The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
November 7-8, 2009
Text: Mark 12:38-44
Dear Friends in Christ,
About twenty five years or so after our text, the people of Ephesus complained that St. Paul and the Christians were turning the world upside down. That was certainly true. But why did Christians turn the world upside down? Because Christ turned both the Church and the world upside down.
At the time of Christ, the Pharisees were seen as the most holy and devout of all Jews. They ruled the synagogues. Rabbis were Pharisees. They also made a great show of their piety and often said their prayers in public. But what else was going on behind the scenes. Many Pharisees were money grubbers who took advantage of the plight of others. Instead of helping widows, they were stealing their houses and turning them into prostitutes. Interestingly, a few years ago in Israel, research revealed that many of the most conservative rabbis frequented brothels. So not much has changed.
We have this right in our own circles as well. In the late 1600's a German pastor named Philip Jacob Spener became concerned that too many people were nominal Christians who really didn’t live Christian lives. He launched a movement call Pietism. Now this became so extreme that Spener himself later repudiated it, but the cat was out of the bag. It could not be undone. Many of the most pious began to say that they were so holy that they didn’t need the Lord’s Supper anymore. That was for more worldly Christians. But when you looked under the surface, many pietists and even pietist preachers were not righteous at all. They were just keeping their sins hidden, as though if no one knows its okay. Thus you have the absurdity of a man visiting a brothel on Saturday night and preaching a hellfire and brimstone sermon on Sunday morning. It’s rather like the old joke about going fishing with a Baptist. You never know how much beer to bring. If there’s just the two of you, you need a whole case. But if the Baptist brings another Baptist with him, they won’t drink any.
Let’s first be clear about hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is holding others to a standard that you do not hold yourself. There is a baseball player who has had a history of abusing narcotics. A big deal was made in the press when he was photographed using drugs. Ironically the picture was taken some month earlier, and the player had reported the incident to league and sought help, the very next day after it had happened. So this man is not a hypocrite. He recognizing that using drugs is wrong. He doesn’t excuse his own behavior. But he struggles with this sin. The Pharisees did hold others to a standard they did not live by themselves, though they might have made it appear that they were.
Why is all this talk about hypocrisy and righteousness important. The day of judgement is coming. There will be a reckoning. All things will be revealed, including our most secret sins. In fact God already knows them. No one will get past the judgement. Those who abide in the evil of their works will be condemned to live in them forever. A good picture of hell is Ebenezer Scrooge sitting in his cold rooms, all alone. He has hurt others by his greed and his miserliness. But in the end, he is the one who sits alone in the cold room, by his down choice.
To face the judgement, we must have a righteousness that is more than outward show. But we are sinners, born in a state of total depravity. The most man can do put on an outward veneer. The more man tries to be righteous by his own will and works, the more he fails - the more he becomes a hypocrite. Yet, this is by our nature what we do, what we want to do. So what is Christ talking about. He’s pointing to a whole different kind of righteousness. We call it an alien righteousness or a beggars righteousness. By this kind of righteousness we are made holy, sinless, and right before God. It is literally as alien as dressing in foreign clothing. Think on this. You are summoned to the king’s palace for trial. But someone grabs you and drags you into the ally and tells you that you must trade cloths with him. You do and when you come before the king, he does seem to see you at all. He bids you to come forward and he feels and smells your cloths, and says, ah, my son, welcome home. You turn around there is the man who changed clothes with you standing behind you. He say, father, let me introduce my brother. This is what God does for us. Christ clothes us with His righteousness, and then presents us as God’s son and heir to God the Father. This is the greater righteousness of which Christ was speaking in our text. This is perfect righteousness because it is the righteousness of God given to us. So if indeed God is righteous, we to are righteous. We call this a beggar’s righteousness because it cannot be earned. It can only be given and received.
The day of judgement is coming. We don’t know when. It could be today. It may not be in our life times. But then, death also takes us to the judgement. So if these are the last day of this universe or not, does not matter. We must be prepared for the judgement, to which we will be called in one way or the other. There is a reckoning that we cannot avoid. But for us as believers in Christ, we do not have to fear the judgement. In fact we welcome it. Why? Because Christ has covered us with His own righteousness. This is the one to whom all authority has been given. This is the one who will stand in judgement over us. This same One died for our sin, shed His blood for our salvation and clothes in His own righteousness. For us the judgement is a welcoming home. But for the world, there is great fear. Damnation and hell are very real things. No human righteousness can stand in the judgement. All human righteousness is unclean before God. This is what will happen to the righteousness of the Pharisees and the piestists and others who rely upon themselves and their own works, it will fall and the people with it. Those who trust in themselves will find out that God is indeed angry over sin.
So we must be prepared for the judgement. We will either be judged by our unrighteousness or Christ’s righteousness. We know from God’s word, Holy Scripture, that we, cannot stand in the judgement by our works. Our works will not save us. But clothed in the righteousness of Christ, the judgement will be a triumphant celebration. Christ will present us to God the Father as a fellow son of God and seat us at the great banquet table of heaven.