Faithlife Sermons

The Righteousness Game

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1)   Introduction: Russian Roulette                                                               

a)     Russian roulette is a game that is played by taking a revolver that holds six bullets and placing one in the cylinder, spinning it, placing the barrel to your head and pulling the trigger.  You have a 1 in 6 chance of killing yourself.

b)    Now imagine playing that game with all six bullets loaded.  You have a 100% chance of killing yourself.

c)      This is the inevitable outcome of playing the self-righteous game.

2)   The Righteousness Game                                                          Mt. 5:20

a)     Jesus has thrown the gauntlet down (ού μή)

b)    Who are the Pharisees and Scribes?

i)       Esteemed and feared social status

ii)    Relation to the law and a notion of righteousness

(1) The Law required fasting once a year

(2) They boasted of fasting twice a week

c)     What is Jesus saying by referring to the righteousness of Pharisees?

i)       Their righteousness is insufficient; it is not good enough

ii)    Given that most of the audience esteemed the Pharisees as more righteous than them, Jesus is also implying that none of his hearers had any righteousness whatsoever to speak of.  ................................................... Rom. 3:9-20 (Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3)

iii)  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs (and only theirs) is the Kingdom of Heaven.

iv)   He is exposing their self-deception.  They think they are doing just fine, Jesus is saying you are playing a stupid game.  You are playing Russian Roulette – and even doing so with a fully loaded cylinder. 

3)   Essential Righteousness                                                       Mt 5:13-16

a)     The context then that is driving towards this staggering statement regarding righteousness compares the righteous with salt and light. 

b)    Statements of Essence

i)       Salt as salt is salty.  Its saltiness is self-evident and is derived from its nature, its salt-ness. 

ii)    Light as light is luminous.  Its illuminating properties are self-evident and are derived from its nature, its light-ness.

c)     TENSION: Jesus says that his hearers are this light and this salt?  How can this be if none have the righteousness that is greater than the scribes and Pharisees?

i)       Illustration:  “Define Working on It” as seen in a television advertisement for Cable.

ii)    Redefining the standard                        looking forward to Mt. 5:17-19

(1)  Jesus assures us that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

(2)  Law is eternal because it is the articulation of the Character of God

(3) Jesus lets us in elsewhere that the Law and all the OT is about Him (Lk 24:44). 

(4)  To seek to rewrite or change the Law is essentially to say that God is not righteous, that His character could be improved upon – and so by his own creatures!

4)   Three Dangers of Self-Righteousness (PRESCRIPTIVE) Mt. 5:17-19

[ Subversive, Seductive, Self-deceptive ]

a)     Subversive

i)       Seeks to supplant the Law of God with its amended human form.

ii)    Illustration: A teenager draws up a revised version of the constitution and then decides to live by it and to get others to live by it.

b)    Subtly Seductive

i)       In order to meet the demands of the Law of God taken as prescription we are seduced subtly by temptation and depravity to make the standard something that we can easily achieve. 

ii)    Illustration:  It is like cheating on a final exam and receiving an “A”.  One may have people affirming great scholarship; yet in reality the recipient who cheated knows that the “A” does not correspond to the established standard.

c)     Self-Deceptive

i)       The problem Jesus has with the Pharisees is not that they wanted to keep the Law

ii)    The problem is that they had in practice created a different corrupted standard, which they now boasted about keeping and condemned others who did not keep their amended version of the Law. 

iii)  They were as Jesus says blind guides who really thought they could see (Mt 15:14; 23:16,24).

iv)  Question: Would you know if you were caught in self-deception? 

(1)  If one is deceived they are not aware of it.  To be aware is to no longer be deceived. 

(2)   How does one escape from grueling grip of self-deception?  -- One must be rescued by another who can in fact see rightly.  This is what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount.

5)   Christ our Righteousness (DESCRIPTIVE)                        Mt. 5:17-19

a)     Quote: “Our Lord has not come to make it easier for us or to make it in any way less stringent in [the Law’s] demands upon us.  His purpose in coming was to enable us to keep the law not to abrogate it.” ~ D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Sermon on the Mount, p. 174-75.

b)    Return to TENSION: Again we are back to the cosmic problem of humanity. 

i)       If Jesus’ assessment of the human condition is correct, every person is impoverished morally, spiritually and otherwise. 

ii)    Those who see it are torn asunder and mourn.

iii)    It is these who hunger and thirst after righteousness that will be both satisfied and persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

c)      Yet there is a great life-long procession of holiness to which Jesus calls the citizens of the Kingdom of God.

i)       How does one get on this pontifical parade float?  One must have righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees.

ii)    Mt. 5:10-11 give us a clue.  Jesus equates himself as the righteousness for which, those who are poor in spirit, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, are persecuted.  JESUS = RIGHTEOUSNESS.

iii)   Jesus is saying that to be right with God one must have nothing other than His righteousness, the righteousness of God, who is Jesus himself.

d)    Union with Christ

i)       This union occurs by faith alone

ii)    The connection is permanent and is what theologians call justification.  We who are infinitely indebted to God for breaking his law are vindicated in Christ.

iii)   Yet saving faith is not without affect.  Sola fides justificat sed non fides est sola.  This affect is the great procession in holiness that the believer in Christ participates by way of Union with the only Human Being to ever truly keep the Law of God.

iv)   On the progressive nature of this procession:  “This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise.  We are not therefore what we shall be but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end but it is the road.  All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.” ~ Martin Luther

v)    The Sermon on the Mount is DESCRIBING an identity change (no prescribing it).

(1)  We who were are paupers in our own right, are made heirs of the Kingdom of God, inheritors of this entire cosmos.

(2)  We are now rich and secure, and yet our wealth and status are alien and not our own, thus the Christian is the person who is not engrossed in the self-deception of self-righteousness is meek; for he or she knows that all that they have belongs to another.

(3)   Closing Quote to Contemplate: “We go to God in Christ’s skin and on his back.” ~ Martin Luther

(4)  Beloved!  If indeed you are in Christ, do you see this imperfect procession in your own life? 

(a)  He marches to the God of Holiness.  Do you see his mark upon your life? 

(b) The Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a believer is to form Christ in us.  O that this may be our prayer this week and for all our lives that Christ, Christ! May be formed more fully, more completely in us.  Amen.

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