Text: Matthew 5:21-32
Date: Epiphany VI + 2/16/14
“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5). That walk and that light begins, says St. Matthew, with the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Jesus as He begins the sermon with the Beatitudes. At first it sounds so nice, so comforting. But all too soon it begins to sound more like condemning Law, demands laid down as qualifications for entry into the Kingdom of God. It sounds like Law because our first reaction is to despair, for we are not and cannot adequately be “poor in spirit,” “meek,” “merciful” or “pure in heart.” We know our sin and weakness. But through these very same words the light of the Lord shines as Jesus reveals that these are not qualities expected of you but qualities given you by a gracious and merciful God, by faith, faith in Jesus, Jesus Christ the Revealer.
Today Jesus shows how the Law of God is not to be our enemy, nor is the God who gave it, but is to be regarded as the hymn says it, “The Law of God is good and wise.” Certainly the Law accuses us and shows us our sin. The old Adam in all of us dislikes that. It squirms and cowls as the Law peals back the cover, the façade of our pretend piety. Nevertheless this function of the Law is after all good and wise when it makes us flee for refuge to the infinite mercy of God. There, in His mercy, through the forgiveness of all our sin by the blood of Christ, the very Law that accuses us now is opened and reveals the new heart and the new godly person God is making of us. That’s because by faith in Jesus He reveals the true heart of God’s Law.
Jesus gives us a few examples as He points to the fifth and sixth commandments. Now you learned both the outward law and the inward heart of these commands in the words of the little catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we (on the one hand) do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but (on the other hand) help and support him in every physical need.” It’s interesting that the explanation of the sixth commandment doesn’t need to describe “the one hand” of what constitutes adultery! Everyone really knows it. Rather we hear only the heart of the command when it says, “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.”
Now how many people, or what sort of people, when they hear the command, “You shall not murder,” even begin to think of helping and supporting the neighbor, or, when they hear, “You shall not commit adultery,” think of leading “a sexually pure and decent life in word and act and husbands and wives love and honor each other”? No one, without the light, the revelation of Christ, can think that way. Without the light, the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the most a person can conclude is only the stopping short of physical murder or adultery. There is no making the connection with the anger and hatred that leads to murder or the impure and indecent thoughts that lead to adultery much less helping and supporting our neighbor or purity, decency and love.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus say that He has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. In His sinless, holy person the Law of God had nothing to condemn in Him. He obeyed God’s Law not in order to gain heaven for Himself but in order to gain heaven for sinners, for us. For in His perfect obedience to the Law He alone proved to be the one and only, qualified sacrifice able to take away the sin of the world, to bring the forgiveness of sins to the whole world.
So when He says today, “You have heard,” “but I say to you,” He is not putting Himself above or against the Law but casting light to reveal the heart of God’s Law. When you read the Ten Commandments, in the Spirit of Christ you should always have the image of a heart of God’s love before you. For, on the one hand, “You have heard…‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Why such extreme threat and judgment over mere thoughts or emotions? Jesus reminds us in another place, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,” etc. (Mark 7:21). St. James tells us “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
You confess every Lord’s Day that you have sinned not only in actions and misdeeds but also in your thoughts and your words. You wouldn’t dare confess that truth if it would blow your cover, if there were no prospect or chance of forgiveness. But you do dare to confess your sin because you have been enlightened by the truth, as the psalm says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).
In the forgiveness won for you by our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross, He is saying, in that forgiveness you are now able to see and know and do the heart of God’s Law. I love putting verse 23 of our text together with that of Matthew 18:15. For here He says, if you “remember that your brother has something against you,” that is, you have done something wrong. In Matthew 18 He says the opposite, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matt 18:15). In other words, regardless of whether it’s your fault or your brother’s fault, you go and reconcile and make things right. And if your brother is also a Christian that means that he will also take the initiative. The words of our text, “First be reconciled to your brother,” apply to every issue whether it be the hatred and murder of the Fifth Commandment, the lust and unfaithfulness of the Sixth Commandment, or the issue of divorce. For reconciliation is at the heart of God’s Word both Law and Gospel together.
As you confessed earlier, you have admitted that you have been in the wrong. “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what” we have failed to do. We confess that we have broken the entire Ten Commandments, the first three, “We have not loved You with our whole heart,” and the last seven, “we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves,” for love is the fulfillment of the Law.
Now God knows that. He knew your sinful condition even before you did! Therefore His love compelled Him to act, to come to be Immanuel, to come to be “with us” as one of us, to “come down from heaven” by being “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary,” to be “made man.” In the Man Jesus Christ our Light, our Liberator, the Revealer and by His blood we are reconciled to God and God to us through the forgiveness of sins and the creation of a new heart in us.
Now just continue sitting there on the mount for one more Sunday as He further describes the heart of God’s Law and the new heart God is creating in you through His Word.
God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light of Light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the holy Trinity! (LSB 578:6)