Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017
Matthew 21:23-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel lesson previously read.

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.”  As Moses speaks the words of our Lord to the Israelites in the desert as Lutherans we would say, Moses is talking about Law and Gospel here.  He’s talking about God’s commands and God’s blessings.  So, as a good review, ask yourself about the words of Jesus.  Are those words Law?  Or are they Gospel.  Is this God commanding something and threatening death for sin?  Or is He giving forgiveness and life?  He’s commanding things, isn’t He?  And so, this is Law.

In fact, think about last week do you remember what Jesus said about the Law?  “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”  When you look at God’s commandments, you better not in the least relax them and think that this is God pleasing.  You better not justify not keeping them to the fullest extent, because Jesus has said that they are not to be relaxed.

And in today’s lesson He shows us just what this means.  How does He start?  He says, “You have heard that it 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.”  How many times have you heard someone say that they think God will let them into heaven because they’re a pretty good person, in particular excusing themselves by adding, “It’s not like I’ve killed someone.”  What do these words of Jesus have to say about that?  They say, “You’ve never stopped someone’s heart from beating?  OK, but you’re not innocent.  No, you’ve been angry.  You’ve insulted.  You’ve spoken out of turn against your neighbor.  You’ve done it.  Everyone has done it.”  Jesus speaks in these terms and shows that the extent of the punishment is severe.  And what is it?  Hell.  No, you’re not a pretty good person.  You’re not.  You deserve hell.

Think about what Jesus is calling us to here.  To start, think about this anger.  And I say this because I think that this is one of those sins that we really like to hide and justify.  I mean, Paul speaks of the proverb saying “Be angry, but do not sin,” and that shows us that we can be rightfully angry, right?  So, if it’s for a proper reason, then it’s OK, right?  It’s OK if I’m angry at the person at work who has treated me like dirt and never apologized, right?  It’s OK, if I’m angry at someone who is totally destroying what I think is right.  For example, it’s OK if I’m angry about the people who get media exposure with confrontationally atheistic attitudes that try to undermine the faith, right?  Or what about that person that is just generally offensive.  They deserve my anger, don’t they?  After all, Jesus got angry in the temple, so we see it’s not inherently sinful.  The reality is, yes, it’s OK for us to be angry sometimes.  Anger is an unavoidable reaction.  But don’t try it.  Don’t hold on to it.  It’s just not likely that it will remain righteous anger.  Think of someone who’s angered you, then repent of that anger.  Repent because it is actually dangerous to you.  You can be liable for that anger before God, so let it go!

Or if you’re not angry at someone, think about Luther’s explanation to the command – again like I always say if you don’t have the commandments memorized do it, and memorize Luther’s explanations too, you will benefit!  And what does Luther say?  That in fearing and loving God we should actually love our neighbor enough to care for their every physical need.  When you haven’t cared for your neighbor, you’ve murdered him.  Christians, care for your neighbor!  You are liable to the hell of fire for that sin, for not keeping the fifth commandment not to murder.

And then the sixth commandment.  Again, Jesus shows just how high the bar is.  The command: don’t commit adultery.  What’s that mean?  Well, on the surface it means that if you’re married, don’t sleep around, right?  But there’s a whole lot more.  Even if you’re not married, don’t even lust. “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Don’t look at someone who is not joined to you as one flesh and think in your mind like you are.  As Paul says, “let not sexual immorality even be named among you.”  Why?  Because it’s inherently unloving.  Even if you’re not married, lusting after someone in your mind doesn’t require anything but the thought of self-satisfaction.  Whether this lust is after someone walking down the street, or on the TV, or on the computer.  It doesn’t matter.  There’s no desire to satisfy the needs of the other individual, and I don’t mean on a sensual level, but on a level of love and self-giving, in terms of entirely and publicly committing to give one’s life to the other person.  But see that’s the heart of marriage – self-giving.  Love.  When two are married, there is the mutually giving over of the desires of both for the good of the one-flesh union.  This is what marriage does properly.  And it should be honored, it should be honored by those who are not married by not meditating on your own desires that you would like to impose on someone else, even in your own head.  No, instead of selfish concerns, we should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do and husband and wife love and honor each other.  In other words, we should honor marriage and the gift that it is even in our thoughts.  Something we need to hear so much in our culture.

But as Jesus brings this us up to us, He speaks also of divorce.  Don’t divorce, except for sexual immorality or you’re causing adultery.  Now, for those of you who are single, hopefully you’ve seen how this honoring of marriage applies to you in that even in your thoughts you are called to honor it.  But if you’re married, hear what Jesus says.  Unless your spouse cheats, don’t even consider divorce.  Now, that being said, Paul does mention desertion too.  And he says that if the unbelieving spouse separates, “let it be so, in such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved,” which as Lutherans we have taken to mean that the innocent party in a divorce can remarry.  That is to say, if your spouse divorces you, and it’s not what you want, you try to do what you are able to reconcile the marriage, they have broken the law and you are free to remarry.  I think this applies to infidelity, it applies to desertion, and I think we could argue that it applies to abuse as well.

But to come back to what Jesus says, we’ve really created a culture that doesn’t approach marriage in this way.  Now, I don’t want to minimize the pain of divorce, it’s always painful, but unfortunately too often it’s the solution rather than giving up of ourselves.  Again, this goes for both sides.  Both husband and wife must give up their own concerns, their own wants, their own desires for the marriage.  This is what Jesus is calling us to.  In effect, He’s telling us not to even make divorce an option.  In fact, this is what a mentor advised me before Jessica and I got married.  He told me that we shouldn’t even joke about divorce, because sometimes when you joke about something then it becomes easy to start entertaining the idea.  Now, that’s not a command, it’s advice, so you don’t have to come to private confession if you’ve joked about it.  But think about what it is.  Think about what Jesus is demanding here.  He’s saying that what God demands from you is His perfection.  It’s easy to try to turn all of this into something that’s attainable.  And when we do that we think we can pat ourselves on the back.  Likewise, it’ easy for us to see how unattainable it is, and want to throw in the towel, just being satisfied with our sinfulness.  Never, ever be satisfied with your sin.  Never, ever be comfortable with being a sinner. There should always be that nagging sense that you’ve fallen short.  As you hear Jesus saying that your anger can send you to hell; that your lust makes you an adulterer, as you hear this you should be nervous, because it is what God Himself demands of you in His Law.

But that’s the Law.  What does Paul say about the Law?  He says, No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the Law, rather through the Law we become conscious of sin.  He says all of this you should try to keep, not so that God will be pleased with, but just because it’s what God wants you to do.  But even still, as you try do it, you will see that you aren’t passing muster and so it’s not going to get you to heaven.  No through the Law you become conscious of your sin, you become aware of just how short you fall from what God wants from you.  But what did Jesus say? “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but I have come to fulfill them.”

You see, Jesus is the One who honors marriage perfectly.  He is the perfect spouse.  The Church is His bride, and look at what He has done for us.  He has come as the knight in shining armor, left the comforts of His Castle, hidden Himself, entered into His enemy’s land, entrapping the enemy in the process at great bodily harm to Himself, and rescued us His betrothed, that He may carry us back to His Kingdom where we will reign with Him eternally in all glory.

Likewise, He has come as the One who has every right to be angry with us.  He should be so angry that He casts every one of us into that prison until we pay the last penny, a debt we can absolutely never pay.  But instead, what has He done?  He has loved us perfectly and has cast aside His just anger with us, paying our debt instead.

This is what He has done on the cross.  He has not abolished the Law, but fulfilled it as the perfect sacrifice for you, and now He has given you new life in His resurrection – new life in the birth of the water and the Sprit.  And that’s how you can now hear this and not be crushed – it’s easy to despair, in fact if it weren’t for Him you should despair, but it is true and right, but it is true and right this Law, and He has done all of it for us!

This, then Christians is Gospel.  This perfection, by grace through faith, is our righteousness.  This brothers and sisters is life, it is blessings, it is the greatest good.  In this Gospel, Jesu has reached out His nail-pierced hand and He has rescued you from that Hell of Fire.  He has saved you and made you His own.  Born anew of this Gospel.  Born anew of the grace and blessings of our Great God who loves you with an eternal love.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler