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The 17 verses that comprise the gospel lesson for today are some of the most difficult verses to preach on. As such, it is important for us to do a complete reset and remember which doorways we have entered through to get to this point in the sermon. The beatitudes were the sermon’s introduction – stating the wonderful spiritual truth that all of Christ’s disciples are “blessed,” blessed because of the faith-born relationship we have with our Savior God, in which our God establishes peace, and imputes life and salvation to us through his blood, shed on the cross. We are blessed in our deficient, lowly spiritual status because we belong to our Savior who gives us the glory of forgiveness through his humble sacrifice. And nothing in all creation can separate us from that “blessedness” we have in Christ Jesus. That’s the intro to this sermon. The theme is this: you disciples, who are blessed in Christ Jesus, you are salt, you are light, and are meant to be different from the rest of the world, and you are meant to stand out in faithful Christian living so that your lives uphold the confession that is on your lips, so that others may “see your good deeds, and praise your Father in heaven.” Under that theme, we venture into the first set of commandment explanations, where Jesus clarifies for us what it really means to keep the commandments – in thought, word and deed. We’re going to be humbled. We’re going to see how far we fall short. We’re going to learn our liability before the law’s deep demands. But in the process we’ll lend our ears to the Savior God who started his sermon by calling us “blessed.” Don’t forget that. For it is because we are “blessed” in his name and by his grace and because we are “salt” and we are “light for the world” that we now – strive for standards of spiritual greatness in every area of life – in the church, in the home and in the civil arena. Jesus’ first bit of instruction calls for spiritual greatness in the life of the church, and uses the 5th commandment as the point of teaching: “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do
not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
I. In the church
As we already know, the 5th commandment is more than just a forbidding of the unlawful taking of life. Certainly murder in its most common form is contrary to the will of God and worthy of condemnation. But Jesus takes us much deeper than that. We can “murder” someone in our hearts or by our words by bringing harm upon them with bitter insult and selfish pride-filled rage. And the thought behind the words, and the words that lead to actions, in and of themselves are worthy of God’s eternal judgment, not only causing temporary schisms in relationships, but ultimately destroying the relationship with our God. I don’t think we should pat ourselves on the back for not murdering someone else by taking their life. Each one of us has committed “murder” in our hearts and on our lips. And what’s worse, we find ourselves willing to “murder” the ones that we share the closest spiritual bond with, our family of faith – fellow Christians. How many murders have you committed this week? This day, perhaps?
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Reconcile! We have already been “blessed” because God has reconciled us to
himself in Christ through the cross. The relationship that we busted apart with our rebelliousness of sin has been restored completely through Jesus and his cross. Thus, reconcile with each other. When we use our words to tear down rather than build up, when our hearts burn with rage against one of our fellow Christians, when we hold on to anger and the power that it exercises over another Christian, we’re “murdering” them. Be different. You were created in Christ to stand out. And what a superior act of spiritual greatness when the reconciliation of Christ, established through his death, is extended to the relationships we enjoy in our congregation and synod, so that, in the peace of forgiveness, we are able to build each other up in the true Christian faith and serve one another in love and faithfulness as we help each other hold firm to the faith that saves. The second area where Christians strive for spiritual greatness is in the home, in which the primary relationship is husband and wife. Jesus uses the 6th commandment to further teach his disciples what the intention of the law REALLY is: “27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 II. In the home
Here is what Jesus says to us, so that we function as “salt and light” in the life of the church. “23
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Adultery invites radical danger into the home, into the marriage relationship and ultimately into one’s relationship with their heavenly Father. Just think of the kind of damage that adultery does to a home. Husband and wife are torn apart. Trust is destroyed, perhaps never able to be rebuilt. Children are left with a lasting impression that leads them into harmful relationships when they get older. It always has devastating consequences. It always destroys relationships. What Jesus tells his disciples, though, is that adultery is not just the physical act of engaging in marriage behavior outside the institution of marriage. He tells us that anyone who “looks at a woman lustfully...” is an adulterer. That’s where the indictments start rolling in for us. Adultery is not just a matter of the body. Like murder, it is a matter of the heart, and heart-adultery is just as condemnable as the act itself. And because it is in the heart and not visible for all to see, it is a sin that presents radical dangers for Christ’s disciples, especially in our modern era where filth is many times free and readily accessible; and especially dangerous when we can convince ourselves that we need not feel guilty for that which is hidden deeply in the caverns of our hearts and minds, which no one else can see or know. Our Savior urges us to honor the gift of marriage, the primary relationship in the home, by viewing the opposite gender with Christ-like glasses. Adultery is always harmful to marriage and opposed to it, even if it is enclosed in the caverns of our hearts. And with such radical danger involved, radical action is necessary – because: 29 It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be
thrown into hell.”
You are his disciples. Therefore you are salt. You are different, and as such, the modern standards of marriage morality are not satisfactory. God’s radical act of grace in Christ, his purchase of his bride, the Church, with holy blood on the cross is our driving force for treating our husbands and wives and all of the opposite gender with the utmost respect, viewing them with Christ-like glasses. Strive for that
standard of spiritual excellence in the realm of marriage, for in the home, first and foremost, does adultery have the most grievous consequences, and in the home is the Christian life to shine the brightest. Now, we venture into the last area of influence where we are to strive for spiritual excellence, the civil arena. Interestingly, Jesus provides a nice segue between marriage and oath-taking by briefly taking up the topic of divorce, which involves oaths and is both private and public in nature. We will venture ahead to verses 33-37, specifically now, where Jesus gives this instruction to his disciples who are to stand out and be different in the civil arena: III. In the civil arena
“33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Once again, we’re presented with something that is not just a matter of the body, but a matter of the heart as well. Jesus, later in Matthew will tell the “brood of vipers” Pharisees, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” We tend to cover up our deceit with nice-sounding words. We like to try and pull a veil over sinful intentions with words that make us appear righteous and innocent. Words mean something! They have power, and when words come flying out of our mouths, we are responsible for them and all the damage that they can cause. The spiritual problem compounds when we bring God’s name into our sinful intentions. How many times has the court oath been broken, that terrible sham where God’s name is invoked to tell the whole truth, only to have that precious saving name blasphemed with the plethora of lies flying out of the witness’ mouth? And even though not one person in the courtroom can see into the heart of the lying witness, God sees, and he will hold accountable anyone who makes an oath in his name, and then uses and abuses it for their own personal gain. Use your lips for something greater. Let your “yes” be “yes.” Let your “no” be “no.” Let the words you say be the words you mean, words which flow from a Christ-like heart that sees the tongue as powerful to communicate the divine truth of salvation. Strive for spiritual greatness in the civil arena by being different, never trifling with words, but remembering that every word you say, every sentence that comes out of your mouth, even in the civil realm, reflects upon your Savior God who himself was placed under oath at his own trial, to which he gave faithful answer that set in motion his path to the cross. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no,” for no swearing is needed to substantiate absolute truth that overflows from a heart of faith. Quite the sermon this Sermon on the Mount is! In every aspect of our lives, in the life of the church, in our home life, and in our public witness, we are called to be different, to be superior and excellent in our Christian living. Strive for such excellence! For you are “blessed” in Christ by his saving merits, you are called to be “salt” to stand out in this bland world, and your Christian life in private and in public will shine light upon the hope that you have for eternity in him, as his disciple! Amen.
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