Here’s a sermon written by my friend, Pastor Aaron Hamilton. Pastor Hamilton serves at Hope Lutheran Church, West Jordan, Utah.Text: Matthew 5.20-26
I saw something on t.v. recently, about a man who offered counseling for professionals who were facing prison. This man apparently had gone from an executive job to prison himself. Now apparently he makes his living helping people to understand the culture of a prison. He helps people understand how to stay out of trouble there, how to survive there after they get caught embezzling, or whatever the offense might have been. They thought they’d never get caught. They thought they had a right somehow to what they took for themselves. But now this counselor says he’s seen them, full grown men in business suits, crouching under their desks, weeping.
There’s no way to prepare for the prison that Jesus talks about in the gospel lesson for today. There’s no coaching to prepare for hell. There’s no advice. Hell’s an eternal prison. There’s no getting through it for the thieves and murderers.
If we deny our debt to love one another, and to reconcile ourselves to one another, that’s a kind of theft and murder all its own. We’ve died and been born to a new and different life in Baptism as we heard in the Epistle today. Paul also wrote in Galatians 5: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” We have better food to eat, to be filled and satisfied, and not destroyedâ¦ by the food God gives, we’re saved!
Our theme is this: Rather Than Devouring Each Other, We Dine on Our Lord! Because man’s righteousness is poison for the soul, but Jesus is the food of life.
Our text is Matt. 5.20-26. v.20, Jesus said: “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.” So far, the Word.
Please remember our first main point: Man’s righteousness is poison for the soul. Poison is dangerous, because you can’t see it, even if it douses a whole plate of food. Maybe there’d be a funny taste, but with salt and ketchup, you might not even notice.
This is the danger when righteous people sit down for a meal. There are two people Jesus speaks to in our text. One of them has been offended. The other one is the one who gave the offense. Both of them have the same problem. Both of them are innocent in their own eyes.
Jesus speaks first to the one who’s been offended. Something got said that didn’t sit right with him. Maybe he was done dirty at work. Whatever it was, he doesn’t forget. He carries it with him. He knows the command: You shall not murder. He wouldn’t actually any physical killing. That would get him into trouble, both with men and with God. But, the anger is there. Who could blame him? He’s careful with his words: Let “raca” be a dirty word. He wouldn’t say that out loud. But “you fool” he will say. Who could blame him? He bites and chews at the other person, gnaws his reputation. He feasts on his brother, salted and ketchupped with his sins, justified to himself because he’s the righteous one.
We hate to be offended, but we love it! We love to be the one wronged, because then we get to have righteous indignation. We get to chew and bite and devour each other. We wouldn’t let go. We wouldn’t forgive unless that person begs for it, and not only asks, but pays for it too. This is how we treat our wives and husbands, our friends, our Christian brothers.
The first man doesn’t need to be reminded of the sin. It’s the second man who remembers there at the Lord’s altar that his brother has something against him. He offended him. His coming and his bringing the gift is not going to make him righteous. He doesn’t realize it, but he too, is not as righteous as he thinks he is. At that moment, standing there in church, in his Sunday best, with his offering in his hand, he’ll be tempted to think: “That’s life.” But it’s not. It’s death.
God called us to live in peace with each other. But we choke on our apologies to each other. We make excuses and find reasons why we’re good. We’ll admit we’ve done wrong only as a last resort, and only to spare ourselves the consequences, and maybe make a show of being sorry. We’re not as righteous as we think we are.
“Settle matters quickly,” Jesus says. How? Righteous people will not reconcile themselves to each other. Righteous people won’t admit to wrong doing. Righteous people forgive only begrudgingly. But in Jesus, sinners do what righteous people can’t. After choking on the bitterness of sin, they find a better meal that they eat by faith and with their mouths in Holy Communion.
Please remember our second point: Jesus is the food of life for the sinner. Seasoned with His own perfect holiness, roasted whole for us on the cross. Before men, what was wrong with Him? What did He do that was so bad? Whatever you might say as you study the Bible, and see how Jesus was at odds with those Pharisees and teachers of the Law, the capital offense to everyone is that he consigns us all to unrighteousness!
The self-righteous Pharisee who thought his gift was a good work, while his heart was a stone for his brother: Unrighteous! The man who held the grudge against him: Unrighteous. Who could stand it? So we ate him alive!
We tore at His body like animals. We scorned him and ridiculed him and put him to death. But He let Himself do this, gave Himself for this, because we were unrighteous. He was perfect. He was holy. He was righteous, with righteousness that surpasses the best of the best. He was righteous with righteousness that avails before God. God turned His anger on Him, on His perfect, beloved, eternal Son, because we were unrighteous. What looked like just a slaughter at the hands of sinful men has become a Feast of Life!
He’s the Lamb unblemished, untainted with poison of sin, for our eating, and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Standing at His cross, we repent. No one could sin against me more than I have sinned against Him. No wrong I’ve done is worth defending if this is the price it demands. No righteousness of my own is left. There’s nothing to do but to confess our sins, bow our heads and give thanks, and eat.
Faith feasts on Him, knowing our righteousness wasn’t real, but His is real. The righteousness of God, lived out in our place, in the flesh. There’s righteousness we can believe in and trust in and be proud of, because we’re no better than anybody else, but Jesus is the Savior for every last unworthy sinner. Whoever believes in Jesus has His righteousness credited to him, just as He was credited with our sin.
With our mouths, we eat and drink in Holy Communion that very body that was broken and that blood that was shed for us. It’s peace for us: peace with God and peace made with each other. Rather than devour each other, we dine on our Lord.
We’re done with weeping, and hiding under our desks, we’re done with fear of prison. Because God’s mercy promises help: not that we’ll be tough enough for hell, but righteous enough for heaven. Because Jesus surpasses the righteousness of them all; Jesus blood covers all our sins. -Amen. And the peace of God, etc. INI