Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”  You see, that’s what it’s like to live under the holy and righteous Law of God. It’s kind of like trying to pay off your credit cards, or a student loan, except that it isn’t, because, at least, if you keep on paying the minimum amount due, you will in, say, twenty or thirty years or so, pay them off. But, not so with the Law of God. No matter how good you are, no matter how well you strive to keep His commandments and His Law, you can never, and you will never, pay back God for the debt you owe Him, the debt of your sin and your guilt. No, you will never, ever pay Him back. So, what, then, should you do? Ok, here it is; listen up: “Stop trying!” “Stop trying to pay God back for your sin and your guilt. Stop trying to earn and merit God’s favor. Stop trying to assuage God’s wrath by obeying His Law. It’ll never work. You’re bound to fail. It will only end in tears, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus knows this, and He wants you to know this too. That’s why He assures you that His Father’s Law will never, ever, pass away. You see, a lot of folks today – heck, a lot of folks in Jesus’ day – want to relax the Law, to minimize the Law, to lower the bar on the Law and make it more do-able. But, Jesus actually expands the Law. Well, He doesn’t really, though He appears to, but what He does is He throws off all the attempts men make to relax, minimize, and lower the demands of God’s Law. So, what Jesus really does is that He shows the Law for what it really and truly is – unflinchingly holy and righteous and perfect – such that, unless a man keep it absolutely one hundred percent perfect every single millisecond of his life from conception to death, and that’s not even addressing the very real problem of original inherited sin, he will surely, most certainly, and without a doubt die, not just physically and temporally, but also spiritually and eternally.
Jesus says, “You know that Law ‘You shall not murder?’ You actually think that you keep it, don’tcha? Well, here’s news for ya – ya don’t. I say to you that if you are angry with your brother – you know, seething with fury and hatred in your thoughts, cursing him with your words, hoping, even praying that the thing he did that ticked you off so much comes back to bite him in the rear – if you are angry with your brother, and you do not help him and befriend him in his bodily needs, you have broken the commandment of my Father and, unrepented of, you are going to hell.” The same goes with adultery. Listen closely: Any sexual relations outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman – you know, the way my Father instituted it in the beginning with the first man and woman – any sexual relations outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman is a transgression of my Father’s commandment – period! That means heterosexual sex before marriage. That means co-habitation without marriage. That means homosexual sex which cannot possibly be within marriage. And, that means cheating on the spouse that you’re married to. Yeah, that even includes divorce. And yet, there’s more! If you have lustful thoughts about a man or a woman that you are not married to, that is a transgression of my Father’s commandment too!
You get the idea, right? Jesus doesn’t lower the bar of the Law, He raises it back to its proper place. Jesus doesn’t abolish the Law, but He fulfills it. And, Jesus says to you that, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Well, there you go, right? Might as well pack it all in and head home, right? Well, yeah, that’s right – that’s right if you actually could, or had, to make yourself righteous. That is an impossible task. You cannot possibly do it. “You will never get out until you have paid the last penny,” and, let’s face it, you’re spiritually penniless and broke. Yeah, prisoners often earn pennies on the dollar for their work in prison with which to purchase simple comforts – things like scented soap or a bag of sunflower seeds – but, not you; no, in the prison of hell you earn nothing but punishment, suffering, and death, for that is the wages for your sin. There is no way that you can pay off your sin debts or make yourself right with God – on your own.
Thanks be to God, in Jesus Christ, you are not on your own. Jesus has taken the debt you could not pay upon Himself, and He has paid it in full in His death upon the cross. Jesus has made amends for you with your accuser, with the perfect, holy, and righteous Law of God, by fulfilling it for you, in your place, perfectly, in thought, word, and in deed, and by then taking the judgment, condemnation, and penalty of your transgression – death – upon Himself. “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” His alone is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and He credits it to you. That is to say, all that rightly belongs to Him, – righteousness, holiness, perfection, sonship with the Father – Jesus willingly and freely gives to you, no strings attached.
“You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” That is the Law. It cannot save you. You cannot save yourself by doing it. It condemns you – period. My advice to you: Let it. Let God’s Law condemn you. Let it convict you. Let it kill you. Let it damn you to hell. But, then, receive the Gospel – finally – as the free, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace that it is, no strings attached. Your debt is paid in full in the precious, holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. Now there is no judgment and condemnation for you who are in Jesus Christ. Well, there is a judgment: Righteous, holy, not guilty – on account of Jesus.
So, what then shall you say? Keep on sinning? Keep on doing the sinful, lawless, godless things you were doing before? By no means! You have died to sin, right? How then can you continue to live in it? Oh, I see, you haven’t died to sin completely. In truth, you often like to sin, right? The point is this: Jesus has died to sin for you. Jesus has died for your sin. You are justified in Him, in His death and resurrection. So, if you will have this justification in Jesus, then you too have died to sin and must turn from sin from now on. Of course you are still going to slip and make mistakes, you are still going to sin in thought, word, and deed. But, from now on you are not going to give yourself over to sin. You are not going to willfully engage in what you know to be sinful and a transgression of the LORD’s commandments. You are not going to bless what the LORD condemns, calling evil good and good evil. There’s a big difference between a sinner who sins and repents and a sinner who refuses to acknowledge his sin as sin and therefore refuses to repent. Only sinners can be forgiven. Therefore, let the Law convict you, condemn you, kill you, and damn you to hell. But, likewise, receive the Gospel as the free, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace that it is, no strings attached, in and through faith in Jesus Christ.
You have died, and you have been raised. In Holy Baptism you died with Christ, and you were raised with Him to new and eternal life. And, if you have been united with Him in a death like His, you shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. Your sin died with Him too. Likewise, your new life was raised with Him. Therefore, without Christ, you are a 100% sinner, wholly accountable for, and dead in, your sins. But, with Christ, you are a 100% justified, sinless, and holy child of God. Even your occasional sinful thoughts, words, and deeds cannot change that fact as you repent and receive forgiveness anew, again and again. But you must not, and you cannot, willfully and intentionally give yourself over to manifest sins. You are freed from your sins, but you are not freed to sin. “For,” writes Martin Luther in The Smalcald Articles, “the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present.”
So it is that you live in this life in the dynamic tension between your sinful flesh and your new spiritual man. You are simul justus et peccator, at the same time both justified saint while also a sinner. This truth God’s Law and Gospel reveal to you: “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If you were left to your own devices, your sinful flesh would succumb and fall. Even St. Paul struggled with his flesh saying, “The good that I would do, I do not do, while the evil that I would not do, that I continually find myself doing. Who will save me from this body of death?” Therefore, thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, you are not alone and left to your own devices. For this reason has Christ established His Church, that His Word and Blessed Sacraments would be administered to you to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, and to equip for good works and holy living unto the death and resurrection of the body and life everlasting. These gifts, these Sacraments, are not for the righteous who need no forgiveness, but they are for sinners who repent of their sins. Come, and receive God’s grace by receiving Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His blood covers your sin and guilt. His life and death have fulfilled God’s holy, righteous, and perfect Law for you. God looks at you through Jesus’ blood and He sees holiness and righteousness. God looks at you through Jesus and He sees only His child, His Son. For, you have died in Christ, and now you live in Him.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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