I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

Christ Gives You the Gift of His Righteousness

6th Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Anderson sermon
St Matthew 5:20-26 “Christ Gives You the Gift of His Righteousness.”
July 16, 2023 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
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Lord God, heavenly Father, we confess that we are poor, wretched sinners, and that there is no good in us; our hearts, flesh and blood being so corrupted by sin that we are never in this life without sinful lusts and desires. Therefore we beseech You, dear Father, forgive us these sins, and let Your Holy Spirit so cleanse our hearts that we may desire and love Your Word, abide by it, and thus by Your grace be forever saved; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, by Veit Dietrich, p. 159)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 5th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

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

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who teaches and preaches to you that God’s law is holy, who clothes you with the gift of His righteousness to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, dear fellow redeemed:

The landscape out in Oregon is beautiful. For my wife and I, it is new and exciting. I have to say in moving out here, one of my favorite things is that wherever I travel I get to see the mountains. I love this kind of landscape. Moving out here and seeing this kind of landscape, it gives me more of an appreciation for God’s Word and creation. It really helps bring Scripture to life. Our text for today comes directly from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He has this crowd of people up on a mountainside, preaching and teaching them a sermon of law and gospel. You can imagine what that would have looked like. Seeing the crowd on that mountainside. Well even though we are not on a mountain, we still get to hear His sermon. We hear Him speaking and in our text, we see it striking our hearts. From the first verse Jesus wants us to know that we are not perfect. But He is the One who gives us a gift, clothing us with His righteousness.

Our text starts off with Jesus setting a very high bar. When the people hear, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” this just sounds difficult. The scribes and the Pharisees, they know their stuff when it comes to the law. They live out the law better than anyone and they want the people to live like them. Well, that is what they think. Jesus then says something that the scribes and Pharisees missed. He tells them the law, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ They know this very well and most of the people know this as well since this is what they teach, read and learn. We read it in our Old Testament reading. Jesus continues, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Jesus gives them this command, a command that the scribes and Pharisees have forgotten.

Now Jesus isn’t adding to the law. What He is telling them is the law as well. It’s not about crossing off a commandment from a list, it’s about being perfect. The scribes and the Pharisees know this. They know that it is recorded in Leviticus, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The scribes and Pharisees saw just how hard it is to be holy and follow God’s law. So, they set out to design the law in a way that they could follow it and look good while doing it. They took God’s law at face value and looked to prove that they were doing everything right. In doing so they missed where it is recorded, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).

What looks like a small issue, a small sin, Jesus points out what people deserve for breaking this law. Jesus speaks plainly that a person should be judged by the high court and that they should be punished with the ultimate punishment. They should be put into the hell of fire. That last point that Jesus makes also rings in the ears of the scribes and Pharisees. It’s not about acting on the outside that everything is perfect. If you have harmed someone, if you have bad blood, even been angry with your neighbor or family, then the gift that you bring is meaningless and you will end up in that prison of eternal fire.

This text hits home for us. There are times that we can feel the heat of that fire. This is the laying down of the law. Jesus wants the message to be clear, God does govern by His law. We are expected to follow it. This is impossible to do. Like the scribes and Pharisees, it is easy for us to add to God’s law. Even if we think we won’t, we do. We are capable of looking down on others and propping ourselves up. It’s very easy for us to hurt our neighbor’s reputation by talking about them behind their back. This is exactly what Jesus is teaching. It’s not physically swinging at them, which we certainly can do, but it is with our mere words and thoughts that we can really hurt someone.

When we hurt someone, usually we have done it on purpose. Jesus makes a point that even if it was an accident, we still need to seek forgiveness. We can’t ignore the wrong that we have committed. If we know that we have done something wrong and we do nothing, Jesus says we “will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” If there is no repentance, how can there be forgiveness? As we realize that we have failed God, as we see that the scribes and Pharisees have failed, then there is simply no way that we can exceed their righteousness. The fire has become increasingly hot because that is where our sins are sending us.

As that fire is stoked by the sins of the world, Jesus’ Words ring in a new light. He tells the crowd, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” As the crowd hears that they are to do the impossible, these Words are coming from the One who can do the impossible. The people were told that even for the smallest of sins, they should be judged and given the harshest of sentences. The righteousness, the way out that they need comes from Christ. Jesus had perfect righteousness. His righteousness overcomes the scribes and the Pharisees. His righteousness overcomes the flames of hell.

The flames of hell were not destroyed by Jesus making changes to the law. Right before our text Jesus tells the crowd, “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” (Matthew 5:17). As this reinforces that Jesus’ command is not new, we see that at the beginning of His ministry Jesus wants the people to know, He wants us to know that He is the One who fulfills the law.

And as the law stabs you, as you hear how not only murder, but your anger condemns you, the Holy judge looks at you and says that you have exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It wasn’t because you can do something. God has mercy on you. He could have condemned you, but instead He made you a promise. He gave you His gift. Jesus clothed you in His righteousness. He took the sins of talking behind people’s back, the sins of anger, the sins that break the commands of God, those sins that carry the demand of death and He died that death. That death was death on the cross. His perfect righteousness clothes you.

Jesus clothes you not only in righteousness. As we heard in our epistle lesson, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). As our baptism clothes us in Christ’s death, it is the end of this verse that explains what Jesus is talking about. To walk in newness of life is to live out faith. Living out your faith is to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. Your faith is not dead.

Now the faith that you have, it does not mean that you use this faith as a work to get to heaven. That is what the world tends to think. They think that the faith that they have is their own. Since they think that their faith is their own, they think it is a license to use it how they see fit. Jesus explains that faith is a gift, and that faith produces works. The gift that you put on the altar; it must come from God to begin with. It is through Christ that you have this gift of faith and it is through Him that you take your girt to the altar. Through Him you see the problems you may have with your neighbors, and you repent and ask for forgiveness. You ask for forgiveness because you are not perfect. You will fail and sin. You find comfort and strength seeing Christ on the cross. He gave you His righteousness and took your sin so that you can be right with your neighbor and that you don’t have to pay “the last penny.”

We were not present up on that mountainside, but that scene is present right here in this church. Jesus is here delivering His message. The scribes and Pharisees had gotten it wrong, but Jesus makes the message clear. There is no way out of the sins that we have done. We needed someone who could live out the law in its entirety, who could live it out in thought, word, and deed. Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness. He followed all of God’s law perfectly. Jesus tells the crowd; He tells us that He is the one who came down to fulfill the law. Then in His death, we died with Him. We died in His death so that we have eternal life. Jesus doesn’t want us in the fiery prison. He loved us so much that He took that punishment for us. We have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The gift that saves us forever. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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