Even as we begin the Sermon today, let us be reminded of this great truth. Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees we will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven. But brothers and sisters in Christ – you and I have been given the free gift of the righteousness of Christ when we accepted His salvation. We already have a righteousness that is greater. We already have access to the Kingdom of heaven. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Christ by His grace.
So today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount is not given for us to learn how to ENTER the Kingdom; but how to LIVE AS CITIZENS of the Kingdom to which we already belong. It is not given for us to learn how to attain righteousness. It is given to teach us how to live out the righteousness we have already been given.
If, like me, you participated in a Covenant Service last week then, while renewing our Covenant with God through Jesus Christ, we said to the Holy God: “I am no longer my own but Yours. Put me to what you will …”
In other words we said to God: “Lord tell me what you want me to do and I will do it!”
Today God speaks to us through the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 and He offers us some very specific marching orders, or, in Covenant words, He puts us to what He wills.
So Church, hear the Word of the Lord about ANGER from v.21-24.
21 “You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ 22 But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell. 23 So if you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God.
If you are sitting here today with the words, “Put me to what You will”, echoing in your ears, and you are aware that your brother or sister has something against you, then Jesus has made it clear what he is putting you to: It is more important to go and make peace with him or her than it will ever be for you to sit here, sing hymns or give your offering to the Church or the Poor Fund. So go from here and make peace with him or her.
This is the Word of the Lord Jesus … thanks be to God.
Church, hear the Word of the Lord about GREED from v.25-26
25 “If someone brings a lawsuit against you and takes you to court, settle the dispute while there is time, before you get to court. Once you are there, you will be turned over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, and you will be put in jail. 26 There you will stay, I tell you, until you pay the last penny of your fine.
If you are sitting here today with the words, “Put me to what You will”, echoing in your ears, and you are engaged in a CONFLICT where you now that you were in the wrong, but you believe that you will be able to get out of it because the other person won’t be able to enforce their rights in court, then Jesus has made it clear what he is putting you to.
If you have the kind of approach that we see so often in the world today – an attitude of “SO SUE ME!” then the word of the Lord is clear: Make every effort to settle that dispute and not to leave it up to a court of law to do so for you. Once the judgment has been given … even if it is in your favour … you will end up in a prison. What do I mean? I mean that there will forever be a lawsuit between you and that person. You will have a history that cannot be undone and which will haunt your relationship with that person for the rest of your life. So go from here and settle your disputes in a civil and honourable way.
This is the Word of the Lord Jesus … thanks be to God.
Church, hear the Word of the Lord about LUST from v.27-30
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But now I tell you: anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go off to hell.
If you are sitting here today with the words, “Put me to what You will”, echoing in your ears, and you are engaged in any form of lustful behaviour; viz. if you are stepping over boundaries of flirtation … if you are looking inappropriately at women or men at work or in the neighbourhood … if you are using the anonymity of the internet to indulge your fantasies … if you are watching movies that invite lust … then Jesus has made it clear what he is putting you to. Stop doing it at all costs! Hopefully it won’t be necessary to take Jesus literally to get that right … but do whatever it takes.
Cut off the relationship … cut off your internet … put in for a transfer to another office or move to another neighbourhood. Whatever it takes … run for your life from the vortex of lust before you’re sucked in so deep that there’s no escape.
This is the Word of the Lord Jesus … Thanks be to God.
Church, hear the Word of the Lord about DIVORCE from v.31-32
31 “It was also said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But now I tell you: if a man divorces his wife for any cause other than her unfaithfulness, then he is guilty of making her commit adultery if she marries again; and the man who marries her commits adultery also.
If you are sitting here today with the words, “Put me to what You will”, echoing in your ears, and you are in a marriage that is breaking or broken but you have not yet come to the point of divorce, then Jesus has made it clear what he is putting you to. Do everything within your power to save your marriage. God hates divorce. Mainly (I believe) because of the incredible pain it causes to so many people.
Divorce is the breaking of the marriage covenant … it is the putting aside of an oath sworn before God that I will remain in a love relationship with this person until one of us dies! It is a legal process … but it is still the breaking of a covenant … a breaking of our vow. Adultery is also the breaking of the vow … the vow that I will remain sexually faithful to this person until the day one of us dies. Both are the breaking of a vow.
In Jesus’ day a woman caught in adultery would be publicly shamed and humiliated (such as the woman in John 8). But a man could send his wife away with a certificate of divorce for a cause as tiny as presenting him with burnt food. Adultery was hugely frowned upon as a breaking of the marriage vow … but as long as you gave a certificate you could break the vow for any or every reason … as long as you used the acceptable loop-hole.
Jesus wants us to recognise and acknowledge the truth! Don’t hide behind the “civilised” nature of divorce. Divorce is a breaking of the marriage covenant … it is a breaking of the promise I made to God and my spouse!
Jesus is not condemning divorced people. He is simply calling us back to the acknowledgment of the seriousness of the TRUTH of what divorce actually is! And He is calling us to the higher standard of faithfulness to our marriage promise! He is calling us to make every conceivable effort and to pursue every conceivable avenue that is open to us … to heal our marriages and make them fully and beautifully functioning relationships again.
This is the Word of the Lord Jesus … Thanks be to God.
Church, hear the Word of the Lord about TRUTH from v.33-37
33 “You have also heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.’ 34 But now I tell you: do not use any vow when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by earth, for it is the resting place for his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 Just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’—anything else you say comes from the Evil One.”
If you are sitting here today with the words, “Put me to what You will”, echoing in your ears, and you are someone who lies to others … deceives others with half-truths … or makes promises that you don’t keep … then Jesus has made it clear what he is putting you to. Stop treating the truth as relative. Stop treating your word as though it can be broken.
Jesus calls His disciples to lives of such clear sincerity, honesty and integrity that no-one would ever doubt their word … that no-one would even think to ask them to swear that they are telling the truth. Jesus’ people are called to be people of truth. So go from here and confess your lies to those you have deceived … and begin to live a life of absolute truthfulness … even when it hurts.
In general, people today do not keep their word. There is a creeping sense that the only time it’s wrong to lie or manipulate the truth is if I get caught out doing it. In Jesus’ day the strategy of those wanting to manipulate the truth was that they would choose carefully what to swear by. There was a complex set of rules that provided for certain oaths being binding and others not! So the truth could be freely manipulated and you could actually break your oath for any reason (as long as you had framed it with an acceptable loop-hole).
Jesus is making a simple point … be a person who is faithful to your word. Do what you have said you will do. Tell the truth about what you have done. Speak the truth at all times. Do not be two-faced … do not be a play-actor who manipulates others by hiding or twisting or falsely representing the truth. That kind of activity belongs on the Way of death … not the Way of Life!
This is the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ … Thanks be to God.
It would be very easy to read this passage and feel deeply condemned. Please don’t. Romans 8:1 says clearly: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus did not teach us these things to load condemnation on us. But He did teach them to us so that the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sin and lead us to the grace of God.
I want to suggest that today there are 4 appropriate prayers that we can pray as we come to the Table of the Lord. We may pray one of them … or perhaps we may pray all four.
- Lord, I repent; have mercy on me, a sinner, and forgive me I beseech You!
- Holy Spirit, I feel the weight of my past sins; please assure me that I am forgiven.
- Holy Spirit, I want to be pleasing to Jesus; please change my heart and cleanse it of the impurity of anger, greed, lust, unfaithfulness and untruthfulness!
- Holy Spirit, I want to be pleasing to Jesus; please empower my obedience!