Some religious leaders teach a list of things that you have to do to get to heaven. At first, their teaching sounds attractive, because the things on the list are usually pretty good. The religious leaders talk about prayer, honoring God, and doing good things for the people around you. It’s clear that those are great things to do!
But if you dig a little deeper, things get murkier. When you ask how often or how seriously you have to do those things to get to heaven, these teachers have to start making up answers. The list of laws gets more complicated, more detailed, and weirdly less certain. Will you go to hell rather than heaven if you do something four times, not five, or if you get distracted when you are doing it?
The people listening to Jesus teach were used to hearing about all the laws they had to keep in order to go to heaven. They were used to asking the teachers of the law about the little details. They were used to hearing the teachers of the law argue among themselves about how to answer.
Along came Jesus. He taught God’s law. He taught it so clearly and strongly that there was no chance anyone could do what he was describing. People were amazed.
Then Jesus made them even more amazed. He said that he would do what no one else could do. He would keep every one of God’s laws perfectly. And then he would die to pay for the sins of people who could not keep the law perfectly. Jesus told everyone that they would go to heaven by believing in him, not by keeping any laws. This is why the followers of Jesus have such comfort. They know they have God’s forgiveness. They know they are headed to heaven. They know this because their forgiveness and eternal life do not depend on their obedience to God’s laws but on Jesus’ obedience. They are his free gift. Isn’t it amazing!