The obedience that he called for must flow from the heart and be motivated by love.
As you consider the closing words of the Sermon on the Mount this morning, yourself, am I characterised by hypocritical, Pharasaic obedience, or is my obedience to Christ’s words narrow, fruitful, stable, and heartfelt? May we all be able to confidently say that our obedience goes deeper than lip service but truly desires to do the will of the Father.