Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sermon - Epiphany 5 - Matthew 5:17-

Grace and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Bear Creek, WI
Epiphany 5
February 9th, 2014
Matthew 5:17-20
All Righteousness??”

17 pDo not think that I have come to abolish qthe Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but rto fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, suntil heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 tTherefore whoever relaxes uone of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least vin the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great vin the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds wthat of the scribes and Pharisees, you xwill never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount continues this week. I want to focus on the second portion of our reading today, in which Jesus explains more about his purpose. It seems an Epiphany question, as the unpacking of “Who is this Jesus?” continues. He's the bridegroom at the wedding of Cana. He's the Son of God at his baptism. He's the glory of Israel and light to the nations in the arms of Simeon. He's the one who comes to preach good news to the poor. And now we see more of why he came – not to abolish the Old Testament, but to fulfill it.

Starting out, Jesus puts away the silly idea that still persists today – that the New Testament somehow invalidates the Old. I heard a famous atheist scientist, Bill Nye, imply this just this past week. But the Christian church has struggled to stamp out this false idea. There was a false teacher named Marcion in the early church who believed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were essentially two different people. But the church, and the Lord of the church would disagree. Jesus himself says of the Old Testament scriptures, “These are they that testify to me”. It's a bold claim. “The whole Old Testament is about me. And I've come to fulfill, not abolish it.”

There's much to learn here for us. We can't set Christ against his own word. We can't cherry pick the verses we like and dismiss the rest. And we can't re-make God into our own image, or any old image we want. But even more specifically, Jesus gets to the laws and commandments of the Old Testament – which many would turn aside and disregard today, too.

Certainly, we don't perform the ceremonial laws anymore. The sacrifices culminated in Christ's once and for all sacrifice. The temple curtain was torn in two. Jesus is now our temple, our dwelling of God with man, and in Him we have access to the Father. We don't regard the clean and unclean food laws and such – Acts makes this much clear. Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial law.

What then of the moral law? The Ten Commandments, for instance? We can see that these are still in full force. And in this very Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instead of diminishing the moral law, raises the bar of its demands. Don't murder? I say don't even be angry. Don't commit adultery? If you do it in your heart, you're just as guilty.

And here's where it starts to get uncomfortable for us. Jesus didn't come to take the law away. He didn't come to make it OK for us to sin however we'd like. He didn't come to abolish the ten commandments. Instead, he is an extremist when it comes to the law. He says you can't even relax the least of the commandments. And if that's true, we sinners, even we Christians, have some explaining to do.

Do you relax his law? I know I do. Have NO other gods, oh but we have our other gods, don't we. We think maybe if we have God somewhere in the mix that's good enough. But the first commandment is all or nothing, and we fall on the side of nothing.

Do you disregard his holy name? Not just do you curse, swear, lie or deceive, but do you hold his teaching, his word about himself as dear as you should?

What about your neighbor? You know the commandment about our parents doesn't get easier when we are grown-ups, because all earthly authority comes in here. And which one of us hasn't balked at a boss, or disrespected our governing authorities as the representatives of God? Which sinner among us humbly submits to those who are over us in all aspects of life? Instead we instinctively rebel, “who are you to tell me what to do?” “Things would be so different if I was in charge around here”.

I'll leave the fifth and sixth commandments for next week's reading, but what about stealing? It's far broader than just taking something from someone else – but it goes to even trying to get things in a dishonest or deceptive way.

And when it comes to your neighbors good name – well there's a reason the Epistle of James compares the tongue to a fire and a wild beast. We are very good at cloaking our gossip in a facade of genuine concern. We are quick with a snarky taunt and slow with a kind, loving word. We fail to speak up when we should, and much of what we say is better left unsaid. There is little righteousness here, either.

And the commands not to covet leave us nowhere to hide. In the secret places of the heart, who hasn't sinfully desired something of his neighbors? Petty human jealousies, greed for goodies, and want of what's not mine.

We could go on... but to summarize, Jesus says you won't even enter the kingdom unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees. Again, he raises the bar. For the pharisees were the good Jews who followed all the laws, they were the most righteous, the most holy, the moral example par excellence' , or so one might think. It might be like Jesus saying to you today, that you can't enter his kingdom unless you are more holy than a saint, do more good works than Mother Theresa, and are a better theologian than Pastor Ruesch. Only the best of the best, the one without spot or blemish – the perfectly perfect – can do it. Which means only Christ can do it. Thanks be to God that he has, and has done it for us.

Christ fulfills the ceremonial law for us. He comes, not to take away the rules and laws we can't follow, but to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He comes, not to make help us help ourselves to be righteous, but to be our righteousness. He is the Lamb, not just of the passover, but the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He is the priest, not just who sprinkles the blood of an animal, but the high priest who sheds his own blood. He is the presence of God, not just over the ark or in the cloudy pillar, but in the very human flesh he comes to make righteous. God with man in the God-man himself. He makes not just lepers clean, but he renews all creation. He is the one, the one, that God's people waited for those many, many years.

And he fulfills the moral law, too. He keeps the commandments that we cannot and do not. He has no other Gods. He keeps God's name holy. He is Lord of the Sabbath. He honors his Father and mother. He does not murder, but always helps. He is ever faithful to his bride the church. He never wants or take what isn't his, and always speaks well, speaks truth, speaks love. What would Jesus do? He would keep every law perfectly, every jot and tittle. He had only pure and holy thoughts, words, deeds. He didn't sin by what he did, or by leaving anything undone. He alone was not worthy of temporal and eternal punishment.

Therefore whoever relaxes uone of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least vin the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great vin the kingdom of heaven

Greatest in the kingdom is Christ – he who made himself least, servant of all, servant of yours. He who did not deserve death but submitted to the cross in your place. He who did not deserve his Father's wrath, but stepped in the way to shield you from being consumed by its wrath.

Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets for us. Jesus fulfills all righteousness for us. And his righteousness alone is sufficient for us to enter his kingdom. But it is sufficient, thanks be to God!

What a mystery Jesus lays out in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. A call for extreme righteousness, that at first might leave us all without hope, for we sinners sin much. But the one who demands it is the one who provides it, and in Christ, we see our righteousness – ALL righteousness – fulfilled. And through him we enter the kingdom. Through him, in him, we are righteous.

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