Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Series A
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a society where people don’t like to be told what to do. People want the freedom to do what they want and to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. The people around us increasingly think, “What’s good for you is not necessarily good for me. It might be fine for you, but I can do what I want. You can’t tell me what to do. I can live my life how I see fit. I believe each person has to decide what’s right for themselves.” People think that a one-size-fits-all morality that is true for everyone takes away our individual freedom. They think that true freedom needs to be unrestrained, not restricted by rules. They want to be in a world free of restrains which dictate how they should live.
In many ways, Christians can be susceptible to the same attitude. God comes to us through his Law and tells us what he wants from us. He gives us rules. And some Christians like to think that those rules don’t apply. Or, if they did apply at one time, they no longer apply anymore. Many think of the Law as a bad thing which Jesus came to free us from. However, Jesus in our Gospel reading says that he has no intention of setting aside God’s commands, so we could just do what’s right in our own eyes. Instead, Jesus tells us exactly what God’s Law demands from us and how that Law is fulfilled.
What the Law Demands
The first thing that Jesus says the Law demands is that we keep it. We are not supposed to break God’s commandments. If he tells us to do something, then we are obligated as his creatures to do it. If he tells you to stop doing something, then stop it! They are not called the “Ten Suggestions” or the “Ten Opinions”. And Jesus tells us exactly how much of the law we are to keep: all of it. We are obligated to keep all of God’s law, down to the smallest detail. Your righteousness, says Jesus, has to exceed that of the most pious people of his day. It has to be a perfect righteousness. You are required to stand before God and be perfect and blameless in his sight because you always and only did what he wanted you to do.
The second thing which the Law demands is justice when we break it. Jesus says that whoever breaks the commandments will have dire consequences. If you disregard God’s law, then you’re inviting disaster. Do not think that you can ignore God and his Law and get off scot-free. Jesus says that if you do not have the righteousness which the Law requires of you, you will not even enter into God’s kingdom. If you break the Law, you will be called least. Our God is a God of justice. He will do what is right, and set all things right. That means dealing with those who refuse to submit to his rule.
And Christians are still obligated to keep God’s Law. Murder didn’t suddenly become okay now that you’re baptised. Christians are to live their lives in the world striving to obey God and keep his commandments. They are salt and light in the world. God’s Holy Law isn’t an oppressive and impossible list of rules we were never able to keep in the first place. Rules are part of life. You cannot eat anything you want. There are rules. You have to restrict your freedom, restrict your diet, to have a long healthy life. If rules are important for hobbies and sports, why would God’s Law not be important for life? Parents give rules to their children, not to be mean, but for their benefit. Freedom is not the absence of restrictions, it is having the right restrictions. The Law of God was not given to limit or oppress us. No, it reveals what it truly means to be human. It shows us a glimpse of what true human potential is like. And the fact that we are unable to keep God’s holy laws shows us that something is drastically wrong with us, and there is no health in us.
How the Law is Fulfilled
But Jesus did not just talk about the Law in general. No, he said specifically that he came to fulfil the Law. He came to accomplish all that was written and prophesied about him in the Torah and the Prophets of the Old Testament. All of the Scriptures point towards Jesus as the culmination and climax of God’s saving purpose. To put it another way: God has a plan to save fallen humanity. That plan was revealed of old to the prophets finds its completion in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our Lord isn’t only talking about being the long expected messiah and prophesied king, although he certainly is that. More than that though, he is talking about fulfilling the Law. This means that Jesus was perfect. He kept the Law. He kept it in thought, word, and deed. He kept the Law in what he did and he never failed to do what was right. His righteousness surpassed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. But, more than that, he also taught others the Law. He taught God’s Law truly because he taught it the way God wanted. He never taught others to break even the least of God’s commands. Instead, he taught “He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10). Jesus is by far the Greatest in the Kingdom.
But the Law did not direct him to die for you. He did this willingly, of his own accord, not because he was forced to. You see, Jesus went above and beyond the call of duty. He offered up his perfect life and his innocent suffering and death as the payment for your debt to God. And when it was all fulfilled, when Jesus had done all that was required, foretold, and necessary for your salvation, “he said, It is finished, and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit,” (John 19:28-30) He became, “obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8).
And now, there’s another way that Jesus fulfills the law: he fulfills the two demands of the law in you. Even though you stand guilty before God the righteous judge, He acquits you through faith in Jesus. The Law says if I obey the rules, then God accepts me. Whereas the Gospel comes and says that because Christ has done everything for me, he has died in my place, I am accepted by faith. For Christians the rules are not at the centre. Christ is the centre.
Besides offering you a total acquittal of all your crimes and sins against Almighty God, Christ also heals you. The stain of sin upon your soul begins to be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Through the Spirit you are able now to begin to obey God’s Law. St. Paul promises that “he which began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6). Now we are called to live a life of sanctification. Because of “his great love wherewith he loved us” we cannot help but abound in good works. (Eph. 2:4).
The Law is not a callous restraint upon our freedom. Rather, it shows us what it truly means to be human and it shows how corrupt we have become. It demands of us perfect obedience down to the smallest detail. It threatens us with God’s justice if we break it. But Christ our dear Lord has come and fulfilled the Law. By his suffering and death in our place he offers the repayment of our debt to God. He acquits us and begins the process of heal us. By his Word and Sacraments he enables you to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16). To God be the glory forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.