If you came to church today feeling like you were a fairly decent person, I’m sure the Readings we have heard today have changed that perception. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” doesn’t sound like much Gospel. For as bad of a rap as we give them, the Pharisees were good people in a worldly definition of good. They were the people you would trust with the most intimate secrets, knowing the combination to the safes at Fort Knox, and the like. They were good people. They strove to do everything correctly, to be honest and upright people. They did it for the wrong reasons, of course, but to the outside world they made the saintliest grandmother look like the member of a biker gang. So, unless you’re better than them, there’s no way you’re entering heaven. And since you’ve been confronted by the Ten Commandments, St. Paul’s admonition to stop living in sin, and Jesus’ revelation that keeping the Ten Commandments is far more than simply keeping the letter of the law, you have been shown that, no, there is no way your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, and, no, you cannot hope to enter heaven on your own merits.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.