7 July 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Jesus, at least in our English translation of the Gospel, actually uses the verb “relax.” Normally, this is a lovely word: “relax.” It conjures up wonderful summer images of the beach and sand, of massages, of taking a day off work, of rest and pleasure.
As timely as this might be according to the world’s calendar in the middle of summer, this is not what Jesus means. Sorry.
The word here means to “loosen,” as in a shoelace or a horse’s rein. Jesus said: “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” He goes on to state the opposite, that greatness in God’s kingdom involves doing the commandments and teaching the commandments.
We heard yet again those Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, inscribed upon two tablets of stone by the very finger of God. We learned these commandments very likely as children, as we learned the explanations in the catechism answering the question: “What does this mean?”
And we Christians have a strange relationship with the Ten Commandments. We can’t keep them, and yet we are expected to keep them. Jesus has fulfilled them, yet we are still to do and teach them. The Commandments accuse us and condemn us, and yet we pray with the Psalmist that we love the law.
Dear friends, this only makes sense because we are Christians. We are sinners who have been redeemed by Christ. We are baptized. We are reborn. We are called by name and baptized into the name that is above every name. We are Christ’s and He is ours. We are His sheep; He is our Shepherd.
And as our Shepherd, the Lord warns us about the greatest temptation of all: to “relax” the commandments. That is not a relaxation that is good for us at all.
For you see, we know that we are sinners. We know that we cannot keep the law. We know that Jesus died for us to forgive us. We know this gospel, this good news of our redemption in Christ. And so our Old Adam, our sinful flesh, is tempted to sin because of that redemption. After all, we’re forgiven. After all, Jesus said that even committing lust and wrath (two of the seven deadly sins that are the 6th and 5th Commandments as we’ve learned them), committing these sins only in our minds is still to commit the sin. So, if we are sinning just by thinking of them, thinks our sinful flesh inwardly, what’s the difference if we actually do them? After all, we are forgiven, right?
“Therefore, whoever relaxes…”
For Jesus did not come to “abolish,” but to “fulfill.” And He fulfilled the law not only by not sinning, but also by suffering, by dying, by bearing our cross and paying our penalty, by being buried for us, and by rising again to lead us to the way to eternal life! “For truly,” He says to us, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Dear friends, look at what a gift that our Lord Jesus has given us! See how much He loves us! Behold the victory that we have in Him! Each and every commandment protects those gifts, those sacred and divine graces, given to us that we don’t deserve. And by His grace and mercy, we have triumphed over Satan. There is no fleeting pleasure in any sin that makes that sin worthwhile; there is nothing to be gained in the short term by wrongdoing that is greater than the joys that await us in eternity that were won for us by our Lord upon the cross!
For our Lord tells us what it means to be righteous, truly righteous: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now the scribes and Pharisees were devoutly religious people. They studied God’s Word daily. They prayed around the clock. They gave huge offerings to the temple every week. They fasted twice as often as was required. They were not content with merely keeping the Ten Commandments, and so they made up hundreds of new laws to keep. And they found clever and creative ways to keep them. And that, dear friends, was the problem.
Jesus punctures their self-defined righteousness like a balloon being popped by the sharp, fine point of His Word.
“You have heard that it was said of old, ‘You shall not murder…. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother,” or “insults his brother,” or says “you fool,” is subject to punishment – including “the hell of fire.”
We are not sinners because of what we do. We are sinners because of what we are. And no amount of rules and regulations will change that. No clever way of interpreting the law will save us. For in spite of what we might think, Jesus has not “come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… not an iota, not a dot.”
Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Our righteousness must exceed…
And in Christ, dear brothers and sisters, in Christ, it does. Our Lord has won forgiveness for us because we could not do it. Jesus has kept the law for us because we are unable. There is no room to boast. We have no cause for pride. For we are expected to keep the law, and yet we fail.
And yet, dear brothers and sisters, in our failure, the Lord wins the victory for us. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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.”
And though we dare not relax the law to conform to our sinful flesh, we can relax from our anxieties and our fears that we are not good enough, that our righteousness does not exceed the scribes and the Pharisees. For we have been baptized, and dear friends, we have been called to walk in newness of life in Christ and with Christ, through and by the same Christ who did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it! He has done this for you, dear friends. Let us consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
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