Sunday, July 11, 2021

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.

The law of God is not an afterthought, nor is it something that God gave to men later to test them or to set them on the right path, but the law of God is God’s eternal will. The law of God is true and good and the only standard and measure of truth and goodness. In other words, the law of God would be true and good even if there were no creation and no men to hear it, know it, or do it.

Therefore, the law of God will not pass away. It cannot be abolished. And that’s a serious problem for you and me, and all people. For, we do not keep it. We do not do it, at least, not perfectly, as it necessarily demands. That is why the first transgression of the law in the garden lead to death. God’s law is life. Anything else is death. Why do we die? We die because we do not keep God’s law. The wages of sin is always, and only, death.

We cannot keep the law perfectly as it demands. That is why the Son of God became a man. “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus fulfilled the law of God for us. He suffered and died on the cross for us, taking the death we earned upon Himself, and giving us in exchange His righteousness and life. The law of God has been fulfilled.

By no means, however, has God’s law been abolished. Rather, our relationship to God’s law has changed. While the law of God still demands perfection, it has been perfectly fulfilled and satisfied by Jesus. Death, the penalty we earned for our sins, has been placed upon Jesus. Yet still, the law remains. Though it has been fulfilled, it cannot be abolished. The law still demands that you be righteous. Jesus teaches that your righteousness must exceed that of the exceedingly righteous scribes and Pharisees. What is a Christian to do?

You cannot bend the law. You cannot lower its expectations and demands. It is absolute and eternal. Nevertheless, the scribes and the Pharisees tried by interpreting the law narrowly. For example, the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder” -- the scribes and the Pharisees maintained that, so long as you haven’t physically murdered someone, you can rightly claim that you have kept the commandment and have earned God’s favor. However, the law is not so narrow as that. Indeed, the law of God, as I stated earlier, is not an afterthought, but the law of God is God’s good, perfect, holy, and eternal will. Not only shall you not murder your neighbor, Jesus teaches, but you shall not be angry with your neighbor or mock them or hold them in derision. Luther built upon this in the Small Catechism adding, “but help and befriend him in every bodily need.”

It may seem that Jesus expanded the meaning of the law, but that is not the case at all, for the law of God is fulfilled in love: Perfect love for God, bearing the fruit of perfect love for the neighbor. The scribes and the Pharisees feared and hated the law of God, they feared and hated God, and so they bent and lowered the bar on the law to make it more doable so that they could pretend to be righteous and justify themselves. We are tempted to do the same, but we must not. Rather, we must let the law of God convict us, crush us, and condemn us. We must humble ourselves and repent trusting that God will forgive us for Jesus’ sake, who has indeed perfectly loved both God and neighbor.

How can your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? The answer is not that you try harder, or that you do better at keeping the law. The truth is that no matter how well you keep the commandments you will always fall short. In truth, because of original sin, you were damned before you started. What is a Christian to do? Believe in Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Have faith in Jesus, that He has fulfilled the law for you. You have been baptized into Jesus. That means all that belongs to Jesus belongs also to you: Innocence, faithfulness, obedience, righteousness, life, sonship with the Father, and more. How can your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? When your righteousness is not your righteousness but Christ’s righteousness. That is the righteousness Jesus teaches that you must have if you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The law of God is good and true. That will never change. Because of sin, our first parent’s sin, our neighbor’s sin, our sin, our world, our culture, our flesh, our desires, and even our thoughts are corrupted, and we must die. How then can we live? We cannot hope to fulfill the law’s demands and expectations on our own. Bending God’s law or attempting to lower its demands and expectations will not work. There is only one hope, and that is Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled the law’s demands and expectations for us, who has died in our place, who lives, and who now sits at God’s right hand in glory. He died to share His righteousness with you, and He died for all so that all may live.

Christ’s death is our death. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. Christ’s life is our life. “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.” “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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