Striving to Become What We Already Are

King Solomon was not only the wisest and richest king in the Bible he was also a great builder. The temple and the palace he built in Jerusalem took over 20 years to complete. He also built a wall around the city of Jerusalem and at least four cities.

But all this building came at a price; he worked his subjects pretty hard, and the people did not have a choice in the work. The Bible calls it forced labor, pretty much slavery. So when he died, and his son Rehoboam was installed as king the people hoped that Solomon’s son would ease up a bit. When they came to Rehoboam’s coronation they said, “Your father worked us pretty hard. Can you ease up a bit?” King Rehoboam said, “Come back in three days and I’ll give you my answer.”

During the three days, Rehoboam consulted two sets of advisors. He asked the older men who had served with his father. They said, “If you ease up on them, they will serve you all your days.”

Then Reheboam consulted the young men that he had grown up with. They gave him the opposite advice. They said, “Don’t ease up on them. Tell the people you are going to make things even harder on them.” Rehoboam took the advice of his younger friends, there was a revolt and Rehoboam lost over half of his kingdom. The only reason God allowed Rehoboam to keep any kingdom was for the sake of Rehoboam’s grandfather, King David. God had promised always to keep one of David’s descendants on the throne, so Rehoboam got to keep a small kingdom.

It is common, even today, when a new ruler arrives for people to think that the new ruler is going to make things easier, especially if the country has been going through tough times.

Apparently, some people were thinking that when Jesus arrived he was going to make things easier. It is understandable why people would hope that because Matthew tells us that, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

But in Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus points out that he was not going to make things easier:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. [18] For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [19] Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

There is no hint of Jesus making things easier on the people. If anything, Jesus was to make thing harder on them. Their righteousness needed to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the most righteous people around in those days.

So why did the people keep following Jesus? Why was there no revolt as there was in the days of Rehoboam?

Because by the power of the Holy Spirit the people realized that only Jesus could give them the perfect righteousness that God required. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets for us. He did not need to fulfill the law and prophets for his own sake. No, he fulfilled the law and the prophets for us.

This is what Paul is talking about in the second chapter of I Corinthians when he talks about the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is first to give us complete and perfect righteousness in Christ and then send us out to be what we have already become. “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Corinthians 2:7-8)

As Paul points out, the world just does not get this. But, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we get it. We know that God knows what he is doing.

All other religions have it the other way around. You work and strive to be righteous and then God owes it to you to give you eternal life. God says, “No, you are never going to be righteous enough, let me give you the perfect righteousness of Christ, then you strive to live up to what you already have.”

In essence that is what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:13-16:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. [14] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

He says, “You are the salt of the earth. “He does not say, “Strive to become the salt of the earth.” No, he says, “You are.” By the power of my word, you are the salt of the earth. Now since I have made you the salt of the earth, be salty. Don’t lose the saltiness that I have already given you.

He says, “You are the light of the world.” He does not say, “Strive to become the light of the world.” No, he says, “You are.” Now since I have made you the light of the world, let your light that I have already given you shine before men.

And this way of doing things is not easy. We are always tempted to think that it is up to us. As Luther says, that temptation is never going to go away no matter how strong your faith is.

In the end Jesus was crucified by the people who refused to accept his offer of free and full righteousness. They crucified the Lord of glory as Paul says above in I Corinthians 2, the only one that could give them the righteousness that God requires. They just could not ever accept the fact that, if they were ever to be good enough, it was through faith in Christ, not by their own good works.

Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. The good news is that it does. That is because it is not your righteousness it is the righteousness of Christ. So now go out and live in the wisdom of God by living up to the righteousness that you already have. In other words, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.


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