2023-02-12 Epiphany 6
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our appointed Scripture readings over the past few Sundays in Epiphany have been our Lord’s famous Sermon on the Mount. It shines the light of God’s Word into our dark world. But today along with lots of light we have lots of heat! This sermon was definitely before the days of cool-to-the-touch LED bulbs! Yes indeed, the light that Jesus is shining is more like an old-school 300W tungsten bulb that you best not touch or else! What we have here today from our Lord is a white-hot word of God’s Law. As we’ve been talking about in Confirmation, God’s law exists as a Curb, telling us what not do. It exists as a Guide, telling us what we ought to do and thirdly, it exists to us as a Mirror, showing us our sins and our need for a Saviour. And it’s this last point that we wrestle with the most. We sin, so we need a Saviour. The mirror shines brightly on this point and we start to heat up! But our Lord’s words from last Sunday remain: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (MT 5:17).
We understand that all that Christ Jesus teaches us in His sermon is that He Himself has fulfilled the law. He has kept the commandments perfectly. He has done what we in our death and sin could not do. He has fulfilled the law by being and carrying out everything that the commandments are – and He has done so for us, for you, for me. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). So then, if this is the context and the backdrop for all that Christ speaks to us in His Word, what do we make of this Sermon on the Mount that seeks to light up our dark hearts with the Law of God’s Kingdom?
I think by and large people have always struggled with God’s Laws and their demanding nature. The Pharisees, Scribes and teachers of the Law they sought to try and legalistically keep every last law that is set out in the scriptures, right down to the letter. The only problem is, as James says, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (2:10). It’s like if I asked you to balance three dozen eggs stacked one on top of the other on a spoon and then walk a mile doing so. Can you imagine the stress involved?! One miss step to the left or one little wobble to the right, and the whole thing comes crashing down - presuming you could stack them up to begin with!
So Jesus comes and He starts trying to destroy the mindset of the law-dawgs, the legalists. “You have heard that it was said” He starts out. “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!” Do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s not trying to heap on more laws to burden the people with. He’s not trying to one-up the Pharisees by being even more tough when it comes to the law. He’s trying to show that nobody can actually fulfill the Law but Him. It’s impossible! Righteousness does not come from obeying the Law. It comes from trusting and believing in the Messiah. Christ Jesus is the promised Messiah because He has done what we cannot do. Faith is credited to us as righteousness.
People, churches and theologians have tended to skew the whole point of God’s law. We have either tried to turn it into a glory parade where we draw attention to ourselves and our great progress in righteousness - just like the Pharisees. Or, on the other hand, we have burdened ourselves with guilt because we have failed miserably at keeping God’s laws. We don’t measure up and we get depressed by it. People either become conceited and arrogant and in tern judgmental of others or they are so depressed and weary with guilt that their faith becomes an enormous burden! It doesn’t lift you up but rather does the opposite. But, if we see the Law as it ought to be seen - fulfilled by Christ our Lord - it becomes a benefit to us. It becomes like the fence that surrounds a playground. Have you ever noticed that nearly every single play ground known to mankind has a fence around it? It marks out the safe zone, doesn’t it? The ground cover inside the fence is usually some soft material the kids can fall on and not get hurt like sand or wood chips or if you’re lucky, gloriously comfortable rubber crumb! Fences keep out rogue dogs that are running at large that could potentially bite kids. Fences keep kids inside, safe from running into cars on the road. If we understand God’s Laws in this light, the “safe-zone” where inside all will be well, it changes the entire way we perceive God’s Law. It becomes more light than heat.
We realize that God gives us the Law to protect us from what bad things can happen out there, on the other side of the fence. Idolatry is out there. Blasphemy and disrespect lives there. Murder is out there. Hatred of each other is out there. Adultery and lust and the pain and suffering of divorce are out there. Lying and false witness are on the other side. Covetousness and greed lurk everywhere out there. God’s Laws seek to protect us from that world of hurt that comes when we decide in our sinful wisdom to jump the fence and go exploring! It never ends well for us out there.
A bunch of boys were playing on a tall bridge that stretched over a fast moving river. Down below not only was the water rushing quickly, there were also lots of sharp jagged rocks that could lay a hurtin’ on ya. Martin’s Dad had warned him many times about playing on the bridge because of the tragic consequences that lay below. But boys will be boys. The prefrontal cortex of the male brain isn’t mature until it’s 25 years old! And yet we let these people drink, drive and vote! But I digress! Soon the taunts started. “If you don’t do it Marty, you’re a chicken! Bock Bock Bock!” the group jeered. So, Marty climbed up on the old bridge railing - you had to walk across or face the eternal reputation of a lily-livered yeller-belly! Just as he started to put one foot in front of the other, his dad drove by and saw what was going on. He pulled the car over, opened his door and yelled out “Marty!” … It was in that very moment, in that exact instance, at the same time, Marty knew his father loved him and that he had done wrong. He hopped down from the bridge rail and ran to his father.
God gives us the Law because He loves us and wants life to go well for us. His Word is our life. “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deut.30:19-20). The Kingdom of God, the very thing which Jesus is preaching to His hearers, is concerned with precisely with life - the life that comes from believing Christ has fulfilled the law for us and that His forgiveness reigns supreme when we jump the fence or walk that bridge rail.
We heard the story of David and Bathsheba this morning. We see exactly what happens when we don’t heed God’s Word. It’s just a downward spiral that gets worse and worse! They say the eye is the window of the soul for a good reason. Just like Eve in the Garden of Eden who “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6), King David likewise saw Bathsheba the hottie bathing on a rooftop! It went downhill from there very fast. Adultery. Manipulation. The betrayal of a righteous man! And then, Democide, the intentional murder of people by government agents and those in high command. Whenever you try to cover up a scandal, the light of God’s Word starts to heat up! I don’t know why politicians always seem to think they can get away with this kind of stuff. But God knows and sees what is done in secret.
This story of David’s great and grievous sin spiralling out of control becomes a stark warning for us. For none of us are immune from jumping the fence of God’s Law either - indeed most of the time, we are unaware that we have strayed out into dangerous territory! Sin is insidious that way. A little gossip here, a little lustful look there, a dash of lying hither, a smidgen of hatred thither! What can it hurt? All the while, we’re being lured further away from safety of the play ground. This is when the Law needs to act as a mirror to make us see that we have messed up, that we need to repent and get ourselves back inside the playground, ASAP! And when it happens, as the light of God’s kingdom shines brightly into our eyes, we confess our wrongs and our transgressions, and we come back the to safe zone of God’s commandments and our Father welcomes us home. Just as David wrote in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,and cleanse me from my sin!” (1-2).
Jesus said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (JN 10:10). Life exists for us in Christ our Lord who has done what we cannot do. Through His cross and empty tomb, it is in Him we are made righteous. In His commandments, we are safe from the danger and evil that lurk outside of His kingdom, outside the safety of the fence. Hear His word and choose life! You are His most precious child of God and He wants only the best for His children. “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:24-26). Amen!