Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Living in the Timeout

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And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Lord, it is good to be here. It is good to here at St. John’s/Trinity/Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. It’s good to be here to worship with you. It’s good to be here to hear God’s Word with you… to sing God’s praises with you… to come to the Lord’s Table with you… to share a Sabbath rest with you.
Rest is good. Rest is important. Rest is necessary for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. But rest is hard to come by, isn’t it? There is so much these days to keep us busy. If I projected a community calendar up on the wall here we’d all see how busy we all are. There are meetings, community events and family activities. Add to all this busyness our children’s schedules: play dates, basketball games, soccer, dance class, karate, play practices, music contests. How many miles have you put on your SUV or mini-van this year? How many meals have you sat down to with your whole family in the last month?
And it’s not much better for you retirees. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’ve been so busy in retirement they were thinking about going back to work just to get a little rest.
There is so much to do, sometimes we just want it all to stop. Sometimes, we all need a “timeout.” A time to catch our breath, a time to recharge, a time to stop and just be still and listen. Like in basketball. Timeouts are important in basketball—perhaps more than any other sport. Especially when a game is close, and there’s lots of tension and the outcome is uncertain. The players are at a fevered pitch, battling for control of the ball, giving all they have for a good shot.
A good coach knows when it’s time to call a timeout. Early in the game, he takes one when he notices his team is losing its focus or to stop the opponent’s momentum. Near the end, he’ll gather his players for a last-minute strategy session. It’s only a few seconds, but during that time, life goes into slow motion. The ball bounces slowly to a stop on the floor. The refs talk about the weather and last night’s NBA scores. The players breathe deeply, rehydrate, and recharge their batteries for the final push. Then the buzzer sounds, the players return to the floor, and the game picks up again. Some of the players are more focused than they were, maybe just enough for an advantage in the final seconds of the game.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a kind of a timeout in the Church Year. We are still with the lingering joy of Christmas and Epiphany. But this week begins Lent, a contemplative season when we think about our sinfulness and the great cost that Jesus paid for us. Standing here right now and looking ahead, it’s good to be here for this brief timeout.
Jesus and His disciples took a timeout, too. He had been instructing them about what was ahead of them: sorrow, suffering, and even His own death. And the disciples were left scratching their heads, trying to understand. Everything had been going so well: the authoritative teaching, the miraculous healings, and feeding of thousands. It didn’t make sense for all of that to change. Good coaches don’t take timeouts when their team is on a roll, when they’ve got the momentum going.
But Jesus knew what lay ahead. So He gathered Peter, James, and John and headed for the hills… for a timeout. That’s what they needed: Time to recharge, time to reflect on what had happened, and time to focus on the task ahead.
I don’t know what the three disciples expected, but I’m willing to bet that it was not what they saw: “[Jesus] was transfigured before them.” Jesus’ face glowed bright, and His clothes did, too. And God’s representatives appeared—Moses and Elijah. And they were talking to Jesus.
Peter said: “Lord, it is good that we are here.” And he was right, though not necessarily in the way he thought. The Lord wanted Peter and James and John to be there with Him as witnesses. He wanted them to see Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about His exodus. He wanted them to see the brightness of His divine glory. He wanted them to hear the voice of the Father from heaven declare: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” He wanted to reassure and encourage them: “Rise, and have no fear.”
You’ll notice Jesus didn’t scold Peter for his exuberant words. After all, the disciples were seeing Jesus in way they had never seen Him before. His divine nature was shining out. Here on this holy mountain, we see that Jesus is really and completely God. His face shines like the sun. It is an internal light, not a reflected light. It is part of who He is, not something that He gets from somewhere else.
Jesus did not normally reveal His whole self in all His glory. He humbled Himself and set aside His glory. If He had not, He could not have suffered and died. Just as they fell down with one word in Gethsemane, brave Roman soldiers would have run in terror rather than beat Him mercilessly and nail him to the cross. The chief priests and Pharisees would have bowed in obedience without argument. And Pontius Pilate would never have assumed the authority to put Jesus to death.
Here on the mountain, we see Jesus as He is: God and man together. God in human flesh come to earth to save human beings from their sins. And not only that, but we see the ultimate end: Jesus will go to the cross and die, but that cross is victory for Him, not defeat. As Jesus stands on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, we catch a glimpse of the glory of His resurrection.
While we’re pondering the divine mystery of the Transfiguration, we shouldn’t think that because Jesus is God that the cross was nothing. Don’t forget we said that Jesus isn’t only God; He is fully and completely human. In order to win our salvation He had to be both God and man.
All human beings, except Jesus, deserve God’s wrath for their sin. That’s a lot of sin, a lot of suffering, a lot of hell. But the perfect life, suffering, and death of the God-man Jesus is set in the balance against it all. Fully human, He was able to take our place, giving Himself into death and the torments hell as payment for our sin. Fully God, Jesus’ sacrifice was a sufficient ransom for all people. As true God, Christ was able to overcome death and the devil for us.  Fully God and fully man, Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice for our sins was fully sufficient.
And that brings us right back to the mountain where Jesus is shining like the sun. The Transfiguration is a little glimpse of the resurrection. The victory of the cross is shown when life returned to Jesus’ body in the tomb. It is no longer necessary for Jesus to hold back His divine nature. From then on He is just as He was described on the mountain: Jesus in all His glory, God and man in one person, still fully God and fully human, the One who conquered sin and death and hell.
No wonder Peter and the other disciples were overwhelmed. The truth is, in His state of humiliation, Jesus generally appeared too ordinary. This moment on the Mountain of Transfiguration may have seemed to the disciples as the pinnacle of their time with Jesus. I’m sure they reasoned, “It just can’t get any better than this!” In truth, it was only a timeout.
But they didn’t want the timeout to end. Peter says, “Lord, it’s good that we are here.” Let’s stay and never let this glory end. Let’s forget about all that You have told us is ahead—the suffering and death, denying oneself and taking up crosses. But all of those things that Peter wanted to avoid were the very purpose for which Jesus came. Without the suffering and death there would be no resurrection. And without the resurrection there would be no restoration of human beings to God. It was through pain and death that Christ would restore human beings to God, and through His resurrection that He would give them hope for the future. Jesus and His disciples couldn’t stay there on the mountain. God had a plan.
There are times when we all think like Peter. “It’s good, Lord, to be here… I’m satisfied with things just the way they are right now. I’m satisfied with my faith. I don’t really need it to grow beyond where it is right now. That growth may come with pain and suffering. It’s good to be here right now without it.”
“I’m satisfied with my prayer life where it is right now. I don’t need to speak to God about all that’s happening in my life. He knows more about it than I do anyway. I’d rather continue to deal with these things myself.”
“I’m happy drinking the milk of Your Word, Lord. I’m past the bottle stage, but a sippy cup suits me just fine. I don’t need to be in Bible study. I don’t want to have to chew on the meat. Some of that stuff just makes my head spin. Besides, I don’t really want You to poke around in my life, and show me sins that I’ve become comfortable with. I’ve got enough guilt and stress in my life already.”
There is always the danger of being satisfied with the status quo, of living in the timeout. Peter wanted to hold on to the glorious vision of Jesus on the mountain. Moving from there meant pain, suffering, and death. But, what God wanted to give Peter and his friends—what God wants to give us—is the greater glory of Christ. The glory we find in a stronger relationship with Him. A relationship begun when we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection that lasts to eternity. When we want to stay in the status quo, when we want to live in the timeout, we are locked in our sinfulness instead of looking to the forgiveness Christ has won for us.
When the cloud came to the mountain, the disciples were faced with the presence of God. They fell to their faces in fear, realizing they were sinful people only deserving God’s wrath. The glory couldn’t be theirs without Jesus Christ and what He was about to do. They couldn’t stay there. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” It was time to move forward to Jerusalem… forward to suffering and death… but also forward to Resurrection and Life!
The timeout is nice, but you can’t live in the timeout. You’ve got to get back into the game; at least until the game is done. God’s plans for your future require change. They may even include suffering. No, they will include suffering, for each of Jesus’ disciples must take up his own cross as we follow Him. But, forward you must go. Forward into Lent to contemplate what Jesus has done for you… forward to an uncertain future, but armed with the vision of the transfigured Christ.
In the meantime, it is good to be here each week for a short timeout, for a little taste of heaven here on earth. You come here to listen to God’s beloved Son, to catch another glimpse of Jesus’ glory. No, it’s not the dazzling brilliance of a transfigured Jesus shimmering in light. There are no Old Testament prophets standing in your midst. There’s no bright cloud overshadowing you. There’s no “mountaintop experience.” But Jesus, in His glory, is here just as much as on the day of His Transfiguration, though veiled.  
Where is this glory? You’ll find Christ’s glory in your Baptism, where God adopted you as an heir of His kingdom, washed away your sins, gave you His Holy Spirit, and gifts of the Spirit, like faith, salvation, and eternal life. You’ll find His glory hidden in, with, and under the simple bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, where Christ gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. You’ll find His glory hidden in the preached Word, the singing of the hymns of the Church, and in the liturgy.
You’ll find Christ’s glory hidden in the words of Absolution spoken by a man who is a fellow sinner, yet one who is God’s called and ordained servant. It is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ dealt with you Himself. So, I say to you, “Rise, and have no fear. Depart in peace. You are forgiven for all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Jesus Closes the Loopholes

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The brilliant comedian W. C. Fields had a reputation as a womanizer with a fondness for alcohol. He was not known as a religious man, but as his death approached, he began to study the Bible. When a friend asked him what he was doing, Fields replied: “I’m looking for loopholes.”
Looking for loopholes. When it comes to God’s Word we all do it, though most of us gathered here today are not nearly as forthright in admitting our self-justification as Fields is reputed to have been in this case.
But Jesus won’t have any of it. In our Gospel for today He continues to teach us about the Law. God’s Law remains God’s Law. God hasn’t relaxed it, softened it up, or dumbed it down so that you might be able to keep it. God’s Law is not something you can keep. It’s there to show you what you should be doing, what you fail to do, and how much you need Christ and His forgiveness.
We are not the first to look for loopholes. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day taught that people were saved by keeping God’s commandments, so they interpreted God’s laws in ways that made them keepable. When Jesus taught His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, He wasn’t changing God’s Law by either making it harder or dumbing it down: He was teaching His disciples what God had intended all along. This is the Law He still intends for you today. So, it doesn’t matter what “you’ve heard said” by others; what matters is what Jesus says to you.
Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Anger, insult, and murder: a sin of thought, a sin of word, and a sin of deed. You can see a progression that plays out on the evening news. The clear majority of murders do not occur among strangers, but among family members, friends, and neighbors. Not by premeditated plots and schemes, but spontaneous crimes of passion. Someone gets angry, so someone insults, and someone gets murdered.
In this world, anger, insult, and murder are three very different things that merit very different punishments. Anger might cause you to lose friends or alienate family members if you can’t control it. An insult might result in a civil suit for slander or libel. The penalty for murder is serious prison time or even death.
But, as Jesus treats them in our text, these three sins are all the same: they all bring judgment, even the hell of fire. Now, Jesus is not saying that an angry thought or a hurt feeling is the same as an actual murder; but He is saying that all three have the same sinful root. If you commit any of these sins—in thought, word, or deed—you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s what these sins share.
They also share this: each of them puts you at odds with God. I’m not saying your neighbor is a saint. He might be a jerk. But God loves your neighbor so much that He sustains his life, gives him daily bread, and has given His Son to die for him. If you’re angry at your neighbor, you don’t want God taking care of him. If you insult him, you speak ill of one to whom God would have you speak His saving Word. If you kill him, you take a life that God has given. If you hate him, you are declaring that God is wrong to love him. But why would God hate him and love you? What makes you think you are so much more loveable in God’s eyes?
The devil will tempt you to such sins, to bear grudges and retain anger against others. Every situation will be different. In some cases, somebody will have hurt you very much: righteous anger makes sense, but your anger will never be righteous, since the heart from which it proceeds is wretched and unclean. Your anger will always come with some measure of selfishness and self-righteousness.
Whatever its source, anger is a fire that seeks to destroy—destroy your neighbor and destroy you and your faith. Repent of it. When it flares up, repent of it again. If you’ve got something against a brother, go and be reconciled. If they’ve got something against you, go and be reconciled. But don’t ever believe that you are justified to remain angry at someone for whom Christ has died.
Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Lust and adultery. There’s obviously a progression here, too, often by way of pornography. There are various consequences, too. Lustful thoughts are the most common of sins, while adultery destroys marriages, lives, and the future of children. Yet, according to God’s Law, lust and adultery share the same sinful root, and both ultimately lead to “your whole body be[ing] thrown into hell.”
God is the Creator of each person. He gives to each beauty and body as He sees fit, as well as the ability to bring more life into the world. He also places great worth on each individual. Regarding a person’s body and procreative powers, God declares: “You are of such worth that, before another can be intimate with you, he or she must promise before God and man to be faithful to you for life.” That’s what those marriage vows are about. Not only upholding the sanctity of marriage itself, but the sanctity of the individual man and woman in the marriage.
Lust devalues others. It declares, “You don’t have that kind of worth in my eyes for that sort of commitment. You’re not worth as much as I, and so I feel entitled to use you any way I want to please me.” By lust, you treat someone as an object to be used, not as a neighbor to be served. It doesn’t matter if that “neighbor” is part of the adult film trade who devalues herself and invites the sin: who are you to confirm her in her sin and debasement? She is also one for whom Christ died: who are you to encourage her to remain impenitent?
Lust devalues your spouse, because it says “that fleeting fantasy means more to me than the lifelong love and honor I promised you before God and man.” It also sets unrealistic expectations of love. Romance novels wouldn’t be near as appealing if they had less pages about the action in the bedroom and more of the mundane details of daily life—changing diapers, cooking meals, washing the dishes, listening attentively to someone tell you about their difficult day, or visiting your spouse every day at the nursing home even though you’re not sure on any given day she recognizes you. Your marriage was given you to reflect Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Would you try to exchange that sacrificial, holy love for a few stolen moments of infatuation, a quick rush of endorphins and dopamine?
Flee lust. Its consequences are destructive enough for this life. Far worse, it will destroy your faith: you cannot rob others of the worth God gives them—even just in your own mind—and at the same time embrace the worth that God gives in Christ. You cannot say, “I am a child of God, bought by the blood of Christ” and at the same time say, “That person is worth so much less than me.” Such disdain for your neighbor is contempt for God’s Law and a denial of your need for grace.
Jesus goes on: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).
I know for many of you this is a sensitive and painful subject. You’ve lived it. Divorce is a messy thing, too complex to talk about here in great length. The point of this passage is that it’s a serious thing, not simply a realignment of living arrangements. Again, the consequences in this life and the harm done to family are horrible. But beyond that lack of love for neighbor, a divorce rips up what God has joined together for life. Planning one, especially scheming to bring one about, is going to do serious damage to faith. Should marriage be in your future, choose carefully. If you are married now, work hard in service to the other. Where your sin threatens marriage—repent and pray. If you’re ready to give up, don’t. God hates divorce: that’s His Law. Nevertheless, if you’ve been divorced, remember: you are not forsaken—even when we are faithless, God remains faithful.
Anger, murder, lust, adultery, and divorce: All of them have their source in the sinful heart. Each has consequences in this life, and that is a blessing because those consequences are meant to warn you of the greater consequences of hell if you hold onto these sins and do not repent. That is the primary function of God’s Law—to show your sin and your need for the Savior.
The way to hear the Law is not to look for loopholes, to try to find ways that it doesn’t apply to you, but to recognize how it all applies to you. You are the murderer, the adulterer, the guilty party in a divorce. In yourself, you have no righteousness, no innocence, no claim to make before God. But Christ became sin for you that in Him you might become the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the Law for all who believe. Jesus didn’t just preach the Law; He did the Law and He died under the Law to rescue you from the Law that would condemn you.
Jesus closes the loopholes. He speaks this Law to show you how dangerous and deadly is sin, so that you might repent and declare: “Almighty God, my maker and redeemer, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You that I am by nature sinful and unclean and that I have sinned against You by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore I flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ.”
Having so confessed, you’re ready for the Gospel. Where you deserve God’s righteous wrath, He poured it out on His Son on the cross instead. Jesus suffered the judgment, the condemnation, and the hell of fire in your place. Though you are guilty of anger and insults, Christ forgives you. Even if you are, literally, a murderer, Jesus has laid down His life so that you might have life forever.
Where you have reduced and demeaned others by your sins of lust, Christ has died for you. The holy Son of God has given you worth—the price of His own innocent, precious blood. Rather than live for Himself and His own gratification, Christ offered His hands and feet to nails and His back to the scourge in order to deliver you. He does not require you to pluck out your eyes or hack off your limbs in order to atone for your sin: Jesus has suffered for you in His body already, up to and including the hell of fire for your adulterous thoughts and deeds.
Where you have undergone divorce, it probably still eats at you because you know your sin, your part, and you’ve got to live with yourself. Confess your sin, for you hear this Gospel that Christ has died to lay down His life for His bride, the Church, of which you are a part: and though you or others prove faithless, He always remains faithful to forgive you.
Dear friends, as Jesus demonstrates in this text, the consequences of sin are devastating—but they need not be for you. Christ was devastated on the cross in your place, and He bids you to confess your sins and trust in Him for forgiveness. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Exceeding Righteousness

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[Jesus said:] “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Any religion worth its salt is concerned with righteousness—righteousness among people and especially righteousness before God. In fact, I would go so far as to say: All religions except Christianity teach that people must find a way to make themselves righteous enough to be acceptable to God, to earn their own salvation. Such was the case with the scribes and the Pharisees. And if it were possible for anyone to ever pull it off, it might have been the scribes and the Pharisees. They were so serious about their religion, they established their own set of rules to make sure they kept God’s law. But that very addition to God’s law weakened the killing, condemning power of the law, turning it into “manageable law,” a self-help manual on how to win friends and influence God. That is what legalists do. And the Pharisees and scribes were legalists of the highest caliber.
In catechism class, we all learned that there are three functions of the law: the curb, mirror, and guide. The law gives the world some semblance of order so it doesn’t fall into complete chaos. The law shows us our sin. And the law is a guide for God’s children who seek to live according to His will. The legalist has only one function for the law: the measuring stick. The laws shows its keepers’ high level of goodness. We say that the law shows us our sin; for the legalist, the law shows his righteousness. Or at least it shows how much better he is doing than the rest of us. For even the Pharisees were not haughty enough to think that they were living perfect lives. They were satisfied that God would be pleased because they were trying hard. Certainly, more than most people.
So, with this legalism in mind, listen again to our text for today: [Jesus said:] “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Now, we can imagine the reaction to Jesus’ words. The crowds must have thought: “What, more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees! I can’t even imagine that kind of righteousness. If you must be that good, I don’t stand a chance!” And the Pharisees and scribes would have thought: “Who is this guy, and what’s He talking about? Is He upping the ante? Is He bringing us a more legalistic legalism? Is He abolishing the Law and Prophets, giving us a new set of laws?
No, Jesus didn’t come to bring a new religion. He didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. “The Law and the Prophets” is a designation for the Old Testament, the same 39 books we have in our Bibles today. From Genesis to Malachi, there is one primary message to be found: All people are sinful and deserve God’s wrath; but God, in His mercy and grace, promised to send a Savior from sin. Through faith in that coming Savior, people living before the time of Christ received God’s forgiveness and eternal salvation. Like Abraham, they “believed the Lord, and He credited it to [them] as righteousness.”
Jesus was (and is) that promised Savior. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He came to keep all of God’s commandments perfectly and to fulfill all the promises about the Savior that are contained in the Old Testament. This will not fail to take place, Jesus assures His disciples here, for not a word, not the smallest letter, of the Scriptures may be set aside as long as this world endures.
Ironically, the Pharisees and the scribes were the ones who were setting aside God’s Word. They were abolishing “the Law and the Prophets” as they sought a place in God’s kingdom based upon their own personal righteousness. They believed that God would be fully satisfied with their keeping of the law, and they were confident that their place in God’s kingdom was secure because of it.
But Jesus declares that if you want to use the system of the Pharisees and the scribes to get into the kingdom of heaven, you must do a lot better than they at keeping the law. You must keep it perfectly. Now, that is exceeding righteousness!
The Lutheran Confessions declare: “Merely preaching the law, without Christ, either makes proud people, who imagine that they can fulfill the law by outward works, or forces them utterly to despair. Therefore, Christ takes the law into His hands and explains it spiritually (Matthew 5:21–48). He reveals His wrath from heaven on all sinners and shows how great it is. In this teaching sinners are directed to the law, and from it they first learn to know their sins correctly.”[i]
In the following verses, Jesus goes on to explain that this involves not only outward acts, but also words and even one’s inmost thoughts and desires. Have you been angry with your brother? Then, you’re guilty of murder. Called someone a fool? That deserves the hell of fire! Looked at a woman with lustful intent? You should be stoned to death! And this goes for all the commandments. If you think you’ve kept them, you’re sadly mistaken.
Now, our minds say: “Come on! This is going a bit too far, don’t you think? It’s one thing to hit a man on the head with a rock; it’s another thing to be angry with him. And that fool who pulled out in front of me at the stop sign would have thought it was a lot worse if I had given in to my road rage impulse!” We think that way because, at heart, we’re legalists, too. We also use the law to measure things up, to see how good we’re doing, to justify ourselves and our sin, and to make sure we feel good about how we live.
But Jesus won’t have it. He brings the law in its full force, with its intended purpose: to accuse us of our sin, our failure. To show us our need for the Savior. The law comes and shows us our own desperate wickedness. It tears down our self-righteousness. Honestly applied and accepted, it brings an end to all legalism. The law wakes us up and shakes us up. It humbles us, kills and condemns us.
The law says, “I don’t care what you think of yourself or what others think about you! If you are proud of how good you are or you are despairing over your sin. I come with a true judgment: You are a poor, miserable sinner who justly deserves God’s temporal and eternal punishment. You are a murderer, an adulterer, a thief, blasphemer, and idolater, and for all of this you deserve the hell of fire.
So the law is swung like a hammer to break you down. There is no righteousness to be found in the law. Only curses. Only death.
God, through His holy Word, demands perfect righteousness. Such perfection is obviously beyond the ability of any of us, so we need to look beyond ourselves for the righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees and the scribes, the righteousness that avails before God. We must go to that righteousness that is credited to those who believe in God’s promise of a Savior.
Only Christ can provide this exceeding righteousness for us. He gives us the credit for His perfect obedience to God’s law and His death on the cross as the full payment for our sins, and God welcomes us into His heavenly kingdom.
St. Paul writes: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:21–25).
Christ has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
In your Baptism, you were clothed with Christ’s righteousness; you were brought into the kingdom of heaven. Baptized into His death and resurrection, your old Adam is put to death with all of his sins and evil desires through contrition and daily repentance, that the new man may arise to live in righteousness and purity forever.
You, dear saints, who stand condemned by the law in every part, also stand absolved by Jesus, in every way. The law that was aimed at you, crushed Jesus instead, and now His perfect keeping of the law is credited to you. You are His righteous ones, His forgiven children. You have the righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes—the exceeding righteousness of Jesus Himself. And by His righteousness, given you, you shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. For the sake of Jesus and His exceeding righteousness, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 553–554). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...