The Rules We Make And The Foolish Games We Play

Text: Matthew 5:17-26

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In case you have not noticed it, all of humanity is completely and certifiably foolish.  We are nuts!  Not just a little foolish, but full of deceit - every single one of us is duped and mistaken – drunk on foolishness.

You see, we all play a game.  The game works like this: we make up our own rules of how we believe this life should be lived – what is good, right, and true according to us.  Now, these rules are often made and developed in ways that are most convenient for ourselves. That is to say; we make rules that cater to our strengths and preferences. And then once we have created these rules, we congratulate ourselves for keeping our rules, while condemning others who do not measure up to our rules.

In case this doesn’t sound foolish enough, foolishness is compounded when we begin to fight with ‘other people.’ For example, ‘other people’ come along, look at our rules, and then want to tear them down.  They want to tear down our rules down because they struggle to meet up to the standard of our rules.  So, they will insist that our rules are unfair, unreasonable, and wrong.  They will then do everything possible to get rid of our rules.  

But here is the catch.  If these ‘other people’ are successful in getting rid of our old rules, they will then proceed to set up their ‘new’ rules of how life should be lived – what is good, right, and true, according to them.  They will set up new rules that cater to their strengths and preferences.  

Now, these ‘other people’ will be happy for a time because they are in charge of their ‘new’ rules, that is, until somebody else comes along and tears down their rules and creates a whole different set of rules.  And around, and around, and around they go.  

Foolishness – is it not?  All foolishness!  

But why are you and I – along with the rest of humanity - so incredibly insistent on creating, enforcing, and upholding our own rules?  Why do we spend so much time and energy making up rules of how life should be lived – what is good, right, and true according to us?  Jesus answers this for us in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus goes after the Scribes and Pharisees for their foolish rulemaking.  He exposes the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees are making up rules to pat themselves on the back.  They are making up rules to create something horrific called, ‘self-righteousness.’  

You see, this is how all of this works. Mankind, like the Pharisees and Scribes, desires to make achievable rules. We like making rules that are do-able – at least for us.  We like to set the bar low within ‘our’ reach but high enough out of reach of others.  The reason why?  When we can attain and follow our rules, it makes us feel righteous and good.  If we make a rule and keep it, we can pat ourselves on the back.  We feel even better when we make a rule, keep it, and others cannot do it as well as us. It feels good to be able to do something that others cannot.  

And so, if we can convince everyone around us that our rules are the right rules and then we go on achieving our rules, then we feel a sense of self-righteousness. We will walk with pride and confidence because we are the cat’s meow – we are keeping the rules, and everyone else is not!   

As previously mentioned, this is exactly what the Pharisees and Scribes were doing during the first century. These religious leaders were masters at making themselves look good in front of others.  They had everyone convinced that their rules were the best rules, and, as already mentioned, they were also very good at fulfilling their rules, which made them puffed up and arrogant – full of self-righteous pride.

But Jesus knew better – He knew the game that they were playing.  He saw through their false righteousness, and He sees through our silly rules and false righteousness as well.  

So, what Jesus does is quite remarkable.  He exposes the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees had made up a bunch of rules.  He essentially pulled the carpet out from under their feet.  Furthermore, Jesus was exposing the fact that the Pharisees and Scribes did not have the right to determine the rules in the first place. They were not in charge; they were not God. 

Dear friends, I mentioned earlier that this world is completely and certifiably foolish.  It is foolish not only because we are constantly trying to tear down and replace each other’s rules over and over and over again, but because we also believe, somewhere along the way, that we have the right to determine the rules.  

Shame on humanity for thinking that we have the right to establish rules of how this life should be lived – what is good, right, and true.  Shame on humanity for making up our own rules and then using our rules to make ourselves better than others!  

Dear friends, hear this loud and clear: there is only ‘one’ Rule Maker.  There is only ‘one’ set of rules. That one Rule Maker is certainly not you, me, or your neighbor.  And that one set of rules, well… it does not belong to one small segment of humanity but stands over all of humanity - on every continent, and in every place, for all of time!  That one rule maker is our Lord and God! And that one set of rules is the divine 10 Commandments! 

But we do not like this as humanity!  In fact, our old Adam cannot stand this idea of having one Rule Maker with one set of rules.  We hate this because if there are one Rule Maker and one set of rules, we are no longer in control of the rules. We hate this because one Rule Maker and one set of rules makes everyone – together – subject to the same rules – no one has an advantage in this kind of game.  And that is the whole point that Jesus makes in our Gospel reading!  No one is able to achieve the rules of the one Rule Maker. We all stand condemned with our mouths equally shut, with no righteousness to show. 

Hear this loud and clear.  God does not care about your man-made rules and how good you are at keeping them. If you are morally righteous according to your rules, it does not mean anything because your rules don’t count before God. 

Dear friends, do not be so foolish to base your goodness and righteousness off of your own silly man-made rules. But instead, consider yourself before the holy divine 10 Commandments!  And as you soberly look into those 10 Commandments, what you will see is that you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, you heard that correctly. As you look at the divine 10 Commandments, you will see not your goodness and righteousness but your failure and sin.  When you look soberly at the 10 Commandments, you will never see the reflection of all of your greatest accomplishments, but how you have failed to love God and your neighbor perfectly.

But this is not the only thing that Jesus wants you to consider from the Gospel reading.  We also heard today that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  That is to say; Christ is the only one who was able to fulfill the rules of the 10 Commandments. And so, Jesus is truly righteous for successfully keeping all the 10 Commandments. 

Now, Jesus did not knock the 10 Commandments down, but He achieved the impossible – He kept the 10 Commandments because He is without sin.  

And this is what is so incredibly remarkable; He did not keep the 10 Commandments to one-up you or rub it in your face. But instead, He kept the 10 Commandments in your place.  

This is a point that often goes missing in Christianity.  We correctly understand that Jesus died to take away our sins; however, we must know that He also lived to give you His righteousness.  He died on the cross to take away sin; He followed the 10 Commandments perfectly to give you His righteousness.  And we wear this righteousness as a robe!  

No silly games, with man-made rules.  

No false righteousness.  

No need to tear down God’s Law!  

You have all the righteousness you need, in Jesus, who surpasses all the silly rules of mankind by keeping the rules of the 10 Commandments perfectly - for you!  

Baptized Saints, because of Jesus, you will enter the kingdom of heaven.  In Christ, you have both forgiveness and righteousness. All done for you – as a gift – nothing held back.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

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