Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Let your good works shine!

Sermon for Epiphany 5A, preached on Sunday, February 5, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

In Christ’s day, the scribes and the Pharisees were believed to be the most righteous of all the people.  They were those really really good guys in the church.  They knew the Scriptures and followed God’s Laws, living outward godly lives, doing what they were supposed to do and not doing what they weren’t supposed to do.  They were the faithful of the faithful, the truly righteous ones of God.  Certainly they would enter heaven...or would they?

At the end of the Gospel reading Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20).  These words of our Lord say that not even the seemingly great righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is enough to earn heaven.  In order to work your way inside those gates, your righteousness has to exceed theirs, it has to be greater.  But how?  The scribes and the Pharisees were the most righteous.  They devoted their whole lives to God, studying His Word; trying to fulfill His Law.  Who can do more?  Who can be saved?  Only One.  Christ Jesus Himself. 

Christ’s righteousness is the only exceeding righteousness because He’s the only One who is righteous, free from guilt.  The scribes and Pharisees appeared to be righteous, but they weren’t.  They were still guilty of transgressing against God’s Law, if not in deed, then in word, and if not in word, then in thought.  No one is righteous; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rm 3:23) because all of us are sinners, born with original sin, that fatal character flaw that affects everything we think, say, and do.

But Christ Jesus, He has no sin, original or actual.  He’s the perfect Son of God, righteous, free from guilt.  He fulfilled God’s Law, accomplishing all of it, being completely obedient to the Father’s will. 

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17).  Christ actively accomplished every iota and dot of the Law, every letter.  He fulfilled all of its requirements.  He was circumcised on the eighth day and presented to God at the Temple after 40 days.  He observed all the required feasts and festivals.  He kept all of the 10 Commandments, not just outwardly, but also in His heart.  He was baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness and He withstood all of Satan’s temptations.  Christ was perfect, doing everything that the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t, doing everything that you and I can’t because of our sin.  

Christ was righteous, but His righteousness extends beyond what He did, it also includes what He endured, dying on the cross for the sins of the world.  This is what Scripture is all about, this is what the Law and Prophets are about, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born to die for your sins. 

It wasn’t an easy thing for Jesus to die on the cross.  In the Garden we see our Savior struggling in prayer: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).  Christ knew what was coming; the torture and torment He’d endure, and yet He endure it because that was the Father’s will.

Christ could’ve easily saved Himself from the cross.  He could’ve come down from that tree or prevented His arrest, but He didn’t.  He remained obedient, He remained righteous, not for His sake, but for yours. 

Christ went to the cross on your behalf, for your salvation.  You’re not righteous, you’re guilty, you’re a sinner and you deserve the sentence of death.  That’s justice.  But God, in His love and mercy, has saved you from that death sentence by giving up His Son in your place.  In the great exchange, Christ takes your guilt and sin and gives you His righteousness.  When the Father looks at you He sees His Son’s righteousness. 

This is a free gift.  There’s nothing you do to earn it.  Instead, you receive it...you receive it by grace through God’s Word and Sacraments.  You receive it in your Baptism.

In those waters, your guilty Old Adam is drowned, and the Lord raises up a new creation, a new man having been given the righteousness of Christ.  That’s what the white “garment” we give the newly baptized represents, that they’ve been clothed with Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Having received this great righteousness, in faith, you have the confident hope of the kingdom of heaven....But that’s not the end of Christ’s righteousness.   

Thanks be to God that He has graciously given you His Son’s righteousness, but we don’t keep this hidden.  We don’t receive this gift and then wait to enter the kingdom of heaven.  No, we’re called to let the light of Jesus’ righteousness shine in the world. 

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is heaven” (Mt 5:14-16). 

Christ calls you to be a light of good works, to be the city on the hill that others look to.  You’re to be righteous just as your Savior is righteous.  You’re to live out His righteousness, fulfilling God’s Law, performing acts of love and service to your neighbor.

You do this by obeying the 10 Commandments, by fulfilling your vocations.  As parents, you live out Christ’s righteousness as you care for your children, providing them with their physical needs and raising them up in the faith.  Children, you live out Christ’s righteousness as you honor your parents and others in authority, obeying them.  As citizens we live out Christ’s righteousness as we care for those in our community who are in need, as we obey the laws of the land, and as we speak well of everyone, treating all with the love of God.  You’ve been given Christ’s righteousness, so show it. 

People look at what we do.  They say actions speak louder than words, so we proclaim Christ’s love and righteousness by doing what we’ve been created to do, serving our neighbor.  We do good works not for our benefit, not even for God’s benefit, but for our neighbors’.  And in these good works, we proclaim Christ. 

Our actions are a confession of faith.  Everything we do should rightly point to our Savior showing forth His righteousness and love. We shouldn’t be a stumbling block to those outside the faith.  We shouldn’t give them a reason to deny our Savior because of our actions.  Everything we do should speak well of our Lord.  Good works do that, obeying God’s 10 Commandments does this.  And our Lord promises that when others witness these works, they’ll give glory to God. 

There’s only One whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, and that’s Jesus Christ your Savior.  He lived the perfect life that you and I can’t and He sacrificed this life on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  All this He did so that in your Baptism you would be given His righteousness.  When you stand before God in faith, trusting in your Savior, you’re covered with Christ’s righteousness, declared not guilty.  This righteousness is the light you’re called to shine forth today through your good works, through your acts of love and service towards your neighbor.  CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE ONLY EXCEEDING RIGHTEOUSNESS AND YOU’VE RECEIVED THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS...SO SHOW IT!

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