Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

February 9, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:13-20

            “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20; ESV).  Well, on the face of it, it seems like we might as well just give up and resign ourselves to eternal condemnation.  The Scribes and the Pharisees, these were the guys who knew every jot and tittle, every iota and dot of the Law, and meticulously kept every detail.  So how on earth is my righteousness, your righteousness, to be greater than theirs?  After all, you and I know our sins.  And Jesus knows them even better than we do.  There are times when we may regard our neighbor with pharisaical pride.  In fact, we love to do this.  We love to revel in another person’s sins and faults and weaknesses.  We love to gossip about them.  We smirk with delight in the knowledge that we are better than they are.  And then the unforgiving mirror of God’s Law shows us the hideous truth of our condition.  Our gossip betrays us.  We are not better than our neighbor.  We are not holier.  For every finger we point at another, ten thousand fingers of the Law are pointing back.  Righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees?  Hardly.  We are not righteous at all.  We are, as we confess, by nature sinful and unclean, constantly sinning against God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed. 
            Jesus knows that, and thanks be to God our righteousness is not determined by our conduct or our disposition or our piety.  Our righteousness is in no way determined by our keeping of the Law.  Christ Jesus is our righteousness.  And it is in that way, and that way only, that our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees.  The Scribes and the Pharisees put on a pretty good show.  They were really good at outwardly keeping the Law.  Humanly speaking, these were the upstanding citizens, good Christian folk, morally blameless, advocates of traditional values.  They talked a good talk.  They walked a good walk.  All of which is fine and good.  But it does not count as righteousness before God.  For as St. James reminds us, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).  There is no breathing room when it comes to God’s Law.  No matter how bright and shiny your life may be, the fact remains that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), all, including Scribes and Pharisees and good Christian folk.  Because as good as you may be at keeping the Law outwardly, you know the thoughts in your mind and the desires in your heart.  You know that you are not pure.  You know that you are full of rebellion against God, selfishness, greed, lust, pride.  So you are a sinner.  And a sinner is, by definition, not righteous.  So here is the dirty little secret about the Scribes and Pharisees: They have bright and shiny, religious lives, but they are not righteous.  Because they do not have Christ.  They are sinners.  And instead of receiving God’s salvation for their sins, they reject Him, and by their own efforts work to make themselves righteous.
            You are a sinner, to be sure.  Your life is not even as bright and shiny as the Scribes and Pharisees.  And yet, your righteousness exceeds theirs.  Because your righteousness has nothing to do with who you are in and of yourself, or anything that you have done or left undone.  Your righteousness is Jesus Christ.  You are in Christ.  You are baptized.  His righteousness counts for you.  His blood washes away all your sin.  And so, while the Scribes and Pharisees find themselves shut outside the doors where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, you are entering into the kingdom of heaven, into the joy of your Master.
            And this is great Good News to us who are beset by vexing sins, whose consciences are troubled, fightings and fears within and without, whose hearts are weighed down with grief and hopelessness, broken lives, broken relationships, a broken faith.  Whatever you are going through right now, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, all of that is baptized in the blood of Jesus Christ, your crucified Lord.  All your sins are forgiven.  And Christ is your righteousness.  That is what St. Paul means when he says you’re justified.  Justified simply means righteous.  Righteous on account of Christ.  Justified on account of Christ.  Here’s what he says: “But  now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21-25).  How are you made righteous before God?  Christ died for your sins and God raised Him from the dead.  And now on His account God bespeaks you righteous, declares you righteousness, pronounces you righteous.  It’s a courtroom decree.  And Christ’s righteousness is given to you as God’s free gift.  It is received by faith.  Believe it and it is yours.  It’s as simple as that.  There’s nothing to add.  There’s nothing said here about your works.  There’s nothing said here about your worthiness or whether you deserve it, because you don’t.  It’s pure grace.  It’s pure gift.  For you.  In Christ alone.  And in this way your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, who, in reality, are not righteous at all. 
            But aren’t Christians supposed to do good things?  Shouldn’t we do good works?  Shouldn’t we be upstanding citizens, good Christian folk, moral, advocates of traditional values and the like?  Shouldn’t we serve our neighbor, love our neighbor, provide for our neighbor’s needs?  Shouldn’t we flee from sin and godlessness?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Absolutely.  But that doesn’t make you righteous.  And thank God for that, because in your fallen flesh you will fail.  Your fallen flesh still needs to be crucified daily in repentance.  But you should do these things, not in order to be righteous, but because you are righteous in Christ.  So He sends you out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  What does salt do?  It preserves and it seasons.  Back in the days before refrigeration, how did you keep the meat from spoiling?  Salt!  And my wife doesn’t always believe me, but even when something tastes great, sometimes the experience can be enhanced all the more with just a little bit of salt.  Christians are salt.  God preserves the world on account of Christians who pray and love and serve in it, and on account of people who are not yet Christians but will be as they hear God’s Word and receive Baptism.  And God seasons the world with His Christians, with your faithful confession, with your works done in Jesus’ Name, with your various vocations to which God has called you to be His hands in the world.  He sends you to be light in this dark world, to shine the light of Christ in the darkness and expel it.  You do this as you speak of Christ, as you speak God’s Word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).  And by example as you live according to God’s Word in the world, confessing your sins, and hearing and living by the Absolution of the Lord that you receive freely here in His Church. 
            It is an amazing thing what Jesus once said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31).  Or, as He said of the tax collector over against the Pharisee: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).  How can Jesus say such things?  It is not that Jesus has suddenly become tolerant of sin and affirming of materialistic lifestyles or sexual transgressions.  He has not come to relax the Law, much less abolish it.  In fact, as He says, not one iota or dot will pass away from the Law until it is accomplished.  Jesus does not abolish the Law.  He fulfills it.  He accomplishes it.  By His righteous life in our stead.  By His death on the cross for our forgiveness.  And He is risen and gives new life to us who were dead in our trespasses and sins, new life now in Baptism so that we can be His salt and His light in the world, life hidden under this weak flesh, but real life, a life that will be made manifest on the Last Day in the resurrection of the dead.
            It is no secret that you are a sinner.  If you try to keep it a secret, you are a Pharisee and not a Christian.  Christians confess their sins.  Christians confess that they are sinners.  Because you know that your righteousness does not consist in a polished outward life that, like a whitewashed tomb, hides the stench of deadly sins inside.  Your life is Christ.  Your righteousness is Christ.  Your everything is Christ.  And in Christ, to you belongs the very kingdom of heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           


Blogger Rev. Rentfrow said...

What is this? You take a stone hard word of Christ ( “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20; ESV). ) and preach it as a comfortable pillow for the Christian to lay his head on and sleep in peace?

Isn't the Lord here excluding sinners? He is even excluding those trying to be righteous, the Scribes and Pharisees.

Continue on and the Lord will exclude all false teachers and all trees who do not bare fruit and only and ever good fruit without any bad fruit at all.

And make no mistake about it. Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of God but (only) he who does the will of the Father.

You see, doing! Only the one doing the will of the Father is counted Righteousness. The law excludes all. That is, the law excludes all, except the one who does it.

The gospel, on the other Hand, speaks differently.

Oh, that's what you were preaching, the law fulfilled in Christ, Gospel!

Jesus is the One, or the He, who does the will of the Father. So now the language of the law is silenced in faith in Christ.

The word of law saying:
Matthew 7:21 NKJV

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."

Is silenced by the word of gospel saying:

Romans 10:12-13 NKJV

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The demand of the law to have a righteousness exceeding the Scribes and the Pharisees is fulfilled in us who will not be found trusting in a righteousness of the law but rather will be found in Christ, having a righteousness which is through faith from first to last.

Just having a good time with the good word of God's grace.

Thank you for you sermon! It is such a blessing to see Christ in all you teach and preach.

1:41 AM  

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