The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
February 19-20, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of Rush Limbaugh famous tag lines is: “Talent on loan from God.” Many take offense at this and say oh, this is terrible, what arrogance. In reality, it’s just the opposite. It’s saying that the talent he has was given to him by God. It is a statement of humility. But it is cleverly packaged so that many miss the point. Their missing the point says more about them than about anyone or anything else. On Pirate Christian Radio one of their bumpers is “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of Rick Warren, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now many people probably take offense at this. And yes they are taking a swipe at Warren and his false teaching. But those who take offense are missing an essential point. The statement is true. In fact the statement would be true no matter what name you plugged into the blurb. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of George W. Bush, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of Billy Graham, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of Martin Luther you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of President Harrison you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of Pastor Walter you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
Our text is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. You might recall that this was a teaching given privately to the disciples. It is the New Testament version of Mount Sinai and the giving of the stone tablets. Christ speaks from the mountain top to His disciples, just as He had spoken to Moses. In this section, Christ is discussing the nature of God’s law.
The law is what we are to do and not to do. The law is the way that God expresses His will for our lives. The law is not a bad thing in and of itself. The old hymn writer teaches us; “The law of God is good and wise.” And certainly we can use the law as a guide for Godly living. The problem is that we cannot keep the law. We are born corrupt. We are born as rebels, as ones already in violation of the law. We inherit sin from our father Adam. And because we are born sinners, we sin. We violate that good and wise law of God. Thus, if we have any sense at all, we live in terror of the law. As a side note, it is truly amazing how many people have no sense of this at all. They go about their lives deluding themselves with their own goodness. Christ does have something to say about that in this text, as we shall see.
Christ speaks of the law as fixed and unmoving. Even He will not change it. Even He is under it. Now we must here speak of different kinds of law. The Mosaic code, that is the law of Moses, consisted of three kinds of law. There was civil law. This was no longer in force in Jesus’ day. It had passed away. It was abolished. Why? Because Israel didn’t rule its own affairs. Mosaic civil law had been replaced by Roman law. Second was the ceremonial law or Levitical law. This has to do with the cultus, the worship life of Israel. This is what governed the temple. Levitical law specified what animals were to be sacrificed when and so forth. Those sacrifices had sacramental function. They gave the forgiveness of sin, much like the Lord’s Supper does for us. They did this, not because they had any value in themselves, but because God had promised this and they pointed forward to something that did have value and power. These laws would morph into something else when that greater thing came to be. The third kind of law was the moral law. This is written into the very fabric of the universe. If you were able to look into the spiritual nature of a rock, you would find God’s moral law. It is written in our hearts. But here we must be careful, because sin corrupts our hearts. Because of sin, our hearts and consciences are no longer reliable witnesses to the law. You get the sense, and C. S. Lewis asserts this in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that if this law were changed, the very universe itself would be unmade.
So which of these later two types of law is Christ speaking of in our text? Both. He comes to fulfill both the moral and ceremonial law. He fulfills the moral law by being sinless. He fulfills the ceremonial law when he died on the cross as the perfect Lamb of God. He becomes the perfect sacrifice that makes all other sacrifices meaningless. This then morphs into the new ceremonial law, which has three components, Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. So Christ is fulfilling the moral law, and replacing the ceremonial law, which was based on the shadows of future events, with the real thing. The moral law never goes away. The ceremonial law only passes away when it is perfectly fulfill by Christ Himself.
Only someone who has perfectly fulfilled the law is righteous. That counts me out. I can’t go a minute without sinning in some way. I sometimes wonder if I sin in my sleep. Some of my dreams make me wonder. It also counts Rick Warren out. For he teaches that we can by our works make ourselves blessable by God. The only thing the works of men can earn from God is damnation - eternity in hell. This counts Pastor Harrison and Billy Graham out as well. They are sinners. It even counts all of you out. If you have any doubts go through the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Large Catechism. Only one human being is righteous - Jesus Christ. He fulfilled law. And then He does something really strange. He transfers this righteous to us and takes our unrighteousness upon Himself. So when you and I stand before God, we have perfect righteousness. I can boast that I have a righteousness greater than that of Pastor Walter’s. I have the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s why Christ died - so that He could give to each and every one of us His righteousness. He died so that in the last judgement, we will be judged according to His righteousness.
Many people look to themselves and their works for their salvation. That’s what the Scribes and the Pharisees were doing. They were looking to themselves for their salvation. In this sense they were making themselves god. Sadly, today, many American Christians are doing the same thing. Works righteousness has so completely saturated American Evangelicalism, its hard to even call many of these congregations churches. The problem is that within ourselves we only find sin and death. There is no life within us. Rather than our own righteousness, we need an alien righteousness. We need a righteousness that is not our own given to us. Jesus Christ does that. Unless we have a righteousness that exceeds our righteousness, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. And indeed we have such righteousness. We have the righteousness of Jesus Christ.