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“True Righteousness,” Matthew 5:21-37

21[Jesus said:] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But 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. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come 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. 26Truly, 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.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If 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. 30And 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.’ 32But 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.’ 34But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In Gospel reading, continuing from Matthew 5 and Jesus’ teaching on the Mount, Jesus reveals that the commandments of God are not at all kept by the simple outward doing of them.

Keeping the commandments in the way of “righteousness” that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20) is first a matter of the heart and doing rightly before God, the just judge.

The three particular commandments that Jesus addresses in today’s reading are these: “You shall not murder,” the 5th Commandment (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 ); “You shall not commit adultery,” the 6th Commandment (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18); and “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God,” the 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).

Jesus reveals these commandments in such a way that no one is excusable before Him.

The One who is truly righteous is only He who originally is, Jesus Himself.  Salvation must come from outside of us, and it is found in Christ alone.

Only after being blessed of God through His Son do we begin to rightly exhibit that righteousness which is Christ’s, thus being salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14).

Concerning the 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder,” Jesus connects anger and insult.  Here, we could certainly add hate, too, for St. John writes in his first epistle, “He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:14-16).

Instead of hate, insult, and anger, God would have us love, build up, speak kindly, and sacrifice ourselves for others.

Jesus condemns the physical act of murder, including euthanasia, abortion, and even neglect, but He also condemns hatred, bitterness, holding grudges, and harboring resentment.

 “Out of the heart,” Jesus says, “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20).

What we need is a Savior.

In Jesus, you have yours.

Those things of not murdering, not hating, not insulting others, and not harboring bitterness, Jesus has thus fulfilled.

Such is the love Jesus has for sinners like us that He turned the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), suffered the reproach and mockery of men, as well as suffered even death at the hands of sinners-for the sake of sinners (Matthew 20:19; 26:45).

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

In doing so, Jesus demonstrated, not hate, but the love of God by which He reconciled you to God, saved you from sin and death, and through whom you have a new heart and a new mind, that you not put yourself first but others, and seek peace.

Christ forgives you. You you also forgive others.

In today’s text, Jesus cuts through the falsehood of only outwardly doing the law before others.  He speaks of the heart before God and our actions before others, not only regarding the Fifth Commandment, “Do not murder,” but also with regard to the Sixth Commandment, “Do not commit adultery.”

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:17-20 NKJ).

Only where God has first cleansed the heart and forgiven sins does one then begin to rightly do what God commands.

Of himself and apart from Christ, all that the sinner does before God is just show, even if it be great in the eyes of the world.  But before God is what eternally matters!

Once again, Jesus penetrates through the hypocrisy of those in Jesus’ day and our own.

Not just committing the act of adultery is sin, but even looking or lusting after another is sin, too.

Here especially, our society and culture don’t at all help the Christian remain Christian.  In our schools, on TV and in movies, on billboards and posters, and not least of all, on the internet, one cannot escape the amount of skin shown and the type of clothing worn, or not worn, and the lack of modesty, in order to attract and allure, to tempt and to evoke.

Sex sells, they say.

Even Christians, whether younger or older, male or female, are not immune to such enticements.

Also, the number of couples living together before marriage, according to one statistic, is 66% (Aug 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/cohabitation-facts-and-statistics-2302236).

Even within the church, what is considered sin before God is considered less so today, especially by those who wish, and do, advocate and legitimatize same-sex attractions, let alone perversions of many kinds, contrary to God’s creative order and will.

Christians, those who seek to abide by God’s Word and will, seek to avoid temptations, of all kinds.

We cannot, however, avoid our sinful hearts. This is a cross that the godly continue to bear.

Thus, do we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from the evil one” (6th & 7th Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer).

These two petitions, respectively, have these explanations (The Lutheran Confessions):

“God indeed tempts no one. But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Though we are attacked by these things, we pray that still we may finally overcome them and gain the victory.” (Meaning to 6th Petition)

“We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all kinds of evil, of body and soul, property and honor. And finally, when our last hour shall come, we pray that He would grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.” (Meaning to 7th Petition)

“‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8, NKJ).

Seek the Lord and His help.  Look to His Word.  Remember your Baptism, daily, and boldly say, “I am a child of God.  I am not my own.  I was bought at a price.  Thus, will I “Glorify God in” my “body and in” my “spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20), God helping me.

Continue the struggle and look to Christ alone for your help and stay!

“If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 Jn. 3:20-21 NKJ).

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:1-5 NKJ).

Common in Jesus’ day, and in ours, was the notion that murder only meant physically taking someone’s life, and that someone committed adultery only when the physical act was committed.

Jesus dispels such limitations.

Both issues stem from the heart, and given in to, make themselves known in word and deed.

Committing sin inwardly, though not committing the sin outwardly, Jesus points out, is still sin before God.

It is the sin being born of the heart that leads to the actual doing of it, if not held in check.

With reference to divorce and the corresponding to the 6th Commandment, Jesus had said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

These words had, and have, to a large degree, fallen by the wayside in many minds today, almost as if they don’t exist, as if God had not done the joining.

Having forsaken the will of God for the will of man, many reasons were, and are, given for justification to divorce one’s spouse.

Because of the hardness of hearts, Moses had permitted the certificate of divorce to be granted, but, as Jesus says, “From the beginning this was not so” (Matthew 19:8).

The prophet Malachi declares, “The LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

Divorce is not according to God’s will.

Yet, note the exception that our Lord here gives, that of the sexual immorality of the other.

As Christians, we want to recognize the boundaries that God gives to protect marriage between man and woman, as that’s the only kind of marriage instituted and acceptable to God, and so also to His people.

We also want to distinguish between what is pleasing to God from what is not.

Bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and even suffering another’s faults is according to God’s will. This includes, especially, within that union of two people bound to one another through the sacred institution of holy matrimony.

Faithfulness to one’s spouse, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness are according to God’s will should one be married.

In the book of Proverbs, it is written, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:12).

Love does cover all sins.  A husband’s love for his wife.  A wife’s love for her husband.

Not least of all, God’s love in Christ for the sinner, for you.  He does not and will not divorce you.

Rather does He speak kindly to your hearts and give that which alone truly comforts and gives true contentment – even life and salvation.

The love of God in Jesus Christ covers all your sins.

His blood cleanses you, and your conscience, from all unrighteousness, guilt, and shame.

As for the last part of today’s Gospel, concerning oaths, Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”  The people of Jesus’ day had a way of casually and carelessly making oaths.  They swore here and there without a second thought.  They misused God’s Name and used it in vain to their own ends.  They believed it to be ok to defend themselves with God’s honor for even insignificant things.

One’s word should cast no doubt as to it being true, without the need for further embellishments.  Rather than trying to reinforce our words with oaths and vows, we are to simply say, “Yes” or “No.”

We are to use the Name of the Lord rightly and in a way that pleases, not ourselves, but Him who calls us, as Luther addresses in the Small Catechism, the 1st Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

So did Jesus speak all that the Father gave Him to speak.

His Word is Spirit and it is life (John 6:63).

So does Jesus speak rightly and truly in all that He says and makes known.

His yes was yes.  His no, no. All that He said He would do He did.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and…He was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 NKJ)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus dispels the myth that the keeping of God’s law only has to do with making a good show before the world and doing right on the outside alone, or assuming justification before God because of what we believe to be right, contrary to His Holy Word.

Keeping the commandments means that one’s “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).

This means not first doing rightly according to the Law, but first believing rightly according to God’s revelation in Christ, having faith in God’s Son for the forgiveness of sins, and resting on Christ alone, and not at all on what you do at all for salvation or for anything else.

This truth extols Jesus Christ as the keeper and the doer of the commandments, the One Who had come, not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, in their entirety (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus held no bitterness or hatred toward anyone, only true, agape (sacrificial) love, even toward those who crucified Him on the cross, even towards you, that you have life.  Jesus had and has a pure heart, desiring only your good.

He is faithful—always—to His Word and promise.  This He demonstrated, not with extra oaths and meaningless vows, but with the shedding of His blood on the cross, even that which is poured out, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus alone is pure in heart.  As His Father is, so is He.

As His people, so do we seek to be, and so we seek to follow.

As children of God in Christ, so we believe – so we do. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, forgive me my sins.  I have sinned against You and ask for Your undeserved mercy in Christ Jesus. Help me to live according to Your Word and will. Amen.

 

 

“Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” Matthew 5:13-20

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.

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.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 112 reads in part, “Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! … Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous” (Ps. 112:1,4 ESV).

These words correspond very well with today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the 5th chapter.

There, Jesus talks about salt and light, the very things that His disciples, His followers, believers, in fact and in deed, are, not by virtue of their own actions, but as a result of Whose they are, as well as what they are in Christ—blessed.

The words that direct our attention this morning are those that follow what are called
“The Beatitudes” in St. Matthew’s Gospel, also chapter 5, where Jesus opened up His mouth and began teaching, and continues to teach, His disciples.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15 NKJ).

Today’s text cannot be rightly understood apart from the very words of blessedness that precede it.

To be blessed by God, to have God’s blessing, is nothing other than to receive from Him His good will and favor through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is to believe in Jesus alone for help and salvation, and to find nothing in oneself by which one can be helped before the just God.

Self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy are not the way of Christians, who humble themselves before the Lord and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ alone, even as they pray, “Forgive us our trespasses” and confess their sins before God and one another, gladly receiving the absolution of God.  For this, they give thanks and praise to God, who wipes their slates clean before Him and reckons to them the righteousness of Christ as their own.

With such blessing from God, in no way attributed to our own endeavors or attempts, we proceed with today’s text.

First, it should be stated clearly that when Jesus speaks the plural yous in both verse 13 and 14 of chapter 5 concerning salt and light, Jesus is specifically addressing His disciples, namely, the blessed ones, those who are blessed because of the promises of God and who believe those promises.

Jesus is not there talking about all people, let alone only Americans, and least of all, nonbelievers, idolaters, believers in false religions, or anyone else who is not included with those who are blessed of God in Jesus Christ.

When such words are taken out of context and applied to nonChristians, the meaning of the text is corrupted and lends itself to false teaching, saying what the text does not say.

NonChristians cannot be the salt and light that Jesus speaks of because their works before God are not good, though all the world would say otherwise.   They are not blessed of God as those described in the “Beatitudes,” not because they don’t do what might be considered visibly “good” according to sinful man, but because they don’t believe in the One whom the Father sent—He alone who Is Good, and through Whom alone anything that we do is acceptable and pleasing to God.

Without Christ, all that we do is sinful—the result of the Fall in the garden—Original sin.

Any hope that the world has is not in or by what we do, but in Him who came into the world as a babe through His virgin mother and died on the wooden cross, shedding His blood for our redemption.  Apart from that One, all is lost.  But in and through Him, all is won.

Before one can be salt of the earth and light of the world, one must first be changed from not being salt and not being light to being salt and to being light.

This change does not take place by going “through the motions” of Christian piety in order to appear “good” before others (aka. What Pharisees do)?

This change does not take place by appearing as if one is Christian while not at all believing what God says (aka hypocrisy)?

This change does not occur by doing the “right” things, but for the wrong reasons, or, merely having “good” intent, but not doing what is “right” before God.

Becoming salt and light is a power that we do not have.

All who believe that they can “make it happen,” of themselves, deceive themselves.

Children of God are those who do not trust in themselves but hope in Christ alone for help and salvation, even that they be ‘salt and light’.

With such hoping, not in themselves, but in Another, they are the salt and the light, as God gives them to be.

God’s people are far from perfect.  You know this from experience, of others and of yourselves.

If you don’t, reflect for a moment just on the First Table of the Law, summed up with the words,  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37 NKJ).

Do you, at all times and in all places, in every circumstance, under every condition, and in the far reaches of your own heart and mind, love God above everything else, not just with the mouth, but with your whole being, wanting none other than to serve Him, and Him alone, regardless of the cost to yourself, your family, your everything, and not for gain or reward, but simply because God is all-gracious and giving and good towards you?

So does St. Paul also say,

“What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:15, 18-19 NKJ).

Not only with the First Table of the Law do we fall waaay short, but also with the Second Table, we fail.

Loving neighbor as self, including those closest to us—family—as well as those in the household of faith—the church—not for selfish gain or recognition, but simply for the sake of the other, because of need, without any strings attached, giving freely, does not come natural to us.

More often than not, we do what we do to get something, whether it be recognition, praise, or simply, that “feeling” of doing something “good.”

Being salt and light does not have to do with how you fail and fall short.

Your saltiness and the brightness of your light doesn’t originate with you.

Christians reflect Christ and His light, not their own.

So does our Lord say, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:3-5 NKJ).

St. Peter says,  “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NKJ).

Any who do not confess Christ and seek to live as His blessed child, confessing their sin and denying themselves (Matthew 10:38), who desire instead to live by their own rules, according to their own self-righteous ways and not according to His Word, by faith, are not His and are not worthy of Him.

In distinction from play Christians are they who plead for mercy and help from the Lord Jesus, seeking His mercy and His grace, for Christ’s sake alone.  These alone are the salt of earth and the light of the world, and they are so because they do not trust at all in themselves or their own ways, but to God alone is the glory.  Their boast is in Christ alone, as with St. Paul, who declares,

“God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NKJ).

In so far as we’ve come this far in the text, we now briefly transition to the words of our Lord concerning the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  This much is plain from the text.  What might not be so clear is how these words connect to what is previous to them.

As an introduction, the Law refers generally to the Law of God, the entirety of the Ten Commandments.

Connected with the Prophets, the Law and the Prophets is shorthand for the whole Old Testament, which consists of God’s Commands and promise, the prophecies concerning Christ, the Messiah.  Thus, Jesus came to fulfill both the Law of God and the prophecies about Him in the Old Testament.  And He has.

Yet, Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and Prophets, even to death on the cross, in no way implies the abolishing of God’s Law, as if it is no longer necessary or obligatory for us to live morally under God’s order; not for God (as if He needed anything), but toward one another and according to God’s Word.

As long as we remain in the flesh, we continue to struggle with our sin, and the Law is necessary, that we might more clearly know our sin and more greatly see our Savior.

In Christ, sin no longer is the last word.

Yes, we struggle with it, but under God’s grace (Romans 6:14), we have the certainty of God’s grace and favor, even the sure hope of eternal life.

Far from leading us to live in sin in the way of our sinful flesh, such hope in God’s grace moves us to live unto God, bearing fruit and doing what God would have us do, living the way that God would have us live, not for ourselves, but to God as we serve others, according to the Command, fulfilled in love.

St. James writes that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, 26).

These words are true.

Faith reveals itself by what we say and do.

Our hope, at the same time, is not in what we say and do.  This would be placing our trust in our own words and in our own actions, the very thing that the blessed of God do not do.

Instead, our hope is in Christ.

As our hope is in Christ, so will we also seek to do according to His will as He reveals it.

In this way, you are salt and you are light, and you remain so, as you remain in Christ.  Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasPrayer: Gracious God, forgive me for not being who You have called me to be and for not doing what You have called me to do. Help me to change my sinful ways and to abide in You according to Your Holy Word, for I am Yours. Amen.

 

 

“Be Perfect?!”

Upon two commandments, Jesus says, hang all the Law and the Prophets. The first is to Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). The first commandment here has to do with faith to God. The second has to do with love for neighbor. It is this second commandment which draws our attention in today’s Gospel reading. It is according to this commandment whereby we demonstrate whose we are in this life, whether we are of our own or whether we are of the Lord.

To be Christian does not mean simply to confess the Christian faith with the mouth. This anyone can do. And truly, there are many who merely say that they are Christian. They speak the Creed. They say that they are sinners. They say that they are Christian. They hold membership in a Christian congregation. Yet they don’t exhibit the very things that Jesus is talking about in our text. They hold grudges. They backbite. They do not forgive. They raise dissention and quarrel any chance they get. Their actions truly do speak louder than their words…

Mt05.38-48, Epiphany 7, 2011A.pdf

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