Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Righteousness Needed for Heaven

Matthew 5:17-26 There was a man in the early church named Marcion who taught that the God revealed in the Old Testament (the God who spoke from Mt. Sinai and gave the Law to Moses) was incompatible with the God of the New Testament who forgave those who broke the Law.  He believed that they were opposed to one another—the God of the Old Testament being a harsh, demanding God of wrath-- and the God of the New Testament, Jesus, being kind and merciful and forgiving. 
His teaching was condemned as heresy and he was excommunicated-- but his ideas are still around. 
You hear people saying that because Jesus never specifically addressed abortion that it must be acceptable to him.  You hear people saying that what Jesus really cares about is not who you are intimate with-- but that you love that person.  You hear people saying that the Holy Spirit is leading the church away from the old morality contained in the Ten Commandments-- to a new way of approval and acceptance.
And these modern followers of that ancient heretic appeal to Jesus as their authority—they tell us that surely if Jesus were still here on earth he would agree with them.  But he would not!  Jesus upheld the Law as the unchanging will of God for mankind and he bound all of us to that Law until the end of time.  Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
            Those who look to Jesus for their authority to cast away the moral Law of God cannot appeal to his words or to his life.  They will find no support from him for their heresy that denies the moral Law as being from God.  Jesus said of himself again and again:  I came to do my Father’s will.  I speak my Father’s words.  The command I give you was from the beginning. 
Jesus’ entire life was lived—not in opposition to the Law of God—but in perfect fulfillment of the Law of God.  In thought, word and deed he was careful to do his Father’s will and keep his Father’s words and live in holiness like his Father—and he called people to leave their sins-- rather than leave them in those sins.
Jesus cannot and must not be pitted against his heavenly Father when it comes to the moral Law because he and his Father share the same divine nature and have exactly the same divine holiness.  And Jesus and his Father are also perfectly united in their expectation of how we are to live until the end of days.  Jesus says:
Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Besides appealing to Jesus for a new understanding of morality, you will hear people say that times have changed-- and we Christians have to change along with them when it comes to what is right and wrong and accept what has always been a sin. 
Well, they are right in that times have changed—but what is right and wrong in God’s sight cannot change -because it is grounded in the unchangeable will of God.  God’s will, expressed in the Law, flows from his own holiness --not from what we think is right and wrong at some given moment in human history. 
The Law comes from God—it is written on the human heart and it was written on tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai and people can try to ignore their consciences- and they can break stone tablets- and they can enact legislation that goes against God’s law-- but not for one moment can they change God’s law.
God has not changed his mind about the necessity of worship or the sanctity of life or the definition of marriage-- and he stands opposed to those who claim to speak in his name to set aside his commandments—and so does Jesus.  Jesus said:
Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
            Throughout more and more places in the church today there is a wholesale apostasy from the faith and morals of Christianity that sets aside the Law of God and teaches others to do the same.
The unbelieving world, of course, looks on with glowing approval.  Look how loving they are!  Look how accepting they are!  Look how open and welcoming they are!
And by contrast of course the world judges those who hold fast to God’s word as unloving, judgmental, and angry.
But what matters, is not what the world says-- but what God says-- and he says that those who hold fast to his commands will be called great in his kingdom. 
And so why does Jesus put such a high priority on upholding God’s Law and making sure that it is not diminished in the least but taught faithfully?  It is because, only through the rigorous preaching of the demands of the Law, can we know of our need for God’s salvation in Christ.
To tell someone that their sin is not a sin is the most loveless thing that anyone can possibly do to another person because it leaves them in their sin and condemns them to hell and to do this- from the church- in the name of Christ is an outrage! 
Rather than diminishing the law, the church needs to uphold it in all its moral rigor so we can see our need for a righteousness that lies outside of us.  Jesus says:
I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
            Jesus in no way, shape or form diminished the requirements of the law like so many do today in his name.  Instead, he pointed out that the righteousness requirements of the Law (what God expects of you and me) go far beyond what most of us think. 
The law doesn’t just demand of us that we never commit adultery so that we can pat ourselves on the back if we have never been divorced or have never had an affair—the law demands of us that we have never, not even once lusted in our heart. 
The law doesn’t just demand of us that we do not bow down before idols or worship a false god-- but that we have never, not even once failed to trust God perfectly by worrying. 
And the law doesn’t just demand of us that we not murder so that we can congratulate ourselves on not being thugs--but the law demands of us that we have never, not even once been angry or called someone a bad name. 
The fact of the matter is, that, according to Jesus-- just one of these sins against God’s law will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven and make us subject to the eternal fires of hell! 
That is the way that Jesus wants the Law upheld and taught among his people for this reason:  that we would see our great need for a righteousness that is far beyond what even the most devout and decent people can offer up in their lives.
The righteousness that God counts as salvation is found in only one place and that is Jesus Christ who came into this world—not to do away with the law---but to suffer our punishment on the cross and fulfill the Law for us, in our place-- so that through faith in him, his righteousness can become our own. 
And because this righteousness of Christ is ours by faith, Jesus expects us to show it in how we live—not returning to sin, but living in holy obedience to the Law.  He said:
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
            Jesus’ expectation for you and me is that we would take seriously what God has to say in his Law and live our lives according to it—and that we ought to be careful that we do not fool ourselves into believing that things can be right between us and God while we are living in unrepentant sin.
The example he gave is one of interpersonal conflict.  Maybe harsh words were spoken between these people—maybe there was an angry disagreement—maybe there was some kind of business deal that was not on the up-and-up—but whatever happened--there was conflict and he says that before there can be worship --there needs to be repentance and reconciliation.
Jesus used the example of interpersonal conflict as a sin that comes between us and God but he could have used any of the Ten Commandments.  When we are living in unrepentant sin, actively, purposefully going against God’s will—we must not believe that things are right between us and God (because they are not!) until we repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness.
God promises the blessings of forgiveness for those who love him and keep his commandments.  But he also warns us that there are curses and consequences that come with disobedience.  Jesus said:
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
            There are consequences to sin—God has built it into his Law:  abusing drugs and alcohol wrecks your health—sexual immorality ruins marriages—constantly bad-mouthing others makes others keep you at arms-length and anger and bitterness destroys families and friendships. 
A lack of repentance hurts us and those around us and it also hurts our relationship with God.  The man in Jesus’ example had every chance to be reconciled --but if he wouldn’t- he faced jail.  We have an opportunity today to repent—to change the direction of our lives, be reconciled to God, and to go a new way.  To turn our backs on this moment of grace is not to face a lifetime in jail but an eternity in hell.
Jesus has fulfilled the law’s demands and he has paid, with his life’s blood, every last penny that we owe on account of our sins.  There is no reason for anyone to go to hell when he has paid to set us free. 

As the free children of God we live our life like that of Jesus:  upholding the Law and fulfilling God’s commands and walking in newness of life.  Amen.

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