6th Sunday after Epiphany
13 February 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." More tough words from Jesus. We heard them last week as the Gospel reading wrapped up. This morning's Gospel is what follows. That righteousness that is required is more fully explained.
It is not enough to not kill anyone. Sure, the majority of us don't actually take a weapon or even beat someone to death. But Jesus ups the ante. If you are angry, or even insult another, you are liable for judgment. Hmm...no physical murders are accounted for here, but how many of you have ever been angry with your sister? Or who has been ticked off at his brother? Or how many of you have told someone what a jerk, or a fool, or an idiot he was? Jesus says you have broken the fifth commandment.
It is not enough to avoid suggestive media, or steer clear of the beautiful woman or the handsome hunk that is tempting you to infidelity. It does not matter if you have avoided acting on your impulses. You are no better than those who give in. You are guilty of adultery every bit as much. Don't congratulate yourself for being so pure, when your mind has had numerous, steamy affairs. Jesus says you have broken the sixth commandment.
He says you have broken them all. You deserve only punishment. You and I are lousy at keeping His commandments. As St. James reminds us, he who is guilty of breaking one point of the Law is guilty of it all! So what now? You can never hope to be good enough, perfect, righteous. And Jesus has just finished saying that you righteousness has to exceed the scribes and Pharisees, who were extremely conscientious of it.
But you see, the Pharisees saw the Law as a list of "do's and don'ts." They viewed it as God's requirement check list. But that is not accurate. The Law describes your relationships, with the Lord, and with you neighbor -- your fellow man. The Lord God has given His Law to show the way of love. However, even when understood as love, you still cannot keep it. Your righteousness still cannot exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
You don't have that righteousness that is pure enough and strong enough to choose life, that will perfectly walk in the ways of the Lord. Neither did the Pharisees. When Moses spoke of the ways set before Israel, he knew that they could not keep this Law, and would fall, many times over.
But thanks be to God, He has provided the answer. There is only One whose righteousness is that perfect, that righteous -- only One who can stand before the Father and truly choose life -- Jesus Christ. Jesus has kept that Law absolutely perfectly. He actively kept the Law for you, by keeping every single moral and ethical point. And He passively kept the Law for you as He humbly submitted to the punishment the Law demands for us. Yes, Jesus, the very One who did not deserve to die, gave Himself up for you to save you and purchase and win you from sin, death, and hell.
Jesus fulfilled the Law with love, the way that God designed. He continues to love everyone -- every neighbor, every person on this earth -- with a pure, unconditional, self-less love. And He gives that love to you, and that is just one of His gifts.
At Baptism, Jesus has given you forgiveness, rescue, and eternal salvation. How does He do this? In the blessed exchange of Baptism, our loving Lord takes to Himself all your sin and guilt. And He gives you His righteousness. Yes, the righteousness of Christ. And guess what?! THAT righteousness DOES exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees!
Yes, through Jesus Christ perfectly keeping the Law, you receive credit for keeping it. As He has kept and treasured God's Word, so have you. As the Lord Jesus has perfectly kept the 5th, 6th, and 8th commandments in today's reading, He has credited you for the same. He is your Substitute. Your Proxy. The Lord is our righteousness.
The Sermon on the Mount appears to be a lot of Law. It sounds at first like a whole string of issues that you and I must keep. But look more closely and you will see His Gospel all over the place -- the Gospel that Jesus has done this perfectly, and now He gives it to you as a gift!
What a relief! What a joy! Jesus is our Substitute. Jesus is our righteousness. We live, not under the condemnation of a Law we cannot keep, but under the joy of the Gospel, that declares the righteousness of our Savior to us! We live as His rejoicing family, freed from sin, and loving with His love.
The Lord continues to set before you today life and good, death and evil. Only you are not abandoned to your own decision. Our blessed Savior stands with you. He has paid the price and suffered the death and evil. He gives His Spirit to bring you the life and good.
What peace and joy are yours, dear friends in Christ! You are given the righteousness of Jesus, that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees, and by the righteousness, He has given you His life and good! Amen.