‘Two Kinds of Righteousness’
The Sixth Sunday Feast of the Holy Trinity | 31 July 2011
If you are asking the question, “How righteous do I have to be to get into heaven?” then you are ready for the words of Jesus.
Remember how it was when you were a child and you went to the fair, and you are standing in line to ride on the tilt-a-whirl, but you’re not sure if you are all enough. The line is getting shorter and shorter and the guy with the stick with the big red line is standing there to measure you, to determine if you are tall enough to ride or not. That’s the kind of wondering we are after.
“Am I good enough? Will I pass the muster? How will I be judged? When I die will I find the gates of heaven opened or closed?”
Now really I think that most people aren’t worried about it. They don’t think about it, the avoid any conversation about death, and when it comes to the judgment they think, “Well, I’m pretty sure God is a nice guy.” In fact, more and more people are convinced that there is no standard, no limits, no requirements to be acceptable to God. There’s no stick with a red line draw across it; the doors of heaven are propped open with a brick called tolerance, and anyone how wants to can just waltz right in. False.
The mark is Ten Commandments high. That is God’s standard. Only the holy may enter here, and this holiness is defined by the Ten Commandments. That is what is required of us, what God asks, no demands, and anything short of that and your off to the wages of sin: death.
1. You shall have no other gods.
2. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
3. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not murder.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not cover you neighbor’s house.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Ten wonderful commandments. Ten beautiful laws. So wonderful, in fact, and so beautiful, so marvelous that they make you and I look pretty bad.
Has this happened to you: you’re standing there feeling pretty good, you look nice, your standing up tall, you exercised a few time this week, so you’re feeling strong, and then someone comes and stands next to you, some incredibly handsome fellow that looks like he’s modeling suits for Men’s Warehouse, or some fellow who could be on the US gymnastics team, and suddenly you don’t feel so tall and handsome? That’s what the law does. Just standing there on our own, or even mingling around with our neighbors, we could think, “I’m doing pretty good. I’m keeping it together. I’m living a pretty good life.” But then the Ten Commandments walk up next to us, and we look up at them, and then back down at our selves, and we say, “Oh.” Maybe we’re not so good after all. Maybe I should be a bit worried about that man with the stick letting people through the door.
Now were almost ready for what Jesus has to say. Almost, but there’s one more piece of the puzzle to put together. If you were there on the mountain side to hear Jesus preach this sermon, and you were your run of the mill honest Jewish worker, a carpenter of fisherman or whatever, then the incredibly handsome, athletic guy, the one who would stand next to you and put you to shame, those guys are the Pharisees.
Not the the Pharisees were somehow more physically beautiful, but the Pharisees were the guys who were good. They were holy. They had dedicated their lives to keeping the Ten Commandments, and to make sure they didn’t even come close to breaking the Ten Commandments they wrote more commandments and laws. If you thought you were good and holy enough for God, then a Pharisee would walk up, and you would despair. I mean, here is this group of guys who spend every waking moment of their lives studying the law and keeping it.
If you weren’t sure if you were good enough, there was something you were sure of, and that was that the Pharisee was good enough. If he’s not, no one is.
Now you are listening to Jesus, and if they wore socks back then, this would knock them off. “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Wow.
Made it to the front of the line, and the stick to see if you are tall enough is 100 feet high.
Jesus is wielding the hammer of the law with forcefulness, and there is a lot of crushing going on. I’m looking at these Pharisees and thinking, “How can I ever be that good?” and now Jesus comes along as says, “You have to be even better.”
And then He gives examples. “You remember the Commandment not to murder, well, if you’ve been angry, you’ve murdered. You remember the Commandment to not commit adultery, well, if you look with lust you commit adultery.” Zap. Jesus gathers all the people gathered up there on the mountain, Pharisee and not, and piles them all into one massive heap: sinners. Unworthy of the kingdom of heaven. And you are on that heap. And so am I.
When we were in Oregon last week we went to a cave, and on the tour the guide took us down this winding staircase that dropped down about 50 feet. A chute, I think they call it. Apparently the man who discovered it didn’t have enough rope, he climbed down into the darkness, and he ran out of rope before he touched the bottom. So he jumped into the darkness. Now that’s just dumb, and he was lucky that he only fell three feet. But this is what the law does to us. Here we are clinging to our own righteousness, our own goodness, the hope that we can be good enough to get into heaven. And we’re at the bottom of the rope, and were still not there. So we inch down a little more and reach out our foot. Still not there. Finally we’re dangling on the last inch of our own goodness, stretching out, kicking our feet, trying to see if we’ve made it. You can’t reach.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Hearing this text you are supposed to despair of your own works and efforts. Then you let go, and drop right into the bloody hands of Jesus.
The only possible way for you to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees is for you to have the righteousness of Jesus. The only way for you to be good enough to enter into heaven is for Jesus to say you are, for Jesus to forgive your sins, and dear saints, that’s exactly what He does. He was dying on the cross to win for you a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. When you were baptized Jesus gave that righteousness to you. When you hear the promise of the Gospel Jesus is handing over to you a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees; He is declaring you to be holy, to be perfect, to be worthy to enter His kingdom.
So, “How righteous do I have to be to get into heaven?” As righteous as Jesus, which is how righteous you are. God be praised. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO