Judaism understood that the only way of being righteous and pleasing God by the law was by keeping the entire Mosaic Law without fail. No one had ever done that before Jesus. Jesus lived his entire life without sin, thereby fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law.
The Apostle Paul explains, however, that before the Mosaic Law was given, there was Abraham:
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. (Romans 4:1-5)
Paul goes into greater depth concerning the righteousness by faith:
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” (Romans 10:5-11)
What is Paul saying? Jesus, the word made flesh, is the righteous answer. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Do we know2 him? If we do, he is ever so close to us.
But how do we know him? Mary Magdalene knew Jesus as her deliverer and closest friend. She was the first person to witness his resurrection. But she did not yet grasp who Jesus was when she encountered him after the resurrection. Jesus said to her:
Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
Jesus was her friend, She did not want to lose him in heaven. We cannot bring Jesus down from heaven to experience him on our terms.
The Apostle Thomas was very loyal to Jesus. He loved him so much and could not accept that he had died. It was not so much a question of faith for him as much as it was his profound sense of loss. How could his Lord and friend have died? Thomas wanted to bring back Jesus from the dead in the form that he knew him. But Jesus was no longer that person. He was now present to everyone who believed in him and understood his death and resurrection. All that was required now was faith in the risen Lord to satisfy all our needs, including our need for a right standing before God.
Do we know this Jesus? Do we know him in our hearts? Is he on our lips? Are we ready to give our testimony that we are sinners saved by grace? We have done nothing to deserve this great gift. We have simply joined the ranks of Abraham. We have believed in God and he has reckoned it as righteousness. The Psalmist wrote:
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (118:19-24).