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Your Righteousness Exceeds

Matthew 5:17-26

Rev. Kurt Hering

Sixth Sunday after Trinity
Trinity Lutheran Church  
Layton, Utah

Play MP3 of this sermon

Sun, Jul 27, 2014 

Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.

Have you ever gotten into one of those conversations where a friend or neighbor or somebody you’re sitting next to on the plane finds out you are Lutheran and the person says something like, “Oh, yeah? You’re the ones say good works aren’t important and you can do whatever you want and still go to heaven, right?”

Or maybe you’ve even gotten into an argument with a fellow Lutheran—maybe even a beloved family member or friend--about faith and Jesus meaning that you don’t have to go to church or give offerings; or that we ought to tolerate and even commend and welcome people who openly and willfully live contrary to the Word of God.

Hear again the Word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from our Gospel reading today:

[Jesus said:] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them...."

To hear the entire sermon preached for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, click on the MP3 audio link provided above. The audio begins with the Old Testament Reading, Exodus 20:1-17. The sermon begins at the 13:47 point of the mp3 file.

A servant of the Word and His folk,

Pastor Hering

For those of you who prefer to read or read along while listening, the preaching manuscript follows below.

Nota bene: Sermons are meant to be heard. Some points from the manuscript are explained and filled out during the preaching, so you will need to listen to the audio file to get the full sermon.

Dear Baptized Children of Our Father in Heaven,

Have you ever gotten into one of those conversations where a friend or neighbor or somebody you’re sitting next to on the plane finds out you are Lutheran and the person says something like, “Oh, yeah? You’re the ones say good works aren’t important and you can do whatever you want and still go to heaven, right?”

Or maybe you’ve even gotten into an argument with a fellow Lutheran—maybe even a beloved family member or friend--about faith and Jesus meaning that you don’t have to go to church or give offerings; or that we ought to tolerate and even commend and welcome people who openly and willfully live contrary to the Word of God.

Hear again the Word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from our Gospel reading today:

[Jesus said:] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore 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, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

So much for any ideas of, or excuses for, continuing to live contrary to God’s commandments based upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly, any Lutheran—any Christian-- who would make such an argument has either been misinformed about the Word of God or has misheard and wrongly applied what he has been taught.

In the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article IV.20—Of Good Works we confess: “When it is asserted and that good works are free to believers in the sense that they are optional for them to do not to do, this is false, and must be rejected. It is false to say that believers might or could act against God’s Law of God and still have faith and God's favor and grace.”

So we Lutherans actually value good works quite highly—without going so far as to say that our good works save us or are the reason God looks favorably upon us—because good works are the way of life in the kingdom of heaven. Or, as Paul warns: “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11a

And Jesus doesn’t leave it as though it was just “some of you” that were such sinners. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Then, to make the point His apostle, Paul makes in Romans 3:23, that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Jesus goes on to define and describe the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” in such a way that no man, woman, child, or infant could claim innocence let alone obedience. 22But 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.

As we also learn from the Small Catechism explanation, this commandment and the righteousness it demands far exceeds the immediate physical act of murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need [in every need and danger of life and body].

Who of us, who here can say that we have fulfilled this command of our Lord—or even come close? How is such righteousness [that] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” possible?

Our Holy Gospel for today tells us the answer is to be found in Christ Jesus.

[Jesus said:] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

St. John Chrysostom, 4th Century pastor and church father , widely considered to be the greatest preacher in the early church and whose name means “golden mouth,” explains this portion of our Gospel like this.

“But the law He fulfilled, not in one way only, but in a second and third also.

• “In one way, by transgressing none of the precepts of the law.

• “He did the same through us also; for this is the marvel, that He not only Himself fulfilled it, but He granted this to us likewise.

• “In the sense of that future code of laws, which He was about to deliver to them. For His sayings were no repeal of the former, but a drawing out, and filling up of them.”

To which we must add a fourth and most important way Jesus fulfilled the Law—“with His holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” That is, by His passive obedience through His life of faith by which He submitted to His Father’s will to the point of suffering, dying, and commending His Spirit to the Father.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

This is epitomized and fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God made flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14). His taking on flesh as a man is a life of faith from first to last.

• conceived by the Holy Spirit,

• born of the Virgin Mary;

• suffered under Pontius Pilate,

• was crucified,

• died,

• and buried;

• He descended into hell;

• the third day He rose again from the dead;

• He ascended into heaven,

• and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

In none of this did even this man, Jesus, boast even though He was and is the Christ, the very Son of God. Even though He could have done it all by His own work, He became passive and “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) ”

Herein Jesus Himself, in the flesh, is the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees”—as well as the most obedient, holiest, nicest, sweetest, even most helpful, compassionate, and tolerant people among us today.

All this being true of Jesus, there remains the question: “What hope do we sinners have of attaining a ‘righteousness [that] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees?’”

ANSWER: We have the hope of Baptism that now saves us. 1 Peter 3:21 As Paul reminds us: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11b

So, St. Paul not only gives us the answer to other Christians who might accuse us of some kind of cheap grace, lawlessness, or lovelessness; our answer to unbelievers who might dismiss us as hypocrites who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk; our answer to our own fellow Lutherans who might excuse or justify their continued sinful behavior or call for us to tolerate the sinful behavior of others:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  … 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. Romans 6:1-2, 4

St. Paul also gives us the answer as to how we have any hope to attain the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” and is the way of life for all in the kingdom of heaven. Baptism into Christ Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is our entry into the kingdom of heaven—not to be excused or exempted or even freed from good works and righteous behavior, but as both Paul and Chrysostom point out, to be “Christ’s workmanship” who fulfill these things “Until All Is Accomplished” on the Last Day when Jesus “shall come to judge the living and the dead.“

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

If you think about it, all of this work is summed up by and fulfilled in the forgiveness of sins as we receive it and live it. So we pray in The Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

Why? Because we are Baptized “sons of [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). We, the Baptized--having been and continuing to be loved by God and even prayed for by His Son and Spirit--indeed now have “righteousness [that] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.” In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the Lord has given us the righteousness of Christ by which we actually are given to “enter the kingdom of heaven”—now and forever. In this kingdom we live in His righteousness that exceeds by going so far as to love and pray not only for our family, friends, and neighbors but even for our enemies just as He did—forgiving those who trespass against us as we have first been forgiven our trespasses—in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.



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