Righteousness and Reconciliation
Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, we confess that we are poor, wretched sinners, and that there is no good in us; our hearts, flesh and blood being so corrupted by sin that we are never in this life without sinful lusts and desires. Therefore we beseech You, dear Father, forgive us these sins, and let Your Holy Spirit so cleanse our hearts that we may desire and love Your Word, abide by it, and thus by Your grace be forever saved; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
20 “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’
22 “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
23 “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
26 “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
Dear fellow redeemed,
After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God. And they covered their nakedness from one another.
Sin divides. Sin separates. It has separated us from God. It has separated us from our neighbor, straining our relationships with one another.
We need an answer to our sin, an answer to the separation our sin has caused. We need healing to bridge this divide. We need reconciliation, we need peace to be established between us and God, and between each one of us and our neighbor.
Our Gospel reading, which is pretty much all hard hitting law, does hint at our reconciliation with God, but also demands that we show love and bring peace to our relationships with our neighbor, which is only possible through our new life as God’s baptized people.
Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus here is saying, that it is righteousness that gives entrance into God’s kingdom. It is the one who is righteous, blameless, perfect before God that God brings into His kingdom.
We examine ourselves in relation to the 10 Commandments as we read in our Old Testament text today. And Jesus clarifies that these Commandments don’t just make demands of our outward, external actions, but also demands perfection with the desires, thoughts, and attitudes of our hearts.
We know we are not righteous. We sin by what we do, by the things that we say, and by the things that we think. We also sin, by the things we don’t do that we should, the things that we should say and don’t, and the things that we should think, but we don’t. Each one of us is responsible for our own separation from God, because of our own sins. We have banished ourselves from the kingdom of heaven. We have caused the problem, and the solution is not in us.
The righteousness must come from outside of us. It must come from God Himself. He must provide the righteousness we need. He must heal the divide that we have caused. He must work the reconciliation that we cannot bring about. God does it in Christ! The Holy Spirit wrote, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him (Christ), whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—if indeed you continue in the faith.”
Through the blood of Christ’s cross, your sins are forgiven. His righteousness covers you. Through Jesus, you are reconciled to God and peace is made between you and Him. And thus, through Jesus, who is your Righteousness, you have entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
So now, the righteousness you need that reconciles you to God and gives you entrance into eternal life is taken care of.
So, then what does this mean in regard to our relationships with our neighbors? For I spoke about that earlier, how sin harms our relationships with others. Such has been the case since Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him.
We have the ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, to reverse the damage that sin has caused in the relationships between one another. We can bring peace and healing to our relationships with our neighbor, that is, as far as it depends on us, for while we can extend the olive branch to our neighbor, we cannot force our neighbor to do the same.
And so we live as peacemakers and menders of our relationships when we live in righteousness, no longer continuing in the ways of our sinful hearts. For you have been baptized. You are made new creations through baptism. St. Paul says, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” The saving righteousness that Christ has won for you does not give you a license to continue in your sinful ways, but being given this righteousness in Christ through baptism, received by faith, you are saved from the futile, unbelieving ways in which you once walked.
And as our text shows us, we must understand the extent of this righteousness we are called to live. It is not merely the outward righteousness that the Pharisees regarded. But we look to the law that directs even the attitudes of our hearts and minds that we have toward our neighbor. And we live according to it that we may not be hypocrites, but be blameless before our neighbor that our Lord’s name may be hallowed among us and that He may be by others.
And so we show love to our neighbor sustaining the relationships we have. We do not hold anger and grudges, nor do we speak evil to or about our neighbor. Nor shall we have bitterness and resentment toward him. But we willingly love and freely forgive with no strings attached.
And we seek to repair our relationships that we have harmed by our own sin. For there are those who have something against us, and there are others who are our adversaries. To these, we humble ourselves before them and repent.
And you may be thinking, “This is hard to do!” Yes it is, and you’re not going to hear me say, “Lower your standards of righteousness.”
But you will hear me say, “repent, and receive the Lord’s forgiveness.”
For even in your new life which you received in your baptism, you sin. Thankfully, it is not this life of sanctification that saves you.
But your sin, yes it is against your neighbor, but it is ultimately against God. David said, “Against You, You only, have I sinned.” With all your sins against God, He could have something, a lot of things, against you. God could be your adversary. But He took those sins and placed them on His holy and righteous Son. And He who does not hold guiltless those who transgress His commandments, punished all the world’s sin and guilt in His Son. He regarded His Son as guilty, so that He may hold you as guiltless. You are forgiven and His righteousness covers you. You are saved and remain citizens of the kingdom of heaven!
And so, we are perfectly reconciled to God by Christ and His righteousness! And may the Holy Spirit strengthen us in our new life that we may love our neighbor, and make peace as far as we are able, that we may be blameless before men, and that God may be glorified before all. May He give us comfort in Christ righteousness, and keep us in true faith until we enjoy perfect peace and communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the life to come! Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.