05 February 2017

The Epiphany of Righteousness in Christ

So, what would you say is the least of the Commandments?  Whoever annuls one of the least of these Commandments and teaches others to do the same, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.  Indeed, he shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven at all.  So, which is the least of these?

Probably not the Commandments against murder,  adultery, or theft.  Even the world knows that such things are grievous wrongs.  And I expect you know that the First Commandment is not the least but the greatest of all the Commandments: You shall have no others gods before the Lord.

But perhaps you would say the Eighth Commandment is one of the least: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  After all, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.  Except you know that’s ridiculous.  Words can hurt deeply and leave real scars.

If you are caught bearing false witness, that is, testifying falsely under oath, then you are held in contempt of court, and that is no small thing.  In the Old Testament, if you bore false witness, then you would be liable to the same punishment as the person you falsely accused would have been.

And don’t suppose that idle and malicious gossip is any less sinful, no matter how common it may be.  To harm your neighbor’s good name and reputation is to despise the Word of the Lord, which teaches you to defend and protect your neighbor by speaking up on his behalf against detractors.

Well, then, what about coveting?  Granted, it may not be as harmful to your neighbor as murder, adultery, or theft.  However, the envy and jealousy, lust and resentment in your heart do harm your relationships.  And even more than that, St. Paul the Apostle deals a death blow to your coveting when he identifies it with idolatry.  To break the Ninth or Tenth Commandments is to break the First Commandment.  It is to make a false god out of things that are not God.

Okay, what about the Third Commandment?  Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Dr. Luther even says that this Commandment doesn’t apply to Christians anymore.  The Sabbath Day was a law given to the Jews, and Christians have no such command to rest from all their labors on the seventh day of the week.  It is in the freedom of the Gospel that we go to church on Sunday to hear the preaching of Christ Jesus and to receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

Even so, the meaning and significance of the Sabbath remain in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, the Third Commandment is the most gracious of all the Commandments, in which God simply tells you to rest from your labors, to rest in Him, to hear His life-giving Word, to receive His glorious and gracious gifts.  It is your sinful heart that perverts this blessed Word of the Lord into a heavy yoke.  You act as though it were a burden and a chore to go to church, and you make light and easy excuses for avoiding it, though it is fundamental to the Christian faith and life, since you cannot live without God’s Word and the preaching of it.  You despise the very thing that saves you.

Then there is the Fourth Commandment: Honor your Father and your Mother.  No commandment is more routinely broken than this one, and not only by the little people.  You are to honor your parents, not only when you are little, but also when they are old and need your help, as they helped you when you were small.  And you are to honor, respect, obey, and serve the other authorities that God has placed over you, because they are His representative and servants.

According to St. Paul, the Fourth Commandment is not the least; it is the first one with a promise, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.  To honor your father and your mother is to your own advantage in this body and life.

And by the same token, the penalty for dishonoring father and mother in the Old Testament was death by stoning.  So that is how seriously God takes this Commandment, which is not abolished in the least but is fulfilled and affirmed in Christ Jesus.

Well then, we’re left with the Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.  Or, as many of you learned it: You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.  That pertains not only to your speaking, but also to your living.  For you bear His Name as a dear child of God, baptized into Christ Jesus; and you are to keep His Name holy by hearing and confessing His Word, and by leading a godly life according to it.  The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.  But whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

Whoever annuls even the least of these Commandments shall not enter God’s Kingdom.  But the truth is, there is no “least” Commandment.  They all flow from the first and return to it.  And all of them together require perfect faith and perfect love in all of your thoughts, words, and deeds.

That is the Righteousness of God’s holy Law, which is good and right, and wise and true.  Keeping your nose clean is not good enough.  Dotting your “i’s,” crossing your “t’s,” and minding all your “p’s” and “q’s” doesn’t do it, either.  But it requires fear, love, and trust in God, and love for your neighbor as yourself, in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit.

God has called you to be His child, to bear His Name, and to live by faith in His Word.  You are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, an epiphany of the Lord Himself in the flesh.

Yet, even as a Christian, you are still too much of the world, and too much like your fallen father Adam instead of your Father in heaven.  You do not fear the Lord your God; you do not love and trust in Him as you ought; and you do not love and serve your neighbor.

How, then, shall you become salty again?  How shall you live as a child of God after the Image of God in Christ Jesus?  With what light will you brighten the world around you?

Certainly not by removing or rejecting the Law.  You shall not climb up higher by lowering or getting rid of the standards.  They’re not your standards to monkey with, anyway!  It is rather by the perfect fulfillment of the Law that you are justified and saved — by Christ, the Son of God.  For His fulfillment of the Law is your Righteousness in Him.  It is the Gospel of your Salvation.

On the one hand, He fulfills the Law by suffering its judgment and punishment of your sins, of your idolatry and unbelief and lack of love.  For all of this, He is trampled under foot in His death upon the Cross.  He is thrown out of the Garden with Adam, cast into the ground, and buried.  But in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, not only does He remain salty in Himself, but the whole earth and all of creation are seasoned in and with Him, and are preserved unto life everlasting.

As you are baptized into Christ, you are baptized into His Cross and Resurrection.  Thus are you seasoned with Jesus.  You taste and smell like Hm.  You are seasoned with His Righteousness.  You are seasoned with His Holiness.  For not only has He suffered your punishment under the Law, but He has in fact kept the Law perfectly, as only He ever could do.  He has fulfilled and accomplished it completely, in perfect faith and perfect love.  He truly is both Salt and Light.

He is the Salt of the earth.  He is the Light of the world.  As the Son of God by nature from all eternity, but so also in His human flesh and blood.  He is the perfect Man.  He is Man as man ought to be.  Thus, He fulfills and establishes the Righteousness of God as your Brother in the Flesh, so that you also might belong to His Father and His Family by faith in Him.

So it is that His Gospel now shines His Light upon you.  This it the true Light of God in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  It is the Word of His Gospel.  It does not demand, but it forgives.  It does not take, but it gives away freely.  It does not kill, but it gives life.  And it shines upon you from His Holy Cross.  That is the Lampstand in the midst of His Church, which fills His House with Light.

Ironically, this Light of the Cross is hidden in the deepest humility, in the greatest weakness and poverty and shame.  It appears so weak and foolish, so powerless and helpless, because it is the opposite of the world’s wisdom, the world’s power, the world’s strength, and the world’s glory.

It is self-sacrifice instead of self-righteousness.  It is selfless love, instead of selfish greed.  It is giving freely, instead of grabbing and taking.  It is forgiving and saving those who trespass against you, instead of exacting revenge.  It is speaking kindly and graciously, instead of gossiping.

The world has never seen or heard of such love, never before.  But in the Gospel it is heard.  And in the Cross of Christ it is seen.  For in such love Christ has kept all of the Commandments.  Not only in your stead, so that His keeping of the Law is credited to you.  But more than that, He has kept and fulfilled all of the Commandments in love for you, in caring for you as His neighbor.

Not only has He not murdered you, but He has guarded you and kept you in safety in your body and life.  And when you are sick, He heals you.  And when you die, He raises you up.

He has not robbed you, but He has given you the treasures of heaven.  And He has not committed adultery against you, but in faithfulness He has forgiven your adultery of every kind.  And He is constantly wooing you back to Himself.  Unfaithful bride that you have been, He still loves you.

He does not covet.  He does not bear false witness.  He gives generously from a heart of love.  And He bears witness that, for His sake, you are not guilty, because He has given Himself for you.

He honors His Father, even unto death.  And sinless though He was, He submitted to His human parents, to Mary and Joseph, who were mortal sinners like yourself; who were not always right; who did not always understand.  He submitted to them, because He trusted His Father in heaven.  And trusting His God and Father, He called upon His Name.  He cried out to Him in the hope and confidence of faith, even as He went to the Cross, knowing that His Father would raise Him up.

It is in this way that Christ has become your Sabbath Rest.  He has become your Peace, your Hope, your Life, and your Salvation.  For He divides His Bread with the hungry.  He divides His Body with you in His Church.  In Holy Baptism He has brought you out of the cold into the House of God.  He has made His House your home, His Castle your castle, so that you live with Him in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  He has covered your nakedness by clothing you with Himself.

As He has suffered and died in your place upon the Cross, so does His Light break forth and dawn upon you in His Resurrection from the dead, in which His Righteousness goes before Him in the Ministry of the Gospel, in the preaching of forgiveness, in the glory of His Body and His Blood.  By such ways and means of His grace, He glorifies you with His divine Glory.  That is how it is that you are now an epiphany of Christ within your own vocation and stations in life.

As often as you falter, as often as you fail, as often as you fall down flat on your face, He raises you up to stand straight and tall in His own crucified and risen Body.  It is His Righteousness that avails for you before His God and Father in heaven.  And it is likewise in His Righteousness that you prevail and persevere in love for your neighbor, even in spite of yourself.  You are seasoned by the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are preserved by His strength, by His Word and Spirit of the Cross, and by His Resurrection from the dead.  Thus, in Him, you also season and preserve your neighbor by your confession of the Gospel in the way that you speak and the way that you live.

Even in great weakness, the Lord Jesus is at work in you to will and to do according to the good and gracious will of God.  Not because you are so faithful, but He is.  Not because you are sincere and trying so hard, but because He does all things well, and He has accomplished everything for you.  Day by day and week by week, He freely gives you all good things by His grace, by His Gospel, within His Holy Church.  That’s why He wants you to be here.  That He might give you His good gifts and justify you with His Righteousness in body and soul, for now and forever.

Thus are you given the mind of Christ.  Thus do you receive the Spirit of God.  Thus do you know what is good and right and true.  You know both faith and love, because He is faithful, and He is Love.  He catechizes you with His Word and gives Himself to you in peace.  So do you know His grace toward you.  You know the Will of God in His Gospel.  For God raised this Jesus from the dead, who loves you and gave Himself for you.  He is your Righteousness, in whom you enter the Kingdom of heaven and live with the Lord your God forever and ever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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