6th Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 5:20-26 + July 3, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #295 The Law of God is Good and Wise
Hymn # 287 That Man a Godly Life Might Life
Hymn # 500 May God Bestow on Us His Grace

Introit - pg. 75

Collect for the 6th Sunday after Trinity

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 on the Holy Gospel 

 Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Jesus says, “For I tell you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees possessed was purely external. It was the kind of righteousness that anyone could see with their eyes. They were viewed as good people who strove to live every aspect of their life not only according to the Law of Moses but also according to man-made laws. Their righteousness was built to be displayed. Their holiness was visible for all the world to see. They prayed “standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men,” Jesus says in Matthew 6:5. Whereas many struggle in their tithes and offerings, these men tithed not only money but “mint and rue and all manner of herbs” (Luke 11:42), the smallest possessions in one’s kitchen cabinet. In Luke 11, Jesus accepts an invitation to dine with a Pharisee. St. Luke records that “He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner” (Luke 11:37-38). This washing wasn’t to remove dirt from the hands. It was a ceremonial washing of the hands. When the Pharisee marveled that Jesus did not follow their man-made custom, Jesus minces no words about the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes. He says, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? (Luke 11:39-40).

2)         Christ is making the same point in today’s gospel lesson. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was purely external. They washed the outside of the cup but left the inside of the cup untouched. The scribes and Pharisees looked upon the law of Moses, especially the ten commandments, and thought they only applied to their external life. They believed the law made no claim on their inner life and no demand upon their hearts. Jesus uses the fifth commandment as an illustration to show them the true nature of the Law. “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13) is spoken to the entire man, not just the hand which wields the knife or firearm. The commandment covers the entire man, internal as well as external. The Pharisees and scribes understood that if one murdered his neighbor, he was in danger of judgment. What they failed to understand is that saying “Raca! You fool” to one’s brother is just as bad. With this, Jesus condemns not only physically murdering your neighbor, but hating him in your heart and lashing out at him with slanders and insults. The commandment hovers not only over the hand but over the entire person, demanding that we love our neighbor perfectly from the heart at all times, never hating our neighbor, never being irritated at another person, and never letting anger erupt into callous words. To imagine that the law is only laid upon the external life of man is to miss the point of the law entirely. This is what made the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees purely external.

3)         These men, as so many in our own age do, followed the letter of the law but neglected its spirit, which is that not only are the hands to behave righteously, but the heart as well. In fact, Christ makes it clear elsewhere in Scripture that the heart must be righteous first, then the hands will behave righteously. Jesus says in Luke 6:43-45, “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” As long as the law is only directed at the fruit, that is, one’s works, they will never be righteous. Human reason says, “If you want to be righteous, do righteous things,” and “righteous deeds make righteous men.” But Christ says, “If you want to do righteous things, then first you must be righteous in your heart.” Put another way, “If you want to bear good fruit, you must first be made into a good tree, since by nature you are a bad tree.” That man and woman, by nature, are bad trees is clear from the prophet Isaiah 64:6, “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” This is why Jesus says that if anyone wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, his righteousness must exceed the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. One must possess a righteousness of the heart which fulfills the law internally as well as externally. If a person thinks he can attain this by his own power and his own good living, he is not listening to the witness of the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures, for even David pleads for mercy in Psalm 143:2, because in God’s sight “no one living is righteous.

4)         Yet the Word of Christ remains, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Christ tears down the external righteousness of mankind so that we might not put our trust in our own works, our own merits, and our own good intentions. He tears down the righteousness of the best of men so that we might look to Him for a perfect righteousness. If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven you need a better righteousness. And praise be to Christ, for this is the entire reason He assumed human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. St. Paul says that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, assumes human flesh for the purpose of living underneath the burden of the law. He loves God the Father with His whole heart, which we are unable to do, being by nature sinful and unclean, for just as the Fifth Commandment speaks to the whole man, the hands and the heart, so does the First Commandment that says, “Thou shalt have no other gods.” The commandment is more than simply, “Don’t worship idols of wood and stone,” but “believe in the true God and trust Him perfectly at all times and in all situations.” Christ Jesus fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things. He loves His neighbor as Himself, so much, in fact, that He assumes the sins of all of His neighbors and atones for them by His sacrificial death. By His perfect life and innocent, bitter sufferings and death, Jesus earns a perfect righteousness. This is a righteousness that is apart from the Law, because it not gained by our works, but by Christ’s works.

5)         St. Paul writes 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.” This perfect righteousness which Christ acquires in His perfect life and innocent death are bestowed on unrighteous sinners when they believe the gospel, the good news that in Christ they have a reconciled God so that all their sins are forgiven and every unrighteousness of their hearts is cleansed. This is why faith justifies, which simply means to declare righteous. All who believe the Gospel, God declares righteous. There is no work of the law that will gain you God’s favor. There are no amount of good intentions that will make Him look favorably upon you. There is no merit or worthiness that is good enough, because good enough won’t do with God. It must be a righteousness that exceeds the human righteousness which is purely an external matter. Faith simply believes, trusts, and accepts that Christ’s righteousness is my own. “To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). By justifying those who believe the gospel, God makes believers into good trees by declaring us to be righteous, not with our own righteousness, but with Christ’s righteousness.

6)         This faith that justifies sinners and declares them righteous in God’s sight “is bound to bring forth good fruits” (AC VI). Since God declares you righteous by faith, He declares you to be a good tree. And good trees naturally and spontaneously bring forth good fruits. The Christian’s works are pleasing to God, not because of their goodness, but because they flow from faith in Christ. Jesus describes how this righteousness of the heart acts towards neighbor at the end of today’s gospel lesson. Using the Fifth Commandment still, “Thou shalt not murder,” Jesus teaches that those who are truly righteous, who daily have their sins forgiven by faith in Him, those people will work to be reconciled to their brother when they know they’ve offended him. This is why He says, If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:23-24) “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Those who are justified by faith in Christ will seek to live in peace with all men, as they are able, and love their neighbor from their heart. This love will be imperfect in this life because the sinful flesh still clings to us. While our justification is fully accomplished when we believe, our renewal is a daily process that will culminate on the day our Lord calls us out of the flesh.

7)         The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the best the world has to offer, wont’ cut it because its hypocritical. The righteousness and goodness of men is like a cup that has been washed on the outside but is still filthy on the inside. Faith in Christ is what cleanses the inside of the cup, creating new hearts in sinful men, so that their sins are forgiven and the Holy Ghost dwells therein to perform all sorts of good works and bring forth all sorts of righteous deeds for our neighbor. The righteousness of faith in Christ’s promise, that’s the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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