O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The End of Yourself, Christ the New Beginning
The End of Yourself, Christ the New Beginning
Based on Mt. 5:21-37
Preached on February 12, 2017,
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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I did not come to abolish the Law – but to fulfill it.” We heard Jesus say that last week – “that anyone who relaxes the slightest commandment in the Law and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
The Law of God cannot be negotiated or compromised. And you dare not toy with it. It will accuse you, it will amplify and magnify your sin, and it will kill you. Religion tends to play with the Law - as though it were a poodle on a leash. But this morning Jesus unleashes a sprinting Doberman - with fangs and a spiked collar – out to get all who would play with the Law as though it were a pet.
“You’ve heard it said, but I say to you.” With those words, Jesus interprets the Law on the basis of His own authority. Never mind what the teachers of old said. The Lord is speaking. He doesn’t need footnotes, references, or credentials. He’s the Lord. It’s His Law. And He can apply it any way that He chooses. And what He chooses to do – in His sermon on the Mount - is to amplify the Law. Turn its volume way up. And add some heart-pounding bass for good measure.
Here is the One who gave the Law to Moses on the Mount. Now, sitting on the Mount, He is going to explain it – Himself. And I warn you now – we’re not ready. You see, He moves from what you see on the outside -to what God sees on the inside, from outward actions - to inward attitudes, away from the external appearance, and into the internal reality of the heart.
In each instance, Jesus goes from the outward sin to the inward sinfulness, from the symptom to the underlying disease, the rotten fruit to the rotten root – our heart. The problem is not simply that we do bad things, but that we are corrupted by Sin so that every thought, word, and deed, no matter how good it may appear, no matter how much it serves the neighbor, is tainted by Sin. Sin is like a malicious virus that has invaded the hardware and the software of our humanity to the extent that we cannot not sin. We are stuck, and we need to be shown we’re stuck, or else we would deny it forever.
Jesus preaches the Law this way in order to drive the religious old Adam to utter despair. You’ve heard it said, “do not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” And you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I’m off the hook on that one. I haven’t strangled, stabbed, shot, or even kicked anyone in the shins, at least not since that playground fight back in grade school. I’m generally kind to people, always help little old ladies cross the street, and would never harm anyone.”
And then Jesus comes along with His “But I say to you” and says, “But I say to you, that everyone who is angry (Angry? Yes, 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.” So that little altercation you had in the parking lot or that flash of road rage at the guy who cut you off on the St. Mary’s or that simmering anger you’re nursing, that bitterness you have about what you see going on in the world around you – yeah, that will get you convicted of murder in God’s court of law. And if Jesus hadn’t become the murderer in your place, the hell of fire would be yours. But at His trial, Barabbas the murderer goes free - as Jesus goes to His innocent death.
You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery,” and immediately you think, “I’ve got that one covered. I’m faithful in my marriage, never stray, always come home on time.” Almost every man in the crowd who heard Jesus that day thought he was pretty much immune from this law. They were the kind of people who stoned adulterers. There was no way any of them were guilty of adultery.
And then comes Jesus’ “But I say to you.” “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s right, even a look. Whether live or on the internet. At the beach or a strip club. It doesn’t matter. Guilty as charged. The law has no loopholes, no mercy, no ways out. You can live an entire life as celibate as a monk or as faithful as the most faithful husband. And one stray look will nail you. Had Jesus not become the Adulterer in your place, you’d be doomed. You can even gouge out that offending eye and cut off that offending hand if you wish, but the other eye will lead you down the same path and your left hand will sin as much as your right hand. And so before you dismember yourself, consider this: No one will be declared righteous by the Law for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
You’ve heard it said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” The paper was called a “Git” and you had to place it in the hands of your wife in front of three rabbis while saying three times “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.” And that was supposed to make it all OK, as if God was our Great Bureaucrat in heaven who cared only that we got our paperwork in order.
Beloved, there is probably no other area in our lives where the inherent darkness of our sinfulness shines through than our marital lives. And there is no more fertile field for self-justifying than the divorce court where we justify ourselves at the expense of our spouses.
We hear the Law say, “no divorcing” and we either take pride in the fact that we’ve toughed out our marital years without divorcing, or we try to justify our divorces by pointing the finger at the other. The state has given up listening to the self-justifying and has simply declared divorce a “no-fault” situation, which is actually opposite to the truth. Divorce isn’t no fault, it’s everyone’s fault.
Of course, along comes Jesus – with His “but I say to you” – and He cuts through the self-justifications and goes right to the heart. “Everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” He’s talking to the men here because there were only men in his audience – the reverse is also true – but here’s the point: In the thinking of the One who made them male and female in the beginning and said, “the two shall become one flesh,” there is no divorce that can be legitimized by paperwork. Divorce and adultery go hand in hand. One always leads to the other. Either adultery causes divorce or divorce causes adultery. It’s inescapable. And there’s no point or use attempting to justify yourself before God. You can’t.
Jesus never married. But Jesus became Sin for us in the totality of our sinfulness. He became the faithless, divorcing spouse. He took up our disloyalty, our unwillingness to forgive, our selfishness, all that drives a wedge between husband and wife. He became one flesh with His bride, the church. He forgives and sustains her even when she is faithless and adulterous. He refuses to divorce His church even when she deserves it. Instead He suffers for her. Chokes for her. Dies for her. He does it to rescue us from our adulteries, our divorces, our lusting eyes, all the ways we have taken the gift of marriage and used it for our own self-centered purposes.
You’ve heard it said, “Do not swear falsely, but perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” And you’re thinking once more, or perhaps you’ve caught on, “I do pretty well here. I tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help me God in the courtroom. When I pledge to give a certain amount of money, I do it. When I say, ‘I swear to God’ I mean it and I do it.
And along comes Jesus’ “but I say to you.” Don’t swear at all – by heaven, by the earth, by the hairs of your head. The very fact that you have to swear an oath at all means that you are a natural-born liar. You have to be put under oath and threat to coerce the truth out of you. Our fish stories just keep growing larger every time we tell them. We’re always the hero of our own narrative. History gets rewritten in our minds to vindicate ourselves. We’re liars at the core. We have alternative facts. Fake news. The half-truth and untruth come out much more easily than the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Jesus came in the flesh to speak the truth and to be the Truth enfleshed. He suffered the false accusations and lies of humanity. In becoming our Sin, the One who is the Truth became the Lie in order to rescue liars from the father of lies.
This is the deeper diagnosis, the one we don’t want to hear. Sin isn’t superficial and topical, it’s deep and it’s total. It’s not just a matter of a bad word here, a bad thought there, and a bad action now and then. Sin is a deeply corrupted orientation of the heart. It’s not simply murder but anger and hatred. Not simply adultery but lust in the heart. Not simply little white lies but a darkness of untruth. We don’t willingly want to hear that. No one left the sermon on the mount happy that day. No one left feeling justified about himself. No one left thinking, “Hey, I’m doing pretty well here; God must be pleased with me.”
Beloved, Jesus is teaching you how to come to the end of yourself. He is waiting there for you – ready. “I can’t do it Lord! This is impossible.” Ready – to be your new beginning – to be the righteousness you aren’t – to fulfill it all for you – and call you to trust Him. I’m here to save you. This is why I come. Stop trusting yourself, and justifying yourself – Trust Me. I can do it. I have done it – and I’ve done it for you.
Jesus said that not an iota or a dot would pass from the Law until all was fulfilled. To play games with the Law is to play games with the life and suffering and death of Jesus who came to fulfill the Law. When we justify ourselves, even when in our minds we believe we are right and good, we are saying in effect, “I don’t need Jesus in that part of my life.” When we boast about our good works or when we make excuses for our sin, we are saying in so many words, “Jesus’ death and resurrection doesn’t apply here. I don’t need Jesus here. I’ve got this part of my life covered.”
Jesus is holding Himself out to you for all of it. He came to fulfill the Law completely - not just in the places where we need a little help. He came to save sinners - not people who were doing “pretty well” under the Law. He came to become our Sin - not help us progress in our moral improvement program.
The way to hear the Law is not to find ways that it doesn’t apply to you, but to recognize how it all applies to you. You are the murderer, the adulterer, the guilty party in a divorce, the liar. In yourself, you have no righteousness, no holiness, no innocence, no claim to make before God. But Christ became Sin for you that in Him you might be and become the righteousness of God. Christ died and rose for you that you might live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Christ is the end of the Law for all who believe. Jesus didn’t just preach the Law, He did the Law and He died under the Law to rescue you from every commandment, every iota, every dot that would condemn you. Only in Him, you are safe.
So when that Doberman of the Law comes after you, don’t try to play with it – or outrun it. Hide behind the Lamb. He has stepped in the way for you. Gone into the jaws for you. And He’s got you covered with His blood. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr