Matthew 5: 21-37 “You Shall, But I Say” 2/16/2020 Rev. Jerry W. Krueger Boardman UMC

We grow up with rules. We live with rules. They're at home, the office, at school, and on the road when driving a car. We like rules so much, we elect people to do nothing but enact rules for us, which we then agree to live by! It's no surprise, in God's world, we're going to find rules.

In this Sermon on the Mount based text, Jesus' gives examples of people whose lives reflect God's new world, also known as the kingdom of God. The Beatitudes, “the Blessings,” give us a picture of the internal character of the people of God's world.

Last week, we listened in as Jesus taught about being salt and light, then He described the outward focus of God's people, who illuminate the darkness of the present world, with the in-breaking light of God's new world.

But how will the people of God's world know they're getting it right? What does life in God's world look like practically? What are the ethical implications of living the life of God's new world presently? In today’s lesson, Jesus shares rules of living for those who follow him.

As children we learn there are "no-no's." No touching the stove. No drinking from the dog’s water bowl. No writing with lipstick on the walls. "No" is a word establishing boundaries. However, we do learn there are exceptions in the rules, as well as different interpretations. "No chewing gum," can be interpreted to mean, "I can have gum in my mouth as long as I don't chew it."

Rules are important, but rules alone aren't enough. Ethical persons understand and obey rules, they know -- and embrace -- the purpose behind the rules. Jesus didn't foolishly abandon God’s written rules on tablets of stone, given to Moses. Jesus "fulfilled" those rules which were still important to the Christ, but the principles behind the rules were even more important. It wasn't just about chiseled writing in stone, it was about the character and law of God, written on God's people’s hearts. Jer. 31:33

The scribes and Pharisees were the self-appointed legal conscience of Israel, determined to make everyone obey the law to the letter. Scribes acted as lawyers for the law of Moses. Pharisees believed God's kingdom would come only when Israel’s people obeyed the law perfectly.

But focusing on the law alone places limits on obedience, because I only have to comply with the law, nothing more. Pharisees evaluated self and others based on strict rule following, not on compassion toward others or needs of community. Then Jesus drops a bomb in verse 20: "For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Many people believed scribes and Pharisees were superior to others, because they obeyed the law to the letter, but that misses the point. Jesus says the law points to something greater, which is the way of living, as the community of God's new world.

Jesus establishes a sing song pattern in the Sermon on the Mount, pointing to the law of Moses ("You have heard that it was said ...") and the compassionate, community-building intention behind it ("... but I say to you ...").

The law of Moses was designed to show Israel how to live together in a world of human authority; Jesus wants to discuss what it means to live in a world of divine authority, God's world, the kingdom of God.

Jesus takes the old law and radically shakes it to the roots of the law's intent ("radical" derived from the base word "radix" meaning "root"). Jesus is rooted in the law but calls his disciples to live a life with a much deeper rootedness than the legalism of scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees were concerned with what people did, thought, or said. Jesus was concerned about what was in people’s hearts and how that would translate into their relationships with people as a sign of God's new world.

Look at the first of these statements: "You have heard it said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.'" (v. 21). "Do not murder" was the 6th of the original Ten Commandments. Murder destroys the humanness of another, and the law of Moses is direct. Murder is to be avoided. Have you ever heard someone say "Well, what I did was bad, but at least I didn't kill anyone!" That is mere self-justification for bad behavior.

Jesus radicalizes the old commandment and says, “But I say to you, that if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgment." Jesus understood the dehumanizing act of murder has its roots in the dehumanizing of another person through our anger.

Anger can destroy another and ourselves as well. Every time we choose to allow anger to smolder inside of us, we become less than the person God created us to be.

Instead of avoiding murder, embrace reconciliation, which leads to community (v. 24). This is the difference between rule following and engaging in relationship -- the difference between avoiding doing something with the hands and doing something with the heart.

The second statement: "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (vv. 27-28). Lust paints people as objects that we use for our own pleasure.

We might be able to avoid the physical act of adultery and obey the law, but the emotional or psychological attachment of lust is just as destructive. Jesus wants us to avoid breaking the law, thus avoiding breaking the fidelity of marriage that supports community, trust, and love -- the kind of fidelity that Christ himself has with his bride, the church.

God's new world is characterized by faithfulness, and if we embrace fidelity in heart and in relationships, we’ll learn to embrace it forever.

The third statement is Jesus' teaching about divorce. The law said that a man could simply give his wife a certificate of divorce, and that was that. Sounds easy, and it's not unlike the "no-fault divorce" our culture easily embraces. With the exception of infidelity, Jesus says divorce should be off the table since the root of marriage is faithfulness, community, and love (vv. 31-32). If we’re focused on maintaining the relationship, we’ll be less apt to sign the dismissal papers.

The fourth statement: is about making vows. Under Jewish law, swearing under oath, with the phrase "so help me, God" was common. If you swear an oath in court, what you say has to be true, or you are a violating the law.

The implication is, when you’re NOT under oath, you don’t have to be as truthful in what you say. Jesus takes the law and says “don’t be truthful just under oath, be truthful all the time.” Telling the truth is the basis of community. Lies and falsehoods tear a community apart (vv. 33-37).

These verses detail the pattern for living in God’s new covenant world. It’s a pattern extending beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.

It goes beyond what we do with our hands to who we are in our hearts.

It recognizes that outward behavior can emerge from an internal temperament. The ethics of God's world are, in some respects, the same as the ethical structure of the old Israelite society. Murder is still forbidden, adultery is still forbidden, and so on.

But Jesus establishes here that his followers are more than people who refrain from serial infidelity, murdering, and being truthful, only when it's convenient or required.

The people of Christ’s new kingdom live lives requiring a purity of intention beyond anything people have been taught in the past. Our right living must come from clean hands and a pure heart.

Today Christ calls us to look inward, not outward. And that, fellow followers of Christ, is where we understand what it means to live as a follower of the Christ in the Kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

  August 2020  
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