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.