“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil… Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Very strict words these are. It might seem that it’s not only difficult, but maybe even impossible to attain this higher righteousness and enter the kingdom of heaven. After all, the scribes and Pharisees were experts at keeping the law outwardly. No one was more careful and meticulous in their observance of the law, even adding to it, doing more than what was required, fasting longer, and donating more than what was required. So how can we possibly work hard enough to earn a righteousness higher than theirs? How can we be saved?
Yet, Jesus never said that we must work for, and earn, this higher righteousness, He simply said ours must exceed, go beyond, that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Believers in Christ, your comfort and assurance is that, because of Christ and His perfect life, death, and resurrection for us, no work at all, is required, on our part, for salvation (nor is it possible to earn it). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.” It’s not by our own works, but “by Grace are ye saved, through faith.”“To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Dear baptized of God, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – in your Baptism, water and God’s Word combined to wash all your sin away. In the place of sin, God gave you the perfect life of His Son. That’s righteousness, that’s the higher righteousness that we need, and that we already have in our Baptism, in order to be saved.
Therefore, let us remain in our Baptism, by remaining in God’s Word, continuing to read it, hear it, mark it, inwardly digest it (as the Lutheran prayer says), and continue to partake of the true body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the remission of our sin. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
Yet, the fact that we are not saved by our keeping of the law, does not cancel, or void, or nullify the law by any means. “Well Jesus already fulfilled the Law, so I guess I can do whatever I want, live however I please.” That’s not the response of true faith in Christ. David says, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”
When Jesus says He came to fulfil the Law, He not only meant He would keep it, but also, by the power of His Word and Spirit working in us, He would enable His children, you and me, to fulfill it, yet, never perfectly in this life, since we still have our old man of sin. Yet, by His power, by His strength, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Paul says, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
In our catechism we confess, “The Holy Ghost has sanctified me in the true faith, that is, He has by faith in Christ renewed my heart, so that I can now overcome sin and do good works” (pg 129).
And in our Epistle for today, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Jesus explains the nature of true good works, which are not just outward, but inward. The Scribes and Pharisees definitely committed no murder. They fulfilled the outward portion of the 5 th commandment. They definitely fulfilled their duty in giving to God’s Kingdom, outwardly, even giving more than what was required.
Yet, Jesus says of the Pharisees, “All their works they do for to be seen of men.” And they “outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within [they] are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
But the law requires so much more than that. And we too, are required to do so much more than that. We are required to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, with everything we’ve got, and our nieghbor as ourself.
Even having the slightest bit of anger toward our neighbor, unjustly, is wrong. We’re not talking about the just anger of a parent in response to disobedience, we’re talking about holding grudges, the failure to forgive, looking down on others in a condescending tone, even just calling someone a fool, Jesus says, puts us in danger of eternal judgment.
Anyone can put on a show. Anyone can pretend to be righteous. Anyone can go through the motions, say long prayers, and show up for church. But pure love inside the heart, pure love deep down inside our soul, cannot be faked.
Born and conceived in sin, we are simply incapable of perfect love, yet, by Grace, we’ve been born again. “Create in me a clean heart O God.” That’s exactly what He’s done. Jesus went to the cross, and behold, He “makes all things new.”“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
That’s why it’s so important we remain in our Bpatism, by remaining in God’s Word. Only Christ has the pure love and righteusness we need for salvation. Only He perfectly fulfilled the law, and only He enables us, by His Word and Spirit, to follow Him, and to follow His commandments. He enables us to reconcile with each other, forgive one another, even our enemies.
We need Christ, we need His Word, we need our Baptism, we need Christ’s true body and blood. He says, “Without Me, ye can do nothing.” Yet with Christ, we’re not only reconciled to God, He enables us to reconcile with one another. And when we fail, when we fall, Jesus is there to pick us up, forgive us our sin, and eanble us to carry on. We can and we do stand against sin, and anger, and every evil, because Jesus keeps delivering us from it all. “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
May He then continue to strengthen us in the true saving faith, which does produce good works, by His Word and Sacraments, by His Spirit working in us through His means of Grace. He can, He does, and He will continue to be there for us and help us. He will never leave nor forsake us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.