Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37 (Epiphany 6: Series A)
For Jesus to be enforcing God’s Law seems strange to some people today, and it would have seemed strange to some people back then.
Have you ever heard of “house rules?” These are the rules people make in order to live together in some kind of harmony. They can be posted on the fridge or scribbled in chalk and hung on the wall.
I once saw a list of house rules that starts out sane but turns crazy pretty quickly. Rule 1: “No hitting or pushing.” That makes sense. You do not want physical aggression flaring up at home. But then, the rules about aggression get more specific. Rule 3: “No kicking.” Rule 7: “No throwing toys.” Rule 11: “We do not light people on fire.” After that, I think mom just gave up. Rule 12: “No fighting before Mom has coffee.” Okay. So, there can be chaos... just not before coffee.
House rules have a way of carving out life in the midst of chaos. I thought about that as I read the text for today. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals the house rules of God. He is seeking to carve out a way of life for us in the midst of chaos, to create a place of human flourishing in a world of fractured relationships.
If you feel like our world has lost its moral compass, if you feel like your relationships with others have suffered because there are times when your life has been out of control, listen to Jesus. He is seeking to help by reminding us of the house rules of God.
That Jesus is calling us to listen to the Law of God may seem strange to some people. Some in our world would say “God is love,” and by that, they mean God accepts everything, supports everyone, and never offers a word of correction, never calls for change or a reorientation of your life. For Jesus to be enforcing God’s Law seems strange to some people today, and it would have seemed strange to some people back then.
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (verse 17). You see, some people thought that is precisely what Jesus was doing: Getting rid of God’s laws.
Jesus had a reputation for being a rule breaker. When Jesus came to town, life was different. It seemed as if rules and regulations no longer applied.
When Jesus walked by a tax collector’s booth, He did not heap curses on Matthew, condemning him for working for the Roman oppressor and stealing money from God’s people. No, instead, He called him to follow. He ate dinner at his house, where sinners had gathered, and upset the rules for table fellowship. It was suddenly less clear who was in the Kingdom and who was not. But that is because the house rules of Jesus were about reconciliation and renewal. He invited Matthew to be part of a kingdom where God desires mercy and not sacrifice, and where those who are sick are tended to by the doctor, not left in their sickness to die.
Jesus had not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it and to invite His disciples to live in a kingdom where not only had the Law been fulfilled, but it offered a glimpse of a heavenly life to be experienced on earth. In His words, Jesus is giving people a glimpse of life in the Kingdom to be experienced here on earth.
In His words, Jesus is giving people a glimpse of life in the Kingdom to be experienced here on earth.
Often, when we hear the laws of God, we realize how we fail to meet them. This is appropriate. After all, the Law reveals our sin and the Spirit uses it to turn us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. So, when we hear Jesus speak about anger, lust, divorce, and keeping our word, we may sense the Spirit calling us to repent. Our lives are not the way God desires them to be. We have fractured our relationships, and Jesus calls us from sin to turn to His grace.
We do not need to try to justify our behavior. God has justified us by faith in Christ. We do not need to explain away what we have done. By the suffering and death of His Son, God has wiped away all we have done. We now stand before Jesus and before one another forgiven and free.
Suddenly, we can begin to see another purpose to the Law. The Law also offers us a picture of the Kingdom. It reveals God’s design for a world of human flourishing. As the apostle Paul declares, the Law of God is good (Romans 7:12). It gives order to a world where people care for one another and live in community. For this reason, even after people have turned from their sin and been forgiven in Him, the Law remains important to Jesus.
His words awaken us to our sin, but they also reveal to us new life in the Kingdom. Relationships matter to Jesus. Jesus not only restores your relationship to His Father, but He also restores your relationships to others in Him.
Through these words, Jesus enters our homes and posts His house rules on our wall. Relationships matter. In situations of hostility, you are filled with a desire for reconciliation. In relationships with members of the opposite sex, you are chaste. In relationship to your spouse, you are faithful. Your word is to be trusted.
Through these words, Jesus is reminding us of the good life God has for His people in His Kingdom. Yes, we find ourselves living in a world of moral chaos, but our lives are different. Why? Because we have been brought into God’s Kingdom. His rules are there to remind us that by grace He has turned our houses into His home. He dwells among us, inspiring us to live with one another in love. We are His people, reconciling, chaste, faithful, truth speaking, and filled with love.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 5:21-37.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 5:21-37.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 5:21-37.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 5:21-37.