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Gospel: Matthew 5:21-30 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 735:1,2 “Before You I Kneel”
- Men’s Choir “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”
- Hymn CW 695:1,2,3,6 “Take My Life and Let It Be”
- Communion Solo “Lord Have Mercy”
- Hymn CW 928 “May the Grace of Christ Our Savior”
If you’re in a relationship, married or dating, I hope that you are aware by now that this coming Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. Ah, a day when couples celebrate love with overpriced flowers, overpriced chocolate, and overpriced cards. Ok, maybe that’s a bit cynical. Now every person and every couple is different. Some celebrate, some don’t, but I suppose it’s a good excuse to remember how much blessing a significant other is. I suppose it’s not all bad.
But it is for some. For those not in a relationship, or for those mourning the loss of a spouse or loved one, all those heart candies and chocolates are reminders of pain. Their hearts are broken and as we celebrate, they suffer. A broken heart is a painful thing, whether it’s a lost spouse, lost first love, lost child, or even lost pet. And while time lessens pain it’s not easy to endure.
In a certain sense, as we look at this next part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is talking here about broken hearts too. Not the breaking of relationships, but the brokenness of the human heart in general. We are all born with a broken heart. One that if left untreated will lead to physical and eternal death. Our hearts are broken with sin and in this part of our Savior’s sermon Jesus talks firmly and clearly. The sin of our hearts is just as serious as the sins of our actions. We aren’t just touched by sin – we are completely broken by it. Lost and condemned in it by birth. But thank God Jesus gives us the answer.
The problem we have is that the requirement to enter the kingdom of heaven is greater than we want to admit. It’s like trying to get one of those Real ID drivers’ licenses. We had to do that for the second time when we moved to Minnesota. Have you done that? You have to have something like three different forms of identification and proof of residency. If you don’t have exactly what they want, you’re simply not going to get the new license. Those are the rules, and everybody has to abide by them.
Well, heaven is God’s perfect place, and he sets the rules for who gets in. And there’s no mystery to what God’s requirements for heaven are. Since God is holy and perfect, he cannot tolerate anything that isn’t. So, he tells us, “Be holy.” And he tells us later in this sermon, “Be perfect.” In other words, live a perfect life – do everything I command and nothing I forbid and then you can spend eternity with me. That’s what it takes. But none of us qualify. I have yet to come across a perfect person, either in the mirror or on the street.
I think we all recognize we’re not perfect. But too often we minimize our sins or don’t really consider what it means. We know that we can’t save ourselves. But do we understand just how thoroughly lost we would be without Christ? Do we really know just how much we need him? Jesus starts out this part of the sermon by talking again about the self-righteous Pharisees. It’s the verse just before our text. “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.”
The Pharisees were seen as the most righteous of men. Not only did they outwardly follow all of God’s commands, they had set up a hedge of other laws to keep them from even coming close to breaking God’s law. They didn’t just not work on the Sabbath – they counted their steps so that they wouldn’t break a sweat. They didn’t just refrain from harvesting crops on the Sabbath – they considered it wrong to even pick a head of grain off the stalk. They didn’t just ceremonially wash their hands and cups – they even washed the couches they sat on! And Jesus says here that unless we are more righteous than they claimed to be, we will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Not just maybe, not that there’s a chance we’ll miss out, but certainly!
We need to hear that bitter truth from Jesus because Satan is good at puffing us up with pride. We want to think we’re basically good people. We want to think that we deserve to go to heaven. We deserve to have good and peaceful lives. We deserve for God to choose us as his children because we’re really not that bad. And so we come up with our own standards and our own ideas for why God should save us and why God should love us. We tell ourselves that at least we’re better than others. We at least do more good than bad. We try, and God should give us credit for that, right?
But see just how flawed our hearts are. Jesus shows us sin isn’t just what we do. It’s what we think. He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Later on he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone that looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
We may claim to have better lives than others, but we can’t claim a better heart. Our hearts are broken by nature, and that’s a problem. There’s not a person here today that can say they’ve never had a thought of anger. Not a soul here who can say that thoughts of lust have never crossed their mind. But are these sins as serious as the obvious sins of murder and adultery? Yes! Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Jesus’ point is obvious. If you could stop sinning, even at the cost of mutilating your own body, it would be better to do that than suffer the consequence of sin. Of course, it’s not your eye that causes you to lust and it’s not your right hand that causes you to hate. Jesus isn’t telling us that there’s some part of our body that we can cut out or cut off and make ourselves worthy to enter heaven. His point is that we aren’t worthy to enter heaven. We never were, and we never will be. That is the bitter truth of the problem with our broken hearts.
And if the Sermon on the Mount were all the Word of God we had, we would be lost in despair. But thank God for his grace that he gives us the whole Bible. Because we know that this same Jesus who teaches us bitter truth also provides the better answer.
There is a way to meet God’s demands for perfect righteousness, but it isn’t found in the work we do, the lives we live, or the thoughts that we have. We are corrupted by sin, and we all fall short. But Jesus, is a different story. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born without sin. God declared his pleasure with him at his baptism when he said, “This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased.” Next week we’ll hear God say it again as we see Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The perfect Father in heaven could be proud of his perfect Son. He could welcome that Son into an eternal, perfect heavenly home. But instead of taking that victory lap, Jesus first transferred that righteousness to us. He took our sins on himself on the cross and exchanged the problems of our broken hearts for the blessings of his perfect, sacred one.
This righteousness of Christ, given to us through faith as a gift from God, is the better answer to our bitter problem. If you want to think of it this way, God gives us a heart transplant to repair our broken heart. And now we, as children of God, seek to live not according to our old hearts, but our new ones.
So much of what Jesus says in this Sermon on the Mount is really just application for how we Christians live with our new hearts of faith. It’s just reminding us which heart to give our attention and focus to. We listen to the heart that turns away from anger. The heart that forgives others when they sin against us. The one that seeks to live at peace, as much as it depends on us. It means banishing thoughts of lust, choosing those things that are noble and pure and lovely instead. It means loving, truly loving, our neighbors, our spouses, our bodies, our enemies.
But we pursue holy lives not to earn God’s favor, or to gain his perfection. We pursue a holy life because that is what he has called us to be. Declared us to be in Christ. We give thanks this week in our Savior’s sermon that he has given us the answer to the real problem of our broken hearts. Not in living holier lives to please God, but in knowing that he is already pleased in Jesus and gives us new hearts for better living. To him be the glory. Amen.