A sermon on Matthew 5:21-37 for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, February 13/16, 2020.
We need to have a heart to heart talk. Immediately, warning alarms ring in our mind. What did I do? Did I offend them in some way? Is some terrible news coming, which I need to brace myself for? A heart to heart talk between a boyfriend and girlfriend might bring about a breakup. A heart to heart talk between friends means some hurt might lie below the surface. A husband and wife sit down for a heart to heart to decide whether to take a new job, which means moving and a fresh start. A heart to heart conversation easily brings emotions, which we might never know existed, bubbling to the surface. The hope is that heart to heart talks should end well. It leads people to come to a better understanding of someone else’s point of view.
Jesus wants to have a heart to heart conversation with us today. It is a tough conversation, one we might not even want to sit down and have. However, it is a conversation that is needed for each and every person.
Jesus Speaks to Our Hearts
- Condemning us with the law.
- Raising us up with the gospel.
Last week we heard how Jesus came to fulfill the Law for us. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place keeping all the laws without a single flaw. He went to the cross, so that all of our sins might be done away with. This confused a lot of people. They had the wrong ideas as to what the Messiah came to do. Many thought Jesus would abolish the Law. They only wanted to be free from the strict demands of the Law, but Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.
It would be easy for us to think that the law does not serve a purpose anymore. If Jesus kept the Law for us, we no longer need to worry about it. The Ten Commandments do not have a purpose in our life, since Christ fulfilled them on our behalf. We cannot think this way. The Ten Commandments still serve a good purpose. They guide us in how we live our life. They point out our faults with all their gruesome reality as a mirror. God’s Law also keeps our sinful flesh in check with its boundaries set up for us.
As we continue our look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to speak about the Law. Except now, he turns the table to us and how we keep the Law. He speaks directly to all our hearts so that our hearts do not get puffed up in a self-righteous attitude. God’s law still cuts us down with its demands. We cannot keep a single command. Jesus makes that point very clear.
Jesus spoke pointedly to the self-righteous among the Jews. They were known as the Pharisees. A group of Jews known for their pious life. They held their so called “holy life” above everyone else as the unattainable reality. Many other Jews thought of themselves more highly than they should. They pointed to their ethnic heritage which gave them a one up on everyone else on the path to salvation.
Jesus took a familiar commandment, the Fifth Commandment, to prove his point. The majority of the Jews kept this command, at least in their minds. Certainly they never killed anyone. They probably don’t know anyone that has killed a person. They could cross this Commandment off the list as one they kept and go on to the next.
Jesus wanted the crowds to take a deeper look at the Commandment. He wanted to get to the heart of the issue. This Commandment went far beyond than taking a person’s life. Even the hurtful actions and hurtful words go against this command. Jesus used the example that even if someone says, “Raca”, a term that cuts down and is a strong insult, even those people would be in danger of hell fire.
All the hearts of those listeners gathered on the grassy hill must have sunk. Jesus spoke to their hearts. Their hearts condemned them. They got Jesus’ point. They were guilty. They failed. They were imperfect. They needed a Savior for they had not kept the law.
I often ask my catechism class which Commandment people would say they keep. Quickly the Fifth Commandment rises to the top. The taking of a person’s life is a horrendous crime. We demonize those people. We want them locked up for life with the key thrown away. We have not come close to intentionally taking a person’s life.
Should we just skip over this Commandment? All of us have kept it, so we move on to the next one hoping we fare just as well. Jesus speaks to our hearts. He wants us see the guilt in our heart. He asks, “Have you ever hated someone? Have you ever used words to tear someone down? Have you ever made fun of someone?” All of a sudden our hearts sink.
All those sins of hate and hurt make us guilty. Those sins we tried to push into the deepest, darkest recesses of our heart make us guilty. It is not only the actual taking of a person’s life that God calls sin. Even the thoughts and attitudes of our heart make us guilty. The law does its work. The law condemns us.
We quickly want to go on hoping that maybe we have better luck with the next Commandment. Jesus also goes on with the Sixth Commandment. Once more our hopes rise. We have not committed adultery. We have not divorced our spouse. Maybe this will be the one that we keep perfectly!
Jesus speaks to our hearts once more. He says have we ever lusted after someone? Have our hearts ever had an impure thought? Have our eyes ever come across something in a magazine or computer screen that causes indecent thoughts? Again our hearts lie open before God. Our hearts condemn us. God’s law stands over us with its threats.
We know what we deserve. Our sinfulness deserves God’s righteous anger upon us. We should be sentenced to eternal death as a result of our sins. We cannot escape it, for we know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s wonderful glory. Jesus, however, speaks to our hearts not just with the law but also with the gospel to raise us up.
We might wonder why Jesus wants to point out our guilt. Is it to leave us devoid of all hope? Is it to leave us hopeless? Is it for us to seethe in anger over our sins? Jesus speaks to our hearts so that we might turn to him and be saved. He does not want all the people listening to him to leave from the mountainside all forlorn. He wants them to leave confidently placing their faith and trust in him for forgiveness.
Jesus said that if a person has wronged someone, they should seek to repair the relationship. If they hold a grudge in their heart, go and seek forgiveness. If they have been wronged by someone, go and seek forgiveness. If our hand causes us to sin, we should cut it off. If our eyes cause us to sin, we should gouge it out.
If we followed this, we would have nothing left. Our mutilated bodies would still be in sin. We cannot maim ourselves enough to enter into eternal life. We need to trust in the one that went to the cross for us. We need to look to the one that bled so that we might be whole. We need to trust in the one that took our sins so that we might be sinless.
Jesus speaks to our hearts with the message of the gospel. The law can only cut us down. It shows our heart as sinful. The gospel raises us up. The gospel shows our heart no longer has sin for God has taken it away. The gospel points us to the power of Jesus. Jesus wants us to know our sin, but he also wants us to know the solution.
We come to God for forgiveness. We come to God for healing. We come to him knowing that he will make us whole again. Our hearts now have been changed. Jesus speaks to new hearts of faith living for their Savior all the time.
We also come to God asking for strength to fight against all those temptations. In faith we want to live for our Lord by keeping those Ten Commandments. We do not see them as a burden. We see them as a way of expressing our thankfulness to God.
Jesus has a heart to heart with his followers. It is needed so that we know the health of our heart. The law exposes our heart with sin and death. The gospel creates a new heart. We will keep our heart healthy and active as we stay in that right relationship with our Lord and Savior. This heart to heart talk most certainly is necessary for it brings about eternal joy and happiness. Amen.