THE HEART OF THE MATTER

sermon-on-the-mount

Matthew 5

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 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.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths
33 “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.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Last week Jesus preached a portion of his Sermon on the Mount, telling us to be who we are.  He said God has made us to be salt in a rotting world.  That means he uses us in the preservation process until Jesus comes back at the end of time.  We preserve this world not with great acts of ingenuity nor with promoting individualism but by listening to Jesus’ word and following his example. He said God has made us light to shine in the darkness of sin and unbelief.  We shine with the light of the gospel not to bring attention to ourselves but so that God is glorified and others see the eternal light that Jesus has provided for us.

In summary, we could say that Jesus’ sermon last week was an encouragement to Christians.  He said if you are a child of God, then live like it.  Be who you are so that others can see it.  Again, that encouragement is not to show us how to earn a place in heaven.  Instead, Jesus is telling us that when a loving God chooses to bring you into his family that changes how you live.  God gives you the power and purpose to be salt and light in a rotting, dark world.

Jesus finished up that portion of his sermon last week by saying, “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.”   The disciples and followers that Jesus was preaching to knew all about the Pharisees and their extreme devotion to obeying the Book of the Law.  Pharisees were so religious about all of God’s Old Testament Law that they even made up more rules and regulations just to be safe.  But that kind of righteousness is still missing something isn’t it?  Even with their strict obedience, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were still not completely right to God.

That’s why Jesus continues his sermon with these next few sections recorded in Matthew 5. When someone thinks getting into the kingdom of heaven is about following God’s laws, then Jesus says you’d better know what all of God’s laws are…and there’s still more to it than that!  It’s not enough to simply obey God’s laws.

Jesus gives us a few examples of that.  He starts off with the 5th Commandment, murder.  Obeying the 5th Commandment means that you will not kill anyone ever.  That seems reasonable.  God wants us to value human life. He wants us to treat it like the gift it is.  And I think we all get that.  Murder is not good. So we don’t do it.  That is obeying the 5th Commandment.

But Jesus says it goes beyond that.  If God wants us to value human life, then the 5th Commandment doesn’t just deal with taking a life, but the 5th Commandment also deals with how we talk about and what we think about human life.  If you are mad at someone, if you hold a grudge against someone, if you say something with anger in your heart, if you call people hurtful names, all of this is breaking the 5th Commandment, too.

Do you see what’s going on here?  Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter.  He wants us to understand that the law is about a lot more than our actions.  That is all the Pharisees cared about.  They wanted to be seen as the moral, upright citizens who were so good at living according to God’s laws.  But they forgot one thing about God, he sees the heart.  And from these religious leaders who were so conscientious about their actions, Jesus saw hearts that were full of the wrong kind of righteousness: self-righteousness.  That means they did not receive righteousness from God as a gift of his grace, but they were trying to get it from themselves, which is really no righteousness at all.

Let me say that another way.  They thought being seen as moral and upright religious people was going to earn themselves a place in God’s kingdom.  So they neglected and ignored God’s promises and paid all their attention to his laws.  The problem with that is it ignores the heart of the matter.

You obey the 5th Commandment by not killing another person.  But you break the 5th Commandment by trying to hurt someone, by saying hateful things to another person or about another person, or by being angry with another person.  The heart matters just as much as the words that come from your lips and the work that comes from your hands.

And the same thing is true for the 6th Commandment, adultery.  You can try to say that you have never had sex with someone other than your spouse.  You can try to plead your case, saying, “I never had sex before I was married.”  But what have your eyes seen?  What has your heart felt?  If you have used the internet for impure purposes, then Jesus has a title for you: adulterer.  If you have thought of someone in an impure way, adulterer.  If someone treats marriage like it’s not a full-time loving commitment between a man and a woman for life, if someone ends a marriage because they just don’t have the passion anymore or they are giving up on their spouse, then Jesus says that leads to adultery.

Finally, in this section, Jesus brings up the way you talk.  He says during your conversations, do not say things like, “I swear by heaven that it’s true.”  And really his point is don’t color your conversations with any improper language.  “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ No.”  And if you struggle with that, Jesus says it’s like the devil is inside you speaking for you.

Now, to a lot of people this doesn’t make any sense.  It’s even offensive to our human nature to think that if I harbor anger in my heart it’s the same as murder.  No one who is angry will get sentenced to life in prison.  It’s so contrary to popular opinion to say that looking at porn is the same as sleeping around.  In the eyes of the world, just because someone is vulgar doesn’t mean they are from the devil.

But for the God of all creation, he sees the heart of the matter.  He sees sin and it doesn’t matter to him if the sin is an action, a word, a thought, or an attitude.  Sin is sin and it’s unacceptable.  Sin is sin and it’s damnable. Living like the Pharisees, with a really good outward appearance, cannot get you to heaven. A good outward façade cannot change the condition of your heart.

But I know someone who can.  I know someone who can change the heart of the matter.  I know someone who can obey the 5th Commandment.  He didn’t murder.  He didn’t hate or hurt.  He didn’t call people names.  He didn’t hold grudges.  I know someone who obeyed the 6th Commandment perfectly.  He lived a pure life.  His eyes never wandered.  His heart never lusted. He never gave in to passion or pleasure.  I know someone who kept his conversations pure and decent.  He didn’t think the colorful language was necessary.  And he did all of that for you.

Jesus came here not just to preach a good message, but to live it, too.  He had to because God knew that we could never earn righteousness for ourselves; it would have to be a gift of his grace.  God knew that our hearts would never be made pure by ourselves so he would do it for us. And so Jesus came to be the perfect Savior and substitute for us.  His perfect life gets to the heart of the matter.  His perfect life gives us the kind of righteousness we need.  And on the cross, he willingly handed it over.  He gave his perfect life as the sacrifice for our sins.  The perfect and innocent Son of God gave up his life for sinful and guilty people like us.  Jesus removed the broken pieces of the 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, and all of God’s laws, and replaced them with the pure and perfect life that God expects from his children.

By faith in Jesus we have been purified.  And do you know what pure people do?  They don’t sin.  They don’t do sinful actions.  They don’t say sinful words. They don’t think sinful thoughts.  They don’t have sinful attitudes.

It’s hard to think that way, I know.  It’s hard to look at my life that is tainted by sin as pure and holy. But, brothers and sisters, if the perfect Savior has removed sins against the 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, and all of God’s laws, if he has made us pure with his righteousness, then that’s the way God sees us.  He sees his own children who have been washed clean in baptism.  He sees a soul where the Holy Spirit has taken up residence and continues to keep us in faith.    That’s the heart of the matter.

With that kind of heart, do you know what kind of thoughts, words, and actions are going to follow? Good ones, holy ones, and God-pleasing ones.  The Pharisees had it backwards.  They thought their top-notch obedience would work its way to righteousness in God’s eyes.  But they didn’t see the heart of the matter.  Only a heart that has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, only a heart that clings to the cross of Jesus, and only a heart that listens to Jesus can live for God.

So that’s what you will do.  You will live a holy life because God has made you holy.  It’s his power, it’s his grace, and it’s his holiness.  That is the heart of the matter.

Amen.

 

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