Perfection In Christ

Text: Matthew 5:38-48

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week we asked the question, “Just how much righteousness is needed in order to have entrance into the kingdom of heaven?”  From this question we learned from Jesus that an extreme amount of righteousness is needed.  In fact a righteousness that surpasses the religious super-heroes is needed; religious super-heroes like the Scribes, Pharisees, and the Monks. 

Today we have a continuation of the text from last week; we have a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In this text, Jesus continues to unpack the Law and He unpacks several sections that are hard for us to hear.  He calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love our enemies.  He calls us to avoid retaliation and to repay evil with good. 

I think it is safe to say that Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading from today is very relevant to us today.  It provides us with ability to see why there is so much conflict in today’s culture and in today’s churches.  Can you imagine how much nicer things would be in this world if people were actually to take Jesus’ words seriously?  If people were actually to take the commandments serious, think about all the broken marriages, all the lawsuits, all the wars, all the mistrust, all the retaliation, and so forth…. They would cease to exist if the commandments of God were followed.  Think about it for a moment.  If these principles and commandments of Jesus were to be followed there would be no more need for lawyers, divorce court, judges, police men, reconciliation principles, the military, locks on the door, security systems, and so forth.  Truly God’s Law is good and true! 

So, is this what Christ is getting at here in this text?  Is Christ merely advocating for the Law for a better society and a more peaceful culture?  Actually, Jesus is putting forth six authoritative teachings that would constitute what we would call ethics for the Christian.  Without a doubt He is showing forth what a Christian is not to do and what a Christian is to do.  He is showing that a Christian is to remain sexually pure in actions and thoughts; that a Christian is to withhold murder and hate; that a Christian is to repay evil with good; and that we are to love and pray for our enemies.  Indeed he lays forth a very high ethic for us to aspire to.  In fact, as we look over these 6 authoritative teachings we will discover just how hard it is to do the good works that God commands and that we can really spend the rest of our lives trying to practice these commands and follow this ethical guideline. 

With that said, I don’t know about you, but I’m really troubled by this whole section of Scripture though.  I know that this may sound odd to you that I am troubled by these verses, but I am.  As I look at the Gospel reading from last week and these ethical guidelines from the text this week, I am indeed troubled.  It isn’t that I think these commands are bad or that Jesus is incorrect.  For, I do agree that these commands and these ethical standards are good, pure, true, and certainly right.  However, I am troubled by the demands.  I was troubled from the sermon theme last week when I asked myself the question, “Do I have enough righteousness to enter the kingdom of heaven?”  I am also troubled by the words of Jesus at the end of our text today where He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Otherwise stated, you and I are called to have a righteousness that exceeds that of religious super-heroes and that we are to be perfect like God the Father.  That, my friends, is easier said than done. 

You see when we soberly look at the text from last week and the text from this week we can agree that the demands of the Law and the teaching of Jesus’ ethics are good and true.  However, as we look at the full demands of the Law we should be troubled knowing that no one can fulfill this Law; nobody can fulfill this ethical standard.  Seriously look at this text.  Are you perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect in Heaven?  Do you put Jesus and others first in your life?  Do you put yourself last?  There are only two responses to this high ethical standard and this very powerful Law, we can either lie and deceive ourselves thinking that we are actually pulling it off or we can admit that we are not pulling it off and that we have failed/sinned in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

So where do we go from here.  Last week we heard the Law and came to the conclusion that we did not possess in ourselves the righteousness that was needed to have admittance into the kingdom of heaven; however, we did hear the good news that we did have a righteousness that was not of ourselves, a righteousness that was given to you and me by Christ Jesus.  Yes, we heard the news that we do indeed possess a righteousness greater than the Scribes, Pharisees, and Monks; a righteousness that is not based off of our own worthiness and work.  Rather it is a righteousness of Christ that is given and credited to you and me. 

My friends, it is no different for us in today’s Gospel.  Jesus hammers us with the Law and the standard of perfection.  “You are to be PERFECT like your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  However, these high standards that Jesus sets for us are also set for Him.  When Jesus took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He placed Himself under the authority of the Law and the same standard that we are placed under.  While you and I can never live up to this high standard, Jesus lived up to this high standard in every way.  Yes, Jesus lived up to perfection in thought, word, and deed.  Jesus totally submitted to the will of God the Father.  He constantly thought of others before He thought of Himself.  He lived this life of perfection and He did it so that His righteousness could be credited to you and me!

My friends, as I shared with you last week, let me share with you again. When you measure yourself with the demands of the Law and its demands of perfection, you will see nothing except your own sin and your past and present failures.  Looking to the Law you will rightly groan and anguish, realizing that you have not surpassed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees; that your righteousness fails to meet the standard of perfection externally and internally; and that you do not have admittance into the kingdom of heaven. 

Looking away from the Law, you may be tempted to look to yourself and believe the lie that you can amend your life if you could only live longer, try harder, and be more positive.  However, the blunt reality is that it is impossible for you to acquire enough righteousness and sufficient righteousness that will grant you access to the kingdom of heaven.  Rather, look away from yourself to the author and perfector of your salvation, Christ crucified.  Behold, in the rubble of your sin, Christ descends.  In Christ you take hold of perfect righteousness that is given to you as a gift. It is for you!  In Christ, you are given righteousness to receive, not perform.  It is righteousness that you wear as a robe.   And yes, this righteousness is enough for the kingdom of heaven, for Christ did not abolish the Law, but fulfilled it; He fulfilled it for you.

Now, at this point in the sermon, it would be nice to place a neat little bow here and say ‘Amen.’  However, all this contemplation on the text thus far brings up a good point that we simply must address.  If we are indeed unable, and we truly are, to be perfect and fulfill the Law; if we are indeed unable to have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees, Scribes, Monks, and Religious Super-heroes; if we indeed can’t fulfill the Law to complete perfection, then should we just throw the towel in and chalk it all up as impossible?  I mean, why try at all.  If we can’t do something right, why should we try to do it at all?  I mean, if we can’t fulfill the Law and act on it rightly, why bother trying to do it at all?  Why not just continue to sin in order that God may keep on forgiving!  Why not give up on the Law and righteousness, for Jesus does have us covered?  Is this what Jesus intending in this text? 

My friends, yes it is true that God’s Law is impossible to keep.  Yes, it is true that Jesus keeps the Law for you and me.  However, to then make the jump that Jesus somehow gives a license to sin, or that because He fulfills the Law that the Christian can somehow have a pass on the Law as if it doesn’t really matter, is not what this text is about.  Let me explain.  The key to understand all of this is Christ!  Let me explain.  God’s Holy Law, as expressed in the 10 Commandments, demands.  It makes strong demands to you and me ethically.  The Law is so strong that it kills you and me.  It leaves you and me bare.  It leaves you condemned.  It leaves you guilty, as it should.  It reveals our sin.  It shuts our mouths.  It reveals all the ways that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself.  It shows you how you are not perfect and how you do not possess enough righteousness to enter the kingdom of heaven.  It is a hammer that crushes and kills.  However, that is not the whole story, or the end of the story, for you also encounter the Gospel.  You receive baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In your baptism you partake of Christ and the fruits of his death.  You are crucified with Christ.  Death happened to you at your baptism; life happened to you at your baptism.  You were taken from death, unable to fulfill the Law by your own actions and abilities, and placed underneath the shadow of the cross where you are covered, clothed, washed, and forgiven by the one who kept the Law completely for you; you are given life and the name of God is placed upon you.  Thus, sin shall have no dominion over you since you are not under Law but under Grace my friends.  Sin does not have a say, nor does it have authority to condemn you, for you have been buried and resurrected with Christ in your baptism.  Therefore, this idea that a Christian could possibly support and promote sin so that grace and forgiveness should increase is totally and utterly absurd.  That would be like a lover desiring to return to the state of unloving in order to fall in love again.  That is impossible.  My friends, you have been baptized into Christ.  You have died and no longer live.  You have been resurrected anew in Jesus.  Yes, your sin has put you in the grave, but the Gospel puts you in Jesus’s grave and you are resurrected in Christ.  Therefore, to sin that grace may abound or to sin because we have grace is completely and utterly stupid.  This idea that I am saved, therefore, I have a license to sin is not the voice of the Gospel, nor the voice of the new man; it is the voice of the old flesh and the devil himself.  Therefore, because Christ is our life we live in Grace and we uphold God’s precious Law knowing that we don’t do good works to become a Christian but we do good works because we already are Christians.  This also means that when we do sin, for we certainly will, that we shall return to the waters of our baptism in repentance confessing boldly.  Indeed, when we sin daily we shall return to the waters of our baptism and begin again hearing that our sin has been put to death in Christ and drowned in the waters of our baptism.

My friends, it is all about Christ for you.  His forgiveness, His righteousness, His death, and His resurrection for you.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

CLICK HERE to join in the conversation on Facebook.
CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter.