The Transfiguration of Our Lord (2 Peter 1:16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
The Transfiguration of Our Lord + February 26, 2017
Text: 2 Peter 1:16-21

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John have a great experience.  They saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes, so that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”  They saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Him, and heard the voice of the Father from the glory cloud.  Incredible!
But they did not do what people do today and write a book about their personal experience—Jesus is For Real or I Saw His Glory!  And they also didn’t write a book about how you too can have a mountaintop experience and see Jesus—Six Days to See Jesus, or In the Cloud: How to Listen to the Majestic Glory.[1]
This is what Peter wrote about the Transfiguration:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed[2], to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
Peter doesn’t base his testimony on high and holy experiences.  He doesn’t base it on feelings of euphoria that he felt as the cloud covered them.  He certainly doesn’t suggest that believers should strive to attain the stature to be with Jesus in a way that others are not.
Instead, Peter points to the prophetic Word, the Scriptures—“to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  In this way, the religion of Jesus is open to all equally—men and women, infants to elderly, new believers and those raised in the faith.  You don’t need to be Muhammad in a cave, Buddha under a Bodhi tree, or sense a “burning in your bosom” (Mormons).  Don’t believe the Gospel on the basis of something in you; believe the Gospel on account of God who doesn’t lie and His Word which is true.  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”  Hear His voice and follow Him.  The mark of a Christian is one who listens to God’s Word and believes what it says about Jesus Christ.
Many times we find ourselves looking for God apart from His Word.  Why does God let evils befall us?  Why doesn’t He shake our indifferent loved ones out of their unbelief?  If I could just feel God’s presence or have some sign from Him then I would be comforted!  Maybe if I worship God through ornate rituals I’ll grow closer to Him.  Martin Luther had a phrase for this.  When you look for God outside of His Word, what you find is that God hides Himself.  The so-called “hidden God” is not a comforting one, because there you find only a holy and mighty judge.  If you look for God in your emotions or reason or transcendent experiences, you are effectively building a Tower of Babel, making your own high mountain with which to commune with God.  But God will only reveal Himself through His Word, because He is the one who comes down from heaven—not the other way around.
If the Gospel were only open to those who had a certain mystical experience, it would truly be a sad thing.  This is what drives people to question their faith when they’re told they must speak in tongues to know they’ve been “baptized by the Holy Spirit.”[3]  This is what causes people to think they haven’t been with God if they can’t feel it in worship.  This is not Christianity; it is the devil’s church where the ancient serpent teaches people to look inside and despise the prophetic Word of God.
Jesus had an important message for Thomas when He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”[4]  In that way, Jesus is encouraging all His brothers and sisters to be blind to what their eyes see.  Like blind people, the primary sense for our faith is hearing.  We find God in His Word—listen to Him, listen to the prophetic Word.  The flip side of that is don’t put your trust in your personal experience, because God does not promise to be there.
Truly, the experience of the Transfiguration was important for Peter, James, and John.  It was necessary for them to see it and bear witness that it happened.  But as Peter explains, “We have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed.”  The experience only confirmed what the Scriptures had said—that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”[5] and that He is the one whom Moses and the Prophets spoke.[6]
In the same way, the different experiences you have may differ from other Christians, but all of them ought to more fully confirm what the Scriptures say.  If you look up at the cross at church and suddenly it hits you, “That was for me!”  Praise God because that is what the Scriptures say.  If you are moved to tears or filled with joy at one of the hymns we sing, all glory to God because it confirms what the Word of God says to you.  If you come through to the other side of a time of deep anguish and pain, instead of looking for what steps or sayings helped you along the way, give glory to the God who wasn’t lying when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”[7]  In your testimony about Jesus, it’s not so much about sharing what Jesus has done in your life as your life being confirmation of what the Bible already said to be true.
With the devil and our sinful nature always trying to lure us into glorifying man instead of God, it’s a good thing Peter didn’t write a book about his experiences.  Someone might try and make him the first pope.[8]  But Peter won’t have it, because it isn’t about him or James or John.  It’s about Jesus, and the testimony that comes to each of us in the prophetic Word.  That is the lamp which shines in the darkness of the world and the darkness of our hearts, so that with Peter, James, John and every believer, we may truly see Jesus.  Amen.
μῦθος – narrative, more often than not false (especially with σεσοφισμένοις before it)
γνωρίζω – to make known (cf. Hebrew YDA, Ex. 24:12)
ἐξακολουθέω – Follow, pursue
the power and coming – Power and appearance (Parousia)
ἐπόπται γενηθέντες – We became eyewitnesses
μεγαλειότης – majesty (cf. Luke 9:43, while the crowds are marveling at the exorcism, Jesus tells them about His suffering and death)
We were with Him on the holy mountain – some religions of the world set apart the leader.  Muhammad was in the cave and heard from the angel.  Buddha his moment of enlightenment as he sat under the Bodhi tree.
But Peter and the other Apostles do not set themselves apart.  We have something firm, reliable, and certain: The prophetic Word
To which you do well to pay attention to – the religion of Jesus is not one of mountain-top personal experiences.  (quote from American Christianity on Mysticism)  It is for all people alike and comes through the Word.
His certain Word speaks to each of us, where as a mystical experiences are personal and vary.  Say we were to find God in an experience, each person would find their own version of God (like the Blind Men and Elephant metaphor of Indian origin).
But God is One and our Lord is true, and that is what He gives us in His Word.  We dare not venture beyond His Word unless we want to lose our certainty.
The dark place is our hearts and the world.
Peter, James, and John all saw it.  There were witnesses to back up each other’s story.  It truly happened.  Moreover, their testimony is recorded in three Gospels.
[1] There is something called the Gospel of Peter, but it was not written by Peter and it claims that Jesus felt no pain during his passion and that his divinity left his bodily “shell” before death (similar to the Quran’s claim about Jesus’ death).
[2] English Standard Version, 2016 edition.  Previous editions had: “we have something more sure—the prophetic word…” The Greek βεβαιότερον (bebaioteron) could be substantive (we have something more certain) or descriptive (the prophetic word [which is] more fully confirmed).
[3] The teaching of the Pentecostal churches, see also the movie “Jesus Camp”
[4] John 20:29
[5] Colossians 2:9
[6] Deuteronomy 18:18, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Isaiah 52:13—53:11
[7] Joshua 1:9, Psalm 55:22
[8] The Roman church did.

Balancing the Scales with Grace (Matthew 5:38-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany + February 19, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

It’s the way of justice, the way of accounting, and the way of nature.  An eye for an eye, reconcile every transaction, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  That’s fine for crime and punishment, economics, and science, but not fine when it comes to God.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, throw out all of your learning and experience of how things should balance.  Quit trying to keep track of what goes into which column.  It just doesn’t fit.
Here’s what happens when we do try to make the scales balance:
We think God blesses us because of our obedience.  When I go to church, everything just seems to go better!  That’s true as far the benefit of receiving the Word and Sacrament, but God is not looking to your faithfulness as reason to bless you.  Remember the catechism, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”[1]  Or even better in the words of our Lord, “He makes his son rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
The other half of that is we ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” when things go bad.  We try to connect a broken down car, a rebellious child, or severe pain with some dark secret God has found out.  If God indeed renders back to a person according to what we deserve, woe to us!  As the psalmist cries, “If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”[2]  Or for that matter, if God is putting out eyes, who could see?!  The Psalmist continues, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”[3]
Rather than giving us what we deserve, this is how God handles our sins.  Look back to the Introit we prayed at the beginning of service:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:8-10)
Instead of scales, when it comes to the Kingdom of heaven, we should picture the beam of the cross.   Are you looking for things to measure up?  The cross is where God settles up with humanity: “In Christ God reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”[4]  That’s where God brought all things to bear.  All human sin met all God’s wrath and the end tabulation was mercy for God’s enemies, even more than that—adoption as children with a heavenly inheritance.
But because God has quelled His wrath and canceled your debt, He is neither out to reward you for your Christian walk nor search you out as a fraud.  Instead, He has become your heavenly Father through Jesus Christ.  What makes Him a Father is that He begets children—Jesus in fact and you through faith.  You have become a child of God, and that means more than being reconciled.  It means learning the ways of Your Father.
Living in the midst of a generation that demands its rights be respected and its personal whims be catered to, that is not the way of children of God: “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Why?  Because for God, He has set aside what people deserve and replaced it with the grace of the cross.  Out of the world, He has made a Kingdom of people whose worthiness doesn’t add up and who know a God whose abundant kindness is lavished on even His enemies.
By virtue of your Baptism, the cross which marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified also marks you as one who sacrifices for those who may not even fully appreciate it.  The cross marks you as one for whom it doesn’t add up.  It doesn’t make rational, worldly sense to not retaliate, to do good to bullies, to give to wretched beggars who can never pay you back.
Someone once wrote, “You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that he has the same love for the person or people you most despise.”[5]  It’s true because that’s the love with which God loved you, and continues to bless you with all these undeserved benefits—“who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”[6]
Rejoice and live as God’s children, seeing the world not through the eyes of justice but through the mercy of the cross.  He has even made you perfect before your Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior.  Amen.
[1] Luther’s Small Catechism, Creed, 1st Article (
[2] Psalm 130:3
[3] Psalm 130:4
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:19
[5] Attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but source is unverified.
[6] Psalm 103:3-5

St. Valentine (Circuit Winkel) (Matthew 5:38-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
St. Valentine (Circuit Winkel) + February 14, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

We know what we’ve heard about Valentine’s Day since we were kids.  It’s about love.  But as with most things of God which the world gets a hold of, it gets turned into a human parody of the real thing.
The legend of St. Valentine is an example of a lot of “fake news” (as they’re calling it lately). It’s based on a story about a martyr with very little detail other than he confessed Christ before the Emperor and was killed for it.  It is also said that he healed his jailer’s daughter, resulting in he and his household believing in the Lord and being saved.  As for valentine notes, romantic love, and buying chocolates, these are all inventions of at least a century later.  But I doubt that Cupid will be standing in the unemployment line any time soon.
If the legend of the healing of St. Valentine’s jailer is true, it’s a beautiful example of what Jesus says in the Gospel, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  That he would show compassion even to those who are about to carry out his death sentence!  What an example to follow!
What an example for pastors to follow!  When I was about to leave for seminary, Pastor Carl Fischer (of blessed memory) sat down with me to impart the single most important lesson he could from his many years of service.  He said, “Love your people.”  That was it, but there’s a lot in those words.  I couldn’t really appreciate that wisdom until after completing seminary and being bestowed with the yoke of the Lord.
Yet those words weren’t just Pastor Fischer’s, gleaned from years of experience.  They were the Lord’s words, and they are the Lord’s words to each of us.
Certainly You, Lord, were an example to us of how to love—bearing shame, punishment, and anguish all for things you didn’t do.  How you prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”[1]  And it’s not even that your example of compassion made them realize the evil of what they were doing!
Yet You did it all out of true love—the kind of love which would sacrifice all for the ungrateful and cold, for even your enemies that never cease their hostility!
But how can we follow Your example, Lord?  It’s too much for lowly sinners, men of dust to achieve.  We don’t have it in us to bear reproach for your name and keep praying for the very people who insult You and walk away from you because of personal preferences or sins they don’t want to leave behind.  We don’t have the patience to wait for them to be converted and see the error of their ways and to apologize.  We would rather surround ourselves with friends and brothers than to seek out those who refuse to even talk to us.
Yet in spite of our weakness, You have made your Son to rise upon us who are evil.  You have declared to us through the mouth of a sinner, “Your sins are forgiven.”  You have displayed that love which transcends heaven and earth even to us.  Though we are unworthy to have you come under our roof, You graciously visit us in this place with your Body and Blood!  You have made us an example—as recipients of Your love.  We have known the example of Your love personally!
You have made us sons of our Father who is in heaven, and You create in us a clean heart and renew in us the joy of Your salvation.[2]  It’s Your love, Lord, not ours.  You put it in our hearts, and daily renew it.  Only through You can we love your people—not as our weak flesh would love, but with that love which has brought even your worst enemies peace and eternal salvation.  Amen.
[1] Luke 23:34
[2] Psalm 51

Humanity Recreated in Christ (Matthew 5:21-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 12, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:21-37

Since Jesus said, “I have come not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them,”[1] we are called as Christians to take a whole new look at the Old Testament because, since the Christ came, it’s no longer possible to rightly understand what God was saying unless we now see it through Jesus.
It’s enriching to look back on the Old Testament and see Christ foreshadowed—the true Passover Lamb being God’s own Son to save from death (1 Cor. 5:7), the serpent on a pole prefiguring Christ on the cross (John 3:14-15), or the flood imagery now fulfilled in the waters of Holy Baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21).  It’s truly beautiful to see how God was at work in these places and others, and how in His Son the salvation wasn’t just for the Israelites, but for “everyone who believes in Him.” (John 3:15)  In the words of the Apostle in Colossians 2, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”[2]
But a more challenging task is to see how the Ten Commandments are fulfilled in Christ.  Nevertheless, the Law is exactly where our Lord takes us after this revolutionary statement about the Scriptures.
To be sure, there are some misguided attempts to reinterpret the Ten Commandments.  One is to say that, because the Law is fulfilled by Jesus, it gives us permission to be law-less.  “You have heard it was said you shall not commit adultery.”  But I say to you, God didn’t know how much same-sex couples love each other and have committed, monogamous relationships.  Now go love whomever you feel like.
Another attempt to understand Christ and the Law is to say that He intensified the severity of the Law so that we ought to go hacking off limbs and immediately excommunicating anyone who has been divorced.
No, to rightly understand Christ fulfilling the Law, we have to see Jesus alone as the Son of God, Jesus alone as the Son of Man, and Jesus alone as Israel.  Starting with Jesus Christ, God establishes a new ethic for mankind.
This is what the new ethic looks like:

  • Men should not have wrath toward each other. Instead, they should come together reconciled because God Himself reconciled even His enemies to Himself.
  • Adultery and divorce are unthinkable because marriage is a reflection of the faithful and everlasting union between God and His Church.
  • Oaths are unnecessary for people who reflect the God in whom there is no variation or deceit.[3] Besides, the future is fully in God’s hands, isn’t it?

This ethic is altogether good.  But it’s also beyond our reach.  The interpretation of the Law cannot be adapted to fit the sinful Old Man.  There’s no reform school or boot camp you can send Old Adam to make him into the person the Lord describes here.  He can only be dealt with by the jailer, the butcher, and the devil.[4]  In short, the best thing that can happen to the old nature is for it to die.
When the Law is reexamined through Christ, it is not merely about outward action; it requires a new heart.  This new heart begins in Jesus, the Man free of sin, who needed no Law to rebuke Him.  Yet, God also promised through the Prophet Ezekiel that this would happen not just for His Son, but for all His people:
19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.[5]
This is what happens in you through Baptism.  There in the font, God begins a transformation in you.  Think of it as a heart transplant that takes your whole life to complete.  When you are baptized into Christ, God takes away your old heart, the heart of stone that refuses to change, and it dies with Christ.  You are raised with Christ and given a new heart, a heart of flesh the way God always made flesh to be.  For the rest of your baptized, believing life, He is at work in you so that you are renewed after the image of your Creator—the image of Christ.
So, it’s not about changing our outlook or working harder to be more moral people.  We need more than a rulebook, as Paul points out in Galatians 3: “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”[6]  We need righteousness, and that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The real difference is found in God’s work in everyone who is rooted in Christ by faith.
Now listen to these words as words that are fulfilled in Him and words that are fulfilled in you through faith:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
To Christ, who is our righteousness, be all the praise and glory.  Amen.
[1] Matthew 5:17
[2] Colossians 2:17; said after Paul discusses the relationship between circumcision and Baptism, as well as food laws (vv. 11-16)
[3] Romans 5:9-10; Ephesians 5:31-32; James 1:17
[4] Verses 25, 29-30, 37 (see footnote on “evil”)
[5] Ezekiel 11:19-20
[6] Galatians 3:21

Distinguishing Law and Gospel (Matthew 5:13-20)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:13-20

C.F.W. Walther once wrote, “The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.”[1]  The Gospel reading today is a wonderful illustration of that.
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
It’s commonly thought that these words are instructions on how to be a good disciple.  What a strong presence the people of God are in the world!  Gee, the world ought to be grateful to have us.

  • Actually, these are some of the harshest words of Law because they show us how far we miss the mark, individually and as the Church.
  • The Law always accuses us because it exposes our sin. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[2]
  • Because of our sinful flesh, the Law gives no power to do what it commands. It can only bring looming judgment and destruction.  Even if the Law commands us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, it has no power to change our heart.  In fact, it can only arouse our sinful rebellion: “The Law…said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”[3]

What Jesus says next is the nail in the coffin for all those who aspire to be salt and light on their own:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The seriousness of God’s Law has not changed one wit from Old Testament to New.  Anyone who tells you that God has become more friendly just because you don’t see fire and brimstone falling from the sky is being a false prophet.
That also means that heaven is no more within our reach than it was before.  Jesus did not come to show us a better way to live, or to unlock for us the power to meet the Law’s demands so we could escape its peril.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law in the only way that could help sinners—by being condemned by it as a sinner.  Jesus became all of your sin, as it is written, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[4]
That’s the Gospel: not that God has lessened the force of the Law, but that He has answered it for us in His Son.  Think back to the beginning of the service with Confession and Absolution.  The exhortation was, “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[5]  That’s from First John chapter 1.  A few sentences later, John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”[6]  The only way to enter the Kingdom of heaven is through faith in Him.  
It’s on account of all this that our Lord and Savior says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”  Your saltiness is not that you are more righteous than the rest of the earth, but that you have been called by God to repent and believe in His Beloved Son.
You are the light of the world not in and of yourself, but you have been joined to the true Light of the World.[7]  He has exposed all the darkness of your heart and works, and knowing them all, He shed His blood for you.  Through Him working in you with forgiveness (a clean conscience before God and grace for those who sin against you), mercy (acts of love for your neighbor), and hope (fearless in the face of earthly turmoil and even death), those around you will give glory to the Father in heaven.  Amen.
What Jesus is saying here is that those who follow Him, Christians, are the thing which preserves the earth.  If they lose their Christ quality, they’re no different from any of the rest of the world.  As the light of the world, God’s children are held up as an example to the people of the world as emissaries of their heavenly Father.
Now, the traditional application of that to us is that we should always be distinct from the world, and that we should live in a glass house, lest God’s reputation be tarnished by our bad example.  So, go out there and be good Christians!  Amen.
What that gave you was nothing but Law.  Do this and God will be pleased; don’t do it and you won’t measure up.  Now, there are two ways to respond to the Law: pride or despair—either you hear the Command and say, “What a good boy am I!” or “I’m so terrible, why even bother!”  If you’re proud of your Christian “walk,” this next part is for you:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus came, the Law didn’t get any easier; it actually got harder, even impossible for us to keep.  So, strange as it sounds, when you hear God’s Law, He intends for you to despair—not of ever being received by Him, but of gaining His favor by anything in you (your good intentions or your noble works).  This is why St. Paul speaks so harshly to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”[8]  Strong words!  As strong as “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will most certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
The only way to have a clean conscience before God is to trust in someone else.  Think back to the beginning of the service with Confession and Absolution.  The exhortation was, “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[9]  That’s from 1 John chapter 1.  A few sentences later, John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”[10]
The Righteous One is a title that only Jesus can bear.  He is the Man born without the inherited sin, and He is the only Israelite who ever kept the Law of God in both letter and spirit.  These next couple weeks, the Gospel readings will be from this section of Matthew, called the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is the only one who has a right to point fingers at us and preach the Law because He is never implicated by it.  But again, this is still the Law to you.
The Gospel is that this Righteous One was counted guilty on your behalf.  He who is the epitome of righteousness and a true Son of God, was counted the most wicked sinner who has ever lived.  He was condemned as an idolater, a blasphemer, an insurrectionist, a murderer, an adulterer, crucified with thieves, stirring up people with his lies, and covetous of the position of others.[11]  He was condemned for you, and for all the evil of your heart, lips, and hands.
It is through the gift of faith in Him that God looks at you and passes over the just sentence.  Though your unrighteousness reaches to the heavens, you are counted as righteous as holy Jesus, your Savior.  “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”[12]  Put your name in there, because it’s true: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, Blessed is the man against who the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”[13] (Nothing to hide from God about)
It’s through this working of the Word through Law and Gospel that God makes us salt and light.  You are the salt of the earth not because you never make a misstep, but because you, a sinner, repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  You are the light of the world because God has made you part of His new creation of little Christs.  It’s His light shining through you (forgiveness, hope, prayer)
But as soon as we run into the idea that we are the light and salt, Jesus sends in the Law.  Oh, you think you’re all that and a bag of righteous potato chips?  I am more.  You think you’ve kept the Commandments?  While you drifted off during the sermon about how great a hamburger would be, My heart never wavered from My Father—even for a moment.
Look to the Righteous One (expand on Confession and Absolution verse, 1 John 1-8-10).  He’s not only the guilt offering for our sin, but also the substitute righteous one, the perfect Law-keeper.
[1] Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Thesis IV
[2] Romans 3:20
[3] Romans 7:7b-9
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[5] 1 John 1:8-9, quoted in LSB 151
[6] 1 John 2:1 (see also v. 2)
[7] John 8:12
[8] Galatians 5:1, 3-4
[9] 1 John 1:8-9, quoted in LSB 151
[10] 1 John 2:1 (see also v. 2)
[11] John 8:48, 58-59; Luke 23:5; Mark 15:7-11; Matt. 27:38; Luke 11:53-54; Matt. 27:18
[12] Genesis 15:6
[13] Psalm 32:1-2