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Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees February 12, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Matthew 5:21-37

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 12th, 2017

 

Focus:  God imputes His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ for their righteousness, not to themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Scriptures.

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

 

Today’s gospel reading, isolated from its context, wouldn’t be gospel at all.  These words kill.  Alone, they don’t even kill and make alive.  These words simply kill.

So we need the context.  We need the assigned gospel reading from last weekend for these words flowing from the lips of Christ to make any sense whatsoever.  So, feel free to open up your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5.  This is the section following the eight fold blessing of the Beatitudes, and it’s immediately following those analogies about being the salt and light of the earth, the city on a hill that can’t be hidden.  But we start today with verse seventeen:

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

 

Christ’s reference to the Law and the Prophets is the phrase they used to describe the Old Testament.  Those are the two sections the Jewish people broke it down into. He didn’t come to remove the law of God from creation.  Christ came not to do away with the Law, but to follow it perfectly for us.  Not even the smallest mark.  Not the smallest letter, not the slightest ink from a pen would be removed from the Law until it’s fulfilled.

The Law of God is His will for His people.  We are to keep it, to follow it.  And this, this is where the Pharisees come in.  They loved the law.  They harped on it all the time.  Do the law. You gotta keep the law if you want God’s love.  Do, do, do, and do some more.  Unless it’s the Sabbath, then you do by doing nothing.

But here’s the kicker, and it’s the kicker of this whole sermon.  How much righteousness did the Pharisees actually have?  None.  The law they kept was a law of their own making, they cared not for God or His people.  It was selfish, self-serving, self-promoting, and the people listening to Jesus knew it.  And so now Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they ever want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sounds easy, right?  If the Pharisees have no righteousness, it should be easy to get just a smidge, just an ounce.  That’s all it would take to get into heaven.  But that’s what the rest of our gospel reading today is about.  How are you doing?  How much righteousness do you have?  None.

That’s a hard truth for us to hear, especially if we’ve never heard it before.  We aren’t righteous.  That’s one of the uses of the Law.  Curb, mirror, and guide.  That’s the 2nd use, the mirror use of the Law.  It shows us our sin.  And that’s what Christ is up to in the text.

He’s going to take the Law as they knew it, the Law as the Pharisees knew it and taught it.  He’s going to take that Law and ramp it up.  Crank the nastiness factor of the Law to the top notch.  Take the killing, destructive force of the Law, and blow it up to epic proportions.  To prove to you that you can’t keep it.  On your own, you’re dead in your trespasses. And we’ll circle back to that, but first, let’s look at what He does.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

 

That’s what we know as the fifth commandment.  It’s a direct citation from Exodus 20:13, and also from Deuteronomy.  You shall not kill, or murder.  Well, okay Jesus, that’s easy enough.  I’ve never killed anyone.  Except, then Jesus elaborates on what that Law means.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

 

Go ahead and put your hands up on this one.  C’mon, everybody put a hand up.  Now, if you’ve ever been angry at anyone, put your hand down.  If you’ve cursed someone or wished bad against them, put your hand down.  If you’ve ever insulted someone put your hand down.  How are we doing?  How many of us made it?  How many of us before the righteousness of God, the perfection of God, how many of us can stand?

That’s the thrust of what Jesus is doing, and He’s going to do it again and again and again before He’s done.  He’s hammering it home.  This point will be made known to all people.  Now, He does follow each of these things with a little life application that shows you just how serious He is about it.  Just how important these things are.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

So for this one, just as an example, if you know you’re not reconciled to your brother, and that’s not just your flesh and blood brother, but your brothers and sisters in Christ, you could even say your neighbor.  If you’re not reconciled with someone, put your offering down, and leave.  Get up out of the service, and go be reconciled.  And then, when you are, come back, and offer your offering before the Lord.  Would the church ever receive another dime?

And here, it’s the same with the next one.  Jesus cites the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:14.  But He ramps it up.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to raise your hands this time, well, as long as it’s not still up already.  Adultery is the physical act of having sex with someone who is not your spouse.  Your “one flesh” for life.  Oh, well, that’s not so bad.  Most of us can do that.  Except, no, we can’t.  The NASB translation renders lustful intent as simply the word “desire.”  Any time you’ve made an object of someone.  Any time you’ve dabbled in pornography, whether that’s visual or even in the form of written words.  Whenever you’ve so much as crushed on someone else.  That moment they are seen in your eyes or your heart or your mind as anything but a child of God, a creation of the King, in that very moment, you’re goose is cooked.  You’ve committed adultery in your heart.

And how serious is it? V. 29-30 make that crystal clear.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

 

The pain, the death, the affliction of sin is so bad, you’d be better off without whatever limb is causing you to sin, than to burn in hell for the punishment for your thoughts, words, and deeds.  But that’s just it.  What would be left of you?  We are sinful through and through.  Not just your eyes, or your hands, but your mind, your heart.  All of you, cut off.

And this just continues.  Divorce, oaths, eye for an eye, love your enemy, giving, praying, fasting, treasuring, worrying, judging, asking, how you treat others, bearing fruit, etc.  It just goes on.

You thought you could do these things, well, you can’t.  None of them.  You aren’t good enough.  You aren’t capable.  You can’t keep the Law.  Your righteousness is one and the same as that of the Pharisees, it’s like a puddle of vomit.  And that’s the point.

Again, let’s re-read verse seventeen.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 

Christ came to fulfill the Law.  Christ came to live the Law that you and I can’t.  And He did.  That’s what this whole sermon is about.  That’s it not about you, but that it’s about Him.  We have these great terms in Lutheran theology, and this one is called 2KR, or two kinds of righteousness.  Everything we’ve talked about, all of Christ’s examples are called horizontal righteousness, it’s how you live out your life, how you love your neighbor.  But the righteousness Christ calls us to have isn’t this.  Even if you could do it, it wouldn’t be enough.  It’s the vertical righteousness, that is, our standing before God, our faith.  This is what Christ calls us to.

And on our own we can’t do it.  And that’s okay, because it’s not ours to do.  Christ lived out the Law for you.  He kept it perfectly, breaking not even a single command in thirty plus years.  He achieved the horizontal righteousness that we failed to achieve.

And then, then He went and achieved the vertical righteousness as well.  He took our broken relationship with God upon His own self.  By the blood of Christ shed upon the cross, your punishment is paid.  Your lack of righteousness forgiven.  And by His resurrection from the dead on the third day, the Son of God, Christ our Lord has done more than give you a second chance.  He’s given you a life that never ends.  A life that can’t be taken from you.  It’s His gift to you.  He’s earned it, and now He’s giving it freely.

A recent analogy I heard explains this really well.  We could take a chalkboard and just fill it with sins.  Your sins, my sins, past, present, even future.  And we tend to think that as Christians, when God forgives our sins, He wipes the board clean, gives us a clean slate to try again.  But that misses the truth entirely.

Christ not only wipes our board clean, He then fills it with Himself.  This is called Christ’s imputed righteousness.  That righteousness He demanded of us before the Pharisees isn’t even ours, it’s His.  He wipes our sins away and then fills us with His own righteousness, bought and paid for by Him.  It’s not up to us.  It’s not our doing.  It’s His.

And so we look back to the very first words from Christ’s mouth as He began this Sermon on the Mount.

5:4 “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s you.  That’s me.  And we are blessed, because God has given us everything in and through His Son Jesus Christ.   Forgiveness, peace, life, righteousness, all yours.  And they’re all gifts.

 

Children’s message based on keeping the Law.  Maybe the 4th commandment of honoring mother and father.  Maybe one of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount examples instead.  We can’t do it.  But Christ can.  And He has.  And He’d done it for us.