Alien Righteousness

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity based on Matthew 5:20-26

Dear forgiven saints covered by Christ’s righteousness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Law kills. That’s its job. God did not give us the Law to save us or make us live. God gave us the Law to show us our sin, so that we would recognize our sinfulness, repent of our sin, and cling to the Gospel, which is the free forgiveness of sins on account of Christ’s death for us.

The Pharisees did not understand this. The Pharisees sought to fulfil the Law in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. They added additional laws to God’s Law, which they thought would help them in keeping God’s Law.

The Pharisees separated themselves from open sinners and pagans and they took God’s Law very seriously. They studied it. Their scribes meticulously laboured to make more copies of the scrolls of the books of the Bible by hand to make it available to more people. They had to be accurate so that they would not alter the meaning of what God had given the prophets to write. They thus were very familiar with Scripture; they knew it well.

Really, Pharisees are what we want in our communities and churches. Pharisees weren’t crooks, adulterers, or murderers. They paid their taxes. They gave to the poor. They went to church every week and gave 10% of all their income to support the church. They contributed to society and to law and order, and were upstanding citizens, living quiet and decent lives.

What more can you ask of man? You would not be able to find any fault in the way the Pharisees lived their lives. From every judgment of man, we would have to say that they were good, honourable, upright, virtuous, and righteous.

However, Jesus says to you, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That puts you into a bind. Your righteousness cannot possibly exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. You cannot do more good than they did. You cannot avoid evil more than they did.

And Jesus goes on to show that you are not even as righteous as you think you are. You say you have kept the Fifth Commandment because you have not physically murdered anyone, but Jesus says you have broken the Fifth Commandment and deserve hell because you got angry with your brother, insulted him, and called him a fool. Yes, calling him an idiot for breaking something that belongs to you means you are liable to judgment.

This is why the Law kills us, for it condemns us because we are guilty of breaking it. Our sin starts in the heart, and from the heart it spreads to our lips, and to our actions.

The Law says we are guilty. We have no hope to be made righteous by the Law. Even if we managed to behave and do as much good as the scribes and Pharisees, it would not be enough. Our righteousness must exceed theirs in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Clearly, our righteousness cannot come from us. Our own righteousness will never be enough. We need righteousness from outside of us in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (alien righteousness).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the promised Saviour, writes, “This is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:6)

The Lord is our righteousness. That’s the answer to our sin. That’s the answer to the accusations of the Law. That’s the answer to our failure to be righteous. Jesus Christ is our righteousness.

Jesus is the only one whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He is the only one who obeyed every single Law of God in thought, word, and deed. He never even had a sinful thought against anyone; not even against those who shamefully mocked Him, spit on Him, hit Him on the head with a reed, pushed a crown of thorns over His head, whipped Him, and crucified Him. Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus fulfilled the Law of God for us. Everything we have failed to do, Jesus fulfilled. And He paid the price of our sins by suffering and dying for us. His perfection and righteousness cover our sin. Our Baptism was into His death and resurrection, so in our Baptism He covered us with His righteousness. Thus, He is our righteousness. His righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, thus we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being thus reconciled with God, Jesus gives us instructions to reconcile with our brother: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Your offerings and prayers are not pleasing to God if you are harbouring a grudge or refusing to be reconciled with someone.

Thus, if someone has sinned against you, go and tell him between you and him alone and be reconciled with him. If you have sinned against someone, go and express your sorrow over your sin and be reconciled with him.

It is far easier to simply never see that person again or to ignore the sin and pretend it doesn’t exist between you, but that is not reconciliation. Jesus warns us to reconcile before it is too late, that is, before we die. If we refuse to be reconciled with our brother, Jesus says we will be handed over to the judge and then put in prison. He’s not talking about civil authorities here, but about Judgment Day and hell.

Why do we wish to harbour anger and not forgive our neighbour, while God has forgiven us so much? There is no comparison between how much we provoke God and how much our neighbour may offend us (J. Gerhard).

Therefore we must also be reconciled with God before it is too late. Being reconciled with God and receiving His forgiveness is what then enables us to be reconciled with our neighbour and forgive him, or to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness. God’s forgiveness flows through us to others, reconciling us with them.

Here too, we rely not on the Law to bring about reconciliation, but on the Gospel. The Law tells us how we should treat our neighbour, speak of him, and think of him, but when we fail, as we do so regularly, the Gospel of forgiveness is the only solution.

God freely forgives us, so we can freely forgive each other. Christ is our righteousness, so He is the one who reconciles us with the Father and also with each other. God has forgiven us our mountain of sins, so we can in turn forgive our brother his sin against us.

The Law kills. That is its job. But the Gospel gives life. That’s its job. The Gospel saves us from the Law and gives us eternal life.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin

And makes us conscience-stricken;

But then the Gospel enters in

The sinful soul to quicken.

Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;

The Law no peace can ever give,

No comfort and no blessing.


Faith clings to Jesus Christ alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith is known,

With faith and hope increasing.

For faith alone can justify;

Works serve our neighbour and supply

The proof that faith is living. (LSB 555 st. 8-9) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Fishing with the Word

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 5:1 – 11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter knew how to fish. It was his life’s work. Through years of experience he and his partners knew where to fish, how to fish, and when to fish. But on this night, they had fished all night and caught nothing.

Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep and let down their nets. Simon Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Since Jesus said it, Peter did it.

The result of Jesus’ Word was that the nets got filled with fish. They got filled to the point that they were breaking. Help was needed from the other boat to haul in the catch. And even so, the boats were so full that they began to sink.

But Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a fishing lesson. Jesus wasn’t teaching him a better time of day to fish or a better location to fish. Jesus was teaching Peter the power of His Word. At Jesus’ Word, the nets were filled with fish to the point that they were breaking. What these fishing experts would have least expected to be successful, was extremely successful. In fact, it could not have been more successful without completely breaking the nets and leaving the boats at the bottom of the lake. And that would be no success at all.

And then, Jesus called Simon Peter to follow Him saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Again, Jesus wasn’t teaching Peter to fish. He was teaching Peter to catch men. Peter would be sent out as an apostle to fish for men. But how? With what? That’s what Jesus was teaching Peter. The power to fish for men is Jesus’ Word. That is the Word Peter was to preach.

Preaching is in some ways like fishing. Sometimes we’ve fished all night and caught nothing. We might be tempted to change our fishing strategy. Let’s use bigger nets. Let’s get bigger boats. Let’s use some new lures. This might work for fish, but it doesn’t work in the church.

In the church it sounds like this: Let’s add more razzle dazzle to our Sunday mornings. Let’s get rid of the liturgy and the liturgist and get some entertainment. Let’s get some catchy beats and a great big screen. Let’s get a band that uplifts the mood. Let’s not preach the Law that kills or the Gospel that makes alive, instead let’s talk about things that make us feel good about ourselves – that’s what people really want to hear.

But this is all wrong. The focus with all of this is on us and what we do. It completely ignores the power of Christ’s Word. We don’t need attractions to draw people into the church. The power is in the Word of God.

Sometimes to us, it might not feel so powerful. There are many congregations that are shrinking. Some are closing. All are struggling in one way or another. The question is: Is God’s Word being preached in its truth and purity? If so, then it is being done right, and we wait patiently. God will provide the catch. We should not get impatient and desire to find a new fishing strategy. If we start to try and draw people in through attractions and entertainment, then we are no longer bringing people into the church, but rather into an entertainment venue that cannot compete with other forms of entertainment.

But we have the Word of God; the Word of power. St. Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).” This Word is folly; it is foolishness to the world. It is the foolishness of dropping your nets into the deep after having fished all night and catching nothing.

To those who are perishing, the Word of forgiveness is foolishness. Those who are perishing look for what is attractive and successful. What’s attractive and successful about a church that is greying and shrinking? What’s attractive about pouring water over the head of an infant? What’s attractive about a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine? To those who are perishing, these are foolishness; they are utter nonsense.

In the ancient world, the cross was shameful and offensive. Only criminals and disobedient slaves were crucified. Yet the cross is the centrepiece of the Christian Church. God’s Son came to earth in order to be charged as a criminal. God’s Son was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver – the price of a slave. Christ took the form of a slave and died as a criminal – for you! This is foolishness to those who are perishing.

But to you who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God – the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word has the power to save because it does what it says it will do. When God says I make you my child in Baptism, then you are His child. When God says He forgives your sins through the word of Absolution, then you are forgiven. When He says, “Take eat, this is my body,” and, “Take drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of all your sins,” then you are forgiven, because God’s Word does what it says it will do.

Peter was called to preach that folly, that foolishness; the foolishness of the cross. Because the word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. There is no power for salvation in entertainment or in razzle dazzle. There is no power for salvation in our ideas, bright or dim – none of those can save a single soul. There is power only in the word of the cross.

And our witness to the world is then through the world calling us fools. We are considered fools by the world for trusting in God for every need of body and soul, whether rich or poor, whether in joy or grief. We are considered fools for relying on the Word of Christ. But as St. Paul writes, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20)?” “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27 – 29).”

The world can think the word of the cross is foolishness, but it is the word of the cross that saves from hell. The Word that filled Peter’s nets with fish is the same Word through which the universe was created, and it is the same Word by which you were baptized, and by which you are absolved and communed.

At Jesus’ Word, we do what He has instructed us to do, knowing that His powerful Word has caught us in the nets of His Church and will bring us safely to our eternal home. His Word will do it all, so we cling to it and trust it to do what Jesus has promised us it will do. His Word will save us eternally. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

To Judge or Not to Judge

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 6:36-42 (Gen. 50:15-21)

Dear forgiven children of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We heard the world’s favourite Bible passage in our Gospel lesson. It is quoted all the time, especially by the most hardened pagans. “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” They have no idea what Jesus said before or after, and quite frankly, they don’t care, but they think they know what Jesus is saying.

They think that it means that if you say that their lifestyle is sinful, it is you who will be judged. They think that with this one sentence, Jesus is allowing them to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, and Christians better keep their mouths shut. They think that Jesus is saying that public sin and false teachings must be tolerated so as not to be “judgmental.”

How can they possibly think this considering everything Jesus says that is contrary to such thinking? Because they do not care what He says. They just take this one sentence and misapply it without understanding, because they like what they think it means.

What does the Bible say elsewhere about judging? Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jn. 7:24). We are not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to judge whether they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1). Jesus says, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Lk. 12:57). Paul tells the Corinthian church that he has already judged the sexually immoral man in the congregation, and that man is to be purged from the church and delivered to Satan, being expelled from the communion of the church (1 Cor. 5:3, 5, 13). That sounds awfully judgmental. That’s because it is. Finally, Paul writes, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9) This too, is judging.

Clearly God tells us to judge, but there is judging that is wrong, and there’s judging that is right. Certainly all judgments must be made according to the Word of God. All Christians are called to judge what is right and what is wrong. All Christians are called to judge doctrine.

If you hear a gospel other than that of Scripture, you are to judge it as false doctrine. Paul goes so far as to not only judge the false doctrine, but to judge such a false teacher as accursed. This is really no different than Jesus saying that it would be better for false teachers to have a millstone tied around their necks and to be cast into the sea rather than causing others into sin (Luke 17:2). We are not told to tolerate and compromise on what is right and wrong, but to judge what is right and wrong. What God has revealed in His Word cannot be altered. The Gospel of God is the power of God unto salvation, so if this Gospel is replaced with a different gospel, it surely leads to be accursed in hell for eternity. We must continually judge right from wrong, truth from error, God’s Word from lies.

So, what judging does Jesus forbid us? We have to look at what else Jesus says in the context. He says, “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then he asks why you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.

Jesus is talking about showing mercy and forgiving, rather than being a fault-finder and finger pointer. Wrongful judgment is unmerciful and unforgiving.

Consider Joseph. His brothers tore his special coat from him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Ishamelites that were passing by, who in turn sold him in Egypt. They brought his coat covered in goat’s blood to their father, to suggest that he had been killed by some wild animal. God blessed Joseph, and over time, through prison and hardship, he became the ruler of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge. Not just revenge, but justice. He was the ruler of the land. He ruled over his brothers and had power over them. His brothers knew that it was in Joseph’s hand to punish them and that they would deserve it. They said to each other, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

According to every dictate of human reason and justice, Joseph had every right to punish his brothers, who asked him for forgiveness. Joseph responded by saying, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph forgave them their heinous crimes against him, even though he was in a position to punish them for their wickedness.

This is mercy. Joseph did not give his brothers what they deserved. That would have been unmerciful. Joseph showed them mercy. Mercy is not just ignoring sin or turning a blind eye to it. Mercy is not pretending that everything is ok. Mercy is confronting sin head on, exposing it, and forgiving it. Mercy is not judging our neighbour, but forgiving him, as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us.

God rules over us, and He has power over us. According to every dictate of human reason and justice, God has every right to punish us for our sins. But instead, He has mercy on us. God the Father turned His anger and wrath away from us, and poured it all on His Son, His only Son. He showed no mercy to Jesus, who suffered and died in our place, so that He would show us mercy.

Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. This mercy which God has shown to us, we are to show to each other. We are not to be fault-finders and finger pointers. We are not to be unmerciful and unforgiving. Rather, we are to forgive as God has forgiven us. We are not to seek revenge or remain angry when others sin against us. We are to recognize our own sins, those logs in our eyes, and ask for forgiveness from those against whom we’ve sinned. We are to forgive our brother’s sins against us, which are nothing more than a speck in their eyes compared to the logs of sins in our eyes which we have committed against God.

God is merciful, so for the sake of Christ, He will forgive us. We don’t have to wonder if He might forgive us. He will forgive us.

God is merciful. This is not an empty hope to which we cling. God Himself has told us that He is merciful. It is His very nature to show mercy and compassion on us, His dear children.

You cannot see His mercy or compassion better anywhere than the cross of Jesus. The Father gave up His only Son into death for you, to pay for your sins, and show you mercy. God the Father was unmerciful to His Son, judged His Son, condemned His Son, so that He would show you mercy, not judge you or condemn you, but forgive you.

God does not just ignore your sin or turn a blind eye to it. God does not pretend that everything is ok. God, through His Word, confronts your sin head on, exposes it, and forgives it.

This forgiveness He once again today gives to you in the body and blood of Jesus. God shows you mercy and compassion. He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Jesus Sinners Doth Receive

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 15:1-10

Dear lost sheep who have been found: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What a scandal, the Pharisees and scribes thought. Jesus received sinners and ate with them. These people’s sins were known to everyone. They were known thieves, traitors, and prostitutes. They were those who had made bad decision after bad decision, and found themselves living a life against the Word of God and as pariahs and outcasts of their community.

Jesus received them and ate with them. Onlookers thought this meant that Jesus approved of their sin. This was not the case. Jesus received them and ate with them to call them to repentance. This is why Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. As the shepherd searched for His lost sheep and the woman searched for her lost coin, so Jesus searches for lost sinners.

A lost sheep cannot find its way back to the shepherd any more than a lost coin can find its way back to its owner. The shepherd and the owner need to seek out that which was lost. So Jesus seeks out sinners who are lost in error’s way, who cannot find their way to Him.

A sinner cannot find his way to Jesus. A sinner who is lost is blind and cannot see the truth. He is dead in his trespasses and sins and cannot choose life over death. Sinners need Jesus to give them sight so that they can see and life so that they can live. Jesus does this through the forgiveness of sins.

Without Jesus giving forgiveness, a sinner is ignorant of God, despises Him, lacks fear and confidence in God, hates the judgment of God, flees this judging God, is angry with Him, despairs of His grace, and places confidence in the things of this life (cf. Ap II.8).

Only through the forgiveness of sins do we learn that God loves us, and we then in return love Him. Only through the forgiveness of sins do we trust in God, love His righteous will, cling to His grace, and place our confidence in Him alone.

Our trouble with understanding forgiveness often stems from thinking that forgiveness must be earned. We therefore struggle to forgive those who have sinned against us, because we feel they don’t deserve our forgiveness. The thing is, we are right. No one deserves our forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be deserved. Forgiveness is always undeserved.

So also we do not deserve forgiveness – not from our neighbour that we have sinned against, and not from God. Sinners don’t deserve forgiveness. Sinners deserve punishment.

Consider a cold-blooded murderer in court, found guilty by the judge. The murderer deserves to be executed. In this day and age, especially in Canada, we’ve bought into feminist notions about rehabilitating criminals and releasing them back into society only to reoffend, but that’s another story. The murderer deserves execution. That would be justice. If the judge were to say, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” That would be injustice. Even the laws of our nation, as weak and criminal-favouring as they are, do not allow such forgiveness. Neither does God’s Law allow forgiveness.

God’s Law accuses us. It finds us guilty. It says we deserve punishment. There is no forgiveness from the Law.

Forgiveness comes from the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus stepping into the courtroom where we stand tried, convicted, and found guilty, and taking our punishment for us. It is not merely a statement from the Judge saying, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” For there to be justice, the punishment still had to be carried out.

Jesus willingly took the punishment for me and for you. The punishment that we deserve for our sins was put on Jesus. His brutal suffering and death was for our sin, so that we stand before the Judgment Seat as not guilty, acquitted of all charges against us; as forgiven saints of God.

This is why Jesus received sinners and ate with them. He received them not to approve of their sin, but to give them forgiveness – free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness.

Another error we sometimes think is that God loves us less when we sin. While it is true that our sins sever us from God, God seeks to breech that gap by forgiving us. He loves us so much when we sin, that if He needs to discipline us like a loving father to turn us away from sin, He will do it. He loves us even in our weaknesses and sins, continually turning us in repentance to Him for the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus seeks His lost sheep. He seeks His lost treasure. He seeks us sinners when we have strayed.

Christ does not eat with sinners today, but He feeds sinners today. He receives sinners and gives to us His body and blood.

Some might call it a scandal – sinners gathered to eat and drink the holy body and blood of God in the flesh. We don’t deserve it. He gives it to us by grace. He gives us free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness in His body and blood, and heaven rejoices. There is more joy before the angels of God in heaven over us sinners repenting, than over the whole world who thinks they don’t need repentance. There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.


Jesus sinners doth receive;

Oh, may all this saying ponder

Who in sins delusions live

And from God and heaven wander!

Here is hope for all who grieve:

Jesus sinners doth receive! (LSB 609 st. 1) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.