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The Law Will Not Budge (St. Matthew 5.17-26)

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

“The Law Will Not Budge”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus      

St. Matthew 5.17-26

24 July 2022


“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Christ did not come to destroy the Law of God. He did not come to set it aside. Quite the opposite! Jesus went further than the outward demands of the Law stated. He made it much stricter, much harder to keep because he went deeper, to the real intent of the Law, to expose the roots of sin in man. Later on Jesus would explain the true defilement in us, which is not merely in external things. He said:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. [Matt. 15.19]

Jesus’ first example is the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” The civil law of nearly all cultures agrees. You simply may not murder anyone. I would be safe in saying that probably none of us here has murdered anyone physically. There are other subcategories such as manslaughter and unintentional killing, and in the eyes of others we aren’t guilty. People might conclude that if they haven’t broken the laws of the government that they are excused from judgment.

But that is not the heart of the commandment. Jesus says that there is more, much more.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Anger is the same as murder in God’s eyes. The anger forbidden here is the hardcore kind, the kind that holds a grudge and refuses to let go of it. It is anger that is nursed and kept alive. It is selfish and self-centered. It looks for revenge.

It is usually true that this kind of anger turns also into insulting words. This is more severe than commenting on a person’s mental ability; it speaks about his moral character. This often becomes contempt, and brings with it another secret sin, pride. All of this heads directly to the Eighth Commandment where we are forbidden to lie to or about our neighbor. As I used say in catechesis, “Sin pays compound interest.” 

Anger gets in the way of our worship of God, our approach to God. One should not come to God asking for absolution of one’s sins if one is unrepentant toward his neighbor. There is the danger of forfeiting forgiveness for yourself if you will not forgive your neighbor. Your access to God is cut off. Very simply Jesus advises us to get the trouble resolved before you come to him. 

Why is Jesus so harsh so as to add to the burden of our consciences? The Formula of Concord explains:

[10] For since the proclamation of the law alone, without Christ, either makes presumptuous people, who believe that they can fulfill the law with their outward works, or drives people into total despair, Christ took the law into his own hands and interpreted it spiritually (Matt. 5[:21–48*] and Rom. 7[:6*, 14*]). He thus revealed his “wrath from heaven” upon all sinners and how great it is. This wrath directs sinners to the law, and only from it do they really learn to recognize their sins. Moses would never have been able to wring this kind of recognition of sin out of them. For, as the Apostle testifies, although “Moses is read,” the veil “hanging in front of his face” remains unremoved, so that they cannot recognize the law spiritually or recognize what great things it demands of us—that we cannot keep it nor fulfill it; nor could they recognize how deeply it has cursed and condemned us. “When they turn to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor. 3[:13–16*]). Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (p. 583). Fortress Press.

The Formula mentions “presumptuous people.” They simply don’t believe what God has said in his Word. At the Church of the Covenant in Boston, a congregation of two blended denominations, the United Church of Christ/Presbyterian Church USA there hangs a banner on which are written many blasphemous phrases which are said to be there in the name of “Love.” They identify as “Progressive Christians” about which you can read more in the August Esprit. I’ll mention only a few of the horrendous things they confess:

“And God said . . .

“Protect Abortion Access 4 All . . .

“Honor Bodily Autonomy . . .

“Defend LGBTQ+ Rights . . .

“Abandon Fossil Fuels . . .

And perhaps the most ironic of all,

“Speak Truth . . .

The truly blasphemous part are the first three words, “And God said. . .” As I was keying in these words my word processor kept typing God in lower case letters! Maybe the Holy Trinity did not want to be associated with such sacrilege! Put those words next to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading and you must come to the conclusion that one side is lying. Here’s your clue: it isn’t God! “The Law Will Not Budge!” 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Man can deny the obvious reality of God’s Word but he cannot make it into something else or it is not God’s Word but the words of the father of lies himself, our old evil foe, Satan. 

Now, the question is this: Do you put yourself under that spotlight of the Law so that it can condemn you? Can you let it point out how woefully short of God’s righteous demands you have fallen? Do you feel the fangs of the hungry wolf tearing at your very soul? If not, then you are trying to avoid what God wants to happen for you. He wants you to see how utterly lost and condemned you are without Christ, how completely bankrupt you are to make up for your sins, even the sins of your heart which nobody else sees except God. 

Our well-known hymn, Salvation Unto Us Has Come, says it well:

It was a false, misleading dream

That God His Law had given

That sinners could themselves redeem

And by their works gain heaven.

The Law is but a mirror bright

To bring the inbred sin to light

The lurks within our nature. [LSB 555.3]

So where is righteousness for us? Clearly it is not in ourselves! The Apostle Paul writes in our Epistle:

 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  [Rom. 6.3-4]

That new man is created by God the Holy Spirit in Baptism where we are joined with Christ’s death. He carries our sin to the grave and leaves it there. We rise with him to new life, to be new people. Christ has made full atonement for our sins and then, in the Sacrament of the Altar he feeds us, making us stronger in faith and will. He helps us gain control over our anger, over our hurtful words, over our sinful thoughts about others. While the demands of the Law are impossible for us to keep perfectly, they were not impossible for our Lord. It is for that very reason that he comes to us in grace to help us reflect his love to others. 

“The Law Will Not Budge!” But there is relief from its accusations—our Lord Jesus Christ who kept the Law as the Father wants it kept. He bestows grace and forgiveness in his Son who has fulfilled its every iota and dot. The smallest letter in Hebrew is the yodh. It looks like an apostrophe. The dot, or what the King James Version calls a tittle, is what we might call the serif, the little projecting part at the foot or head of a letter. You can spot them in the bulletin because we use a Serif font with those tiny things that help us distinguish the letters better. Even these seemingly inconsequential parts of God’s Word will not go away! God protects his Word!

God’s Word is our great heritage

And shall be ours forever;

To spread its light from age to age

Shall be our chief endeavor.

Through life it guides our way,

In death is is our stay.

Lord, grant, while worlds endure,

We keep its teachings pure

Throughout all generations. [LSB 582]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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