Beckett: Sermon – Jesus is Oath Keeper

Date: February 12, 2023
Festival: 6th Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Sermon Hymn: LSB #394 Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. He starts off with a bang, “Blessed are you! The poor in spirit, you who mourn, you who are lowly, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, you who are persecuted.” Why? “Because the kingdom of heaven is yours! For you shall be comforted! For you shall inherit the earth! For you shall be filled! For you shall receive mercy! For you shall be called sons of God! For your reward is great in heaven!” [vv. 2-12]. Yes, Lord! Praise Jesus! He blesses me despite my brokenness! Thanks be to God!

Then He tones it down quite a bit. You are the salt of the earth. Do not lose your taste. If you do, you’re useless. You are the light of the world. Do not put it under a basket but put it on a stand and let your light shine before others in your good works so that glory may be given to God your Father! [vv. 13-16]. And we begin to feel the sting of the Law a little bit. “Am I truly being the salt of the earth? Am I salting the wounds of my neighbour with the cauterising cure of Law & Gospel? I’m quite salty in my biting sarcasm, but that’s not being salt. Have I lost my taste?” And we wonder, “Am I truly being the light of the world? Do I find reasons to do good works for my neighbour, or excuse not to help them?”

And then Jesus doubles down on this Law, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” [v. 17]. Not a single iota—not a single dot—will pass from the Law until Jesus accomplishes all that is in it [v. 18]. But then He hammers us with the Law even more. “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, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” [v. 19]. And so, we wonder: which Commandments have I considered to be least? And how have I taught this in my words and actions?

Is it the 1st Commandment, “You shall have no other gods”? Do I fear, love, and trust in something or someone more than God? Is it the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God”? Do I curse with His name, or lie with His name? Is it the 3rd Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”? Do I despise preaching and the hearing of God’s Word? Am I counting the minutes until I can finally get out of church to go home and watch the Super Bowl?

And then Jesus really drives in the nail in our text today: anger, lust, divorce, and oath breaking. He begins each of these with, “You have heard that it was said,” and then with authority He says, “But I Myself say to you.” In other words, here’s what the commandment really means! The Law becomes stricter.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” [vv. 21-24]. In other words, “Oh, so you think you are so good because you haven’t murdered anybody? I tell you that if you are angry with your brother and have not reconciled to him, you have murdered him in your heart! Go and be reconciled! In regard to worship, you cannot give a good offering to God if you have not reconciled with your brother—if you have not done to the least of these, My brothers” [cf. 25:31-46].

During the Offertory, we will sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” A person of a clean heart does not remain angry with his brother. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall be called sons of God” [5:8]. The pure in heart—the sons of God—do not remain angry with their brother. They reconcile with them before offering their gifts to the Lord.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” [vv. 27-28]. In other words, “Oh, so you think you’re so good because you haven’t been unfaithful to your spouse? I tell you that by simply looking at anyone with lustful desire, you have committed adultery in your heart! You think this commandment doesn’t apply to you because you’re not married? Well, I’ve got news for you! You commit adultery when you lust!”

We know how rampant lust is in our culture. Sexuality is a gift of God to be explored in the marital relationship between a man and a woman, and that’s where God has set the boundaries. Our culture breaks the boundaries. We live in a triple X culture. You can have sex with whomever you want and whenever you want. Prostitution is “women’s empowerment.” With Orwellian totalitarianism, they say, “My body, my choice,” “Abortion is healthcare.” Even pornography is viewed as a healthy habit. About 35% of all internet downloads are pornography materials. 65% of young men and 18% of young women watch porn at least once a week. The median age of first exposure to pornography is 14-years-old, 93.2% for boys and 62.1% for girls. Forty million adults in the U.S. regularly visit porn sites, and 20% of men and 13% of women admit to accessing porn while at work.

1.2 million children are trafficked into sex slavery every year worldwide, and that number does not include adult men and women. Simply walk outside in the summer and young women are dressed provocatively. Young men speak of women as objects for their base pleasures. The zenith of manhood is losing your virginity rather than remaining chaste for the honour of your future wife. During the Grammy’s this week, there was the overt Satanic ritual where the female dancers were dressed very explicitly while groping a man dressed as the devil in suggesting ways. I wonder what explicitness we’ll see during the Super Bowl commercials and halftime show today. What ought we to do, then? Jesus tells us:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out! …And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off!” [vv. 29-30]. In hyperbolic fashion, it is not the eye or the hand that causes us to sin, but the heart. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,” Jesus says, “and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality,” and things like these [15:15-19]. Rip it out! Pray the psalm of David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” [Ps. 51:10]. Pray another psalm, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways” [119:37].

But Jesus isn’t done talking about sexuality. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” [Matt. 5:31-32]. Yes, divorce—just like lust and adultery—is sin. Like all sexual immorality, divorce destroys marriage, and it mars the lives of the children.

But our speech also matters greatly. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is His footstool… Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No'” [vv. 33-35a, 37]. Do not use words lightly. Making a promise is no small matter. Be careful with what you say. and let your word be your bond—that your “yes” means yes and your “no” means no. Do not deceive. And don’t have an inflated view of self-importance. “Do not take an oath by your own head,” Jesus says [v. 36], which means you think you have the power to make it happen. Politicians swear by their own heads all the time! and thus reveal themselves to be oath breakers.

Jesus has told us what it means to be salt and light. He has hammered the Law into our hearts, and the nail has driven it home. How angry have I been toward my neighbour, whether in person or online? How much lust poisons my heart, controlling my eyes and hands? Some of us have been broken by divorce and adultery. How many promises have I broken, whether purposefully or by accident? You should realise by now that you and I cannot do what is required to fulfil the Law—to be right with God. You can’t do it, but Jesus did!

For Jesus did not hate anyone—He did not murder anyone in His heart. “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore [your] sins in His body on the tree, that [you] might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” [1 Peter 2:23-24]. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Yes, He has. By the stripes He received in His scourging with the cat of nine tails, you are healed—you are made clean. Covered in the blood of the Lamb, the Lord God sees you as pure in heart, a son of God, with a right spirit within you because of what Jesus did on the cross for you.

Neither did Jesus look at anyone lustfully. Rather, the only look in His eyes when He looks upon sinners is compassion. When the prostitute washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and a flask of ointment, Jesus had compassion on her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” [Luke 7:36-50]. When the woman caught in adultery was thrown before Him, the people demanding her death according to the Law of Moses, Jesus has compassion on her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” [John 8:1-11]. Jesus revealed to Samaritan woman at the well who divorced many husbands and was currently sleeping with a man who is not her husband that He is the spring of water welling up to eternal life for her [John 4:1-26].

Therefore, if you have committed sexual immorality, and you ask for His forgiveness, Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” If you have committed adultery or been broken by divorce, Jesus says, “I do not condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” He is the spring of water welling up to eternal life for you. When God could have divorced Himself from the whole world because of our infidelity to Him, instead He remained faithful and came down to earth in Jesus Christ to marry His Bride, the Church, with the promise of the marriage feast of the Lamb [Rev. 19:6-10].

And finally, Jesus is no oath breaker. Jesus’ “yes” always means yes, and His “no” always means no. If you ever wonder, “Am I truly forgiven,” Jesus’ promise is “yes.” How do you know this? Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” [John 20:22-23]. You heard His words of forgiveness this morning already, “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

You also hear His “yes” in the Lord’s Supper, “This is My body, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And in your Baptism as well, where you have received the cleanness of heart, God the Father spoke, “This is My beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” He spoke those words at Jesus’ Baptism for your sake, that you might know you have been made pure of heart, and a son of God. And within those same waters you have received the promise to be raised from the dead just as Jesus was raised from the dead [Rom. 6:3-5]. And if you ever wonder if you have to do anything to earn Jesus’ love and forgiveness, His promise is “no,” because it is all accomplished in what He did on the cross and when He rose from the dead. The oath cannot be broken, for His Word endures forever. Amen.

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