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Sixth Sunday after Trinity
“Outside of You”
St. Matthew 5.17-26; Exodus 20.1-17; Romans 6.1-11
28 July 2019
Seminarian Simeon Cornwell, Vicar
+ In the Name of Jesus +
The Pharisees constantly accuse Jesus throughout the Gospels of breaking God’s Law. They bring forth accusations like, “Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?” “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law it says to stone her. What do you say?”
They do this because they think if they can prove Him wrong, not only will the people stop following Him, but also because if they can prove Him wrong, the guilt they feel over Jesus revealing their sin will be removed. Jesus’ words revealed the hypocrisy of their hearts. The deep-seated problem they tried desperately to cover up.
For whenever one is confronted with his or her sin, there are three options. First, they can blame someone else, just as Adam blamed both God and Eve for his sin. Or they can try and cover it up so that they retain some outward respectable image. Or the third option is they can confess their sin.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus leaves us no wiggle room. Having ascended a mountain to teach the people, Jesus assures them that despite the accusations of the Pharisees, He has not come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. He’s not come teaching contrary to God’s Law. Instead, He has come to fulfill them.
The statement that those who relax even the least of these commandments and teach others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven does not mean that those who do so will be on a lower tier in heaven. No, it means they will not be in heaven.
Jesus is not joking when He says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. It has to, if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus is not saying that we must fast more than they did, that we must wash before every meal, or that we should tie boxes to our heads containing passages of Scripture to show our piety.
No, Jesus is not saying this. Rather He is pointing out that the righteousness of the Pharisees, which everyone saw and many admired, is false. It’s nothing but a show.
They are, as He will say later on in Matthew’s Gospel, like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inside are full of dead people’s bones. They only clean the outside of the cup, while inside is nothing but dirt and grime.
Jeremiah complains about this sickness of man’s heart when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) And Jesus affirms this sickness when He says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:9)
Because this sickness runs so deep and cannot be seen due to our blindness, Jesus takes the Law and interprets it spiritually. Murder isn’t just going out and taking another’s life. In fact, something as little in our eyes as calling our neighbor a fool or wishing any harm on them, makes us just as liable to the hell of fire as any open murderer.
Our Lord warns us as well that if when coming to this altar we remember that we have something against our neighbor or our neighbor has something against us, we should not come and receive His body and blood. Lest if we receive it in such an unrepentant state, we receive it not for our good, but for our judgement.
The Lord interprets the Law in this way first, because this is how He always intended His Law to be understood. This problem has always existed in man’s heart since the Fall into sin. And second, because in teaching the fullness of the Law this way, even though it is frightening and causes much discomfort on our end, it is for our ultimate good.
It backs us into a corner and leaves us with the three options mentioned earlier. You can cast the blame on someone else. And many choose this wide and broad path, even being arrogant enough to point the finger at God. You can also try to cover it up, leading an outwardly pious and righteous life like the scribes and Pharisees attempted to do. Leading others to look at you and marvel, while God looks from heaven in anger.
Or you can take the third option: You can confess your sin. Your helplessness under the burden of so great a Law. You can confess to God in private confession and Absolution, offered here every third Thursday of every month from 5-6. Or whenever you have need or desire it. You can confess to your neighbor, whoever you may have offended in any way.
There are only two outcomes to these three options. The first outcome goes with both attempting to blame another or cover it up. The result is a life burdened by sin, both your own and other’s. It leads to nothing but bitterness and fear in this life, and in the next eternal condemnation.
But the second result, that of confession brings peace and comfort. For our God does not give us such a strict Law so that we might despair. He doesn’t give us this Law and leave us nowhere to turn so that we might be miserable our whole lives. He doesn’t want us to point the finger or try to cover it up.
No, He gives this Law and speaks it in its harshness and sternness because He wants us to repent and turn to Him. To look to Him for all things. To look to Him who came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them for you, because you could not.
This same God sent His Son to take on our human flesh, yet without sin, without the evil desires and lusts, with only desires to do God’s will all the time, so that this righteousness might be credited to you. So that your righteousness now does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, because it is not found in you, but outside of you in Him.
For He Himself is our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). He Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
And so our Lord comes to us as He continues to speak to us whenever we hear or read His Word. He comes to us when His Word is faithfully preached and taught. He comes to us in the same flesh and blood which perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, so that He might give and nourish that righteousness in us.
All this to remind us over and over again that our righteousness is not found in ourselves, but in Him. All this so that the pride that lurks within all of us, that desires to look to anyone or anything other than Him for salvation may continually be put to death in us.
For Jesus is your righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He is your peace and He alone. To Him be all the glory and honor, both now and forever. Amen.