If you read the first page of today’s Bulletin, you saw an explanation about the Readings for the next few weeks. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth your time to read later today. The next several weeks in this long Trinity season will take a look at the topic of sanctification, that is, our Christian life and how we live the faith, especially how we’re doing with that phrase from the Post-Communion Collect, living in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another.
And, as the Word of God does its work of dividing joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart, we find that we’re not good at it. And not just “not good” as in “I could say I do okay.” We’re not good as in, awful, miserable failures. And, put your finger down. Remember what your mom taught you. When you point at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you. It may be cliché, but it’s true. Jesus Himself taught us that. Consider the plank in your own eye before getting hung up on the speck in your brother’s. The Word of God has confronted every one of us this morning with the same damnation. None of us have a perfect external righteousness that can be compared to the impeccable external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. And, more importantly, none of us have the perfect internal righteousness that can be compared to the impeccable righteousness of Jesus Christ, the One who fulfills every iota and dot of the perfect and good Law of God. We should not get out of the eternal jail of hell until we have paid the last penny, which, of course, we could never do.
Not one of us has perfectly bridled our tongue. Not one of us has perfectly helped our neighbor. Not one of us has loved our enemies and prayed for them. Not one of us have turned from sin and its perverse pleasure the way we ought. Instead, we have all done the opposite. And how much more damning that we, Christians, have done it? How much more damning that we, who are not to be enslaved to sin, have willingly chained ourselves to it, have willingly thumbed our nose at God, have willingly said “I’ll take the death of sin over life in Christ.”
So, this leaves us in a perfectly depressing, damning spot, doesn’t it? We are shown by God’s Law that our sanctification is weak. We are not always the best reflections of the internal righteousness given to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made ours through our Baptism. But that does not make the Law bad or its use bad, even if it makes us feel bad. It’s good for us to have the Law, the bright mirror, held in front of us. Though we are declared fully righteous for Christ’s sake, we do not know perfection in this life. We must be engaged in battle against our flesh, the Old Adam because it wants nothing more than sin and living for temporal pleasure. We as Christians, as new creations in Christ, need the Law and its accusations and exposure of sin so we know our need for God’s mercy. We need its threats to keep us from giving into temptation in outward ways that make things worse. And we need its light and guidance that we might have the joy of knowing what is good and what it is to do God’s will.
While there is certainly a joy in knowing that we are doing God’s will and not the devil’s, what joy is there now for us who have been confronted and condemned by the Law? We heard those comforting, beautiful Words in today’s Epistle: “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by Baptism into death, that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” These are Words of comfort and grace. God the Father has sent His only-begotten Son to die as a Sacrifice for the sin of the world—and that includes every single one of yours. And He freely bestows that forgiveness as a gift, a demonstration of His power and wisdom that surpasses all understanding. You have a God who forgives sins! You have a God who took them not just away, but onto Himself. He died the death you should have. He endured hell where you should have. He took onto Himself death and punishment and gave you His righteousness, His glory, His life. Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the Words and promises of God declare. Baptism saves. By it God delivers the Holy Spirit, creates faith, and declares sinners righteous.
Yes, you have sinned. Yes, you have failed. Your righteousness—internal and external—is awful, but it is made perfect in Christ. Where you failed to love your enemy, cursing them and treating them awfully, Christ has done the opposite. You were His enemy, but while you were His enemy, He died for you. He took away your sin, gave you His forgiveness. He endured your spiteful treatment of Himself and of one another, and gave you forgiveness and peace. He gave you His righteousness that fulfills every dot and iota of the Law. He gave you His righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.
Theirs was only external. It looked real, but it was fake, something we will hear in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in just a few weeks. Our righteousness is mainly internal and it often looks fake, but it is real, and we pray that by the Holy Spirit it would also be external. We desire for the world to see the love of Christ in us that has made us His by grace. That’s not to say our actions make it real or that our righteousness is determined by how moral we are. Our righteousness is real even if it is mostly unseen. It is not earned or deserved. It is ours by divine declaration. Christ gives us a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees for His own sake. It is continually bestowed through the daily drowning and raising of the Baptismal life. Christ has suffered for us. For His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us as gifts.
So we pray that through the Means of Grace, through the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Word, in the water, in the Body and Blood, that our faith toward God would be increased as well as our fervent love toward one another, and that He would keep us in this faith to life everlasting. And that prayer is answered by the Father, for the sake of Christ, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God that this life is ours, and that He will attend our every way with His grace until we reach our journey’s end.
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.