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.

The Wedding Feast

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 22:1-14

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

Apart from Christ, the Church is one ugly bride. Ezekiel sixteen describes her as a baby wallowing in her own blood on the day of birth, cast out into the open field with no eye to pity or show compassion, abhorred by all. No one loved her to wash her or clothe her. No one even bothered to cut her umbilical cord.

Then her bridegroom came and gave her life. He bathed her and washed her and anointed her with oil. He made her to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. He clothed her with embroidered cloth and shod her with fine leather. He wrapped her in fine linen and covered her with silk. He adorned her with bracelets on her wrists, a chain on her neck, with jewellery, and a crown on her head. She thus had gold and silver and fine clothing, eating the highest quality of foods.

In Christ, the Church is a beautiful bride. Christ washes away the ugliness of her sins and clothes her with His own righteousness. He offers up His life for her on the cross, obtaining for her the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He clothes her in Holy Baptism. A wedding feast is prepared to celebrate this union.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready.

How do those invited respond? Some pay no attention to the invitation from the King. They go off, one to his farm, another to his business. These are the polite ones. They don’t hate the King, but they really don’t care. They don’t hate the Church, but they are indifferent to the King’s invitation. They don’t hate Christ, the bridegroom, but they have better things to do. They just don’t care.

Then there are those who are invited to the wedding feast who hate Christ, the bridegroom, and His bride, the Church. The King’s servants who went out to invite them are treated shamefully and disrespectfully. The King’s servants are even murdered for bringing the invitation just because these people hate the King. Such people get angry if a Christian dare speak the truth of God’s Word, because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear about how God expects us to behave and they don’t want to hear about how God gives us free forgiveness in His Son. They’d rather kill the messenger than hear the message. They are so vicious and hostile because they are poor, miserable sinners, who don’t want to admit that they are poor, miserable sinners.

There are those who politely ignore God’s gracious invitation, and there are those who respond in anger and hostility. There are also those who respond with hypocrisy. They join the church. They are baptized. They go through confirmation. They attend Divine Service. They outwardly confess that they believe what God’s Word says. But they believe none of it. This is the man without the wedding garment. He does not believe that he needs Jesus’ righteousness to cover his sins. He thinks Baptism is a nice ceremony but that it does nothing. He receives the body and blood of Christ but believes it to be nothing more than bread and wine.

All three of these groups of people invited have the same end. The King sends His angels to destroy them and their cities. They are bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness, that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether they reject God’s gracious invitation through polite ignorance, open hostility, or faithless hypocrisy, their place is in the eternal fires of hell.

This is a warning to us. The goal of this is not to say, “Hey I know someone who hates God. I know someone who doesn’t really care. I know someone who is a hypocrite.” No. This is us. We must confess our own sin.

We have politely ignored God’s gracious invitation. We are the ones who do not always care. We have failed to prioritize the hearing and reading of God’s Word. We have failed to treat God’s gracious invitation as the most important thing. We have failed to raise our children in the faith. We have had better things to do. Repent.

We have shown hostility toward God’s gracious invitation. We, according to our sinful nature hate God. We hate when His Law commands us to do something that we don’t want to do. We hate when His Law forbids us from doing something we want to do. We hate the fact that God’s Word says we are poor, miserable sinners. Our greed and lust, our desire for fame, money, and recognition, our anger and pride are all hostile to God. Repent.

We have acted like hypocrites. We go through the motions. We say things we don’t mean. We confess to believe what the Bible says but we’re not actually even that interested in what it says. We say we value God’s Word, but it sits somewhere in the house collecting dust. We speak the words of the Lord’s Prayer without so much as a thought as to what the words mean. Repent.

In your repentance, realize the gracious invitation of God to you. The wedding feast of the Lamb is for you. Not because of what you’ve done or left undone. Not because of who you are. Rather, because God’s gracious invitation is for everyone. The King sends his servants out to invite to the banquet everyone they can find. Thus, Jesus says that the servants brought in the evil and the good into the wedding hall – those who were thought of as evil because their sins were known to everyone, as well as those who were thought of as good because their sins were not known to everyone.

The evil and good alike will be at the wedding feast because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We lament our indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy and we cherish the wedding garment that covers all our sin. We love our bridegroom who came and gave us life; who bathed us and washed us in Baptism; who made us to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. We love Him who clothed us with His white and pure robe of righteousness and feeds us with the highest quality of foods – His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

We love Christ, who has made us, His Church, a beautiful bride. Christ has washed away the ugliness of our sins and clothed us with His own righteousness. He has offered up His life for us on the cross, obtaining for us the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He has clothed us in Holy Baptism.

God wants you at the wedding feast, both here at the altar where we receive a foretaste of the feast to come, and eternally when we will see its fulfilment. He graciously gives you forgiveness. He forgives you your indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy, because Christ has paid the price of your sins. He gives you forgiveness so that you will care, so that you won’t be hostile, and so that you will believe that His death was for you and that He gives His forgiveness to you freely, graciously, lovingly, and abundantly.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready. Amen.

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