Sermon on Matthew 5:21-37
Text: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And 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 or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; 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 together on the way, or your adversary 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 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall 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 stumble, 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 stumble, 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.
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 sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath 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 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
We have all looked at certain situations and declared them to be impossible. We were asked to do finish a project by a certain time, and we said it was impossible. We were asked to memorize something, and we said it was impossible. Usually, what we mean by this is that it is very difficult, but not really impossible. There are certain things that truly are impossible. In our sermon last week, Jesus had said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Just in case there were some in the crowd that thought they had what it took to surpass the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus gave a number of examples to them showing that it was impossible on their own for them to attain the righteousness that was necessary for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This morning, we are going to look at these examples, as well. As we do so, we will look at THE IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE. First, we will look at 1. The Utter Impossibility Of Our Keeping The Law Of God. Then, we will look at 2. The Blessing We Have From God’s Son, The Law-Keeper For Us.
As we study this text, you will notice one phrase used several different times. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you.” Jesus is contrasting what was the commonly held notion about obeying God’s law. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were telling the people that, as long as they kept the letter of the law, they were OK. As long as they did not specifically do what God forbids in his commandments, the people were keeping them. This is why they so often felt that they had kept God’s laws and did not need a Savior. What Jesus tells them is a good chance for us to remind ourselves of how far short we come to keep God’s laws.
We read in verses 21&22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Our nature looks at the fifth commandment and feels that we have done our part. We have not murdered anyone. We are ready to move on to the next commandment. However, have you ever been angry with someone? Have you ever said something that was mean and hurtful to someone? Have you ever made fun of someone? Jesus shows us that these are also sins. It is not just the act of murdering that God condemns. It is anytime that we have been angry with someone. It includes every hateful thought that we might ever have had. While we might not put them on the same par as murder, God does.
This type of an attitude ruins our worship of God. Jesus said in verses 23&24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” A person approaches God’s altar and remembers that there is one he has wronged. When that person is still weighed down with his guilt, he cannot worship in spirit and truth. The sin must be reconciled and forgiven. When we are out of sorts with those around us, our worship of our God is ruined. Settle matters, whenever you can, before you come to worship.
Jesus continues in verses 27&28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again, our human nature looks at this commandment and says that we have kept this one, as well. However, as Jesus points out, there is more to this commandment that illegitimate sexual intercourse outside of marriage. If there has ever been an instance when we have looked at another person with lustful thoughts, we have also broken this commandment. It appears there are so many places where this can occur in our world today. There are the movies and television shows that the rest of the world calls entertainment. Even the advertisers play to this tendency that is there. There is the internet. There is the lazy attitude that the rest of the world has toward sex, in general. Now, merely looking at another and admiring their physical looks is not, in and of itself, wrong. However, when the looking goes on to lustful thoughts and desires, we have crossed the line and are sinning.
This may not sound all that serious to us. However, note how serious Jesus is about this. We read in verses 29&30, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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.” Jesus drives this point home in a very forceful way. Nothing, not even a hand or an eye, should ever be allowed to rob a person of their eternity. The sins of the heart are to be avoided at all costs. They are so very destructive. They, all by themselves, can cost us our salvation, even if they were never put into action. While we are tempted to dismiss them, Jesus shows us that every sin, whether committed or held in the heart, is a bringer of death.
Continuing with the sixth commandment, Jesus said, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Verses 31&32) The people of Jesus’ day had also developed a very casual approach to marriage and divorce. They pointed to an Old Testament law that Moses had given that said that, if you wanted to get a divorce, you had to give your wife a certificate of divorce. This was given to protect the women, so that they would be cared for. It was not because God approved of the way that things were happening. Hasn’t our society become numb to the thought of divorce? It wasn’t that long ago that, if a person was getting a divorce, it was something that was shameful. Now, it appears that there is no shame. The sentence, “They got a divorce,” doesn’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. Unfortunately, we also fall prey to this numbing, as well. May God help us to see marriage for the God-given gift that it is.
There is one other area that Jesus calls to our attention, and that has to do with swearing. Swearing is not using vulgar language, as is sometimes mistakenly thought. It is calling upon God as a witness to what we are saying is the truth. Jesus said, “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Verses 33-37) The leaders had taught that you only had to keep the oaths that you made if you swore by the Lord. Otherwise, you did not necessarily have to keep them. By means of these words, Jesus is teaching us that every word that comes out of our mouths is to be the truth, so that people do not need to have the reassurance, by means of an oath, that we are telling the truth. In addition, we see that we are not to swear if it is not necessary. Yet, how often don’t we hear people say, “I swear.” ‘I swear, you kids make me so angry, I could just . . .’ ‘I swear those have to be the stubbornest cows I have ever seen.’ Do we really need to call upon God as a witness in those instances? Jesus would tell us, “No.”
What is your reaction when you hear the words of our text? Is it one of excuse? ‘Nobody’s perfect, after all.’ Is your reaction, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. No one can do all those things.’? May it be, instead, that our reaction is one of shame. You and I know how often we have failed to live the way that God demands. God demands perfection on every one of our thoughts, words, and actions. Where this perfection is missing, in any part of our lives, we well deserve to spend our eternity in hell. God demands and will accept nothing less than perfection. When we are honest with ourselves, we have to say it truly is impossible. Therefore, entrance into heaven is also impossible.
It is here that the impossible has been made possible. While we could never hope to attain the level of perfection that God requires, Jesus came to the earth and completely fulfilled every single aspect of his Father’s law. We see so many evidences of him keeping his Father’s law. Jesus was perfectly kind and compassionate with those around him. When there was a need, Jesus took care of it. Those times when Jesus was angry with people, it was because they were breaking his Father’s law. His anger was not sinful. Jesus always held up marriage as the wonderful institution that it is, a gift that came from God during the sixth day of creation. Jesus always spoke the truth. He did not need to swear that he was. The one instance that he swore was when he was put under oath at his trial. What was impossible for us to do, Jesus did on our behalf.
Then, because of that tremendous load of sin that you and I have accumulated over our lifetimes, Jesus went the next step. He willingly went to the cross, where he paid for every one of our angry words, every one of our lustful thoughts, every time that we did not tell the truth, as well as all the other sins that we have committed. All our sins, as well as all of the sins of the world, were placed squarely on his back and he paid for all of them. He paid for them by stepping into our place and facing the full force of God’s anger against sin. He was punished in our place. He faced all of this, so that we would never have to. Then, as assurance that our debt of sin has been paid for, Jesus rose from the dead. Where it would have been impossible for us to go to heaven, it is now possible, because Jesus was the Law-Keeper for us.
This, then, brings us to our lives now as Christians. The world looks at the laws of God and calls them impossible, because they say no one can act that way. We, however, look at these laws as our opportunity to thank God for all that he has done for us. They are not something that we can do on our own. We continually pray that the Lord would strengthen us so that we might live for him. This is also why we keep in contact with God through his Word and the sacraments. They are the food that strengthens our new man to want to live for God. We will not be perfect in our daily lives. Unfortunately, we still have our sinful nature. We will stumble and fall. However, when that happens, we confess our sins to God, and know that, for Jesus’ sake, we are forgiven. We then ask him for the strength to go forward and live for him. The world may call this type of living impossible. We call it our great joy and privilege.
As we have studied our text, we have seen that it is impossible for us to keep God’s laws perfectly. As a result, it is impossible for us to enter heaven on our own. How thankful we are that Jesus came and did what was impossible for us by his life, death, and resurrection. Because of what he has done, the impossible has become not only possible, but a certainty for us. We know that, because we have been brought to faith in Jesus as our Savior, we will spend our eternity in heaven. As Jesus said elsewhere in Matthew, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) Having been reminded of this, let us go forward and give our lives as a thank offering for all that he has done for us. He made the impossible possible. Amen.
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