Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 18, 2004
Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 5:20-26
ďLiving as SaintsĒ
righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees you
will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.Ē
So says Jesus. And it is to those who believe this that Jesus offers his own
righteousness as a precious gift. When
you know that you must be more righteous than the most righteous people
in the world you understand what Jesus is talking about when he offers
Himself to you as your righteousness before God.
You have to be good.
You may not be content to follow the outward demands of the law.
You must do better. You
must obey the spirit of the law. It
is not enough to refrain from murder or doing physical harm to your
neighbor. You must not rest
until you have genuinely loved your neighbor in your heart of hearts.
You may not even think evil of him or insult him.
The scribes and Pharisees represent religious people who obey the
law outwardly. Thatís not
good enough. You must obey
it inwardly, sincerely, from the heart.
They obey the law without love.
You must obey the law in love.
And your love may not fail or it isnít really love at all.
They obey the law to help
themselves because they think they win over Godís heart and gain His
approval by what they do. They
obey for their own benefit. That
is no obedience at all. You
must obey the law for your neighborís benefit.
And donít start talking about how much you love God or how
willing you are to serve God if you wonít love and serve your
neighbor. If you intend to
give your offering to God donít do it if you have wronged your
neighbor and wonít make it right.
God doesnít want your money or your service or your praise
until you have loved your neighbor.
God loves your neighbor and when you hate him, you take issue
with God Himself. God wonít accept your offering of love unless you offer to
love your neighbor.
Sinners want to lay claim to
great devotion to God while they ignore everything God says.
They want to manufacture their own religion (nowadays the word is
spirituality) according to their own lights.
But Jesus wonít go along with that.
He says not to talk about how much you love God until you are
ready to treat your neighbor at least as well as you want him to treat
you. Donít insult your
neighbor with the same lips you use to praise God.
If you do, God wonít accept your praise.
It will come out as cursing instead.
Does Jesus talk only to hear
himself talk? Or is he
serious when he says that if your righteousness isnít greater than
that of the scribes and Pharisees you will by no means enter the kingdom
of heaven? He is serious.
We must have a righteousness that is greater than that of the
most religious people in the world.
No possession is more precious or important than this
We have things that we think are
so very important. We have
things that we treasure in our hearts more than the righteousness that
Jesus offers. We lie if we deny this.
We think that if we have the decent job, the good income, the
nice home, a sound marriage, good health, loving and obedient children,
the respect of our neighbors, and a sense of well being, then we have
all we need. This
righteousness talk we set aside in our affections as if it is not that
important. We set out
affections on the very things that Jesus says will perish with the
Well, I do my best and that ought to do.
Certainly God cannot require more of me than I am capable of
doing. But He does. Thatís not fair! But
it is. How can this be?
How can a fair God demand that I be a better person than I am
able to be? He must demand
it. The fact that we are
sinners is not Godís fault. We
do love ourselves first and most and we refuse to acknowledge how sinful
this makes us. We need the
righteousness of Christ. We
need it more than we need anything else that we treasure and love in
Every religion that teaches us
to make ourselves righteous by doing righteous things teaches falsely.
Sin cannot produce righteousness.
Sin produces sin. It
may look like righteousness on the outside, but appearances are
deceiving. The only way a
sinner can become righteous is if God reckons or credits to the sinner
the righteousness of Another. That
Other is Christ. God must
impute to us the righteousness of Jesus even as He imputed to Jesus our
sins. By this exchange Ė
His righteousness for our sin Ė we become righteous.
Jesus, the Innocent, became the greatest sinner who ever lived so
that we, the sinners, would become righteous with the very righteousness
The standard argument against
this Christian teaching that we are justified when God reckons
Christís righteousness to us and that we do not contribute anything at
all to our own justification is that we may then sin all we want without
any negative consequences. The
Christian gospel is denied because it is seen as a license to sin.
St. Paul responds to that argument in the Epistle Lesson for this
morning. He reminds his
readers that every Christian died and rose again in his baptism.
Now this is quite literally what took place.
Only by dying and rising; only by being joined to Christís
death and resurrection, could we begin to do any good or righteous
Our sinful human nature, what
St. Paul here calls ďour old manĒ cannot be reformed or improved.
He cannot be led to do anything that will make him righteous.
So he must be killed. He
must die. That is what happens when we are baptized.
We are killed. We die. That is,
the old man or the Old Adam is put to death.
The sinner is killed. Where?
In two places at the same time: in the waters of Holy Baptism and
with Christ on the cross. In
our baptism we are crucified and put to death with Jesus.
Christís crucifixion is not just something we observe from a
distance of great time and space. No,
we are actually crucified with Christ.
When we were baptized, we were nailed to the cross with Jesus.
We were put to death. The
sinner within, the sinful nature, the unbelieving, self-serving, hater
of God and humanity was nailed to Calvary and killed dead.
Just as surely as Jesus died for the world, he absorbed in his
own body and soul the full and bitter reality of our sin, so that his
death actually killed the sin within us and buried it in Josephís
tomb. This is how being
baptized into union with Christís death takes away our sin.
And then Jesus rose.
What a wonderful sight it was.
No longer could sin torment His soul for he had just paid for
every sin of every sinner of all time.
No longer could the law attack Him, for He had just met its full
demands, rendering to the bar of Godís justice that righteousness that
exceeds the righteousness of the scribes, Pharisees, and every one else.
Look at this risen Jesus and see the One who has just destroyed
sin, death, the devil, hell, and every spiritual enemy we have.
Look at this risen Jesus and see the One who has opened heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father.
Look at this risen Jesus and see that you are risen with Him just
as surely as you were baptized by His authority in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
You died when you were baptized. You rose from the dead when you were baptized.
This is history. This is the holy history of your life. The sinner died. The
saint rose from the dead. It
happened when God baptized you. Those
who despise Godís grace and call it a license to sin and claim that
they can gain the kingdom of heaven by their good works are wrong. Your baptism proves them wrong.
Your sinful flesh could not be improved; he had to be killed.
Now, when he tells you what to do and seeks to deceive you into
hatred, pride, self-worship, and every other form of idolatry you can
tell him that he is dead and has no power over you.
You are baptized. That means that the old Adam is dead, drowned by the blood of
You are baptized.
That means that the new man, the Christian, the saint, is alive.
You have a new life to live.
It is a life of righteousness.
No, you didnít bring about this righteousness by doing
righteous things. Christ
brought it about. Christ
brought it into being by His innocent life of pure love and his
sacrificial death on the cross. Now
He gives it to you. Now He
clothes you in it. Now He
covers your shame, your nakedness, and your sin with the spotless robe
of His purity. This is what
He gave you when He raised you to new and eternal life in your baptism.
And nobody in this world can ever take it away from you.
Your own righteousness will fall.
It cannot stand. But
in your baptism, God joined you to his dear Son forever.
In Him you stand righteous now and forever in a righteousness
that will stand in the day of Godís judgment of the living and the
dead. In your baptism God
has given you a new life to live.
Many Christians are confused
about baptism because they have been taught to believe that baptism is
no more than a symbol of a Christianís commitment to Christ and is not
the means by which God Himself makes a sinner into a saint.
In other words, they look at baptism as a human work instead of
as a divine work. This is
one reason they deny baptism to babies.
After all, a baby cannot do any kind of work, can he?
But faith is not our work. It
is just as much a gift from God as is the righteousness that it
receives. Just as Jesus and Jesus alone gained the righteousness by
which we are justified, God and God alone brings us to the faith that
receives this righteousness by which we are justified.
As St. Paul put it in Titus 3,
When you know that you are a
saint by Godís grace in Christ you know you have a holy life to live.
Only saints can live holy lives.
When you know what God in your baptism has given to you, you can
face down the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature.
You can take a stand against all false teaching, unholy living,
lies, and lusts. Then, when
you stumble and fall into sin, you can get right back up again because
you are not living in your own strength or trusting in your own
righteousness, but you are living the new life of Christ Himself.
You are not a slave to sin.
You died to it and it cannot claim you.
Instead you are a saint. Thatís
what you are. God has
reckoned you to be a saint, His own holy child.
Reckon yourself to be what God says you are.
Then you have a real life to live.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus