In 1984 Sergey Bubka set the world record in the pole vault. And almost every year for the next decade he set a new record. The record now stands at 6.14 meters, which is 20 feet and almost 2 inches – over twice the height of a basketball goal. I get a nosebleed just thinking about it.
Other athletes continue to take aim at Bubka's record but it still stands.
A record setting athlete might be tempted to bask in the glory of his accomplishment. I can think of several track stars who have held various records and often demonstrated a smug self-confidence due their feat. Jamaican sprinter and 100 meter world record holder Usain Bolt comes to mind. The lasting image is of him mugging at the camera and seemingly taunting his competition at the 2008 Olympics.
In Jesus’ day there was a self-righteous sect known as the Pharisees who had their own form of smugness. These religious zealots prided themselves on how well they kept the mosaic law, even going so far as to construct nearly 640 laws around the Ten Commandments in order to protect them. The Pharisees were proud of their accomplishments and were ostentatious in their devotion to the law. They liked to be noticed and lauded for their faithfulness.
In the sermon on the mount Jesus seemed to be speaking directly to the Pharisees as he reinterpreted the law.
“You have heard it said that you should not commit adultery. But I say, everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) He also addresses mosaic laws on murder, divorce, and false witness. Then he says this, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
In my mind, what Jesus was saying is this: No one can enter the kingdom of heaven by keeping the law, because no one can keep the law. In other words, Jesus raised the bar above even Sergey Bubka’s ability to clear it.
I can hear the Pharisees murmuring to themselves, “Who can possibly enter heaven with the bar set that high?”
But then, the Bible tells us, Jesus himself did just that, as he lived a sinless life as God the Son in our midst. And in so doing, he fulfilled the law then offered himself in our place as the perfect sacrifice for our sin.
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteousness, that he might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm. (1Peter 3:18)
And then, according to scripture, Jesus offered to us the victor’s laurel wreath. And, by our faith in him and the acceptance of his gift, we are pronounced forgiven and victorious, not based on our merit but based solely on our faith in the victory that Christ himself won.