Passage: Matthew 5:21–5:37
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Date: February 12th, 2017; Epiphany 6; Series A
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Have you ever met a murderer? We learn about murderers on the news, and on TV shows, but do you personally know one?
Maybe a few of us might say we do, but my guess is that most of us would say that we don’t.
But the truth of the matter is that we all know a murderer. In fact we all know many murderers!
Each time you look in a mirror you see a murderer. The person sitting beside you in the pew is a murderer.
The person preaching to you this morning is a murderer. You are in a church full of murderers.
Maybe you have never stabbed, shot, or strangled someone - but you are a murderer.
Listen again to what Jesus said in our Gospel lesson, “You have heard that is was said to those of old, ‘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.”
Jesus tells us plainly that sin is not just an outward act. Sin is a matter of our heart.
So when you got mad at that person at work, or when you felt that road rage when you were cut off on Circle Drive, or that resentment you are holding onto against that person who hurt you - all of it will get you convicted of murder in God’s court of law.
And while the consequence of anger towards your neighbour is not nearly as severe as actually murdering someone in this life - sin is sin. And the wages of sin is death.
The sin of our heart, our sinful thoughts, are not to be taken lightly.
In fact, Jesus takes it so seriously that he says it would be better for us to tear out our eyes and cut off our hands than to have them lead us to sin.
This is hyperbole, of course, but he is emphasizing the seriousness of sin – whether outward acts or our sinful thoughts.
We tend to downplay our sinful thoughts and focus on outward acts.
We like to turn the Ten Commandments into a “to do” list that we can check off by our outward observances.
You shall have no other God’s? Well I haven’t prayed or bowed down to other gods – check!
Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy? Well, I go to Church regularly – check!
Honour your father and your mother? I’m quite nice to my parents – check!
Do not murder? Well I have not killed anyone – check!
Do not commit adultery? Well, I have never cheated – check!
Down the list we go - and as long as we have not physically broken the Commandments, we are comfortable. We think we are in good shape before God.
But then Jesus comes along and turns everything upside down for us with his devastating words, “But I say to you…”
You think you have kept the Commandments? You think you are holy and righteous before God because of your outward actions?
Jesus responds, “But I say to you…”
Jesus responds, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus takes the Law of God and applies it in its truest way. Not to our outward actions - but to our hearts.
There is no wiggle room here. No pretending. No rationalizing. No excuses.
If you want to try and stand on your own righteousness and holiness – you will be liable to judgment and hell fire.
We all have sinful hearts. We all have sinful thoughts – hurtful, lustful, angry, deplorable thoughts.
And these sinful thoughts deserve no less punishment from God than if we physically commit the outward sin that goes along with them.
When we understand this about ourselves, then we truly appreciate the sweetness of what God has accomplished for us through Christ Jesus.
God doesn’t just want to patch or fix up our sinful hearts – he destroys them. He takes our sinful hearts and put them to death.
St. Paul wrote, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3).
And, "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:6).
And, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
When Jesus went to the cross he took our sinful hearts with him.
With his death - he put our sinful hearts to death.
The Law of God shows us our sin and our desperate need for a saviour.
When we think that we have no need for a saviour - Jesus says, “But I say to you…”
There is only One who has kept the Law perfectly.
And he was nailed to the cross.
He became what we are so that we might become what he is – holy, righteous, and blameless before God.
All of your idolatry, your hatred and murder, your adultery and lies, your theft and covetousness - all of it was nailed to the cross with Jesus.
Christ carried the burden of your sin. He received your judgment. He suffered hell fire for you. He did this so that you will never have to.
He died the death you deserve so that you will live eternally.
And as St. Paul wrote about God putting to death our sinful heart, so he also talks about our new heart.
He said, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And, "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
And, "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8).
When the Holy Spirit plants faith in us - he does a heart transplant.
When we cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10) – he does just that!
Your clean heart was delivered to you through your baptism.
Your new life is nourished and strengthened as you hear God’s Word and receive Christ’s true body and true blood.
In Christ, by grace through faith - you are perfect, holy, and righteous in the sight of God! You have a clean heart!
Jesus’ words in our Gospel lesson are difficult. They leave no room for us to excuse and rationalize our sin. They leave no room for us to try and justify ourselves before God.
Our problem goes far deeper than just the things we outwardly do.
We are guilty and accountable even for our sinful hearts and our sinful thoughts.
But, the Good News is that in Christ you are forgiven and declared innocent.
Instead of suffering the hell of fire, God has promised you eternal life in his heavenly kingdom where sin and death will be no more. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.