I Need Help!
6th Sunday after Epiphany
I Need Help!
Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Does it feel a little uncomfortable in here? Are you squirming in your seat? If you aren’t yet, you will be soon.
Two weeks ago we heard the very kind and tender opening to the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in the spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the meek.” Jesus warmed our hearts with his compassion that day.
Last week Jesus continued by teaching us to live our faith. He told us to season this world because we are the salt of the earth. We are to let our lights shine into the darkness. We do this by obeying his commands.
The last two weeks we have left with a rather warm and fuzzing feeling inside. “Oh yes, Jesus loves me and helps me in my troubled life. I’m excited to let my faith shine in this world!”
But now this week Jesus’ famous sermon takes a turn. Suddenly he goes from telling us to obey the Lord to sharply pointing out just how high God’s expectations are. Jesus makes it absolutely clear how difficult it is to obey our God and live our faith. And it feels uncomfortable. Here’s what Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'” We know this as the fifth commandment. We know the commandment. We feel good about ourselves because we have kept this commandment. Or so we think.
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” You can break the fifth commandment with much less than murder. If you are angry with some, God considers anger to be in the family of murder. The Jewish leaders held people accountable if they used the term of contempt, “Raca,” which would be something like saying, “Dummy,” or “Moron” in English. But Jesus says that even calling someone a fool in anger will make you accountable to God and deserving of hell.
I know what I’ve done. I know what I think. I know what I have thought about people. I know what I have called people. I know that I’m guilty.
Jesus teaches us about better choices. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Take care of your anger and disagreements first.
But who does this? How many times have you gone to bed still angry at the person you are sleeping next to? How many times have you put off talking to someone you are upset with because it’s just easier not to talk about it? How many times have you shot off a text message or an Email filled with venom instead of calmly talking to someone face to face? I know I have. I know that I’m guilty.
Another example from Jesus: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
How much anger boils over with people over money? Child support. Alimony. IOU’s. Loans from family and friends. Negotiations over rent and mortgage. Bank fees. Late fees. Sometimes when we get chase after these things Jesus reminds us that we are the ones found guilty. When it comes to money, how many of us settle matters in a calm, kind, patient, and polite way? I know I haven’t. I know that I’m guilty.
In the next paragraph Jesus shifts from teaching about the fifth commandment to teaching about the sixth commandment. The guilt and uncomfortable-ness is about to get worse.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
I’ll tell you right now that I would guess this sixth commandment makes people squirm more than any other. We don’t like to talk about this one. Why? Well we may not like to admit the things we have done. Breaking the sixth commandment often involves shameful and embarrassing choices.
The other reason we don’t like to talk about this commandment is because obeying it the right way involves a complete shift in the way we live in our culture. Just as if you hate you are considered a murder by God, so when you lust you are considered an adulterer by God. What would it take then to avoid looking at someone lustfully? If we are serious about this commandment, we would do an overhaul on the movies or shows we watch or the books that we read or how we use our computers or what jokes we tell to others.
We need to take this commandment seriously because God takes this commandment seriously. No, you should not go home today and chop off a limb if it has caused you to sin before. But Jesus wants you to understand that if you had to choose between losing your hand or losing your whole body to hell because you couldn’t give up your adulterous heart, that choice should be easy.
Jesus still isn’t done with this commandment though. “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” I know those words make tons of people squirm. More than 50% of marriages end in divorce these days. That means that chances are there a good chunk of people in this room today who hear those words and are wondering whether or not their divorce was considered sinful or not. That’s natural. Even in the few scenarios that a divorce is considered acceptable to God, knowing that God intended marriage to be lifelong makes us feel guilty if we don’t follow his plan (whether for good reasons or not).
Who has lived such a pure life? Who has been able to watch a movie or show or start a book and turn it off or put it away because it wasn’t appropriate? Who has said, “Please don’t tell me that really dirty joke?” Who hasn’t watched a commercial or even been at the beach and had a few thoughts run through the mind? Who has honored marriage and their spouse the way God has intended? Again, I know that I am guilty.
Finally Jesus turns to the second commandment today—misusing and dishonoring God’s name. “Again you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Our God wants pure actions. God wants pure thoughts. God also wants pure words. These days it’s no big deal to tell a lie. Not little white lies. Any lie. We will lie right to someone’s face. We will lie to the government on our taxes. We will lie to our spouse.
And since you can’t trust anyone anymore, we feel the need to put some force behind our words. “I swear I’m telling the truth.” Or even stronger, “I swear to God I’m telling the truth.” Saying, “Oh my God” or using his holy name is so common that I’ve had people say that right to me here in this church, people say it when they’re scared, when they’re surprised, when they’re sad, when they’re angry, when their kid hits a little league homerun, or when the Seahawks beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Who has perfectly revered God’s holy and mighty name? Who has always told the truth? Who has words that are so pure that they are completely blameless? Once again, I know that I’m guilty.
The more Jesus teaches about obeying God, the more uncomfortable I’m becoming. If your heart isn’t beating faster or if you’re not fidgeting in your seat right now then you probably aren’t human. All of us hear what God says about obeying him and the guilt comes crashing down. We saw the example today of David’s life spinning out of control from lust to adultery to lying to murder and we think, “Yup. I’ve had my life spin away in sin like that.”
Jesus teaches that you need to obey God’s commands or else you will be in hell. All I can think as hear Jesus’ sermon today is, I Need Help! Or better, I need Jesus.
I need Jesus who kept the 5th commandment in every possible way. Not only did he never murder, but Jesus never even hated. He was never wrongfully angry. He never called anyone names. He never left disputes unsettled. He was never overcome with anger because he was fighting over money. He never hated, only loved.
I need Jesus who kept the 6th commandment in every possible way. Not only did he never commit adultery, but Jesus never even lusted. He never looked at another woman improperly. He never saw a woman pass by and then darted his eyes to this or that body part. He never whispered dirty jokes or laughed at filthy stories. He was never consumed with earthy desires, only pure and holy ones.
I need Jesus who kept the 2nd commandment. He never made a promise he didn’t keep. He never lied. He never made a promise he didn’t keep. He never used his heavenly Father’s name in vain or felt the need to swear by this or that. He never used any improper or untrue words, only pure and true and faithful words.
I need Jesus who kept every commandment of God. Never once was there a misstep. Never once was there a mistake. God tells me to be holy and perfect like he is, to obey him in everything I do. But I don’t. I can’t. So I Need Help. I need Jesus who came to be perfect for me.
I also need help because there is a debt I owe. I owe it to God. “You do the crime, you serve the time,” and “The punishment fits the crime,” the old sayings go. I’ve done more than a few crimes. My list of sins is endless. So the time I owe to serve God is eternity. And the punishment that fits my crimes is hell. I Need Help. Or better, I need Jesus.
I need Jesus who was willing to carry the sins I cannot. I need Jesus who was willing to die the death I would not. I need Jesus who put all of my guilt and all of my punishment on himself and put all of his innocence and righteousness onto me. I need Jesus who washes me clean with river of his blood from his death so that I can live at the river of life in heaven.
And now, standing before my God with a clean slate of forgiveness—sparkling new like I’ve never sinned before—now I Need Help to go on living in this world. You see the truth is, I see that tangled web of sin that David fell into, I see how terribly far I fall short of what Jesus teaches, and I know—I’m going to do that again. I don’t want to do that again. But I’m weak, and I probably will do those sins again. So I Need Help. Or better, I need Jesus.
I need Jesus who defeated Satan at the cross. I need Jesus who conquered death by rising back to life. I need Jesus who rules over everything as King of kings and Lord of lords. I need Jesus to give me that strength.
I need Jesus to help me resist the urge to be angry. I need Jesus to help me be patient. I need Jesus to help me resist the urges of the flesh for other people. I need Jesus to help me be pure. I need Jesus to help me resist the urge to run my mouth saying all kinds of untrue or unproductive things. I need Jesus to help me honest and true.
What a mess of a life I have lived! One poor decision after another. One mistake after another. One sin after another. My life feels like that horror story from David’s life we heard earlier. I Need Help!
But I can rejoice, because I have help. I have Jesus. I have him with me every day. I have his perfection and purity clothing me in a spotless robe of righteousness. I have his forgiveness continually blotting out my wrongs. I try and I try, but sometimes I fail. Yet I have Jesus there to dust me off and wipe my sins away. And then I have Jesus to fill me with his strength day in and day out. There is a world of sin around me. But I have a King who rules over this world. He is with me. His power is with me. He will give me strength. He will help me resist. He will carry me forward. He will lead me on to heaven. He will bring me to heaven. He will welcome me to heaven.
We all need help. But rejoice! We all have Jesus.
Posted on February 28, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged 2nd Commandment, 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, Adultery, Matthew, Matthew 5, Sermon on the Mount, Stealing, Swearing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.