Trinity 6 – Matthew 5:17-26 – July 2nd and 3rd, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That's the gauntlet that Jesus lays down for us, the standard He puts before us. If you are going to get into heaven, your righteousness needs to top, needs to surpass, needs to be well beyond the sort of righteousness the Pharisees and the Scribes show. Which ought to make us ask a question – what is righteousness, what does it look like? It's a word we hear often enough in the Scriptures – righteousness, being just. What does that actually look like?
The Scribes and the Pharisees, they thought that they had righteousness all figured out. They thought that they had this righteousness thing down pat. After all, hadn't God given them the Holy and Sacred Law? Didn't we just hear the Commandments given by God at Sinai? And all the rest given by Moses? Well, just do those, and then you'll be righteous, you will have great righteousness, easy-peasy! Simple as pie. And that was the attitude of many – the scribes and the Pharisees thought that they were righteous. There's another episode in the Gospels where the young man comes up to Jesus and proudly proclaims that all these commandments he had done since his youth. So, see – there is the checklist for the chosen, the holy handout from God with the 10 easy steps for making yourself righteous. Or maybe not.
Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'” You know the old basic part of the law... but did you think this was merely a simple checklist? Let's see, I haven't strangled or beaten someone to death, so therefore I'm good. Is that what you thought righteousness was? Really? Did you not think that God almighty was trying to teach and show you something more wondrous than that? Jesus then says, “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.” So you think everything is hunky dory just as long as you don't murder – well, let's think about this. Come on, scribes, remember Genesis 4 – Cain and Abel, the first murder. How does it start – Cain gets mad. That's where murder starts – from anger, from wrath, from looking down at someone because they “deserve it.” Jesus says that this is bringing judgment onto yourself. Moreover, if you insult your brother – if you go tell other folks, “Man, this fellow over here is a jerk” - you're liable to the council. This isn't a simple judge that you'd get tossed in front of – insulting someone makes it a Supreme Court case. And if you say, “you fool” – call someone something mean to his face – that's the sort of thing that will get you tossed into the lake of fire.
What's going on here? Why so strict, Jesus? You see, the righteousness that God is seeking isn't what we call “civic” righteousness. You murder someone, the cops will get called – but in town, well, if you just complain about folks, or even tell off someone at the gas pump or checkout... you probably won't end up in jail. Society will just sort of let that slide... in society we don't demand perfection. The thing is, before God – in terms of righteousness before God – perfection is the demand. And so, let us say God places someone into your life, someone whom you are to love and serve – that's the summation of the law, right? Love God, love your neighbor. And there's your neighbor, whom you are supposed to love and serve. Who do you think you are to go and get mad at the person God has put into your life for you to love? That's not love – that's breaking the law. Do you see how that works from God's perspective? And then, if you don't just get mad at your neighbor, but then bad mouth him – you're trying to go get other people riled up at him – that's hateful to even more folks, that's all sorts of bad. And if you tell the fellow off – call him a moron to his face – Katie bar the door, that is wretched. Well, now, Pastor – isn't that taking things a bit too far? No, not really. Let me give an example. Think if you went to a restaurant, and instead of asking to take your order, the waiter walks up and says, “Your momma must be stupid because she sure dresses you funny.” What would your reaction be? Would you be pleased? Would you say, “eh, it's okay, at least he didn't walk up and stab me with a steak knife – let me leave a nice tip”? No – it would be horrible. And yet, what of you? Do you not realize that God has placed you in your neighbor's life to serve them – so who are you to be angry at them, or to insult them, or to yell at them?
Do you get the point? To be in God's presence, to deal with God's standards, you need a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. And guess what? Ain't not a one of us who can come close to that sort righteousness. Seriously. Let's think about that rude waiter again – if that's how you were treated, how many of you would have just let that slide? Or how many of you might have had a good, choice, angry retort. I don't think I can say in this pulpit what sort of things I might have said back to that waiter. And the thing is – if I chewed him out, complained to the manager, got him fired, no one here would blame me – because according to the simple and cheap righteousness of the world, “Well, he started it” is a valid excuse. Meh, he deserved it. But that's not God's righteousness. That's a watering down of the Law, that's selling it short. The law isn't “love your neighbor unless he's a meanie first.” While we might be content with that sort of thing, that's not what righteousness looks like.
You know what God's righteousness looks like – what the righteousness that you need looks like? A few chapters down the line in Matthew, we hear: “ And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.” When Jesus was reviled, He did not revile in return. Instead, He suffered and died for those who reviled Him and mocked Him and cursed Him. The only One ever who was righteous is Christ Jesus... and He gives His righteousness to you. That is what happens at the crucifixion. That is what He is doing. As He dies, He suffers all the judgment your unrighteousness deserves – and as He is pierced righteousness flows like water and blood from His side – the water of the font, the blood of His Holy Supper. That was the point of that nice reading from Romans 6 which we just heard – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? You were joined to Christ's righteous death, and in that death a wondrous exchange took place – He took up your wickedness, indeed, took up the wickedness of the entire world – and in exchange He gave you His own righteousness, so that God the Father looks at you, He sees you washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, sees utter perfect righteousness – the righteousness of Christ Jesus. Christ's love has reconciled, has joined and restored you unto Himself for all eternity – that's the reality of what Christ and His righteousness does for you.
This is why Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.” This isn't some divine checklist for what hoops you have to jump through before you can come into God's House – it's dealing with reality. Here we are, standing in God's House – and we all know that we are standing here not because of how great we are, but because of how great and loving He is to us, because of the redemption won for us by Christ Jesus. That's the greatest, highest reality in the world. So, therefore, because of that, go make peace with your brother. Go forgive and be forgiven. Be reconciled. Because we all know how fights and disagreements go – you get mad at them, they get mad and you, and you start thinking how at least you're not as big of a jerk as they are, and they think the same about you. Did you note what Jesus said, though – He didn't say, “If you did something to wrong your brother” - He said if you remember “that your brother has something against you.” It might be silly. It might be inaccurate. It might be foolish – your brother might very well be a moron. So what? You're both sinners; and you don't need to try to prove a thing to anyone about how you're right and he's wrong – because that's not what your righteousness is. Your righteousness is Christ and Him crucified, and that's the only shot at righteousness that your brother's going to have as well. You're both just sinners who need Christ – so go and be reconciled, go and speak Christ's mercy and peace and forgiveness – and then come before the altar, before the mercy seat of God, and hear that mercy, receive that mercy placed upon your lips from that altar in His Supper.
Because that's the only way we get through this life, folks. There's two paths – that path of trying to prove yourself righteous, or the path of receiving Christ's righteousness. Trying to prove yourself righteous – well - “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 into prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” You can try to have your life be the great contest of “I'm right, he's wrong.” You can if you want, you can let God's righteous Law be the judge – the thing is, that ends up with you in hell. No, Christ doesn't want you trying to put your life on trial – cause you'll lose, even if you're not as wretched as your neighbor. The Law will get you both. Instead – come to terms quickly – there's a famous part of Isaiah 1. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” That phrase in Hebrew “let us reason together” - that's Hebraic Legal language for coming to terms, that's settling out of court. Jesus doesn't want you to go to trial – He was tried and crucified for you, so let's work out a deal, you and I – though your sins are like scarlet, I have suffered and died and clothed you in the white, spotless robes of My own righteousness. You are forgiven.
Because that is what Jesus does. 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. He has come to fulfill them for you,, in your place. He has come to give you a righteousness that far surpasses any human tit-for-tat that we deal with in this life, a righteousness that is so righteous and strong that it will call you forth from the grave and give you ever lasting life, will pull you into the Kingdom of heaven. This is who you are in Christ, for you are Baptized and joined to Christ's death and resurrection. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +