Worship Theme: Live a Holy Life
Sermon Theme: Perfect? Yes, Perfect!
This section of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:21-37 stings. It hurts as we look in the mirror and see all the ways we have fallen short of God’s expectations. And yet, as Jesus points out our sins, he also points to himself as the perfect solution—our perfect Savior. “Perfect? Yes, Perfect!” February 12, 2023.
Well, this is uncomfortable. I suppose you thought this was going to be a good sermon. You had your hopes set on feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside and walking away from this sermon with a pep in your step and a decent amount of Christian enthusiasm. I mean, the intro to the sermon two weeks ago was pretty good. You liked that -“Blessed are the poor in spirt . . . blessed are those who mourn . . . blessed are those who are persecuted.” Thank you! Yes! Thank you for encouraging us that we are truly happy and blessed in the Lord!
You liked the next part, too. That was last week. “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.” Yes! I can get behind that. Sure, I struggle to be salty in a bland world, and I’m not always shining in a world of darkness. But, great encouragement again! I need to let others see my light. After all, I’m a pretty good Christian. I’m church goin’ folk. Never done anything major. I’m not some kind of criminal. I just go about my business. The sermon was really good—you were feeling warm and fuzzy already.
Until the very end of the last paragraph last week. Jesus had a little transition in this famous Sermon on the Mount. He said we should let our lights shine before others, and then he transitioned into how to do that. He told us last week, “Don’t think I’ve come to do away with the Law—not even the smallest stroke or letter of the Law is going to disappear.” And then Jesus spoke these troubling words, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Wait, what? Jesus, you’re saying that unless I’m better than a Pharisee —one of the religious elites who even invented and added their own rules— unless I’m better than that I won’t be in heaven? That’s like saying I need to be better than a WELS Lutheran who comes to church every week, knows the liturgy by heart, memorized the Catechism, and brings a dish to every potluck? Are you serious, Jesus? How am I supposed to do that?
Well, I’m glad we asked. If you were paying attention a few minutes ago, Jesus makes it clear just how serious he is and exactly how we are supposed to do that. And so, this is the point in the sermon where you go from feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside to squirming in your seat. Buckle your seatbelts, because Jesus is about to give us a full dosage of the Law.
He started with the 5th Commandment today. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder.’” But then Jesus explains what it really means to keep the 5th commandment. It’s not just about keeping yourself off the news or off of death row. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Just because you come to church and smile and shake hands, doesn’t mean you have a pure heart. That anger you’re harboring over your neighbor who always has to stop at your lawn with his dog when taking a walk . . . what you say about and to people behind the safety of your screen . . . the person you have beef with that you’ve cut out of your life for years . . . the way you demean our president (or the previous one) . . . or even just calling your boos or coworker, “You dummy!”—this all is sin. And not just slap on the wrist, try-harder-next-time-sin. This is you-are-in-danger-of-the-fires-of-hell-sin.
Speaking of anger, Jesus says enough with all these personal problems. If you have a problem with someone, go and talk to them. Leave your gift at the altar—drop everything and go be reconciled. Enough with all the revenge stuff. At a time when so many want to cancel people or block people or take advantage of people, settle your matters in love.
Now if that doesn’t already make us uncomfortable, Jesus has to go from the 5th Commandment to the 6th Commandment. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” At this, some wannabe Pharisees may pridefully gloat, “Well I haven’t done that. I’m still with my spouse and I’ve been faithful.” Oh really? Jesus tells us how to really keep the 6th Commandment. “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s right, in a culture where Super Bowl halftime shows are anything but PG, where every other commercial, show, movie, or song is based on lust and sleeping around, where every other billboard on the way to Chicago begs for you to stop at a XXX store, of if you’re too lazy to go to a store you can just pull out your laptop or phone; in a culture where the average age for first viewing explicit content is now around 11; in a culture where the beefy and the busty are named the hottest or sexiest people alive—yes, even in such a culture Jesus says even one lustful thought is adultery (for the single or married).
And he’s so serious that he says if your eye causes you to sin sexually, gouge it out. If your hand does, cut it off. So, we ask, “Does he really mean this? Does he really want me to lop off my hand?” The answer is, kind of! On the one hand, cuffing out an eye or off a hand isn’t going to make a difference. If your right eye sinned, your left eye probably will too. But the point is how serious these sins are. “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
God is serious about the 6th Commandment and serious about his gift of marriage. That’s why Jesus goes on to say that those who divorce without biblical reason also break this commandment. And in a country where 50% of marriages fail, another stone hits us right between the eyes.
As if we aren’t reeling enough already from how we shatter the 5th and 6th Commandments, Jesus addresses the 2nd and 8th Commandments and how we use our words. “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” No need to say, “Oh my God,” as if you have no other way to add emphasis. No need to swear to God or on your mother’s grave or really use any words carelessly. Let your Yes be Yes and your No, No. Any other kind of talk comes from Satan.
Talk about a heavy hitter of a sermon! It’s like getting hit in the face with a frozen dodgeball at recess. Ouch! There’s no room or time for pretending on the outside like were are nice and pious people who go to church. Did you hear what he said? Unless you do these things, you will be subject to judgment . . . you’ll be thrown into hell . . . you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven. Hopelessly we cry out, “Jesus! What do you expect? That I’m perfect or something?” And Jesus responds, Perfect? Yes, Perfect! That’s what it takes to be close to a holy and perfect God in his holy and perfect heaven. In fact, Jesus actually says a few verses later in this sermon, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
No, this is not a warm and fuzzy feeling that I have on the inside. Rather, I’m overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame and guilt and sadness. What have I done? What a mess I’ve made of my life!
What a relief, what a comfort that we know who is preaching this sermon to us. This is not some flash-in-the-pan famous TV preacher bombarding us with fire and brimstone that he himself isn’t able to live up to. No, this is Jesus, the Christ, the perfect Son of God.
So, the one who preaches the Law with all its force and weight is also the one who said this last week, “I have not come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them.” Jesus didn’t come to do away with the 5th or 6th or 2nd or 8th or any of the commandments. He came to fulfill them perfectly.
We can’t even imagine what such a life is like, yet Jesus did it. Not one word spoken out of turn or behind a back. Not one outburst of unrighteous anger, not even one angry thought. Never a vengeful word but only words of patience and kindness and love. Even for those who shattered the 5th Commandment with their hatred of him as they executed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
And just as his thoughts were perfectly loving, so also were his thoughts perfectly pure. Not one dirty joke. Not one vulgar comment. Not one lustful thought, not even a hint of immorality. Only appropriate relations and respect and kindness all the time. And actually, every time Jesus interacts with a woman it is only with the most gentleness and care.
So also, in the words that Jesus spoke. Never a promise he didn’t keep. Never a word that wasn’t true. Never even a little white lie. Jesus is the Truth and Jesus spoke the truth.
We’ve fallen so often and so far short from God’s glory that it’s hard for us to even fathom. Perfect? Yes, Perfect! Jesus was perfect in every moment and in every way and he did it for you. He did it so that you could be covered, and clothed in a righteousness that in no way belongs to you. He did it so that a holy God would look at you, a sinner, and see nothing but perfection because you are wrapped up in the righteousness of his Son Jesus.
But what about our sins? What about the things we have already done? What about all the wrongs that I’m stained with? Well, God doesn’t just sweep them under the rug or pretend they exist like yucky little dust bunnies under your bed. No! Jesus has removed them completely because they have been paid for completely.
The only way to do that was with a perfect and complete payment of sacrifice. And that is in fact the second purpose of Jesus’ perfect life. The first purpose was for him to be perfect for you in life, so that his righteousness could be yours. The second purpose was that his perfect life could be offered as a payment for yours—the perfect sacrifice. For all the threats of the Law for judgment and being thrown into hell and being removed from the kingdom of heaven that we deserve, it was Jesus who hung from the cross and suffered the depths of hell as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Perfect? Yes, Perfect! Jesus was the perfect sacrifice to win us forgiveness.
There are some people in the world who question God. Some think God is a mean, angry judge against sinners. Some think that God is loving and would never punish anyone. Most can’t reconcile in their brains how God could be both a just and righteous God and a loving God at the same time. But the only place that this can possibly make sense is at the cross of Christ.
God is in fact just and holy and punishes sin. But the miracle of his love is that he didn’t punish you. It was Christ who took the wrath of God on the cross and buried it in the tomb. And it was Christ who rose to a new life to guarantee that because of his victory you can and will live with our perfect God in his perfect heaven.
Maybe Jesus the master preacher and teacher knew what he was doing after all with this famous Sermon on the Mount. Yes, this section of the sermon that we hear today stings. It hurts as we look in the mirror and see all the ways we have fallen short of God’s expectations. And yet, as Jesus points out our sins, he also points to himself as the perfect solution—our perfect Savior.
So, when we hear these words of Jesus then, it’s no longer a matter of fear and trembling, shuddering in shame at what we have done. We hear these words about how to keep the commandments and we do have a pep in our step. We do have warm and fuzzy feelings on the inside. You see, now that our guilt is gone, these are great encouragements for how we can live in Jesus. He lived his life for us. He gave his life for us. These words make me think: “How can I give my life for him? How can I love him and love my neighbor?” How can I set aside my anger and hatred and vengeful thoughts? How can work so hard to pursue what is pure and holy in thoughts, words, and actions? How can be honest and truthful? How can I love others because he first loved me?
Will we be perfect? No, not yet. So, we come to worship each week and confess our failings and receive assurance that we are forgiven yet again. We come to his table and lay our sins at his feet, and receive his own perfect body and blood to our lips and we go in peace knowing our sins are forgiven. Back to the cross, back to Jesus we go each week, each day to find his perfect love. Then back into the world to show that love to others. Each day a walk with Jesus until that one day when we are confirmed in perfection and his love in heaven. Perfect? Yes, Perfect! Amen.
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