Sixth Sunday after Trinity.
"For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:20.
These Saviour's words are found in the Gospel for today. They are severe and very significant words, and the words are spoken to Jesus' disciples, and therefore belong to the Christians. And I think that the Christians should feel the weight of these words. But because Christians feel so much iniquity in themselves, they must own for themselves Christ's righteousness, and believe that their iniquity is accounted for righteousness, because Christ has paid their iniquity. And because Christians do not have any of their own righteousness, but only Christ's righteousness which they must account as their own; that is to says when Christians feel that their own righteousness is nothing other than lack of righteousness, in what way must then their righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, when we hear by these Saviour's words as if the disciples' own righteousness must exceed the Pharisees' own righteousness? The papists say that love must be the foundation of living faith and that a Christian of himself must be holy and righteous. "Therefore, if a Christian has lack of love, then he does not have living faith;" so say the papists. "If a Christian feels evil in his heart, then he does not have a saving faith, and if a Christian feels impatience in his heart, then the devils have not been driven out of his heart, but he is yet under the devil's power;" so say the papists. "If a Christian feels evil lusts and desires in his will, like fleshly lusts, the effects of greed, and other such things, then there are not holy lusts and desires in the will, nor has such a one yet been sanctified or made holy through grace;" so say the papists. "If a Christian in his mind feels evil thoughts, there are not good and Godly thoughts in such a person's mind, nor is he yet rightly pious and free of sin as a Christian should be?" so say the papists. And so say even the confessors of dead faith, who with their mouth confess the Lutheran faith and are likewise assured that they have the right Lutheran faith. They speak thus: "A Christian must have holy desires and lusts and he must become like an angel before he can come into the kingdom of heaven. "How" does it now go with the Christians? Could they now enter into the kingdom of heaven with that righteousness which they now have, namely Christ's righteousness owned through faith, as Luther has taught? The reason speaks thus: "Christ's righteousness is not yours, but you must have so much selfrighteousness that God cannot condemn you. You must become righteous and holy in your own behalf and not in another's, namely Christ's, righteousness, which is not yours; with your own righteousness you must come to the judgement. You must of yourself become holy and righteous before you can be acceptable to God." And so also demand the papists and the confessors of dead faith in the Lutheran kingdom. These grace thieves say thus: "A man must become like an angel before he can enter into the kingdom of heaven." And they take proof for this doctrine from today's gospel, where Jesus says to His disciples: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Do you hear now, you false prophets and wild spirits, who always boast of Christ's righteousness and who yourselves are so ugly and black as the devil himself. Do you hear what Christ says? Except your righteousness shall exceed the scribes' and Pharisees', you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." So say the pharisees who have so much self-righteousness, that they are able to say: "I thank you God, that I am not as this publican," or as the pharisees of this time say: "I have done more good than evil; I have not done wrong against anyone, but I have done right to every man and my conscience does not condemn me of sin." Such people are able to say to the Christians: "You are as ugly and black as tartars although you say you have been cleansed through Chrlst's blood." And the Christians are not able to evade this accusation, but they must confess themselves to be whores and thieves, and guilty of all sins,, but they trust on this, that Christ has paid all. They own Christ's righteousness and believe that it is acceptable before God the Father. They take the bloody form of Christ upon themselves when they appear before God. They follow Jesus' bloody footprints from the Garden to the hill of Golgotha; they stand with a sorrowful and broken heart at the cross and behold the wounds of the Crucified and Thorn-crowned One. They gather in one room and there they weep and lament when Jesus has died. And if this world's clergy-nen see that Jesus' sorrowful disciples weep and lament, then they say; "What howling is this?" They go yet for a second time to Golgotha and weep upon Jesus' grave. There is now the righteousness of the sorrowful disciples. And when Jesus becomes alive, then the disciples are joyous: there is their righteousness. And when they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, they begin to condemn and to bark at the world: There is their righteousness. What do you think, you sorrowful disciples, do you want to come before God's presence with this righteousness? Do you want to come, you penitent sinners, before God's throne of grace when you, in behalf of the inward men, are as black as a tartar and as ugly as the devil himself? I think that you have no other refuge, but with that righteousness which Christ has merited for you, you must come to cry and to sigh: Our Father, and so forth.
The Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26.
In today's gospel our Saviour has set such places before us that the disciples and the Christian's can together be ashamed, if their righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. We must now for the upbuilding of the sorrowful and doubting souls explain, as we understand what these words of the Saviour contain and how we should rightly understand these words of Jesus: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." First consideration: Of what kind is the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees? Second consideration! Of what kind is the righteousness of the disciples?
First consideration: The righteousness of the scribes and pharisees is shining before the world, especially in outward meekness, finery, beauty, and also exists in outward humility, but not in change of heart or in true repentance and confession of sins, but that they otherwise are separated from the other people by their outward meekness. They are not as the course sorrowless people, who do not have honor, so that they could cover their evil deeds from before the world's eyes. Nor are the scribes and pharisees such as the half lords of today, who drink and play cards even during the service of God. But true pharisees are very godly they go to the church to pray, and their prayers are more beautiful than the publican's sighs. They build the prophets' tombs, help the poor, give honor to one another, bow themselves and beg for forgiveness if the house has not been cleaned when a guest comes. But if Jesus' disciples rub some ears of corn with their hands on the Sabbath, then the Pharisees rebuke them for transgressing the Sabbath; they have keen eyes to see the Christians' faults. And when living Christianity appears in some place, then the pharisees say: "It is nothing other than wildness," and then begin to persecute the Christians, And although they otherwise want to do right to all, they nevertheless teach their children to say, "Korban," that is: the parents' part shall be given to God so that under the guise of the law or godliness it would be for the income of the churchly. The Saviour also rebukes them, that they swallow camels and strain at gnats, and that they devour widows' houses, and He commands them to cast the first stone at the whore if they were free of her. Such is the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. It is very shining before the world and therefore are they able to say: "I have done more good than evil, I have done right to all men and I thank you, God, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." And when the pharisees or the scribes explain the scripture, so they say in the explanation of the fifth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill, but who ever kills, he must be guilty under judgement." But of anger or murder of the heart, the scribes speak nothing. Or if in anger and wrath one says to his neighbor: "Raca," that is, rascal, the scribes say nothing of it. Said in a word: what concerns outward, gross sins, those the scribes and pharisees condemn, but of the evil of the heart they know nothing, nor do they know the heart at all, for it is hidden from them. Neither does Nicodemus feel the evil of his heart, and therefore he does not consider a change of heart and new birth to be necessary. The scribes' doctrine of righteousness is completely against God's word and the order of grace, since they want to explain the outward life of the people, but that inward corruption and the evil of the heart they leave unexplained. And they themselves have some sins permissible, for example, swearings finery, worldliness, anger, and Old Adam. Said in a word: the meek life of the scribes and pharisees does not go to the impossible and their doctrine is entirely reversed, because in the explanation of the commandments, they leave out those most weighty places of the law, which are righteousness and judgement,
The second consideration: What kind of righteousness should the disciples have, that it may exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? The first matter concerns this righteousness we find directly from the explanation of the fifth commandment, that the disciples must come to feel man's inner corruption and the evil of the heart, and that even small sins must become sins. This place the scribes and pharisees leave unexplained. The pharisees do not believe that even a little sin merits hell. The Saviour shows that barking at one's neighbor in anger and wrath has deserved as great a punishment and judgement as open murder. This is the first place which concerns the disciples' righteousness, that they must so understand and explain God's law, that even a little sin will become as heavy and weighty as a great sin. The anger of the heart is just as great a sin before God as open murder, although the disciples now cannot avoid this inner corruption. But this righteousness of the law should so press them that sin would be known as sin, that no sin would be permissible, and under the shadow of allowance become committed. This is the weightiest place in the law, which the scribes and pharisees have left out, and a few disciples have not yet comprehended the weight of this matter. Some do not understand that even a little sin is destructive, when for example, a little vanity is permissible, so all disciples do not yet understand, that such a sin is destructive, not only because of the bad example, but also because of the allowance under the shadow of which this little sin is committed. When sin loses its power, then even the conscience has lost its strength, but such a sin which does not come upon the conscience is destructive for this reason, that man does not regret the sin, which he does not understand or feel to be a sin. The righteousness of the disciples is recognized also in the reconciliation of brothers in strife: this is again a heavy place in the law which the scribes and pharisees leave unexplained and undone. If the house is unclean when guests come, then they say, "Forgive me, this house has not been cleaned," But if they in anger and wrath say to their neighbor, "Raca," they do not consider it to be a sin, neither ask forgiveness. If they yet should give another a box in the ear, that they do not consider to be a sin, neither do they ask for forgiveness. This reconciling with the brother in strife has become a matter of the conscience to the awakened and the Christians, But not so sufficiently has this weighty place in the law become a conscience matter, that it would not be needful to become yet weightier. These are the weightiest places in the law, which the scribes and pharisees leave unexplained and undone. But the righteousness of the disciples must by far exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. First, they must so understand and explain God's law, that even small sins become sins and destructive; in addition to reconciliation with the neighbor. What else concerns the righteousness of the disciples is concluded in these of which our Saviour has spoken in the Holy Gospel, namely: when God's commandments are rightly understood and explained, the disciples become great sinners. All self-righteousness and own goodness are excluded; all thoughts, lusts, and desires which God's spirit has not effected become sin, through which the disciples come to a right knowledge of sin. They become penitent and must beg for grace. There now stands the righteousness of the disciples, which far exceeds the scribes' and Pharisees' self-righteousness and own holiness, that the disciples' self-righteousness must so come to an end, that they come to feel with a living conscience that they sink into hell and come under eternal condemnation, if Christ does not give them His righteousness and make then so righteous, that God can no longer condemn them. How is it now with you, you disciples of Jesus? Does your righteousness now exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? Have you now stripped the rags of self-righteousness from yourselves and taken Christ's righteousness, with which you can boast on Judgement Day and say, "Our righteousness far exceeds the self-righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, for we have Christ's righteousness?" Can you now say, "Christ's righteousness is ours?" Can you now boast of Christ's righteousness when the devil of self-righteousness, who is the accuser of God's children comes to accuse you as whores and thieves? Can you now boast of your righteousness and say, "We have a greater and nobler righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees. We have Christ's righteousness which is our own righteousness, which the Father beholds as right righteousness, for which the Father cannot condemn us." I believe that the righteous can boast of their righteousness and say to the accuser, "We are righteous through Christ's righteousness," Amen.