A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Epiphany 6 – Sermon on the Mount

 Jesus Teacher Icon by Kondzelevych Bohorodchany (1698 – 1705)

Epiphany 6 2023
Rev. Doug Floyd
Matthew 5:21-37

We return to the Sermon on the Mount this week. Jesus has welcomed his hearers into the kingdom of God. He has addressed them as salt and light. By God’s grace they’re very presence will change the world around them. Now He clarifies what the kingdom of God’s love looks like and lives like. He connects the inner drives of a person with the outer actions. These inner drives flow out from the heart.

Here we see Jesus fulfilling the call of Torah: both Moses and the Prophets address the state of the heart. In Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses tells the children of Israel to Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”[1] Later, Paul will use this language of circumcising the heart, but we already see the pattern in Moses. The prophet Joel will tell the people to “rend your hearts and not your garments.” [2] Repentance not simply an outward act but required the corresponding inward turning.

When He looks out at the crowds, Jesus speaks directly into the hearts of His listeners. His Word continue to penetrate our hearts with a call to repent and enter the kingdom. As we move into Lent in a couple weeks, repentance becomes a key theme. This sermon is a great tool for asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and draw us to Him.

Today Jesus is speaking to human relations. What are those things that divide us and turn us against one another? Jesus is calling for a love that leads to reconciliation with our friends and family, our spouses, our neighbors, and even our enemies. He begins with the command, “Thou shall not murder,” and shows how divisions between brothers begin in the heart. This is from Leviticus 19:17, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.[3]

Anger and contempt are destructive and must be addressed if we are to worship God. The anger refers less to a flash of sudden anger and more to a state of anger. It is that condition of holding anger against a person or a group of people. The Jews were angry at the Roman occupation and in one sense He is addressing this larger societal anger. But even as He speaks, the hearts of those who hear His voice burn. As they face the wrong thoughts they hold toward others. Many times, I have been in prayer when the faces of certain people to mind, and I would realize that I was harboring animosity or jealousy or unforgiveness toward these people. I could not continue to pray until I face my own heart and repented.

The term “You fool” refers to contempt for another. There is a sense that one wishes the other did not even exist. This derision is even worse than anger. Jesus says that those engage in such destructive responses to others should be thrown into Gehenna or the place where corpses lay. He is highlighting ow dehumanizing such responses are.

Jesus goes even further. If your brother holds something against you. If I know I have offended another, I am to seek peace with them. Reconciliation is one of the great themes of the Gospel. Reconciliation with God and one another. Even when I feel I’ve been wronged, I can seek reconciliation as I look to Jesus and trust that He will uphold my cause. The call to peace is found throughout the New Testament.

Romans 14:19 – So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

2 Corinthians 13:11–12 – Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Ephesians 2:14–18 – For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Hebrews 12:13–14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

This call to peace has been incorporated into our worship. After the confession and absolution, we speak peace to one another. This is both the reaffirming of the peace Christ gives us and the peace we offer one another. The cross of Christ even alters the ways we perceive those beyond the community of faith. Jesus addresses our neighbor and even our enemy. We are bearers of peace to the world.

Jesus addresses marriage and makes it clear that divorce is not God’s intent. He speaks of lust and adultery, which can lead to a break down between husband and wife. The challenge in marriage is that we are broken people and can easily wound those closest to us. Sometime relations are broken beyond repair. Our hope and desire is to learn the way of Christ, to how to become a lover walking in the way of the cross. The beautiful thing is that marriage can become a place of solace, a place of joy, a school for learning to love the world.

Jesus is calling us to His created pattern of human life. We were made for love but our thoughts and actions turn away from the way of love. Patterns of anger, contempt and lust are dehumanizing. They damage us, entrap us, and lead us away from the abundant life that God created us to live.

Recognizing how our patterns of thought and action lead us away from the beauty of God’s good creation, we repent. That is we turn from our selfishness and toward the Lord. It is even His grace that allows us to turn. What does it look like to turn toward the Lord? It most often looks like thanksgiving.

Richard Wurmbrand tells the story of being in a Romanian prison for his faith. The guards gave him aphrodisiacs to cause him to stumble and compromise his faith. He said that these drugs cause him to visualize a lady from his congregation totally naked. He began to give thanks for her and her testimony of faith. As he gave thanks to the Lord, the power of the image faded. What if we gave thanks for the very people who offend us? We might begin to see the grace of God in those who offend us.

By God’s grace, let us always be ready to turn from thoughts of anger, derision, lust, jealousy, and more toward the goodness of God and the gift of God even in those people who provoke and challenge us.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 10:16.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Joe 2:13.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Le 19:17.


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