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LSB Epiphany 7A Sermon – Matthew 5:38-48

February 24, 2014

February 23, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 “I expect more of you.” That’s a statement that usually isn’t pleasant to hear. The typical situations where such words are spoken are ones that most wish to avoid. No one enjoys being dressed down. When parents or other authorities state that they expect more of the people under their charge it’s mostly done when addressing poor behavior. They give an evaluative statement about what their children or their students, employees, players, or subjects have been doing. That action has been displeasing, not up to standard. Though there may be others who do the same, the statement is addressed to people whom they want to perform better.

Jesus gives a similar statement to the people at the end of this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Wrapping up His exposition of the LORD’s Law, Jesus calls on His followers to love their neighbors: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” And on the heels of that statement, Jesus reveals His expectation of the disciples: “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In His teaching, Jesus echoes the address that the LORD made to His people through the prophet Moses. That you heard in the Old Testament Reading: “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy….’” The LORD’s words put forward an expectation that He had of the people whom He had delivered from Egypt and turned into a great nation. As they lived in their new land of Canaan, the Israelites were to show their identity by their actions. They had been made holy by the LORD, set apart from all the other nations of the world. With that status came the LORD’s Law that governed their lives. Holiness could be shown by what the people did. The LORD’s Law outlined what holiness looked like.

To the Israelites, the LORD in essence said: “I expect more of you.” Yes, all the world that the LORD had made was to follow His will. But the Israelites had been given it. It had been explicitly handed down to them from the LORD through Moses. It was no secret. There was no keeping it hidden, so that the Israelites would live in ignorance. The words were spoken clearly and plainly: “You shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.… You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD…. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD…. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD…. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” 

So when Jesus comments on the LORD’s Law, the similar concept comes out. All His teaching had been an explanation and explication of the LORD’s Law. Jesus had shown what His Father had meant in His commands. And in the last bit of that commentary, Jesus basically summarizes the heart of Commandments 4-10: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Love of the neighbor regardless of whether they love you is the great expectation that the LORD has for His people. For when it is done, those who perform such acts reflect the LORD’s own character. And that is what the LORD expects of those who belong to Him.

That expectation and its connection to the LORD’s identity and the identity of His people is seen in that phrase: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is declaring that there are people who have the status of sonship to God above. They are the people who have begun to follow Him. These have been called out from the world, set apart from the rest of the people. They belong to the LORD now. They have been brought into His household. They have true knowledge of who the LORD is and what He has done for them. And so there is more expected of them. 

Jesus puts the matter to the people quite plainly when talking about the command to love the neighbor, including those who are enemies: “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In those questions, Jesus is in essence saying: “I expect more of you.” He expects more of His disciples than what tax collectors do. He expects more of His followers than what unbelievers do. Why? Because His disciples and followers have been given a new life. They have been told what the LORD’s will is. They have been shown by Him the example to follow. They have been made holy through His work.

This is the exhortation that Jesus gives to you. He has set you apart. He has made you holy. He has given you a new life. He has disclosed to you the Father’s good and gracious will. That is what Jesus’ entire life really was about. His works enacted the LORD’s will for you—to make for Himself a people that forgiven and redeemed. His teaching has shown you the LORD’s expectations for how to live—how to be the individuals who display His character in this world. Jesus’ statements are meant for everyone who has received the benefit of His efforts in this world—all those who are called, justified, and sanctified. And so they are addressed to you.

Paul’s words in the Epistle Reading provide another way of hearing what Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount. Using the image of a building, the apostle notes that believers belong to the LORD: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” That special status has been given; the LORD has set you apart. That setting apart includes a transforming; the LORD has placed His Spirit in you. So you are now to be like Him. That is the great expectation. Rooted on the foundation of salvation provided by Jesus, you build upon that status through your works: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Your status as the called, justified, and sanctified people of God is to be shown in your actions. The Sermon on the Mount has outlined what those acts are for you. It isn’t exhaustive, but it does show how the LORD’s righteous will expressed in His Law applies to your daily lives. Following its provisions is how you build with gold, silver, and precious stones. These acts will be noted by the LORD. He will disclose what you have done on the Last Day, rewarding what has been performed according to His standard of righteousness.

That promise from the LORD begins to change the connotation of His divine declaration: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” There is another facet to Jesus’ statement: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Such address is not simply a phrase spoken to those who have disappointed: “I expect more of you.” Instead, it is a charter for your way of life in this world. They are statements made only to those for whom the LORD has acted. 

The truth of the matter is plain when looking at what you were prior to the LORD’s work for you, before receiving the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. You weren’t holy. You weren’t perfect. But the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection have been given to you. His holiness is now credited to you. His righteousness is your possession. His Spirit has been placed upon you. So now you have a new will and new direction. You are called to holy living, called to be set apart. That is what you will demonstrate to the world as you live out the directives given to you in the Sermon on the Mount. 

This Epiphany Season draws to a close. It began with hearing about how the Messiah was not just for the physical descendants of Abraham, but for the Gentiles. Jesus’ baptism and His confirmation by John the Baptist showed Him to be the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount have told you how He came to meet the requirements of the Law and fulfill the promises made through the prophets, so that you may be forgiven and redeemed. Jesus has also outlined what life as His disciples should look like. In these Gospel Readings, you have been shown how you have been made holy. You have learned about holy living. So go out and build on the foundation that He has given, striving to live as children of your Father in heaven. That is your calling, what He expects of you. And on the Last Day when you see Jesus in His complete holiness and He brings you the fullness of blessing in His kingdom, your works will be rewarded.

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

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From → Sunday Sermon

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