Sunday, July 7, 2013

What God Demands, He Gives

Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 7, 2013
What God demands He gives. He demands more than you can accomplish but gives in abundance.

There are many things we could say about God. We could talk about how He is almighty. He can do anything. We can marvel at His work of creation, bringing everything into existence. And doing so by the simple speaking of His word. We could talk about His love, His abounding mercy and grace. We could talk about His eternal nature, that He is without beginning and without end.

And as Christians, we do in fact spend a good amount of time talking about these things. We marvel at them, rejoice in them, confess them, and praise Him for them. As Christians we should in fact do this. There is indeed much to say about God and we should continue to say it.

But at the end of the day, there really is one thing to say about God, about which if we do not say it, none of the rest of it matters. The one thing we must say above all others about God is that He has given us His Son. His primary way He has revealed Himself to us—that is, everyone—is in the person of Jesus. To understand the one true God who demands much apart from Christ is to not understand God at all. To try to praise God apart from the salvation given and accomplished in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is to give praise to a false god. To try to come to terms with the true God who is holy and who condemns sinners for their sin apart from God’s answer to our sin and our condemnation is to remain in our sin and end in condemnation. His answer is His Son.

It is not working it out. It is not trying harder. It is not in feelings or emotions. It is not in philosophy, or psychology, or spirituality, or morality, or any other attempt at goodness. It is solely in salvation from God. His salvation is solely in His Son.

God demands perfection of you. He demands perfect righteousness. He holds a place for you in heaven only if you have satisfied the requirements of His holy Law. His Law is laid down nicely in the Old Testament reading, which we are very familiar with. The Old Testament reading relates to us the Ten Commandments. The well-known demands of God. You shall not do this and you shall not do that. If you do what you shall not do then you will forever be separated from God because your righteousness, your holiness, your goodness, is anything but that. With God, His demand is perfection, not just ‘good enough’.

And so any attempt at knowing God, believing in Him, following Him, that rests in any notion that you are good enough, or that at least you’re trying, is an attempt that damns you. People across the ages have tried this. They still do. It’s very appealing. Don’t we all want others to live in such a way that they’re trying to be good people, that they are wanting to be better and better people? Yes, of course we do. To a certain extent, it enables living a better existence in this life.

The problem with it is that it robs God of His glory. His primary way of making Himself known to us is His Son. Any attempt on our part to be right with God takes away what Christ has already accomplished for us. He alone gets the glory, not us. Should we try to be better people? Of course! Should we seek to do what is right? No doubt. But the reason is because of Christ. The reason is that whatever good we do is brought about by Christ. The righteousness we have is the righteousness of Christ.

The way we view God is skewed. It is skewed because of our sin and our fallen nature. We look at Him through our sinful eyes and we think that the good we do should count for something. If we step back though, and view Him the way He ought to be viewed, we can see that He is by nature not a God who demands but who gives. His creation was perfect. His love and gifts upon His people were in abundance. There were no constant demands on Adam and Eve because there was no need for it. It wasn’t only until sin entered the world that the need for demands came in.

But though He was now making demands, He was still by nature the God who gives; and who gives in abundance. Knowing the demand of perfect righteousness could never be met by us, He gave once again. He gave the promise. It was the promise of the Savior. And when the time had fully come He gave that Savior. He gave His Son. Here was His gift, perfect righteousness, for that is what Christ is. He is righteousness in the flesh. God alone is holy. He alone is without sin. He alone is perfect in righteousness. And so His gift was Himself, God in the flesh. Righteousness, in the flesh.

God demanded righteousness, He gave righteousness. He required we be like God, He gave us God—giving us Himself in the person of Jesus. God demands, yes. But God gives. What He demands, He gives. That is why He gave His Son. Jesus didn’t just pay for our sins. He didn’t just pay the penalty for our sins. He didn’t just receive the punishment for our sins that we rightly deserve. He accomplished what God demands. Perfect righteousness. Look at the Ten Commandments. Christ alone has kept them all. Perfectly. Look at the demands of God. Christ alone did what was demanded. And He did it freely. He did it joyfully. He did it out of love. Out of love for you and me and the whole world.

Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. You’d be hard put to find others who were more righteous than they were. They were upstanding people, good people, taking God’s Law very seriously. Exceeding their righteousness would be exceedingly difficult. In fact, there is only one way it can be done. It cannot be done in the way they sought to be righteous. For them, they saw righteousness as abiding by the letter of the Law. You shall not murder? Got it. Haven’t taken the life of anyone unjustly. You shall not commit adultery? Good to go. Have not had an affair with anyone. You shall not steal? No problem. Haven’t taken anything that is not mine. And they would just go right down the list, confirming themselves in their righteousness.

Many people do this same kind of thing, but we must remember that most of us don’t take it nearly as seriously and nearly to the extreme that the scribes and Pharisees did. They were righteous! And everybody knew it. So how in the world can our righteousness exceed that of theirs?

There is only one way. When it comes to adultery, Jesus ups the ante. We’re not just talking about having an affair here, but what is in your heart. The lust that consumes you. When God’s Law prohibits stealing, Jesus raises the bar. We’re not just talking about physically taking someone else’s stuff, but conniving and taking advantage of a person. And He goes on down the list, showing that the Ten Commandments is not just a list of certain actions we should and should not do, but a matter of the heart. It is out of the heart that come our evil thoughts and desires.

The Gospel reading today addresses the Fifth Commandment, You shall not murder. You haven’t unjustly taken the life of another person? That’s good. But what about the vengeful thoughts in your heart? What about the grudge you are holding onto? What about your refusal to reconcile with the person who has sinned against you? The Ten Commandments show you that, in the final analysis, your righteousness does not simply not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it shows you that you are utterly unrighteous. They were too, by the way, but were too full of their own righteousness to see it.

There is only thing you can say at this point. Only one hope and solution when you have come to this realization. It is Christ. It is Christ alone. He is perfect righteousness, and God declares you righteousness. You who are unrighteous are given what He has demanded, the perfect righteousness of His Son. While He took all of your unrighteousness on Himself, He has given you His perfect righteousness. He who exceeded all righteousness suffered what justly we ought to have for our unrighteousness and receiving the wrath of God upon sinners. At the cross, it was Christ alone suffering, the righteous for the unrighteous, His death for your life.

God demanded righteousness, holiness, perfection. He gave His Son. He gave Him to you. He has given to you what He has demanded, perfect righteousness. And in that is eternal life. Amen.


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