Text: Matthew 5:13-29
Date: Pentecost V + 2/5/17
Thy Kingdom Come. Glorious now, we press toward glory (LSB 578:3).
I wonder how many people, when we pray the words “Thy kingdom come,” think only in terms of the return of Christ on the Last Day, you know, as you often hear these words meaning something is going to continue “until kingdom come,” meaning the Last Day. And certainly, faith is, as we say in the creed, always “look[ing] for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” But the Kingdom of God is more than that as it comes to us Christians even now.
Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, defines the Kingdom of God “in two ways; first, here in time through the Word and faith; and secondly, in eternity forever….” (Triglotta 711:53). Today’s Gospel is concerned mainly about that first way, what the Kingdom of God is right now, here in time. What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of God today, right here, right now?
First and foremost, the Kingdom of God is faith, living by faith, faith in God, faith in the Savior Jesus Christ. So, the Kingdom of God happens in or comes to us only through the hearing of the Word of God, as the apostle Paul says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). The Kingdom of God is living by faith.
Today we hear Jesus saying in His Sermon on the Mount that faith makes us to be like salt and light. It is through us, through our new life in Christ, that the Kingdom of God operates in the world today. When we pray for the world, when we speak of God’s commands and truth it is as Luther says, “that it may gain approbation and adherence among other people and proceed with power throughout the world, that many may find entrance into the Kingdom of Grace, be made partakers of redemption, being led thereto by the Holy Spirit” (Trig 711:52). In other words, we call that evangelism—bringing the invitation of the Gospel to other people in hopes that they too will hear and believe and be saved.
Of course, the fallen sinful nature in all of us tries to block the Holy Spirit and doesn’t want anything to do with God. On the one hand, like salt, we regain the good flavor of faith, God’s Word and God’s Kingdom. On the other hand, however, when people reject God’s Word our words of invitation become more like putting salt on a wound. For God’s condemning Word remains for all who reject Him.
When we live our lives in the Kingdom of God then it is also that “You are the light of the world.” How so? Jesus says mainly by your good works. You know there was great controversy in the early days of the light of the Gospel being shone in the days of the Reformation. For the Roman church thought and even spread the false rumor about us that when we evangelicals, we Lutherans, say a person is saved “by faith alone” we mean to object to any role or effect of our good works all together. So we have been pressed to shine the light of God’s Word to help people see the truth that, while good works are not a cause of faith or salvation, you can’t truly possess faith or salvation without it being shone forth as light in good works. Our good works are such a natural product of true faith that, most of the time, Christians aren’t even aware that they are doing them. We are certainly not keeping a record of them since we are not saved by such a list but by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.
But now what are those works? It is also false that because we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone that means the Law or the Prophets of the Old Testament or the Ten Commandments no longer apply. There is a big difference between the abolishing of God’s Law and the fulfilling of it. “I have not come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets],” says Jesus, “but to fulfill them.” Do the Ten Commandments still apply? Some still hold sway in the world as when the law of the land says it is wrong to commit murder. Others, however, seem to be eroding away or have already gone such as the first table of the Law requiring rejection of idols, the increase of cursing and misusing God’s name, or how about the wide spread rejection of church attendance. Then there are the commands to lead a sexually pure and decent life, to not steal, to not tell lies about our neighbor. “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
The most important accomplishment of God’s Law, of course, was when Jesus became the Lamb of God, the final sacrifice for sin, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, the Isaac bound to the altar of sacrifice, there on Calvary taking all sin, the sin of the world, into His sacrificial death where by His holiness He made the sufficient atonement. There on the cross the Law and the prophets were not abolished but it was all fulfilled, completed, in Jesus word, “It is finished.” Now, as the bronze serpent raised overhead by Moses now all who look in faith to the crucified Son of God see the complete forgiveness of all their sin, their redemption and release from the old condemnation of the Law.
But now the fulfillment of the Law does not abolish the Law. The fulfillment is that, now by faith in Christ and the forgiveness of our sins, we are made by the Holy Spirit to be able to keep God’s commands. We are made able because we no longer are keeping God’s commands in order to be saved, as some way of earning God’s favor. No, we are made able because, though our keeping of God’s Law is never perfect when we fail it does not mean we fall from our salvation. We are saved by faith in Christ as our justification. This faithful living according to God’s Law is called sanctification or holy living.
Now what about the world we live in? The temptations to “relax one of the least of these commandments, teaching others to do the same” diminish us, make us lose our “saltiness,” “put our light under a basket,” hide our faith. On the other hand, whoever meditates, prays and lives God’s commands “and teaches them” is great in the Kingdom because we are proving our salt and letting our light shine before others to the benefit of our neighbor. This is the true righteousness of the Kingdom. Not the slavish way of the Law hoping to earn a reward but the freedom and release of sin, open to God’s guidance and blessing according to His Word.
Yes, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, the Kingdom that has no end. But we also live now as members of that kingdom boldly confessing before the world the truth that,
Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous;
Bright with Thine own holiness,
Glorious now, we press toward glory,
And our lives our hopes confess.
Alleluia! (LSB 578:3)