Sunday, July 3, 2016
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 5:20-26
Do you have a “know it all” in your life? You know what I mean. Is there a person who always has to correct what you say? Is there a person who just can’t leave a statement you make alone and instead always adds some additional piece of information? Is there a person who always has to one up you when you say something to show that he or she knows more or has experienced more?
Normally we find this annoying. It becomes a grating experience to say something and then just know that this other person can’t leave it alone. Every time we say something around this person we cringe as we wait for the inevitable comment or correction.
Well in our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is a know it all. In fact, for more than half of a chapter in Matthew our Lord does nothing except play the role of a know it all. We hear him say in our text, “You have heard that it was said to those of old.” And then after supplying the content of the statement Jesus then adds, “But I say to you.” Jesus does not just do this once. In fact, he does this six times in a row before chapter five is done. “You have heard it said … But I say to you.” “You have heard it said … But I say to you.” “You have heard it said … But I say to you.” “You have heard it said … But I say to you.” “You have heard it said … But I say to you.” “You have heard it said … But I say to you.”
Our text is found in the Sermon on the Mount that takes up chapters five through seven in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus goes up on a mountain, sits down and his disciples come to him. Then Jesus begins to teach. He starts with the famous words of the Beatitudes. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus begins by saying that because of him, those who are helpless in the face of sin already now have received God’s saving reign. In Jesus, the saving reign of God has entered into the world, and therefore already now they enjoy the end time blessing of God. It’s the same point that Jesus makes in the last beatitude when he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Of course, at this point in the Gospel Jesus hasn’t even died on the cross and risen from the dead, much less returned on the Last Day. So in the middle six beatitudes, Jesus speaks of this blessing as being one that is yet to come. So he says in the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It is classic expression of the “now and the not yet” of the Christian life.
This statement of Gospel determines how we are to understand everything that follows in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus speaks to those who have received the saving reign of God in Jesus Christ. It is a gift. It is a gift that Jesus will explain more clearly as the Gospel moves on. In chapter 20 he will tell them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” And shortly after this he states, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus brings the reign of God by dying on the cross for you. He gives his holy life in exchange for your sinful one. And because it is God the Father who sent him to do this, his sacrifice gives you forgiveness. This is the very thing that he gives you now in the Sacrament, for as our Lord says in this Gospel at the Last Supper, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Because of this you are forgiven now. You enjoy the blessing of the reign of God now. But Jesus didn’t just die. He also rose from the dead. Resurrection is a Last Day thing. Yet in Jesus, the Last Day has already begun. And so now we live as people who are waiting for Jesus to raise us up and transform us to be like him. For that reason, the middle six beatitudes are expressed as being something that will occur in the future.
Our Lord declares that this is what has happened. This is what is already true for you. This is also what will be true for you. And simply stated … that makes a difference. Immediately after the Beatitudes Jesus says about us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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 is not that the reign of God frees us to do whatever we want. In the verses just before our text Jesus says very clearly, “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.” Jesus came to fulfill them by accomplishing the saving work of God promised in the Old Testament. He also came to fulfill them by providing the authoritative and clear understanding of what they mean – of what life in the reign of God looks like.
Our text begins as Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now there are two things to understand here. First, we can’t understand this verse in a way that contradicts the Gospel opening of the sermon. Jesus is not saying that you do things in order to be saved!
And second, we need to be sure we understand who the Pharisees really were. We think of the Pharisees as being a legalistic group that set stringent standards and then considered themselves righteous and special because they did them.
However, this is only partially true. In their “tradition of the elders” they did add rules to life – things like the ritual washing of hands that were in fact only commanded of priests. They focused on these kinds of things – much like the medieval Catholic church focused on their own made up works like going on pilgrimages. But in many areas of life, the Pharisees actually made the law easier to keep by focusing only on the letter of the law in their explanations.
That’s what Jesus blows up in our text. Six times Jesus says, “You have heard it said … But I say to you.” Each time he takes a superficial and incorrect understanding that was present in the Judaism of his day and tells us that it is wrong. He is, after all, the true know it all because he really does know it all. He is Emmanuel – God with us.
Jesus states, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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.”
People like the Pharisees said that Fifth Commandment meant: “Don’t kill someone.” But Jesus says it is far deeper. It is about the anger of the heart that is the source of murder. It is about the attitude of the heart that dismisses another person as worthless – the attitude that really says they shouldn’t live.
Jesus’ words cut us. That’s what the Law does to sinners. We know that we have anger towards others. We know that we dismiss others as of little value. We call people “idiot” and the like.
Yet as those who have received the reign of God in Jesus, we also know how to respond to this. First off – and this is really important – we view anger as sin. We take Jesus’ perspective on this, not the world’s. The world says that you should be angry – that you should speak and act in outrage. The internet is often one big cesspool of anger.
But because of what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection, we say, “No. That’s not ok.” Instead, when we feel anger at another person we confess to God that it is sin. In faith we return to our baptism through which we know God has given us forgiveness. In faith we come again to the Sacrament of the Altar to receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
And then, we deal with it as those who have received the reign of God in Christ. We forgive others, even as Jesus teaches later in the Sermon on the Mount when he teaches us to prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We don’t just forgive, but we seek to be reconciled with others. In our text Jesus goes on to say, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Jesus describes a situation in his day when the temple was in operation in Jerusalem and faithful Jews offered sacrifices there as God had commanded. But note, our Lord is not just saying if you are angry to go and be reconciled. Instead, he goes a step beyond that and says that if “your brother has something against you” drop everything, go and be reconciled. If we are to seek reconciliation when we have caused another to feel angry, how much more are we to seek it when we ourselves feel angry!
It is the Spirit of God who enables us to view this in the way of Jesus and then act upon it. It is the Spirit who caused us to be born again through water and the Word. It is the Spirit of Christ who has created faith in Jesus and brought us into God’s reign.
Jesus has changed everything for us. We are now the forgiven children of God who have the assurance of resurrection and eternal life because of the Lord. We no longer see things in the way of the world. And because of Jesus we choose to act differently. We see anger as sin. We forgive those who have wronged us. We seek to be reconciled with those who have wronged us and with those whom we have wronged. After all, we have received the saving reign of God in Jesus Christ.