Matthew 5: 21 – 37 (Epiphany 6 – 2017)
“Jesus Teaches our Hearts”
Do you recall the wealthy young man who asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to be saved?” (Matthew 19: 16). He figured getting into heaven depended on his doing. Jesus took him to the Ten Commandments and asked him if he knew what they said. After a brief review of the Law, the man said with great confidence: “These all I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus helped him to understand that he blew it on the very first commandment: You shall have no other gods. Jesus encouraged him to sell all his earthly things, give it to the poor, and follow Him to the treasures in heaven. “His face fell and he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10: 20 – 22).
The young man was not alone. The people of Jesus’ time were saturated with the Pharisaical “good works” plan to get to heaven. Jesus knew it. In his big sermon, Jesus set out to undo that way of thinking. A closer look at the sermon and you will notice that Jesus is expounding on the Ten Commandments. He uses their meaning to convict our souls of the serious nature of our true guilt before God. No one could ever have kept these laws perfectly. “Whoever stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
In the three segments of the sermon today Jesus deals with three commands (5, 6, and 8). Now that you are all scratching your catechism memories, they are very clearly these: Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not give false testimony. Jesus teaches that God is not only interested in the letter of the law, but that his Law speaks to all of our thoughts, words and deeds. The law teaches and convicts our hearts.
The Heart Learns the 5th Commandment
“Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”
I trust that all of you in the pews today can say with confidence that you have not been convicted and incarcerated for any act of murder. But I will say with confidence that none of us have made it through our lives without an angry thought, a hateful word, or even the temptation to carry out physical harm. Did you ever call people bad names? Have you kept a grudge in the selfish harbors of a hateful heart? Have you come to God’s house today to worship, yet with a heavy heart, wrestling an unsettle matter between you another human being? Yes, we have failed the law already in our hearts.
The Heart Learns the 6th Commandment
“Whoever looks at woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart.”
I pray that many of you can safely say you never physically cheated on your spouse. But if your eyes have wandered, Jesus places the severity of that sin on the same level. Have we all treated our spouses with completely unselfish, devoted love? Would you be ashamed if your private thoughts and desires were to be posted on social media for all to read? Would you all be proud of your on-line search history? We are all tempted to take false comfort in the thought that our “secret sins” (Psalm 90: 8) are not as bad as the open wickedness of others? They are not hidden from God. Yes, we have failed the law in our hearts.
The Heart Learns the 8th Commandment
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything else comes from evil.”
I trust that none of you have been “sent to the slammer” by a judge who caught you in contempt for perjury in a court of law. I would hope that all of us strive to be honest people in our daily walks with God and fellow human beings. But all of us would be deceitful if we claimed to never have broken a promise. Too many times our “Yes’s and No’s” get clouded in our double talk. In our unending search to avoid conflict and have everyone like us, we simply have trouble with “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. We were born with a natural desire to fog the truth for our own purposes. If you don’t believe me think back to childhood, or watch children now when confronted by parents, teachers, and other adults who ask them for the truth. None of us have kept a pure tongue. Yes, we have failed the law in our thoughts, words and deeds.
Much of the Sermon on the Mount is Law; an honest reviewing of the Ten Commandments in our hearts. It is a laundry list of guilty verdicts against all of our sins. “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Our hearts have been convicted today on several accounts. We have all forfeited our chances of being saved by keeping the law.
Jesus fulfills the whole law in our place
Fortunately this is not the entire sermon Jesus gave. It is very useful to highlight one of the most significant passages of the Sermon on the Mount. It appears a few verses before our lessons for today: Jesus said “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 … not the smallest letter or the least stroke of the pen will disappear from them until they are accomplished” Matthew 5:18).
Over time and study, I have placed this verse as an important heading to the entire sermon that appears through 3 chapters of Matthew. This heading sticks out as though a yellow highlighter ran over it. Jesus knew he was going to impress the meaning of the Law on the hearts of his hearers. His heading makes this point: This is not only what the law demands from you; this is also what my Father demanded of me. This is the good that Jesus has come to do for you. This is what Jesus has fulfilled without mistake. These are the expectations that no human being, except Christ Jesus as the perfect Son of God, could accomplish.
Read with fine-toothed comb the stories of the Gospel lessons in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You will search in vain for a place where he committed a sin. You will not find a record of something that could convict him of a sin against God and the Commandments. You will never be told of a hateful thought , word or action. You will never hear of a lustful desire or a shameful treating of the women who crossed his path. You will not find him promoting deceit and lies, or giving false witnesses about anyone or anything.
The last 36 hours before his death demonstrates that so clearly. “Like a lamb lead before her shearers, so he did not open his mouth.” When he met with his closest friends the night before, he had their best interests in mind above his own. He was thinking of their spiritual good. He was thinking of their physical safety. He was thinking of their need for him to do what he was about to do as he offered them forgiveness in the very first Communion Table of his body and blood. Upon his arrest he showed integrity and obedience. In his trials, all of them unlawful and filled with false testimony, he either held his tongue or spoke in absolute truth. Even Pilate during his final trial said: “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:38).
Finally, His last few words from the cross demonstrated a careful concern for friends, family and even his enemies. And when he gave his last breathe on the cross, he offered his perfect life to his Father as full payment for every sin of thought, word and deed, committed by every human being to walk the earth. That includes you and me. The Father secured that truth. On Easter morning it was confirmed that Jesus gave a perfect sacrifice on the cross. Only the sinless Son of God could obey “the smallest letter and every stroke of the law’s pen”! (5:18).
Fast forward to the end of His great sermon: “whoever hears these words of mine and puts them into practice, is like the wise man who built his house on the rock” (7: 24). Jesus has purified you and made your body his temple. Paul wrote: “therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6: 20). In our hearts - filled with His words of grace - our thoughts, words, and deeds are ones that honor Christ. In Christ we replace hatred with love; anger with forgiveness. In Christ, spouses have unique opportunities show faithful love and the purest of intimacies. In Christ, all of his children are moved to hearts, voices, and actions that treat the opposite gender with dignity and respect. In Christ, our tongues are tamed and sharpened for words of praise, encouragement, truth, and things that lead others to see and hear the love of Jesus.
God be praised that his “Yes’s” and “No’s” are absolutely clear and certain. His boundary lines are not guessing games, moving targets, or debatable options or opinions. His promises are kept; His expectations are carried out; His truths are made certain in the words and life and love of Jesus. Our forgiveness is a “Yes” with Him. Our eternal life does not rely on us but on Him. Our salvation is made secure because of his perfect obedience to the law and his divine offering of love on Calvary. The Lord has taught our hearts. His law speaks conviction that we will not rely on ourselves. His grace speaks his purity into our hearts of faith. Amen.