Bible Passage: Matthew 5:21-37
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: February 12, 2017
Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church disagreed about many things. But there was one thing they actually agreed upon: the ideas of Galileo. Galileo was an Italian scientist who supported the theories of an earlier scientist, Nicolaus Copernicus. Those who believed the theories of Copernicus had the gall to suggest that the earth was not the center of the universe. In fact, instead of the commonly held belief that the sun moved around the earth, Galileo supported the idea that the earth actually moved around the sun. For this suggestion, Galileo was put on trial…by the Roman Catholic Church! You can almost picture Galileo presenting his case before the pope, can’t you? He’s got two different pictures up there. One shows the picture of the sun moving around the earth and he says, “This is what most people believe today, that the earth is still and the sun moves around it.” And then he moves to the second picture. “But contrary to popular belief,” he says, “I believe the earth actually moves around the sun.” The church wasn’t convinced. Galileo was forbidden to teach the Copernican model of the universe. But, as we’ve come to find out, Galileo was right. Contrary to the popular belief of that time, the earth both rotates and revolves around the sun. Contrary to popular belief! We see examples like that all the time, don’t we? Examples were the commonly held belief is proved to be false. We’re going to see another one today. Only instead of finding it in the scope of scientific discovery, we’re going to find it in our Savior’s sermon.
“They are good people.” I heard someone say that the other day. Actually, I hear that quite often. We love to describe each other as good. It’s in our nature, you know, to compare one another. “Him, he’s a good person. Her, not so much.” We love to compare. Bt when we compare, what standard are we using to measure the goodness? Are we comparing to ourselves? Are we comparing to the lowest common denominator? What are we comparing to? Last week, we heard about the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law and how they viewed righteousness. They believed that they were doing everything necessary to make themselves righteous. And it was easy to believe that because they compared themselves to the worst of sinners. In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus shows us just how this would work. “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” By doing this outwardly, they seemed righteous. In fact, Jesus held them up as a measuring stick of sorts. In verse 20 he says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” That’s a sticker shock kind of statement for everyone, but especially for the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. The Pharisees thought they were as close to perfect as you can get and Jesus says you have to be better than that! You better believe now Jesus had their attention! They believed that they were following God’s Law. They believed that they were righteous and everyone else believed it too. But, “not so fast,” Jesus says. Contrary to popular belief, you Pharisees and Teachers of the Law haven’t done nearly enough. Listen again to what he says: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 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.”
“You have heard that it was said…but I tell you.” Jesus is going to repeat that phrase four different times in this section. Four different times, Jesus is going to take one of the Ten Commandments and show how the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had been making false distinctions about keeping those commandments. Do you realize that, like the Pharisees, we like to make superficial distinctions about the seriousness of sin? We do it without even thinking about it. We believe a child who throws his toy at his sister is nowhere near the sinner as the criminal who sits on death row for actually murdering his sister. We believe firing a barrage of verbal bullets is nowhere near as sinful as firing a barrage of lead bullets at someone from a gun. We believe that we’re not murderers simply because we’ve never taken someone’s life. But what does Jesus say? Contrary to popular belief—“but I tell you…” if you ever think evil thoughts toward another person, or utter a harsh word to someone, you should be tried for murder and executed eternally. And he’s not exaggerating here. He’s absolutely serious.
The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart! We have to admit: we are all murderers! We’ve thrown the toy. We’ve spoken the harsh word. We’ve harbored the grudge. Jesus says that if we fail to repent of these sins we can’t be in fellowship with God! Instead, we’ll be thrown into the eternal prison of hell! But do we even realize what we’ve done? How often do we even consider these things—sins? But it’s not just this commandment which no one thinks they break, Jesus shows us other examples, other commandments. And again, no one thinks they really break them: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The sixth commandment deals with marriage and all that violates it: not just the physical act—but lustful thoughts, coarse joking, our sexualize culture and media, internet abuse, many aspects of dating, promiscuity, living together, the whole homosexual lifestyle, fornication, adultery, and divorce just to name a few. “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.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.” The second commandment simply demands that people keep their word in God’s name, yet we can’t even do that!
How does this happen, you wonder? How can we be so mislead about sin? How can we not realize what we are doing? Ever walked into the house with dirty snow caked on your shoes? But then you walked around the house without thinking? Only after your spouse calls attention to it, do you finally look down and see what you’ve done. ALl the dirty snow melted and dirty tracks are everywhere! You can’t believe it, but there they are. Or let’s say you’re sitting down to a nice big sandwich. But halfway through the meal, a friend points out how you have mustard all down the front of your nice dress shirt. You’re baffled about how it happened, but there it it. Or let’s say you tell your son or daughter to wipe their nose with a Kleenex, but as we all know, it’s easier to just use their hands, right? So the more they wipe with their hands, the more their germs spread. The child thinks they’re keeping their nose clean, but the exact opposite is true. That’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s taking laws which everybody thinks they have kept—perhaps simply because the government couldn’t arrest them for breaking it—and he shows how no one has kept it. Not a one. Not you. Not me. No one. There are muddy tracks and mustard stains and snotty noses everywhere. You and I need help!
Yet, contrary to popular belief, you and I can’t help ourselves! Who of us would ever think if we sat down at a piano without having had any lessons, we could play Mozart—flawlessly? And especially not if we were born deaf. Or who of us would ever think that we could walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls on the first try without ever walking a straight line in our lives? And especially not if we suffered from vertigo. That’s how holy God’s Law is. That’s how impossible it is for us to fulfill it. ANd yet, God says be holy, just as he is, or we die. Jesus’ view is the perfect view of the Law. A perfect view which can only lead us to confess with the Apostle Paul: “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me…?”
The world will tells us that we need to save ourselves. But, contrary to popular belief, the same God who demands that we be holy is the same God who saves us from our inability to be holy. The same God who demands that our whole selves—in thought, word, and deed—be in line with his will, makes us that way through Jesus! Jesus stepped into this world and from the moment he was conceived, he followed all of God’s Law in thought, word, and deed. Never did he even think a hateful thought, but when his enemies were murdering him he said, “Father, forgive them.” Never did Jesus, a true red-blooded male, ever lust after a woman. Never did he think, “How can I use her,” but only, “How can I serve her.” Never did Jesus utter a false word, but “truly, truly I say to you.” In every way that we have utterly failed to keep the law, Jesus kept it perfectly in our place. He’s the only one to sit down at the piano and play all the divine music God demanded—flawlessly—the first time. He’s the only one to cross the abyss of death and stay perfectly straight on the hair-thin line of holiness. He’s the only one to go to war against sin, death, and the devil and win. And not only did he win, but he gave us the victory by laying down his life in our place! This is exactly what Jesus meant last week when he said, “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” Jesus was holy for us so that now, we can live a holy life!
How can we respond to what Jesus has done for us other than to be thankful! And what better way to show our thankfulness than by staying connected to your Savior through his Word and Sacrament. Come before his altar and confess your sinfulness. Receive forgiveness and the power to live as God has made you to be—a holy people. What better way to show our thankfulness than to strive to keep God’s Law! And we want to keep it. Like the Psalmist says, “O Lord, I love your Law!” We have the privilege of sitting down at the piano and playing Mozart. And whenever we play a sour tune, Jesus forgives. But whenever we play a masterpiece, we do it all by God’s power and for God’s glory. We have the privilege of walking the tightrope of holiness over hell to heaven. And wherever we stumble, Jesus catches us. And wherever we walk perfectly, God works in us! Our Savior Jesus tells us in his sermon: Live a Holy Life! By ourselves, it’s impossible. But through faith, because of Jesus, we can! We can Live a Holy Life because we are holy in God’s eyes. We can Live a Holy Life because our life is Christ’s and his life is ours! Amen.