Trinity VI - St. Matthew 5:20-26 - July 12, 2015

Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn #192 Awake My Heart, with Gladness
Hymn #287 That Man A Godly Life Might Live
Hymn #500 May God Bestow on Us His Grace

Readings
Exodus 20:1-17
Romans 6:3-11
St. Matthew 5:20-26

Collect
Lord of All Power and Might, Who art the Author and Giver of all good things, graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon


1)         Jesus teaches that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven we must possess a righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees. These men were the most pious men of Jesus’ day. They strove to keep the commandments which we heard read just a moment ago. They had no other gods. They did not worship the Roman gods, nor did they look to the stars and heavenly bodies for daily guidance. They worshiped the God of Israel and served Him only. They didn’t take His name in vain. They didn’t even use God’s name, Yahweh. Instead they addressed him as Adonai, Lord, so that they wouldn’t even accidently misuse the holy name. They kept the Sabbath holy by shunning all kinds of work on the seventh day, condemning those who even approached breaking the law from a distance. They honored their parents and other authorities, in a matter of speaking. They were not murderers, adulterers, thieves, perjurers, or coveters. They strove for a righteousness according to not only the Ten Commandments but a righteousness according to every other command given through Moses, for all of Moses is simply a further explanation of the Commandments and case law concerning the commandments. Around Moses they put a fence of manmade traditions where supposed to keep them from coming anywhere close to transgressing Moses. This would be like Adam and Eve putting a fence around the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil saying, “We will not transgress even the fence so that we will not break the original commandment.” The Scribes and Pharisees were righteous indeed, following the commandments to the letter and protecting their righteousness with man-made laws so they didn’t even come close to breaking the commandments. In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, your righteousness, your morality, has to exceed and surpass this righteousness.

2)         But then Jesus goes on to demolish their righteousness. He teaches about the fifth commandment, You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13) He picks this commandment because it is the easier to follow. It’s pretty easy to not murder your neighbor. The punishment for murder, your own death, would be deterrent enough to stop murderous plans. But Jesus says, You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22) His words are clear. The commandment is about all kinds of murder, not just about the murder committed with the hands. It condemns not only Cain’s act of murdering his brother in the field but also the jealous hatred Cain had first felt toward Abel. With this Jesus shows us the commandments first and foremost have to do with the thoughts of the heart and then with the actions of our hands. The hand only does what the heart imagines. The mouth only speaks out of the fullness of the heart. The commandment, whether it prohibit murder, adultery, perjury, or the dishonor of authority, is about more than those actions. The commandments strike to the heart.

3)         So these men were not terribly righteous after all. These are the same men who would pick up stones to kill Jesus in John 8. This is the same sect who would drag Jesus before Pilate and demand His execution based on a false witness that He was trying to subvert Caser. The regularly cultivated grudges, hatred, and murder in their hearts, just as their false witness to Pilate amounted to perjury. Their observance of the fourth commandment was no better. They dishonored parents by taking away their financial support and giving it to the Temple, calling it “Corban,” or gift to God. (Mark 7:11) The honored their parents with their lips but deprived them of financial help late in their lives. St. Paul says of this, If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8) Such is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Outwardly is it gorgeous and attractive to the eyes of men. It is a righteousness which can be seen. It is external. But inwardly it is an empty sepulcher, a barren tomb devoid of what the Law really demands. The Law does more than impose upon your actions. It imposes upon your heart. It demands the right demeanor towards God and neighbor. It requires the proper works to come from the proper motivation, which is love. The Law they strove so mightily to follow also demanded love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18) And St. Paul, once a Pharisee himself, teaches: The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:9-10) These men had deeds but no love in their hearts for God or for neighbor, only self. This is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.

4)         Jesus uses their righteousness as the benchmark not because their righteousness was a sham, but because their righteousness was the best that mankind can muster. Yes, their righteousness was a righteousness of the Law that didn’t come close to even meeting the Law, but Jesus uses them as His example because no one can be made righteous by works of the Law. The point isn’t, “Their righteousness is a sham, so do what they do, only do it from the heart and do it right.” Jesus’ teaching isn’t a rallying cry to try harder, do you part so that God can do His, or any nonsense like that. Jesus’ is saying that the best of the best that mankind can offer is still not good enough. Your righteousness cannot be earned or maintained by works of the Law. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10) The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees is all you can hope to attain by your will power, by your own free will, and by your own strength. By yourself you can accomplish nothing more than a hypocrisy that is void of true love for God and neighbor. By yourself you can only be curved in upon yourself. That is the nature of sinners since the Fall. Your righteousness is worthless for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.

5)         You need a righteousness that exceeds the best man can muster by Himself. Jesus knows this. It is the reason He assumed human flesh in the first place. God will not set aside His requirement of righteousness for entrance into heaven. He will not tolerate sin or sinners because He is righteous and holy in and of Himself. He will not deny Himself to accommodate sinners. But He loves the world enough to send God the Son to assume human flesh, not only to die to atone for our sins, but to earn a righteousness to replace those sins. The Son of God, in human flesh, is born under the Law, the Law which we are meant to live under. He lives under the Law of Moses but does so perfectly. He is the second Adam who does what the first Adam failed to do. Where Adam lost his original righteousness in the Garden by succumbing to the temptations of the Devil, Christ gains a perfect righteousness in the desert by defeating the temptations of Satan with the Word. Where Israel failed to perform the entire Law of the Lord as they swore they would do, Jesus fulfills every jot and tittle of the Law, not in a mechanical, checklist fashion, but by truly loving God the Father and truly loving His neighbor as Himself. Whereas Joshua and the Israelites failed to drive out the pagan nations and became subservient to them, Jesus, the greater Joshua, drives out demons and on the cross destroys the work of the Devil. He lives under the Law perfectly. He does what required with a pure heart. He refrains from doing what is prohibited from a true fear, love and trust in His heavenly Father.

6)         He earns a righteousness that He does not need, but a righteousness that we cannot attain by the Law, though the Law and prophets testify to it. This is what St. Paul says in Romans 3:21-22, But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. Christ earns this righteousness in His life, in His innocent sufferings and death. He bestows it upon all who believe this Gospel, says St. Paul. This is a righteousness not of works, not of commandment-keeping, and not of yourselves, it is the righteousness of faith. Faith receives the promise that Christ has atoned for the sins of the world. Faith believes that Christ’s righteousness is yours. Faith takes God at His Word and shuts out all doubt, despair, and disbelief, and thus saves because it appropriates Christ’s righteousness to you. This is the same way Abraham was righteous before God. He believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) And so Jesus says in Mark 16:16, He who believes and it baptized shall be saved. Faith alone justifies the sinner before God because faith receives the righteousness Christ earns for us. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. It surpasses their external righteousness because it is one that is not based on our works, our motivations, and our love, but based on God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

7)         Being declared righteous by faith in Christ’s merits and righteousness, that then means we are to go back to the commandments. We look to the commandments for God’s will for our lives. They serve the Christian as a guide to good works, except in the ceremonial aspects of images and Sabbath observance. We follow these commandments because they show us how we are to love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves. But they do not show us how we earn any righteousness, merit, or favor from God. They were never intended to that. Our Righteousness comes only by faith, and that too is not our work, but God’s work in us through the Holy Gospel. By faith in Christ we have a righteousness that avails before God because it is a perfect righteousness, based not on what we do, but on what Christ has done and still does for us. Amen.

Popular posts from this blog

Judica, the 5th Sunday in Lent + Psalm 43:1-3 + April 2, 2017

9th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 16:1-9 + July 24, 2016

Exaui, the 6th Sunday after Easter + John 15:26-16:4 + May 28, 2017