Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
In the name of our merciful Savior, Jesus, dear disciples:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” So says our Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 15. He teaches the very same lesson in a different way in the verses of today’s gospel. False righteousness deals only with externals, true righteousness deals with what’s in the heart. Jesus gives a commentary on the Ten Commandments in this portion of his sermon on the mount. He preaches the law in a way very different from that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He expounds the spiritual meaning of the law so very well. He points out to us that breaking the law goes deeper than the outward action – our thoughts can be sinful, our desires are often wrong, and our attitude can be all wrong. The commandments go deeper than just an outward compliance. This fact strikes our hearts deeply and cuts us to the quick. We understand that Jesus condemns our sinfulness and condemns us as sinners. He exposes the desires, thoughts, and attitudes of the heart. This law message serves its godly purpose and it drives us to despair of our own deeds. This law message breaks us and drives us to our knees. This law message causes us to cry out for help. So this morning we plead – Lord, have mercy on us!
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But 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 has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; 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 with him on the way, or he 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 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
The sinful nature is inherently selfish. Love is the fulfillment of the law. We are terribly challenged to love our neighbor as ourselves, because the sinful nature is always and only in love with self. We stand condemned of murder as Jesus defines it here. “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” This principle is reflected throughout the New Testament. So Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” John writes, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer …” Certainly, one can be angry without sinning. However anger can lead one very quickly into sin – so the words of caution are indeed in order. The fifth commandment goes deeper than just the final act of murder; it governs how we treat each other from the common courtesies to how we handle disagreements. In the end it is all about what is in our heart. When our heart is ruled by jealousy, hatred, and anger our actions will show what is in our heart. This all causes us to cry out, Lord, have mercy on us! Lord, help us to love our neighbor!
Christ has loved the neighbor perfectly in our place. He has paid for the sins we have committed against each other. In Christ, we are forgiven. We are reconciled to God. Let us, in response to God’s great love for us in Christ, be reconciled to each other. Let us treat each other in love. Or as Paul urges the Ephesians, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Jesus moves on to discuss his gift of marriage:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do 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 sin, 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 sin, 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 marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
The law of God is clear. There is no place for lust. This flies on the face of the ways of the world. We live in a culture in which sex sells. Jesus reminds us that really means that sin sells. We to think we are o.k. if we look but don’t touch. Jesus tells us that kind of thinking is foolishness. In fact, Jesus impresses on us the point that we need to avoid things that would tempt us to sin. As Luther once observed: “I cannot prevent a bird from flying over my head, but I can hinder it from building a nest in my hair or from biting off my nose.” Jesus tells us that the best way to avoid sin is to resist the beginnings, as the Romans used to say. The sin in the heart and the head is still sin and therefore, it is a threat to your faith.
The law of God is clear. Divorce is not what God has in mind for marriage. Jesus would have us remain faithful and look for the blessings that God promises in marriage. God intends marriage to be a lifelong blessing – a life-long companionship. So often we mistreat this wonderful gift of God and mistreat the spouse that God has graciously given us. Let us repent of such sins! We hear what God’s will is for marriage and we must plead – Lord, have mercy on us! We ask that the Lord would help us to love our spouse! Jesus also discusses the way we talk about others:
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear 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 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Jesus says let your speech be always truthful. Let your yes be yes and your no, no. That is always be truthful and you will have no need to swear. And when you are called on to swear, such as in court – then you must tell the truth. It is indeed a grievous sin to use God’s name to cover up a lie. Sometimes we even use the truth to hurt someone else – we must be careful here! Sure we can tell bad things about people and cover it up by saying – “well, it’s the truth,” all the while doing untold damage to their reputation. God would have us defend and speak well of our neighbor and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way. The apostle Paul echoes these words of Jesus when he writes to the Ephesians: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” We demonstrate that we belong to Christ when we speak the truth in a loving manner. Honesty seasoned with love is what Christ teaches us. So often we fail at this too. So we must plead, Lord, have mercy! We pray that the Lord would help us speak the truth in love!
When Jesus teaches us the law of God – he gives us the law in its full force. He removes all the loopholes, undercuts our holier than thou routine, and shows us our sin in all its ugliness. But he does this with a loving purpose in mind. He wants us to repent of our sin, turn away from it and trust his word of forgiveness. Thank God that Jesus lived a perfect life for us in every way. Thank God that Jesus shed his blood to wash away all our sins. God never excuses sin. Instead he forgives sin. Jesus took our place under the law to fulfill it for us. Jesus took our place in death – suffering the consequence of sin for us. We are so thankful to him for his great mercy that we want to serve him in all that we say, think, and do. We know we are the forgiven children of God! Today we ask that God would cleanse our hearts from sin and help us to love our neighbor, love our spouse, and speak the truth in love!
What a gracious and merciful God we have! We cry out – Lord, have mercy! And he pours out his mercy on us in ways beyond imagination. We go home forgiven and happy – for God has mercy on us always! Now we go out to thank him as we live under his rich mercy! Amen.