Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20 for Epiphany 5, A, February 6 & 9, 2020
I know Pastor Heyer has mentioned this in sermons… that phrase that was popular in the 1990s, “What would Jesus do?” It’s not a bad question. Jesus certainly is the best example to follow. But he is more than an example to follow. He is Savior. In today’s Gospel from Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy them but to fulfill them.” “What would Jesus do?” Fulfill the law and the prophets. How did he do this?
I. It is fulfilled by Jesus
- He fulfilled the law (and the prophets’ calls to return to God’s law) by keeping all of God’s law, all of God’s commandments perfectly.
- In a few weeks—the first Sunday in Lent—we will read about the temptation of Jesus. The devil said, “All the wealth and kingdoms of the world I will give you if you bow down and worship me.” And Jesus answered, “Begone Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” And then by his constant obedience, even to the point of death, he showed his worship and love for his Father, his God’s commands. How did Jesus keep that first commandment “You shall have no other gods”? Perfectly—above and beyond anything we could ever do.
- When he was twelve years old, Jesus went to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover. Mary and Joseph were on their way back to Nazareth and they couldn’t find Jesus. They panicked. They found him in the Temple, talking with the teachers, and he said, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” As a child, he had a deep interest in God’s Word. Later in Luke (ch. 4) we read he went to the synagogue “as was his custom.” And he defended God’s Word as he does here. And he taught, and taught, and taught. How did Jesus keep the commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day” “[Have a love] for preaching and God’s Word”? Perfectly— fulfilled it above and beyond anything we could do.
- And then at the end of Luke chapter 2, right after the 12 year old Jesus was in the temple, Luke tells us that Jesus went back to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents. In our Monday/Wednesday class on the Gospel of John we just finished chapter 2, the wedding of Cana. Mary leaned over to Jesus and whispered to him, “They have run out of wine.” Jesus answered, “My time has not yet come.” And then when the time was right, he told the servants to pour some water into jars, and in an instant he made 180 gallons of the finest wine. How did Jesus keep the commandment “Honor your father and mother? Perfectly—above and beyond anything we could do.
- As he walked from place to place, he would often stop and touch the sick, the blind, the deaf—and heal them. He stopped and healed the lepers—people who were outcasts. Once after a long day of teaching, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Look Jesus, the crowd is still here. Send them away. It’s late in the day, and they will all be hungry.” Jesus asked, “Do you have any food?” “Only a kid’s lunch, five small loaves of bread and two fish.” And Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” And with a miracle, he fed them all. When we learned the commandment “You shall not murder” we learned the positive side of the commandment, “Help and befriend your neighbor in every bodily need.” How did Jesus keep that commandment, “You shall not murder”? “Help and befriend your neighbor in need”? Perfectly—above and beyond anything we could do.
- He taught about sexual purity. He told an adulterous woman “Go and sin no more.” He attended that wedding of Cana and showed his approval for God’s plan. When his enemies asked a trick question about divorce, he told them to look at the Scriptures to learn God’s plan for sexuality and marriage. In his teaching and in his life he kept the commandment about adultery, living and teaching the pure and decent life perfectly—above and beyond anything we could do.
- That’s more than what would Jesus do. That is what Jesus did. He fulfilled the law perfectly. Jesus’ work as our Savior was not just in Gethsemane, Pilate’s courtyard and the cross. It was not just in suffering. His whole life was his wor-k as our Savior, fulfilling the law of God perfectly—because we have fallen short of it so often.
- Later, Jesus says something that is a bit frightening—but when we understand it, it’s the highest comfort. He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and experts in the law, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Because I know my own heart, I know my righteousness does not surpass anything. On our own, we fall short of that kind of righteousness. But Jesus has given us his. He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. He has also clothed us in his righteousness—his above and beyond righteousness. St. Paul wrote, “But now, completely apart from the law, a righteousness from God has been made known. The Law and the Prophets testify to it. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and over all who believe. In fact, there is no difference, 23 because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24). Your righteousness is beyond that of the Pharisees and experts in the law. Your righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus, covering you.
II. It gives us opportunities to shine
- The psalms, prophets and the teaching of Jesus are full of word-pictures. That’s actually a Hebrew way of communicating a big idea, with a word picture or parable. I think of it as compressed language, because with a word, you can bring forth many thoughts—many sides of what you are explaining. King David says one word, shepherd, and a shepherd’s care, providing and protection comes to mind. Jesus does the same here. He tells his disciples “You are salt.” “You are light.” Here he is telling us what that righteousness, his righteousness, does to us, in us and for us. It empowers us.
- “You are the salt of the earth.” Now we use salt as a flavoring, There was a time when salt was chiefly a preservative. Sauerkraut, pickles, ham and corned beef are holdovers from that time. People liked how those foods tasted—originally they were made that way to preserve them. Whether you use salt for flavor or as a preservative, salt makes a difference—a good difference in our food. “If the salt has lost its flavor, what is it good for?” Christians, people justified and sanctified by Christ, people who wear his righteousness before God, you are called and chosen by God to make a difference in the world–a healing and preserving difference in our word. If we stop living as salt and light, it shows that our faith is in trouble. If we stop following his commands, that can mean the salt has lost its flavor. James said that a tree that bears no fruit is a dead tree. A faith that produces no good works is a dead faith. So, are you different from the world? Are you making a difference in your world? A student asked me about the Super Bowl halftime show. Well—are you interested in the things the rest of the world is interested in? Pure and decent things? Or dirty and awful things? Do you look at life with discernment? (Understanding, awareness and caution.) Or do you take in everything the world has to give you without giving any thought—is this good? Is this bad? Is this something good or bad for my faith? Is this something that reflects the love of God in my life? Do I express hate the way the world expresses hate, with bitterness? Or do I instead seek to love my enemies, imitating Christ—not to earn anything, but to reflect his glory.
- Even though Jesus has fulfilled the law for us, the law still stands as our opportunity to be salt and light in the world. In the catechism, the explanations to the commandments all begin, “We should fear and love God…” The commandments are our guide for living in ways that glorify God and serve our neighbor in his need. The righteousness of Jesus empowers us for this. That’s what “The righteous will live by faith” We have been made righteous by Christ. We trust in his goodness covering us. And Christ’s righteousness changes us—from the inside out. The good deeds follow faith as fruits of faith. You don’t do good deeds to be a Christian. Instead, Christ empowers you to do good deeds. Your faith in him shows it’s alive by doing good deeds. The Ten Commandments are our guide—the lamp for our feet and the light for our path though life—but Christ is the power behind it all. “We love because he first loved us.” Then we can follow Jesus’ example. But Jesus has already saved us. Following him in love is our thanks—and it is our life—the new life we have, being freed from the guilt and power of sin. What has Jesus done? He has done all things well. He has taken away the sin of the world. He has given eternal life to those who believe in him. He has clothed us with himself.
 I thought salt and salutary might have a common etymology, but couldn’t find one.