Sixth Sunday in Epiphany
Lessons: Dt. 30:15-20, 1 Cor. 3:1-9, Mt. 5:1-37
As we noted last week, the commandments of God have always been meant to offer God’s people life with Him. And those who looked to God in faith tasted some of that fellowship (e.g. Moses, David, etc.). But the law simultaneously displayed how deep our problems go. In other words, legalists love rules precisely because they are control freaks. They obsess over rules precisely in order to keep them from going too deep. Rules can be great distraction tactics.
Sixth Commandment: Because Jesus comes to fulfill the law, He comes to conquer our hearts. His intention is not merely to create little box checkers; He wants the hearts of sons and daughters (cf. Prov. 23:26). Here in the Sermon on the Mount, He shows that the command to not murder is not merely concerned with a medical definition – instead the command demands not only self-control in our hearts, but a radical commitment to reconciliation (Mt. 5:21-24). Jesus shows that there are multiple layers of consequences for refusing to love our brothers from the heart (5:22, 25-26). But faithfulness in the little things brings healing. Leave your gift, stop what you’re doing, agree quickly, go make it right, even on your way. This part of the theology behind the Passing of the Peace, and this is one of the great gifts of modern technology.
Seventh Commandment: Again, Jesus follows a threefold pattern, stating the original law, explaining how deep it goes, and following with instruction for how to begin to keep its deeper meaning. Here, Jesus explains that the seventh commandment also begins in the heart. We should note because of the world we live in that the seventh commandment (and Jesus) assumes that marriage is a thing. It is not lust to delight in with your own wife or husband; it is adultery/fornication to imagine being with someone who is not your spouse. Jesus explains here that the best way to repent of unfaithfulness in this area is to perform radical amputation (Mt. 5:29-30, cf. Gen. 39:12). Likewise, Jesus cuts off a different avenue of escape by explaining that frivolous divorce is just another means of committing adultery. Just because you got the paper work done doesn’t mean you’re free to re-marry (Mt. 5:32). Jesus clearly maintains that sexual immorality is a biblical ground for divorce (Mt. 5:32), but God hates divorce because it tends to stir up violence (Mal. 2:16), and so the warning is to guard your hearts (cf. WCF 24.6).
Ninth Commandment: We should note that swearing falsely is closely connected to taking God’s name in vain and may also include stealing since it may harm another’s reputation or property or ability to work fruitfully (e.g. Lev. 6:3-5, 19:11-13, Ps. 15:4, Ex. 22:10-11, Heb. 6:16). Here, Jesus notes that there other ways of swearing falsely besides taking God’s name in vain in a witness stand. In those days, there were elaborate oaths that might be used to make a point (Mt. 5:34-35), but words are currency and their value decreases when we flood the market. People tend to do this when grasping for power and when they are playing fast and loose with the truth, but Jesus says you still can’t change the color of one of your hairs by your obscenities (Mt. 5:36). Part of the point that Jesus is making is that everything relates back to God (Mt. 5:34-35), and as His image bearers, in some sense we’re always swearing in His name. To deny that is to trivialize His relationship to the world or to commit idolatry. Instead, Jesus commands us to speak simply and sincerely (Mt. 5:37). Just tell the truth, and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
The Peace of God
Remember how the Sermon on the Mount began: it was a call to walking in the Father’s blessing, His happiness. Here, Jesus invites us to a life of reconciliation, the blessing of being reunited with friends and family, even enemies. This is also the way of maintaining peace and harmony: love from the heart, loyalty in the heart, and sincerity in the heart. This is the way of happiness, living under God’s blessing. Of course Jesus has already warned that the way of blessing is often misunderstood and hated (Mt. 5:10-12). There is a kind of upheaval and division that comes from faithfulness, but as far as it depends upon us, we must be striving for peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). When Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed peace on earth, goodwill toward men, but this same Jesus came with a sword and divided many families and friends (Mt. 10:34). The peace of God is the kind of thing that offends the pride of man.
Embrace the Extremes
Do not miss the fact that faithfulness to Jesus means being extreme. You must leave your gift at the altar. You must cut off the offending hand, pluck out the offending eye. You must not swear. Now there’s a way of taking all of this woodenly that might seem extreme, but which is not nearly extreme enough. Watch out for the diversion tactics of the little legalist in your heart. We want to kill the sin and love Jesus.
One wonderful test of the kind of extreme that Jesus calls us to is how we lead and discipline our children. It can feel spiritually extreme to draw up elaborate Scripture reading regimens or fasting protocols or be cranky about weird house rules. But true (extreme) faithfulness to Jesus is just being consistent about the little things. Angry outbursts are little murders. Selfish demanding is little adultery. Thoughtless words are little acts of theft and false witness. And the reason this is such a wonderful test is because we suddenly see ourselves a lot more clearly in the mirror.
But where sin has abounded, grace abounds still more. God wants our hearts. He wants His peace to rule in our hearts. And when His peace rules in our hearts, it guards our hearts and minds, and we are safe from every threat and fear. And this is the blessing of God.