Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Jesus said, “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. 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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “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. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. “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. “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 the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. ” (Matthew 5:21–37, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is being very difficult here. He pushes the law to the point where no one can possibly keep it. I mean, just look at the “You shall not murder” commandment. None of us is as bad as a guy who would kill a convenience store clerk, mother of 10, in cold blood for a few measly dollars, Jesus isn’t happy with that. He says you can’t be angry with anyone. I don’t know. I’ve been angry already today! How about you? Kids or wife not get around as fast as they should have this morning. Did someone hog the bathroom and prevent you from getting your business done? And though we don’t have much traffic here in Howard, how about the last time someone did a bonehead thing while you were driving. You know the thing that almost put you in the ditch. Oh, but even that isn’t good enough for Jesus. He pushes even harder. You can’t say people are fools. Everyone knows how foolish most people are. Author Douglas Adams said, “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” (BrainyQuotes.com) Just open your eyes and look around it’s hard, maybe impossible to not say something about foolish people all around. Why is it that the folks who can least afford pets seem to have more pets than they need? It seems that every respiratory therapist I’ve ever met smokes like a chimney. Seems pretty foolish for someone who should know better. And Jesus says, I can’t point this odd fact out without breaking the commandment? And condemning myself to hell! And then there’s the adultery commandment. Now Jesus is getting really personal. It’s not just running out and having an affair I have to worry about. It’s not just sleeping together or living together before getting married that’s the problem. Just looking and getting the idea is enough to damn me to hell. Talk about utter helplessness. I mean, guys, you know what Jesus is saying here. Just walking down the street on a summer day is gonna wind you up in hell. I wonder what he’d say about stealing, coveting, speaking false witness. Jesus makes the commandments impossible to keep.
At first we may want to take the teeth out of what Jesus says here. It just seems a bit too much. Obviously no one can do what Jesus says. And the divorce thing just seems to be pouring salt on the wound. The “d” word has become common place in our society. We think it’s the solution to whatever ales a marriage. But Jesus speaks very strongly. A man who divorces his wife makes her (the innocent party) an adulterer. (It goes the same for the woman too!). The only ground that that God gives here is “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” It’s way to narrow for us. Actually our participation in divorce makes us guilty of adultery, weather it’s being silent, or giving our consent. And adultery, Jesus says, makes us bound for hell.
Actually, this text is deadly serious. Jesus isn’t pulling any punches. All too often we take our sin lightly. We tend to sweep it under the rug of forgiveness and pretend that it’s nothing. But sin isn’t nothing. What our sin deserves is exactly what Jesus says, the fire of hell, God’s ever lasting burning anger over our rebellion. We can’t ease our way out of it. We think that just because there are no bodies buried in our back yard, just because we’ve managed to keep out of the wrong bedrooms, just because we’ve not been divorced we aren’t really all that bad. And God forgives anyway. We think our sin isn’t really all that big a deal. That’s why sometime we think that Jesus is talking metaphorically when he says to gouge out our eye if it causes us to sin. We think he really can’t mean it. Well, he’s dead serious. The problem is that getting rid of our sin isn’t that easy. We could cut off our hand and then we’d have to cut off the other one, and then our feet, and then our elbows. We’d gouge out an eye and be guilty of the same sin with the other before the bleeding stopped. Our tongue would have to go next and still we’d be suffering under our own sin. It runs deep, to the very heart. That’s why Jesus says what he says. There is no cure for sin that we can accomplish. There is no cutting it out because it’s more than the things we do, it’s more than the things we think. We say it in the confession, we are by nature sinful and unclean… we have sinned in what we think, do and say, by what we have done and not done. And we stand condemned under Jesus words. Whoever does these things is subject to the hell of fire.
If it were possible for us to gouge out an eye to save ourselves we had better get gouging. Thank God he saves us from that. It is when we stand at the edge of hell looking in, facing our own deserved punishment, realizing that we are lost and condemned creatures that we see clearly what God has done for us. It is when we see our utterly lost state that the good news of Jesus has its full impact. Cutting off our hands and gouging our eyes won’t do. It takes so much more than that. It takes God himself, to sacrifice himself. It takes God become man in Jesus Christ to set our relationship with God on a proper footing. It takes God, in Jesus Christ, not cutting off his hand but allowing his hands to be nailed to a cross. It takes God, the Father, turning his back on his only son Jesus, and allowing him to suffer the full anger of his punishment, far more then the pain of nails and suffocation on the cross. It takes God, declaring that Jesus suffering and death on the cross is enough to cover our sin. It takes God giving us credit for the perfect life lived by Jesus. It takes God’s grace and mercy and only that to cover up our inability to do anything at all to save ourselves from hell.
Now listen to Saint Paul’s experience. Some people will tell you that he’s talking about himself before he was a Christian. But he’s not. All of his verbs are in the present tense. He’s talking about his life now as he’s writing. He’s talking about the attack of the law on him. He’s talking about Jesus’ words of law cutting him to the very heart.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ” (Romans 7:15–25, ESV)
No room for eye gouging, it wouldn’t work. The sin runs too deep in Paul, it runs too deep in you. There is only one thing that saves you from this body of death. There is only one thing that saves you from the fires of hell so well deserved. It is God, though Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection for you are what you need. His perfect life; his loving God with his whole heart soul and mind; his loving his neighbors, feeding them, healing them, caring for them; his shed blood on the cross; his death and burial; his three days in the tomb; his resurrection from death and his coming again to claim you and the whole world again for himself. All of this is yours, oh baptized Christian, beloved child of God. All of this God did for you in Jesus Christ because you are helpless to keep the law, any part of it. All of this God did for you out his Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you. No eye gouging necessary, only faith. Faith that what was done by our Lord he offers to you freely. Unearned. Uncoerced. Unforced. His loving gift for you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.