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LSB Epiphany 6A Sermon – Matthew 5:21-37

February 17, 2014

February 16, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“You have heard that it was said to those of old…. But I say to you….”

Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount continues with an exposition of the Ten Commandments. Last week, you heard Jesus’ statement made about His connection to the Law and the Prophets: “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. 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. 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.” Jesus’ words indicated that the Law is in effect. But they also put forward the concept that there is a fullness to the Law, something to be completed.

That concept about the fullness of the Law was illustrated in today’s Gospel Reading. You heard Jesus’ exposition of the Law. (You will hear more of it next Sunday.) Jesus teaches about several of the Ten Commandments. He takes up the topics of murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths. But what does He do with them? Does Jesus say that these have become free issues, topics where each individual is able to establish their own morality? No, that’s not what He does. Does Jesus relax any of the commandments, making them easier to accomplish? No, He doesn’t do that either. Instead, Jesus presents what the fullness of the Law looks like.

In His teaching, Jesus notes what others have taught about these topics. He does so with a bit of rhythm and cadence: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ … It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ … 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.’” Jesus rehearses the general moral teaching of the day, a teaching that was rooted in what the LORD had spoken in the Law of Moses.

But as Jesus rehearses the general moral teaching of the day, He also points out how the fullness of the Law had not been taught. What the people had heard wasn’t incorrect. There wasn’t “false teaching” in the sense of heresy or complete disregard for what the LORD had said. No, that would have been noticed by the people. But there had been a bit of incomplete teaching, a kind of whittling down of the Law to its most basic and simple level. And this leads to the thought that people like the Pharisees had promoted: that individuals are able to keep all the demands that the LORD had made. It is a form of relaxing the commandments and tacking others to do the same.

You can pick that up from Jesus’ statements. When He relates what had been taught concerning murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths, the audience could have provided their record of achievement. They could do what a young man would later do in Jesus’ life—tell Him that he had kept all these commandments from his youth. “I have not killed anyone. I have not had an extramarital affair with anyone. I have not divorced anyone or I have divorced someone but followed the rules in doing so. I have not sworn to anything falsely.” The basic and simple level, the relaxed level, of the Law was achievable.

But is this what the LORD demanded? Is this type of teaching what He had in mind? Does this sound like the message brought when Moses said to the people of Israel: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” No, that sort of moral teaching that Jesus mentions doesn’t seem to be a matter of life and death, good and evil. It’s more a matter of politeness and generally good behavior. Do that and none of your neighbors will think badly of you.

Compare that to what Jesus puts forward when He gives His exposition of the Law: “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…. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. But 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…. But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” Now those types of statements carry the nature of a way of life and a way of death, like Moses noted. That echoes the Psalmist’s declaration about the LORD and His Law: “You have commanded Your precepts to be kept diligently.”

Jesus’ teaching has a fullness to it. He is showing the complete meaning of the LORD’s Law. It isn’t whittled down to a toothpick. No, it stands as a big board full of stringent demands. But that is how it should be. When the LORD who is holy and powerful speaks, His words will also be holy and powerful. There is no wimpyness to the Law. It is a matter of life and death, good and evil.

So how do your ears feel when Jesus’ words are read? What does it do to your heart? Is the conscience serene and secure? If so, then perhaps His words should be heard again. Jesus’ exposition of the Law is meant to prick and prod, to cajole and condemn. That sweeping truth about the LORD’s standard of righteousness is to show that you are not holy. It puts into clear terms what the LORD meant when He spoke through Moses: “If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply….” Jesus is saying: “Here is what loving the LORD and keeping His commandments, statutes, and rules actually requires.” The response from all who hear it should be: “I have not chosen life and good. No, my actions have chosen death and evil.” There should be shifting in the pews, pulling at the collars, racing minds and hearts. Jesus’ teaching exposes the lack of righteousness and holiness. It calls to repentance and admission of guilt.

But what did Jesus say about the Law and the Prophets? Remember His words that preceded His exposition of the Ten Commandments: “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 shows the fullness of the Law. But He has also stated that this fullness is what He has come to accomplish through His thoughts, words, and deeds. What the Law demanded is what Jesus has done. Jesus has come to meet the requirements that were established through Moses: loving the LORD and keeping His commandments, statutes, and rules. He has come to be the person spoken of in the psalm: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways!” Jesus has come not only to show you what a life of righteousness is, but to be your way of righteousness—to be what was described of the LORD: “He is your life and length of days.”

That truth is what we began the service with. The first proper of the day noted it. You heard the prayer offered: “O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name.” To speak such words in truth means that you note and admit your own sin, your own failure to meet the fullness of the Law, your lack of loving the LORD and keeping His commandments, statutes, and rules. Otherwise, you’ve just added another mark against yourself.

But it also notes and confesses a belief about the LORD: that He is gracious and He mercifully delivers people according to His goodness. And that is what Jesus’ work has been all about. Jesus’ statement—“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.”—is what that graciousness and merciful deliverance looks like. It is done for you not only as He keeps all the commandments, statutes, and rules. Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law and the Prophets also included the obedience to His Father’s will and the loving embrace of the world in His outstretched arms, even when pinned to a crossbeam.

Jesus’ work fulfills the LORD’s Law in ways that only you could imagine to accomplish. Instead of murdering you, He gives up His life for you. Instead of abandoning you, He makes you His Bride and is faithful even beyond the death do us part bit. Instead of casting you away, He goes and finds you. Instead of forgetting any promises, He makes a solemn vow that even has eternal actions connected to it. That’s the type of fulfillment of the Law that Jesus has done for you. He sets before you the way of life and good that is found in Him and invites you to have it.

As part of the life and good that Jesus establishes for you, He also calls you to make the attempt to keep the LORD’s Law. What He lays out in the Sermon on the Mount is your moral code. It’s what you as a disciple of Jesus are meant to take up as your goal. Your Lord and Master has accomplished it. As Jesus’ students and followers, you are to imitate the example that He has left you. Will you keep it fully? No, that will not happen. And for that failure, the graciousness and merciful deliverance of Jesus is there for you. But the striving to do it is your will. It is your thought and desire. That’s what Jesus has given to you. Loving Him who is your life and length of days, you will also choose the way of life that He has established for you.

Let there be no choosing the way of evil and death among this group of Jesus’ disciples. Rather, receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation that our Master has given to you by totally fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. And then you will have the divine promise made and fulfilled: you will live long in the land that He is making your possession—even a place in the new heaven and new earth that Jesus establishes when all is accomplished.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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