Lessons: Exodus 20:1-17, Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 5:17-26
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There have been several times in which I have been told, “Pastor, you shouldn’t listen to this.” Maybe someone is talking to a group of people and wants to say something he knows isn’t right. Maybe he wishes to say some sort of immoral joke. Or maybe he wants to tell a story about the bad things someone did, but doesn’t want me to know about it. So, I, as a pastor, am told to close my ears.
But frankly, if something isn’t appropriate for the pastor to hear, it isn’t appropriate for anyone to hear, nor is it appropriate for anyone to repeat. I’m not sure why people sometimes feel they have permission to say or do sinful things as long as they’re not in the presence of the pastor. It’s not like pastors will standing at the pearly gates to let parishioners into heaven. Perhaps we figure that if the pastor doesn’t know, then God doesn’t know either. Or we may think that we do not need to meet the perfect demands of God’s Law if no one is staring us down.
You see, we like to look for an escape—a way to justify ourselves. We want to prove ourselves innocent. But we are far from innocent when we change our tune upon coming into the presence of our pastor and then returning to our raunchy ways when pastor or other religious people are gone. That is sinning boldly in broad daylight before God. And God will not hold those guiltless who takes God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7) or engage in any other sin.
Even if no other soul knows what you are doing, your actions are not done in darkness. God is there. He knows everything.
We should not feel guilty of our sins only when others catch us. We should not find ourselves repenting of only those sins in which others are aware. For God has caught you doing everything that you have done amiss. You are guilty of all your sin. He knows.
You have not kept God first in your lives.
You have not used God’s name only in the right way.
You have not honored your promise to faithfully hear God’s Word.
You have not obeyed your parents, pastors, and other authorities.
You have not had a pure heart toward your neighbors.
You have looked at others with lust.
You have taken advantage of your neighbor.
You have spoken poorly of others.
You have coveted.
It is very clear. You have broken these commandments which God has made. Not a day has gone by in which you have kept them. If you think you’ve done a pretty good job at keeping them, then you have deceived yourself. You fail to believe what God’s Word says about your sinful flesh.
And plus, our Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear. You must be better than the scribes and Pharisees. Now, in Jesus’ day, the people thought the scribes and Pharisees were the most moral and upright people in all of society. They were the role models. And Jesus says you must be better than they. Your righteousness must exceed theirs.
What Jesus is saying is this: “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). In fact, this is exactly what Jesus says a few verses after today’s Gospel. That’s His summary of what we heard—that God expects perfection.
Your righteousness must not only exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, but you must be as perfect as your Father in heaven. You cannot be less than perfect if you wish to go to heaven.
What’s that you say? You’re not perfect? You’re not able to achieve perfection in order to enter heaven?
Well, that is true. You can’t achieve perfection. But that doesn’t mean God can’t demand it. He still expects perfection. It is wrong to assume that God can’t demand it since we cannot meet that demand. It is wrong to think that Jesus will accept us when we simply try our best. While trying our best is good, it is not good enough.
But that’s precisely why our heavenly Father sent His Son into this world. You cannot save yourselves. Jesus saves you. Therefore, God sent Jesus to become your sin. When He was baptized, He took on your sin. He then carried your sins to the grave. He was offered up as a living sacrifice for your sins. He was not held guiltless, but was held guilty—for your sins, for my sins, for the sins of the entire world.
Because He was held guilty in our place and because He truly is perfect, He could shed His innocent blood as the perfect payment for your sin. He died for you.
And the grave could not contain Him. He could not remain dead. Instead, He defeated death in His resurrection. He defeated sin when He shed His blood. He defeated Satan when He died and rose for you.
Just as Jesus died and rose, so also you must also die and rise again to be saved.
On Trinity Sunday you heard Jesus declare to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
You see, you must die and rise again. That’s how you’re born again. And that’s exactly what happens in your Baptism. You die with Christ. You rise and live with Him. You are united to Christ’s death in your Baptism. Your sins drown and die. Your old man—your sinful flesh—dies. And your heart of flesh is raised up so that you live in newness of life. You are a new creation in your Baptism. You rise and live in Christ. And you live for Christ.
Even though Jesus died to take away the sins of the world, that doesn’t mean everyone lives in God’s grace and is forgiven. While Jesus may have earned the forgiveness of sins for all people, each person needs to receive that forgiveness individually.
That forgiveness is granted through Baptism. That forgiveness is also imparted through the Word of the God, the Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. God distributes His forgiveness through these means.
With your sins drowned and dead and with God’s forgiveness granted to you, you are now viewed by God as perfect. God does not see in you a sinner. Instead, He sees in you Christ. He now calls you one of His saints.
As a saint, you are now dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because you are alive with Christ, you continue to fight that old man which was crucified in your Baptism. You fight against the temptations of the flesh. You fight to do what is righteous in the eyes of our Lord.
Part of that fight means you plead guilty of your sin. Instead of deceiving yourself into thinking that you’re pretty good and you can handle your own salvation, you rely on Christ Jesus alone as your Savior. You continue to drown that old Adam through daily contrition and repentance, which you do each day as you pray the Lord’s Prayer. You may also do this when you pray the evening prayer taught in the Catechism. You continually beg God for forgiveness.
And He continually grants that forgiveness.
As a baptized child of God, you are called to live a holy life. It is not just the pastor who has to keep the commandments. It is not just when others are looking. It is all the time. You don’t get to take a pause (or a vacation) from your Baptismal life.
In fact, you should not feel threatened by God and His call to holiness of living. You should not feel threatened by Him either when you realize He can see everything you’re doing.
You see, God is with you; you are not alone. So when you find yourself with the sins of the flesh tempting you, take comfort and courage in the fact that God is with you. He is your God. He is your Savior. He has overcome all things. And no temptation is greater than you can bear. For the Bible teaches, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).
And also take comfort in this: by virtue of your Baptism, you are righteous in Christ. For in your Baptism, you have risen with Christ. You are given the garments of salvation and the robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). You are covered in the very righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. This means God now sees in you nothing but a saint.
When you live the life of the baptized—that is, when you plead guilty of your sin and believe what God teaches you in His Word, then you appear before our Father in heaven as perfect. Your righteousness then certainly exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. You are innocent and holy. You are dead to sin and alive in Christ.
Then, on the Last Day, when Jesus returns and raises our bodies to perfection, He will look on us and declare that we are not guilty—forgiven—innocent. His verdict will be that we are without sin—perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. For He is the One who justifies us. And we will live in this perfection forever.
We rejoice in this mercy of our Lord! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.