There are two kinds of Christians and Christian Churches: Those that believe the Sermon on the Mount is the heart and soul of the Gospel, and the others who believe that the Gospel culminates in the Death and Resurrection of their Savior Jesus Christ and his sending out of the Apostles to preach this to a fallen world.
The former - and sadly, they far outnumber the later group - interpret this sermon as instructions on what they must do, in addition to what Jesus has already done, to enter the kingdom of heaven. By this, they place a heavy burden upon the sinner's conscience, which they themselves cannot bear.
Yet this I will say, because of their misbelief they try very hard to live pious lives, not all that unlike the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day. Believe me, no one tried harder to live by the laws of God than did the Pharisees. And the scribes were so well versed in the Law that they not only taught it to the Jews but also acted as judges who determined whether they were keeping it or not. Yet Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount had this to say about these most pious of all the Jews, "Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
And this statement, which I'm sure shocked a good number of his disciples when they heard it, was based on two assertions: one, that the piety of the scribes and Pharisees was was derived from an incomplete knowledge of the law; and two, that man's righteousness, while it can be good in comparison to the righteousness of others, is not nearly good enough to merit one's salvation.
In regard to the first assertion, that their piety was derived from an incomplete knowledge of the law, Jesus declared, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, `You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you..." Then Jesus went on to explain that murder in God's eyes is not only taking a person's life. It is also anger without a cause and slander.
That's because the law of God applies not only to your deeds, but also to your thoughts, your feelings, and your words. You may never have killed a person, at least not without a legitimate cause such as in warfare. But who among you does not get angry with someone for selfish reasons? And who among you has never said an unkind word to another in his anger? That, Jesus says, is also murder, which puts you in danger of hell fire.
But the Law of God goes even further than that, as it condemns a person not only for what he does, but also for what he fails to do. And this is what the 5th Commandment commands you to do. If you've offended someone, then you are to go to him, even before you offer your gift at the Altar Jesus says, and beg for his forgiveness. If, on the other hand, you are the one who was offended, then you are to go to him who offended you, even before you offer your gift at the Altar Jesus says, and forgive him whether he wants your forgiveness or not. Not to do so, Jesus says, will also condemn you to an eternity in the inescapable prison house of hell.
Now how good do the scribes and Pharisees look? More importantly, how good do you look? You may very well look better than others, maybe than most. I would expect that as you are a Christian. But unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the most pious people who have ever lived, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Which begs the question, how righteous then do you have to be? St. Peter gave that answer to the Christians of his day, when he told them, "As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, `Be holy, for I am holy.'"
Now do you realize what a heavy burden those who insist on making the Sermon on the Mount the heart and soul of the Gospel place on the conscience? Who can be as righteous as God? No one by what he does. But when you consider this in the light of what's been done, then the answer is you.
"Or do you not know that as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" His Death should have been your death, as death is the wages of your sin. Yet Jesus, the sinless Son of God, stood before the judge, who handed him over to the officer, who in turn delivered him to the torturers, and this in place of a murderer named Barabbas no less, that he might be put to death in the stead of all murderers, as well as adulterers, thieves, false witnesses, coveters, disobedient children, and idolaters.
And by this he merited your redemption from an eternal death. For the price God required to release you from the hell you merited by your sinfulness and sinful living was not a prescribed amount of money, but Blood, the holy, precious Blood of God's only- begotten Son to be exact. How could anyone possibly add anything to that, as if something more were needed?
And the payment your Savior made to God for all men by his Death was applied to you, when his shed Blood was poured over you in a Holy Baptism to wash all your sins away. Therefore, you were "buried with him through your Baptism" in the sense that all your sins have been removed from God's sight, and also raised with him to a new life, as you emerged from the font clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
And he who believes this rather than foolishly tries to add something to it has already entered the kingdom of heaven.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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