[Read Matthew 5:17-22]
Jesus’ Death & Resurrection Is Your Only Hope
True righteousness. Entrance into heaven. You will die. This life ends. And after that, the judgment. Scripture says it, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” [Hebrews 9:27].
There is entrance into the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus spoke of today. And there is the hell of fire that our Lord Jesus also spoke of today. It doesn’t go well for all people. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And, “everyone who is angry with his brother.… will be liable to the hell of fire.”
True righteousness. Entrance into heaven. Does any evil enter heaven? Can we walk into heaven carrying the baggage of sin? Can you enter with uncleanness on your back? Can you enter heaven lusting after a woman? Can you enter heaven angry at your sister or brother? Can you stand inside heaven and hold a grudge? Can you stand around in heaven and snip and complain about another? (So why do you do it in God’s house now?)
Why do you so casually assume, or presume, you’re going to heaven when these are your ways now? Are you making good use of the time? “It is appointed to man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” True righteousness. Entrance into heaven.
Concerning the heavenly city, Scripture says, “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” [Revelation 21:27]. “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire”, the second death [Revelation 21:8].
Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the pure in hear, for they shall see God.” “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Blessed are the meek.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” [Matthew 5:2-11]. And Jesus, our Lord, said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” [Luke 6:27-30]
True righteousness. Make good use of the time and remember that these are the ways Jesus taught us to walk in. And, in fact, these are Jesus’ ways toward you.
When Jesus came into our world, He brought with Him the Kingdom of Heaven and ITS righteousness. How will you enter Heaven’s kingdom? Jesus has brought that kingdom and its righteousness down to you.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says that He did not come to bring laxity to God’s Law, but instead that He came to fulfill God’s Law. In the teaching and commands of Jesus, we now see the truest righteousness – God’s Law now in its fullest. Jesus brought a Law which doesn’t just tell me what I’m to do and not do but what I’m to be and not be. He taught a righteousness which I need, but one that I cannot produce in myself.
True righteousness. Entrance into heaven. Our entrance into heaven is only through Jesus Christ, the only Truly Righteous One, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
On our own, we can be descent people. In the measurements of this world and life, we can have what we call “civil righteousness”. We can be good citizens, pay our bills, keep our lawns mowed, participate in good works, raise a family, obey the civil law, and so on. We can produce this outward, civil righteousness – and so can unbelievers, atheists, Muslims, backstabbers, and people who despise God. It’s only a righteousness of this world.
What we cannot produce in ourselves is that true righteousness of God’s kingdom – a righteousness as deep as my heart, as deep as what I am. I cannot remake what I am differently than what I am, a sinner. Only my Maker can remake me.
Jesus must become this needed righteousness for me. And Scripture says that He is our righteousness – “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us… righteousness.” [1 Corinthians 1:30]. Jesus is a righteousness for us from outside of us who do not have righteousness within us.
Brothers and sisters, your Savior Jesus said it today: “I came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (all of God’s Word and command)”. Jesus is the one who is called great in the kingdom of heaven, who has taught and has done the least and the greatest of God’s commands.
Your Savior Jesus fulfilled all of God’s Word and commands by His obedience to it and by His suffering for it. We call this Christ’s Active and Passive Obedience. Jesus’ Active Obedience is that He has lived the Life of Perfect Man – that He has kept, in thought, word, desire, and deed the completeness of all that God commands.
Jesus lived this Active Obedience as a substitutionary sacrifice to be offered for you. Jesus lived His perfect life as a substitute for – in place of, on behalf of – all other lives. Jesus’ life of Active Obedience is given as an offering to God on behalf of, in place of, your imperfect life. His life becomes your righteousness, presented to God in place of your life.
What, then, is Jesus’ Passive Obedience? The Passive Obedience of Jesus is that the punishment for all our breaking of God’s Law – the punishment for all our missing the mark of true righteousness – falls upon Jesus. The punishment, the consequence – the wage of sin, death – is laid upon Jesus.
According to the right and just judgment of God’s Law, death and hell are demanded for man’s sin. Jesus, bearing man’s sin in His body, willingly allowed that death and hell to fall upon Him alone. The just requirement of the Law against all men is therefore fulfilled in one man. That’s Christ’s “Passive”, receiving-end Obedience to the Law’s just requirement.
True Righteousness lived. The requirement of the Law fulfilled. Heaven’s door is opened - open for all to whom this righteousness belongs. Just as the food bank belongs to the hungry, the righteousness of Jesus belongs to you who need it.
The righteous Life and Death of Jesus is the righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He made it yours. The resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning is now the beginning of your renewed life of righteousness. By His coming to life, you now begin to truly come to life. Just as He was raised, you now begin to be raised in Him. Since you are beginning to be made alive by His resurrected Life, His fulfilled righteousness now begins to become alive in you.
To end things here, brothers and sisters, you must know the answer to this last question: How does Jesus’ perfect Life and Death and Resurrection become yours? How does it become FOR YOU and yours? By your Baptism. What did our reading from Romans 6 say about your Baptism?
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized INTO his death? 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” [Romans 6:3-5].
True righteousness. Entrance into heaven. A gift for all those who know they need it. The death and resurrection of Jesus are your only hope, and they are your guaranteed hope. This is what we believe and proclaim. This is what our Synod’s missionaries proclaim in Togo, West Africa and around the world. This is the Gospel that all people need and that we, as a congregation, must support – the Gospel which proclaims only the righteousness of One Truly Righteous Man, Jesus, given for all. Amen.