Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
I Have Come to Fulfill the Law - February 9, 2020 - Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Our text for this morning is a part of Jesus’ sermon on the mountain. Because last week Sunday fell on the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary, what we did not hear was the readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany which last week’s Gospel lesson was the beginning of Jesus sermon and the “Beatitudes.” So, unfortunately we missed that reading, but this week we continue listening to Jesus’ message to those who gathered around to hear Him speak. This week we get two “snippets” or “sound bites” from His sermon, one talking about salt and light and the other about the fulfillment of the Law.
First, Jesus talks about our being the salt of the earth and about our being lights of the world. We begin at verse thirteen, “13You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 13-16). In verse thirteen Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” And He asks the rhetorical question, “But if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Our first thought might be that if salt loses its saltiness then it becomes tasteless and worthless. However, our second thought might be to come to the conclusion that salt does not lose its taste because the only way for salt to lose its taste is to no longer be salt and that is Jesus’ point. Jesus is talking about the Gospel and the fact that the Gospel does not lose its taste or affect. Jesus is reminding the people and us that the Gospel is God’s indestructible gift to His people in Christ. The only way we would lose our saltiness, the only way we can lose the Gospel, is if we would lose our faith altogether and are no longer Christians.
Jesus then moves on to elaborate on this point by comparing our faith to that of a shining light. By our simply wearing the name “Christian,” that is, by others knowing that we are Christians, we bear witness of what it means to be a Christian. We bear witness by our actions, our thoughts and our words of what Jesus means to us. Which means that we either make a good witness or we make a not so good witness. Either way, we do make a witness to others of what it means to us that we belong to Christ. It is a natural thing, just like salt being naturally salty, otherwise it is no salt at all. We as Christians act like Christians, otherwise are we really Christians at all?
Finally, Jesus exhorts us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The thing about our good works is that they are good works because they are done to praise our Father in heaven. To use a different analogy, I believe that Jesus is telling us what is a natural cause and effect. It is much like the sun and the moon. The moon has no light of its own, it merely reflects the light of the sun, so when we see moonlight, it is sunlight that we are really seeing. So, if there is no sun shining on the moon, then there is no moonlight. God is like the sun and we are like the moon. We have no love of our own, within ourselves. When God shines His love in our hearts, we reflect that love to others. When we have no love to reflect to others it shows that we have rejected God’s love and have kept God out of our hearts.
Which brings us to the second part of this text, the part that reminds us of the importance of God’s Word, its efficacy and its unchangeableness. Picking up at verse seventeen, “17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 17-19). In verse seventeen we are reminded that we worship an unchanging God. Jesus came to fulfill all the Old Testament, He did not come to change it or to abolish it. Jesus did not come to change or do away with the Ten Commandments, He came to fulfill them. He did not come to change or do away with the tithe, He came to fulfill it. He did not come to change or do away with any part of the Old Testament, rather He came to fulfill the whole Old Testament.
Jesus’ words to us this morning remind us that none of Scripture has been changed or abolished. It is still all God’s Word. It is still God’s gift to us. All of scripture is valid for us today. I think we need these words of reminder as we defend our faith against those individuals and denominations who vote on the truth and validity of God’s Word or of certain portions of God’s Word. It is becoming more and more difficult in our so called “tolerant” society to proclaim faith in a God who is intolerant of sin. It just does not make for good publicity. So what happens? People, individuals, and denominations begin to vote out the old, intolerant Word of God and vote in an new, user friendly God. If you do not like the Word of God, change it. Today we want to stay away from talking about the real needs of the people, sin and forgiveness, instead we want talk about their felt needs, how I can keep from feeling guilty about what I have been doing and what I am about to do without having to compromise doing what “comes natural.”
Of course, we may ask how can anyone do that, but it is really quite simple, instead of believing that the Bible is the Word of God, we will say that it contains that Word of God. Or we will say that some parts of the Bible are culturally or timely, period-ly, valid. In other words, we place ourselves over the Word of God as the authority and in essence we become our own gods, judging God’s Word and instead of allowing God’s Word to mean what it says, we say it means this or that, in other words, we make ourselves our own little gods determining what is God’s Word and what is not God’s Word. What happens is there are no longer any absolutes and truly, no longer a Word of God.
Jesus teaches us that to teach that some of Scripture is not of value is to be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Unfortunately, in our world today such a person who speaks against Scripture might be thought of as being a great thinker or as being innovative, but not so in God’s kingdom. As I read and reread these words of Jesus, I am reminded of the importance of the Word of God. It is the Word of God which is one means that He uses through which He gives us His good gifts and blessings; faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life in this world, eternal life and salvation. It is the Word of God which is His Word, which is an absolute, which is what permeates our time together in Divine Service. I will be the first to admit that my sermon is not the most important part of our divine service. Rather, it is the readings, the liturgy, confession and absolution, being reminded of our baptism, the Lord’s Supper, those parts of our service which are the means of grace are the most important parts of our divine service, because it is through His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and confession and absolution that God gives us His good gifts and blessings. My sermon is only as effective as the Word which it proclaims.
Which brings us to the last verse of our text, the one that reminds us that there are two ways to get to heaven. Verse twenty, “20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). One way to get to heaven is by being perfect, that is by our own good works being perfect, which means that because of the sin that is born in us, we would be doomed from the start if we tried to be saved by our own good works. Which leaves the only other way of salvation which is God’s free grace and favor. The example that Jesus gives is that of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. Their righteousness was great in that they followed the letter of the law. However, theirs was a civil righteousness, not God’s righteousness. And their righteousness did not save them.
If we were to try to be saved by our own righteousness, we would be doomed as they, yet, Jesus reminds us that our righteousness does surpasses theirs, not because we are so good, but because of our faith in Him. By faith in Jesus, faith which He gives to us, God’s righteousness is made our righteousness.
Again, God’s righteousness is made ours by faith in Jesus. Thus, it is God’s righteousness that works in us so that we do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). And they are truly good works because they are motivated by Him, done in and through us by Him, and done to His glory. And truly, these are the good works that more often than not we are not aware that we are doing.
To sum up this morning, I would simply redirect you to God’s Word. Just as Jesus spoke personally to the people of His day, so He speaks just as personally to you and me today through His Word. With that in mind then we are reminded by Jesus that the Old Testament is needed and is valid today.
We are reminded by Jesus that the Bible, all of the Bible is God’s gift to us, is needed by us, and is applicable to us, today, in total. We are reminded by Jesus that His Word and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as confession and absolution, are the means that He uses to give us all His good gifts and blessings, which reminds us of the importance of making regular and diligent use of these means.
And we are reminded by Jesus and from God’s Holy Word that His righteousness is made ours by faith, is worked in us so that we are the salt of the world, that our lights do shine before all the world to see, that we do live our lives according to all of God’s Word, because He moves in us to do so.
Jesus’ message to us today is a message of a super-natural occurrence. Jesus gives us life at conception. He gives us new life through His Word and Holy Baptism. He gives us strengthening of life and faith through His Word and the Lord’s Supper. He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life through confession and absolution. And He gives us the ability and stirs in us to respond to all His good gifts and blessings so that we might live our lives in such a ways that they say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.