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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Matthew 5:21-37

James T. Batchelor

Epiphany 6, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Feb 13, 2011 

We continue to work our way through the Sermon on the Mount in this week's Gospel.  This is the third week in a row that our Gospel has come from that sermon.  In the First week, the Beatitudes taught us that in spite of the fact that we are spiritually poor, God blesses us for Jesus' sake.  Last week, we learned that Jesus will always be with us so that we can be salt and light no matter where we go.  This week we get to learn what Jesus thinks about some of the Ten Commandments.

One of the things that we learned about the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus was intentionally instructing His disciples.  The teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is for the Church.  Unbelievers might hear this Sermon, but it would be a mystery to them unless the Holy Spirit worked faith in their hearts.

It is especially important this week that we understand that Jesus is teaching His church in this sermon.  You see, the Ten Commandments were originally given only to the Israelites when God spoke to them from Mount Sinai.  If they were mentioned in no other place, then we could say that the Ten Commandments were given for the nation of Israel in that time and place.  When Jesus speaks about the Ten Commandments today, He is teaching His church how she is to regard these commandments.

Now, if you were thinking that Jesus might back off a little with regard to the Ten Commandments, think again.  Jesus not only asks us to keep the Ten Commandments as they were given to Israel, but He even raises the bar by several orders of magnitude.  Murder is the taking of a human life without just cause or due process.  Jesus raised the bar by saying that hatred is murder.  The saying goes, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  Jesus says the opposite.  If you even insult someone, it is equal to murder.

Adultery is any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage.  Jesus raises the bar to include even our thoughts.  What does that say about pornography?  By the way ladies, this is not just the visual stuff that seems to corrupt us men.  It also includes those novels with the romantic hero who makes your heart race just a little bit.  It also includes those times when your husband has been a clod and you remember that there were other men in your life that you could have married instead of the clod.  Jesus raises the bar to include all this kind of thinking.

Jesus does this sort of thing a lot.  By the time He gets through with the Ten Commandments, we must all admit that we break them all every day.  We have gotten so used to breaking them that we often break them and don't even notice it.  Martin Luther got this right when he teaches what sins to confess.  In the Small Catechism he asks, "What sins should we confess?" His answer is this: "Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer."

Then, if we are tempted to think that sins are not all that serious, Jesus tells us to amputate all the body parts that cause us to sin.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.  You know it is pretty serious stuff when Jesus starts talking about hell.

Now, before we start collecting funds to saw off body parts, let me tell you about a scene in a television show that I used to watch.  I have told many of you that I enjoy really good science fiction.  When it comes to science fiction on television, my favorite of all time is a series called Babylon 5.  I won't bore you with all the details, but there are two scenes that apply today.  In the first scene there is an absolutely evil and insane Nero-like dictator.  This dictator captures one of the main characters and tortures him.  He orders one of his guards to flog him nearly to death.  It is not surprising that there is an assassination and a new dictator comes to power.  The new dictator offers our main character the opportunity to take revenge on the guard by flogging him nearly to death.  The main character replies and says, "When someone slaps you, do you blame the hand or do you blame the mind that ordered the hand to do the slapping.  The hand has no choice.  It is the mind that is at fault.  This guard was only the hand and had no choice.  The mind that ordered the flogging is dead.  I have no desire to flog the hand."  Then he threw the whip to the ground.

The true cause of sin is not the eye or the hand.  Jesus said, [Matthew 15:19] "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander."  The Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write: [Genesis 6:5] "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually?" It is not the hands or the eyes that need amputating.  The seat of our sin is in our hearts.  We need to get rid of our sinful hearts.

I always find it just a little puzzling when people tell me that they have given their heart to Christ as though that were some sort of a noble gesture on their part.  The sin in our hearts is absolutely disgusting.  A jar of raw sewage would be a better gift than our old, sinful hearts.

O God wants our filthy sinful hearts, but He wants them so that He can destroy them.  God is not interested in receiving our hearts as a gift.  Instead, He is interested in taking our hearts and putting them to death.  As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say, [Romans 6:3] "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" and: [Romans 6:6] "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." and: [Galatians 5:24] "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."  When Jesus went to the cross, He took our filthy, toxic, sinful hearts with Him.  With His death, He put those hearts to death.

What about the big empty space left behind?  We can't live without hearts.  How does God address this problem?

You may not know it, but you sing the answer to that question almost every Sunday: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit."  This is a prayer that asks God to create a clean heart to replace that old, sinful heart that Jesus took to the cross.

This also happens in Holy Baptism.  Even as the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about the removal of the old heart, He also inspired Paul to tell of the new.  Paul said, [2 Corinthians 5:17] "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  And, [Romans 6:5] "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." And, [Romans 6:8] "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  When the Holy Spirit plants faith in us, He does a heart transplant.  He removes our filthy hearts of sin and replaces them with the clean and holy heart of Jesus Christ Himself.

Now, although we have the holy heart of Christ within us, we still live in a sinful world.  Temptations still attack us from all directions, and we often suffer defeat.  That is when our new hearts convict us of sin and drive us back to the cross.  There we once again confess our sins and receive forgiveness for all our sins.  In this way, God keeps our new heart clean until He takes us away from this world of sin to live with Him forever where our hearts will never be sinful again.

Each and every one of us was born with a toxic heart.  It was a heart that loved sin and hated God.  Over time our continuous sinning only made our hearts blacker and more toxic.  There was no way that we could give our hearts as a gift to God.  Instead, God took our filthy, sinful hearts and destroyed them at the cross.  Now through Holy Baptism, He gives us His heart - by the power of that heart we fear, love and trust in Him above all things - we turn to Him in time of trouble - and when temptations overwhelm us, His heart draws us to Him in confession in the sure and certain knowledge that God loves us for Christ's sake and will forgive us.  Because Christ has given us His heart, we will live with Him in heaven and rejoice before His throne forever.  This is the new heart that God has created in us. Amen



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