Today’s Reading: John 8:21-30 (additional reading: Psalm 111:1-10 & Proverbs 15:11)
The religious leaders with whom Jesus is arguing were well known for their obedience. So careful was their conformity to the details of the law, that they snipped 1 of every 10 leaves of the dill and mint and cumin growing in the windowsill planter, in order to perfectly tithe. That is why Jesus used the universal consensus of their obedience to challenge salvation by works: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.20). Everyone agreed that these men were righteous.
So it was natural for them to believe about themselves what everyone else thought: these religious leaders were saved. God had punched their tickets to heaven. They were chosen for their goodness. So when Jesus says, “Where I am going you cannot come,” they thought: “I know I am saved because of my good works”; so John MacArthur: “Since they assumed that they were going to heaven, the Jews mockingly suggested that Jesus must be speaking of killing himself, in which case he would go to hell. Smugly confident in their self-righteousness, they were not just deaf to Jesus’ words, but they mockingly, blasphemously twisted their meaning…. Self-righteousness is a deadly deception, and utterly contrary to genuine salvation.
They sought a Messiah who spoke well of them. All Jesus needed to say was: “You guys are leadership material; you are great; you will be important when we take over.” Instead, Jesus honors the lowly and broken: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’…. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2.17; Matthew 9.13).
It seems that we often believe that sin is the only thing which keeps people from God. But the Bible confronts another problem. Oh yes, sin is there; but it can be varnished over with a layer of good works. Sin separates us from God; goodness keeps us from seeing sin.
C.H. Spurgeon once preached “Self-righteousness exclaims, “I will not be saved in God’s way; I will make a new road to heaven; I will not bow before God’s grace; I will not accept the atonement which God has wrought out in the person of Jesus; I will be my own redeemer; I will enter heaven by my own strength, and glorify my own merits.” The Lord is very wroth against self-righteousness. I do not know of anything against which His fury burneth more than against this, because this touches Him in a very tender point, it insults the glory and honour of His Son Jesus Christ.