Sermon 1691 Matthew 5.13-20 February 9, 2020
Today I am preaching to the choir. Jesus’ words demand it. Matthew, chapters 5-7, records Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, characterized as the greatest speech ever given. It has been quoted by believer and unbeliever, publicly and privately, for political as well as financial gain. This has led many to also characterize Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the most misquoted speech ever given. Jesus, however, delivered the Sermon on the Mount to believers. “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them (5.1-2).” So these are words spoken to people who know they are saved by faith, who trust that they are forgiven by the life, death and resurrection of the Savior and who walk by the inspired words of the one, true God—people like you! Jesus is not telling us how to live forever in heaven with his Sermon on the Mount. He is telling us how to live in time here on earth. We are to lead
Commanded by God (17-20).
Beneficial for others (14-16).
Natural for Christians (13).
Faith-filled lives are commanded by God. “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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven (17-20).”
Jesus did not come to water down God’s Word and provide an easy way out. That’s what his enemies then and now keep saying. “If God freely forgives (and loves to do so), sin more so he has more to forgive!” Absolutely not! The full weight of the Ten Commandments are upon us. The twist in Jesus’ words, however, is that instead of doing away with the Commandments, he lived them out perfectly. By faith his perfectly holy life is credited to our account. We are forgiven. We are holy in God’s sight. That changes us.
We pay attention to what we say and what we think. Harmful words have no place in our mouths. Sinful thoughts can warp our view of life and lead to terrible sins. No sin is little. Every sin is great in God’s eyes. We want to uphold the Commandments in all we think, say and do. To desire otherwise is to be a stranger to the kingdom of heaven. To teach others that some Commandments matter less than others is to reveal a hatred for Jesus’ word that can only come from Satan. I’ll say something about the Pharisees and teachers of the law at the end of this sermon.
Faith-filled lives are commanded by God and we eagerly want to obey that command. Faith-filled lives are beneficial to others.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (14-16).”
Yes, this is where city on a hill comes from. The Pilgrims sought to establish a city on a hill. America claims to be a city on a hill. Jesus’ point is this. Nobody lights a lamp and then doesn’t let that light shine. Even in the pre-electric world, a city on a hill could be seen for miles with its torches or an oil lamp in a window. Christians are going to stick out.
But look what that light can do! It can keep the embers going so the morning fire can be stirred up to cook breakfast! That flickering oil lamp can provide light for a young boy in Nazareth to read the Psalms of David. In the same way Christian lives of love are a beacon of hope and help. The sick are healed. The hungry are fed. The oppressed and victimized find defenders. The simple receive instruction. Good deeds shout out one message—look how great our God is!
I will give you an example. Where my father lives there are two hospitals, one Lutheran, one Catholic. Lutheran Hospital and St. Francis Hospital. They were founded by Christians who felt God wanted them to help the sick with the resources they had, be it nuns trained as nurses or the new Norwegian doctor in town. Oh, there was La Crosse Hospital, originally Methodist Hospital, but it closed. Where I come from it’s pretty much Catholics and Lutherans, Schmidts and Johannsen’s. There are no statues of Adolf Gundersen anywhere in La Crosse. You have to go to Viterbo College in an out of the way room to see fading pictures of the nuns who nursed the sick back to health. The individuals were instrumental, but not central to the story. Their love for God was what was important. And their love for him was so great because he was such a great God.
Here’s one more example. When our missionaries go to India they confront a class of people, perhaps 25% of the population, Dalit, the Untouchables. While India’s constitution gives them civil rights, they are routinely denied these rights as well as bare human rights. The lowliest of jobs are theirs at a pay scale that cannot support an individual, much less a family. The reason for this discrimination? They supposedly sinned in their previous life and their bad imaginary karma has followed them as punishment into this alleged reincarnation. “Do not help them. Do not aid them,” our missionaries are told. “It is part of the divine plan.” It is among the Dalit that Christian missionaries find the greatest success and, yes, they help them. The light of Christ cannot be hidden and the Untouchables, now touched by God, proclaim his praise.
I’d like to drag the Pharisees and teachers of the law in at this point, but I promised I would wait.
Faith-filled lives are beneficial for others. Faith-filled lives are natural for Christians.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (13).”
Salt is the most used “spice” in the world. You buy oregano or turmeric by the ounce, salt by the pound. Not to worry. It never goes bad. The expiration date on the box we have at home is “One day after the Lord returns.” It is unthinkable that salt would not be salty.
But that’s just the point Jesus is making. It is unthinkable that Christians would not live faith-filled lives. If you had people who claimed to be Christians living like absolute pigs and charlatans, well, into the dung heap of hell and shame they would go!
But there is another side to it. Salt cannot be unsalty because it is the nature of salt to be salty. That’s what it is. It is its natural state. So, living a faith-filled life is natural for Christians, according to the Christian within them, the New Man the Holy Spirit called to life when we came to faith. Remember, I am speaking to the choir, to Christians who have been bought with the blood of Christ and want to live a life of thanks to God for all he has done for them.
I don’t seek praise for something I do naturally. We don’t compliment people on their breathing. We take no credit for the color of our eyes or our height. That’s the way we are. So the good deeds we do, that’s just the way we are. We don’t seek credit for them. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus counseled (Matthew 6.3).” No problem. Sometimes I forget which is my left hand and which is my right hand! This is not a condition unique to me. On the Last Day Jesus will prove his judgment is just. He will point to the deeds of faith in the lives of the believers. This will show the unbelievers that faith, indeed, saves and the reason they are lost is that they didn’t believe. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matthew 25.34-36).” The believers are clueless. “When?” they will ask. Oh, they did all this and more “for the least of these brothers of mine,” but they never noticed. They never kept track. They just did it because it had to be done and they were there to do it.
How different the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were! They wanted to be nominated for believer of the year when they dropped off a tenth of the mint leaves they picked from their herb gardens. They prayed loud and long on the street corners so people could see how godly they were. They staged a parade when they dropped off a few thousand dollars into the Temple treasury from their latest round of foreclosures on widows’ homes. Everybody looked up to Caiphas, the high priest. Yet they crucified the Lord of life. They claimed to be following Moses, yet they put to death the prophets God sent them.
Don’t be like them. Don’t claim to lead faith-filled lives. Lead
Commanded by God (17-20).
Beneficial for others (14-16).
Natural for Christians (13).
Ach, but haven’t I wasted your time? Aren’t I preaching to the choir? Well, every choir needs to rehearse and go over the music. Every choir needs to coordinate calendars. And there’s the danger that somebody through carelessness or ignorance will sing off key in the chorus. Jesus thought these words were important for you to hear today and that is good enough for me.