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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.

 

 

Psalm 51, “Have Mercy, O God”

Psalm 51

1 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise. 18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar. (NKJ)

King David, confrodavid-repentsnted by Nathan the prophet, confessed his sin. He did not try to excuse himself, nor did he play the victim “card.” When confronted with God’s righteous judgement, with God’s Holy Word, David confessed that what God declares is true.

And what sin had King David committed, with the consequence that God called him a sinner and one deserving of God’s condemnation? God had blessed King David greatly. God gave victory over his enemies. He made him King of Israel and gave him to rule the kingdom of Israel. But even with God’s blessing upon him, King David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. However, David’s sin didn’t stop there. David also, to cover up his infidelity and Bathsheba’s pregnancy, had Uriah killed in battle by placing him on the front-line, as it were, knowing full-well that Uriah’s life would be taken from him.

David sinned against his neighbor, first by his adulterous affair, the 6th Commandment, then, by committing murder, the 5th Commandment.   But his sin encompassed much more than the external acts, a truth to which no less than Jesus Himself testifies:

Matthew 5:27-28 27 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

 2ndTable1

Jesus declares that the 6th Commandment and the 5th Commandment are not only broken when they are externally transgressed, but also when they are not fulfilled in the heart. This applies to all the Commandments, including the Table of the Law-Love for neighbor. The breaking of this group of Commandments condemns us all, for neither do we love our neighbor as we should outwardly, nor do we love our neighborly as we ought inwardly.

The transgressing of the 2nd Table of the Law alone brings God’s wrath, yet we deceive ourselves into thinking that these kind of wrongs we can make right by our own doing, by adding our own work, simply changing our ways, and doing better. If this was all that’s necessary, perhaps we could at least convince ourselves that nothing more is needed, and that all would be okay with others.

But all would still not be okay before God! If we fail to recognize that sin against neighbor is sin against God, we fail to recognize the extent of our sin and the greatness of our transgression. What King David had done against Bathsheba and against Uriah her husband was not only done against them. These acts were done against God. And more than that, not only were his actions wrong, so was his heart.

GodAboveAllThis was David’s problem. David did not truly fear God, fully love God, and completely trust God.   This was his sin.   He failed to keep God’s Word and instead, did his own thing. But he not only acted apart from God’s Word, clearly disobeying it, He disbelieved it. This David did because his heart was not right. It was corrupt, as he himself confesses, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).

Because David’s heart was corrupt, having inherited sin, this original sin led him to actually, externally, commit sin. This was David’s problem, not only that he committed actual sin, but, first and foremost, that, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, his heart, too, was corrupt and not holy, righteous, and sinless before God.

This, sadly, is our condition, too. Our Lord says that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man (Matthew 15:19-20).

You are not unlike King David, whether before or after his adulterous and murderous act. Though you may not have done either of these outwardly, as David did, your heart is not right as it should it be. You, too, were brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin. You, too, sin against your neighbor in word and deed, in thought and mind. But even more than these, you sin against the God who created you, who gives you all that you need for this body and life. Whether you sin against God in word or deed, or in thought or mind, these are signs that, just as David, so also you are not as you should be before God.

Try as you might, and wish as you will, you cannot change your condition before the Almighty Holy God. You are not able. This was David’s lot, too.

Confronted by Nathan the prophet, King David could do no other as a repentant sinner that say, I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13). David did not try to excuse himself, nor did he play the victim “card.” When confronted with God’s righteous judgement, with God’s Holy Word, David confessed that what God declares is true.

Repentant sinners, sinners who know themselves to be sinners, who know how lost their condition is and that they are not as God would have them be say, “Amen” to God’s righteous judgement. They don’t try to come up with ways to appease God with their works, by amending their sinful ways, or by changing their lives. These things won’t work, because what we do or our actions won’t change our problem—because our problem is our condition, our heart.

Like Adam and Eve, before God we are naked in our sin. He who sees all also knows all. Left to ourselves, we are lost and under the full wrath of God’s condemnation. This is what David felt and experienced, and this is also what we feel and experience. We are caught, as David was, with no recourse, and no hope…except One…God Himself.

God, who rightly condemns us because of our sin, is also the one who shows mercy and compassion to the sinner. Thus, David pleads with God for mercy saying, Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions (Psalm 51:1).

According to God’s lovingkindness and the multitude of God’s tender mercies does David say, Blot out my transgressions. And God did, and does! God’s word of condemnation upon the sinner is right and true. We are not as God woBlessing.Absolutionuld have us be, just like David. Yet, God’s word of condemnation is not His last word for the sinner who repents and seeks God’s mercy and compassion.

God had sent Nathan the prophet to confront David, and he Nathan did confront David. David confessed Nathan’s words, God’s word, to be true. He repented of his sin, recognizing what he had done and the condition of his heart, thus he called to God, and held to God’s Word of promise, pardon, and peace, and testified of God’s mercy in this blessed Psalm 51.

At the Word of our Lord, repentant sinners repent, as David did. His confession becomes their confession. Thus, Psalm 51 we, too, make our own, for by it, we testify with the Psalmist of our condition before God, and God’s gracious favor and compassion towards us sinners. We trust not at all in ourselves or in things of this world for comfort or consolation of things eternal, but rest solely on our Lord Jesus Christ, who says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Our Lord does give you rest from your labor! Jesus does bestow peace with God, for He has blotted out your transgressions by means of His death. He has washed you thoroughly from your iniquity by the shedding of His own precious blood on the cross. Because of Jesus, therefore, do not fear God’s righteous wrath and condemnation for your sin, for these Jesus suffered for you that they not be yours. And now, they are not. They are His, and because they are, no longer can even Satan accuse you before, nor can your sin:

Romans 8:31-34 31 …If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

God hears your pleas for mercy. He hears your cries for help. He hears your prayers for salvation. And these He answers in His Son, whose Name we confess, in whom we believe, and by whom we live. Thus, with the Psalmist do we continually cry, Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalm 51:10-12). (Offertory)

With King David had, we also believe the Word of our Lord, God’s Word of Law and His precious Word of Gospel, sins forgiven. And because we do, we also pray with the Psalmist, O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise (Psalm 51:15).

We also acknowledge, particularly in this penitential season of Lent, that The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

With broken and a contrite hearts, we come before the Lord, and He says, and you, He does not despise. Amen.

1Jn1.8-10a

“Keeping the Commandments,” Matthew 5:21-37

"By the words of today’s Gospel, Jesus dispels the myth that anyone can keep the commandments outwardly according to the Father’s will, for to keep the commandments outwardly means also and first to keep them inwardly, which no one can do. But all the more does this truth extol Jesus Christ as the keeper and the doer of the commandments. Jesus held no bitterness or hatred to anyone, only true, agape (sacrificial) love, even toward those who crucified Him on the cross, even towards us, that we have life. Jesus had and has a pure heart, desiring only our good, and He is faithful—always—to His Word and promise. And 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."

Mt05.21-37, Epiphany 6 Sermon, 2.13.11.pdf

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