Matthew 5:21-37 - You Have Heard It Said - February 12, 2017

Have you heard any fake news lately? No, I’m not making this up. It’s a real…fake…thing. Fake news is defined as false information or propaganda which is published with the appearance of being authentic, factual news. During last year’s presidential campaign it was alleged that foreign governments influenced the vote of the American people by publishing propagandized, fake news headlines disguised as real news. This fake news phenomenon has grown so problematic that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has said that it is “killing people’s minds.” [1] Well, whether Mr. Cook realized it or not, he is simply voicing a concern that Jesus first voiced over 2000 years ago. Only, Jesus’ concern was not that fake news was killing people’s minds, but that it was dooming their souls. As we continue our walk through our Savior’s Sermon on the Mount this morning, Jesus teaches us that whether we are living in the 1st or 21st century, just because you have heard it said doesn’t make it true; you must consider the source and stick to God’s truth.


Jesus begins with a fake news headline of the 1st century: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ In quoting Exodus 20, Jesus is not calling the commandment Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai fake news. But over the course of 1500 years, the teachers of Israel had artificially limited the 5th commandment to mean that the only way a person broke it was by literally committing murder. It was this twisted view of God’s prohibition of murder that led the Pharisees to believe that, even though they had hunted, arrested, illegally tried, unjustly convicted, and finally handed the Son of God over to Pilate for crucifixion, that they were innocent of his blood and blameless before God.


What have you heard about the issues of life and death lately? Have you noticed that even as the rate of violence and murder have stayed steady or even increased, it is most widely reported only when it fits a certain narrative or when a “hate crime” label can be attached? Have you heard that college students need “safe spaces” away from opinions and viewpoints they find offensive while the lives of the most helpless in this world (unborn babies) continue to be snuffed out at a horrific rate? Have you heard that the lives of the terminally ill or severely handicapped are not worth living and that it is an act of love to assist their suicide? Aren’t we sometimes tempted to think that God isn’t really concerned about the hatred in our hearts and the loveless words on our lips as long as we don’t act on them? You may have heard many things about hatred and murder. So how do you decide which of them are true? The only solution is to turn to Jesus and listen as he clarifies God’s will.


But I tell you, Jesus says with divine authority, that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment, anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. The teachers of Israel had left out one very important word from their interpretation of the 5th commandment, a word that is sadly lacking from our culture’s definition and even our NIV translation: YOU (sg) do not murder. You, every part of you, is prohibited from any murderous thought, word, or action. Martin Luther commented in his sermon on these verses: you may find as many ways to kill as you have organs. You may use your hand, your tongue, your heart; you may use signs and gestures; you may use your eyes to look at someone sourly or to begrudge him his life; you may even use your ears if you do not like to hear him mentioned – all this is included in [do not murder]. (LW 21:74) The point Jesus wants to drive home is that all hatred, whether it ends in violence or murder or not, is a sin against the 5th commandment. A sin that puts the sinner in danger of the fire of hell. Yes, the physical act of murder is forbidden by God, but so is bullying, abortion, euthanasia, angry outbursts, vengeful and vindictive attitudes. God looks at the heart and the attitude he demands is one of love, not hate. 


But just as important as understanding what Jesus does mean is understanding what He doesn’t mean. Jesus doesn’t mean that judges and police officers and parents are forbidden from being angry with those who break the law or rebel against their authority. Jesus doesn’t mean that all taking of life is forbidden: in Romans 13 God explicitly authorizes the government to punish lawbreakers and use the sword to take the lives of capital criminals and enemy combatants; as Paul writes: He does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4) As Jesus discusses these commandments, we must understand that he is discussing our personal behaviors and attitudes, not the offices, roles, and authorities that God has established in this world.


And the teachers of Israel didn’t limit their meddling to the 5th commandment; they also had a corrupted understanding of God’s 6th commandment regarding adultery and divorce. Jews living in Jesus’ time were taught that any filthy thought, word, or action was ok as long as it didn’t end in intercourse. Are we being told anything different today? Isn’t the main discussion of sex in our society based not on whether or not it is right or wrong, but on how to do it safely and responsibly? If you doubt this, visit a health class at any public high school and suggest abstinence as a the only form of birth control that is 100% effective at preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (not to mention it is the only form approved by God) – you will be laughed out of the building. And as far as divorce goes, in Jesus’ time, a man could divorce his wife for any reason – even if the only reason was that he had found a prettier woman to marry. The societal issue was not whether divorce was right or wrong, but that it should be done properly – that a husband give his wife a document of divorce before sending her on her way. Today, many people don’t even give passing consideration to whether divorce is morally right or wrong, but how to do it properly: so that the possessions are divided fairly, the reputation of both parties is preserved, and the children and pets are cared for. Consider the source of this fake news. The spiritually dead, unbelieving world under Satan’s spell. It is not a trustworthy source. For the truth, we must turn to Jesus.


But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Adultery doesn’t begin with the act, Jesus explains, it begins in the heart. The result is that God not only forbids the adultery that takes place in a shady motel, but the adultery that takes place in front of the computer screen and in the imagination. So what are we to do in a world which plasters smut on billboards and pumps its filth right into our homes? Is Jesus serious about gouging out our eyes and cutting off our hands? Think about it this way: would throwing away an eyeball or hand remove the desire from your heart? No, Jesus wants us to gouge the lust out of our hearts, where every adulterous action originates, through repentance. Then, and only then, have you really removed the offense from God’s eyes. And, if the sinful desire has been removed from the heart, the hand and the eye will follow suit. Even though it is nearly impossible for 21st century Christians to avoid every sexual temptation, the new life God has created in us controls even the muscles of our neck and the hand that controls the remote. The disciple of Jesus does not have to look and give in to temptation; he or she can walk away, turn away or change the channel.  


Our unbelieving, godless world is filled with fake news concerning divorce, but Jesus says 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. Divorce is never God’s will or intention – and he only allows it after the union has already been broken by adultery or desertion. Marriage as God defines it is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. When divorce happens, sin has always been committed and the result is always that the union God intended to be permanent is shattered. Divorce is never, ever God’s will. I have heard it said: “it’s not that simple, pastor.” That’s right. In this world, sin has created an ugly mess of marriage and divorce. But according to Jesus (and this is where you have to ignore the world’s fake news) a sinful situation does not change God’s will. God’s will is not situational, it is absolute. Regardless of what the world, our emotions or reason says, Jesus tells us that no one has the right or justification to bend, twist or redefine God’s will regarding marriage to suit difficult circumstances or selfish desires.


Finally, Jesus’ disciples had also heard all sorts of fake news about swearing and taking oaths. 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.’ Evidently in Jesus’ time people were taught that some oaths were more serious than others. If you swear by the hair on your head, you’re not real serious. If you swear by God, you are absolutely serious. What have you heard about the words and language we use? Have you heard that intentions are more important than words? Have you noticed that a man’s word isn’t what it used to be? Have you ever heard or used the excuse “I know what I said, but that’s not what I meant”? Have you fallen into the habit of using God’s name as an exclamation point rather than to pray, praise, and give thanks? How many of us have stood before God and promised to faithfully conform all [our] lives to the teachings of God’s Word, to be faithful in the use of Word and sacrament, and in faith and action remain true to God as long as [we] live and then later acted as though that confirmation vow meant nothing? We have heard all sorts of things about our use of language, but Jesus says:


Do not swear at all…simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one. What does this mean? As believers, we know that God is always present and always listening to the words we speak. Therefore, there is no need for a believer to swear in his or her personal life. Believers should be so honest and have such a reputation for integrity that nothing more than a simple yes or no is needed to affirm the words they have spoken and the promises they have made. Anything beyond this only and always comes from the devil, the Father of lies. (John 8:44) At the same time, Jesus is not forbidding all oath taking or swearing. Swearing, for example, in a courtroom, at the altar in a marriage vow, even the oath we made when we were confirmed are all appropriate and God-pleasing because they are demanded by him or his earthly representatives.


Jesus has clarified God’s will concerning murder, adultery, divorce, and swearing. Where does that leave us? Does the phrase poor, wretched sinner come to mind? Does mourning over past sins of thought, word and action wrench your soul and constrict your throat? Do regret, pain, and guilt weigh heavily on your heart? Good, because that means the law has done its job. God hasn’t given us his Law to make us feel good about ourselves or show us the way to heaven – because it’s very clear that it can only lead to the dead end of hell. We have heard the law and the law’s main purpose is to filter out the fake news and clearly show us our sins against God.


But don’t despair, consider once more the source: Even as Jesus was preaching this sermon he was obeying God’s Law perfectly in our place. He didn’t just talk about the Law; He lived according to it for 33 years. As he teaches us about the holy life God expects from us he was busy living the only perfect life that could satisfy God’s holy demands – and through faith, his holy life is your holy life. You have heard the law, now look to the cross and hear Jesus say it is finished (John 19:30) – knowing that the “it” was his perfect sacrifice which washes away all of your sins against all of God’s commandments. Put away the world’s fake news and listen to the real Good News: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1) Jesus didn’t just come to preach the Law, he came to free you from the law’s impossible demands. We are not forgiven because we keep God’s commands; we want to keep God’s commands because he has already forgiven us. Because of what Jesus has done for you, you can go in peace. Go back to your life as Jesus’ disciple, go out to salt the earth and light the world with the real news of law and gospel. Be a critical listener. Consider the source. Don’t let the fake news spread by the world and the devil or created by your reason or your feelings define right and wrong. Listen to your Savior and stick to his truth. Amen.