Female: The kingdom of God is as multifaceted and mysterious as our Creator, a kingdom we only see now through a glass darkly. Though we can’t picture it fully, God’s kingdom is the story told in Scripture, from the garden to the city, and in the middle of the story God chose to reveal his kingdom in a new way.
The gospel is not only Jesus coming and dying to save us from our sins; it’s also the story of God establishing his dwelling, dominion, and dynasty in the world. We live as both citizens and strangers, prisoners of hope in this shadow kingdom, all while knowing it’s not our true home, that something better is coming, that God’s perfect kingdom is coming.
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How is everybody doing? Good. Good! My name is JT English. I serve on staff here as one of the pastors over The Village Church Institute. We’re continuing our sermon series on the kingdom of God. Will you open your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 5, verses 17 to 48? If you’ve been with us the past several weeks, you know we’re in the middle of a sermon series on the kingdom of God.
We spent the first half of the series trying to look at the kingdom of God as a thread woven throughout the entire tapestry of Scripture, trying to look at the kingdom of God, this concept of dwelling, dominion, and dynasty, of God establishing his presence among us, establishing us as his image bearers, his dynasty as we take dominion through the Great Commission over all people, all nations, so Jesus Christ might receive honor, fame, and glory.
We kind of did a big picture, a macro-level, 50,000-foot view of the kingdom of God, but now we’re taking this microscopic view on the kingdom of God, specifically in the gospel of Matthew and specifically in the teaching of Jesus. What does Jesus have to say about the kingdom of God? This is a topic about which he speaks at length. He is always trying to instruct his disciples on, “The kingdom of God is like… The kingdom of God is like…”
In Matthew, chapter 4, verse 23, he says, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” Have you ever thought to yourself, “What was Jesus talking about?” If you could have been in that synagogue and you hear Jesus proclaiming the good news, what would have been the words coming out of his mouth? What would have been his message? Because you realize this is before his death, burial, and resurrection.
Apparently, Jesus is teaching something that’s good news, that would have appeared to be good news to those who were hearing, because God’s kingdom is being established. Specifically today and last week, we’ve been looking at the Sermon on the Mount where we see Jesus gather his disciples around him and again proclaim the good news of the gospel of the kingdom.
Through Matthew, chapter 5:1-16 (what we looked at last week), Jesus is inviting his disciples in to show them what it looks like to flourish as a human being. That word blessed could be translated as the word flourish or happy. This is what it looks like for you to be an image bearer and to be God’s dynasty.
Something that’s really important for you to see looking back at last week… Matthew, chapter 5, verse 1. I want to read it once again. It says, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” You see, one of the things Matthew is trying to do is he is trying to show Jesus’ story is like Israel’s story. We don’t have time to look at all he is trying to do in those first four chapters, but here are a few quick examples.
Jesus, just like Israel, spent a sojourn in Egypt as Herod tried to kill him. Both Israel and Jesus then spent 40 years or 40 days wandering in the wilderness. Both Israel and Jesus are baptized in the Jordan River. Israel has 12 tribes, and Jesus calls 12 disciples to himself. Matthew is trying to show you the kingdom of God is being established in the person of Jesus Christ. He is God’s kingdom embodied and enfleshed.
One thing in this story that hasn’t happened yet is God has not given a new law through Jesus, because you know the story in Exodus we went through all of last year is Moses goes up on a mountain and receives this new divine law from God. He comes down with 10 stones, Ten Commandments. He says, “Thus says the Lord, ’Here’s how you should live as my people.’”
Look at chapter 5, verse 1. Jesus, just like Moses, goes up on the mountain. He sits down, and the 12 tribes of Israel come to him. He opens his mouth, and he teaches them a new law. We have a new Moses giving a new law, establishing the kingdom of God.
Among Jesus’ contemporaries, there were two primary ways of representing God’s kingdom or interacting with God’s law. There were two visions of the good life, two visions of what it was like to flourish as a human being, two stories to live in. I’ll simplify them by calling them a term. One would be a legalistic interpretation of God’s law or a very firm, tight-gripped understanding of how God was interacting with humanity.
There’s a legalistic interpretation of God’s law and a minimalistic interpretation of God’s law, taking just bits and pieces however it serves us best. What’s really interesting is Jesus’ disciples he has just called in Matthew, chapter 4, represent these two schools of interpretation, these two visions of the good life.
First, I want you to think about Jesus’ disciple, Matthew, the disciple who wrote this gospel. Just days or weeks before Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, do you know what Matthew is doing? He is collecting taxes, right? He is sitting on the side of the road compromising his integrity as a Jewish citizen by compromising and collaborating with an occupying force (the Roman Empire), collecting taxes.
His contemporaries, friends, and Jewish citizens would have hated Matthew, not just because he was taking money from them (this was the tax guy) but also because he was collaborating with a foreign occupier, somebody who was oppressing God’s kingdom. Matthew said, “Do you know what? It’s actually better for me to compromise myself and compromise my integrity in order to live and flourish as a human being.”
Jesus’ contemporaries would have seen Jesus calling Matthew and saying, “Him? He is a minimalist. He is living licentiously. He is not participating in this vision of the kingdom of God. He is living with the least amount of allegiance to God as possible.” Jesus doesn’t just call minimalists to follow him. He also calls legalists.
We don’t have a lot of data on him in the Gospels, but there’s a guy Jesus calls named Simon the Zealot. Interesting name, right? Zealot is not his last name. Zealot is trying to kind of quantify his character and who he is. In all likelihood, Simon belonged to this religious party called the Zealots, this political party called the Zealots who believed through their zealous interpretation and through their zealous obedience to God’s law, God’s kingdom might come through them.
He was involved in an organization that took the law very, very seriously, so much so that some in the organization would be accused of terrorism because… What they would do is they would wear long coats or jackets, and they would have… This is not a joke. I’m really not kidding you. Some of you might have this too. They had coats, and they had like daggers in the side. Whenever they saw a Roman citizen they’d just stab a Roman soldier in the back because they believed they were going to be the ones who brought God’s law.
I think that deserves the term zealot! If any of you do that today, you’re a zealot also, right? They believed God’s kingdom was coming through them. Here’s just a thought experiment for a moment. How do you think Simon felt about Matthew (somebody who believed he was following God’s law to every jot and tittle, every single portion, every single minute detail)? Simon watches Jesus call Matthew, and he says, “This guy is going to be a part of the kingdom? This guy who is living licentiously? This guy who has a minimalistic interpretation of God’s law?”
Well, how do you think Matthew felt about Simon? “This guy? This guy who takes every single rule so seriously?” You see, what you have at the beginning of Jesus’ discipleship program is people who view the kingdom of God differently. You have people who have a licentious and a legalistic interpretation of God’s law.
This maybe shows how much of a nerd I am. Sometimes I try to imagine the kinds of conversations Matthew and Simon would have had as they tried to follow Jesus. In all likelihood, they would not have seen eye-to-eye on virtually anything. In moments like that, I find it comforting that Jesus’ Home Group had people who didn’t see eye-to-eye. Can I get an amen?
Here’s the question: How will Jesus teach his disciples to embody God’s kingdom? Will Jesus side with Simon, with this very legalistic, white knuckled, tightfisted interpretation of God’s law doing everything he can in human terms to bring it? Or will Jesus side with Matthew, this licentious interpretation of God’s law, that it’s just very open-handed? “Yeah, God said that, but it’s kind of old, antiquated, and a relic. We can really interpret new ways to embody God’s kingdom and God’s law.”
What side is Jesus on? Is he going to take the legalistic point of view or the minimalistic point of view? Here are the main points for the day. They’re fairly simple. Jesus confronts sin, Jesus forgives sinners, and Jesus transforms hearts.
- Jesus confronts sin. Look at Matthew, chapter 5, verse 17. “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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
“…until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” See, many people in Jesus’ day believe Jesus had a relaxed interpretation of God’s law. The way he was behaving and acting with sinners opened him up to the criticism of being licentious and a minimalist. You know the gospel stories where it says, “This guy is eating with tax collectors and sinners!” He is accused of being a partier, a drunkard.
He is accused of (and actually does) healing people on the Sabbath, and the religious authorities, the religious elite, say, “How can you heal people on the Sabbath? We need to keep the Sabbath holy.” So Jesus responds to this criticism that he has a relaxed interpretation of God’s law by saying this. Look at verse 17. “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.”
It’s almost like he is saying (if we were going to use a cultural idiom that would make sense for us today), “The law will not pass away until hell freezes over. The law will not pass away until pigs fly.” Jesus delights in the law of God. Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The vision of Jesus you should have in your mind is somebody who delights in the law of God, who finds his affections, his desires, and his hopes there contained in the law. Who is feeling really good about themselves right now among Jesus’ disciples? Simon! People who would have scribal or pharisaical-like tendencies. The people who followed every part of God’s law to its most finite detail. “Hey, guys, did you hear him? He just said he has come not to abolish the law but fulfill it.”
Who is over in the corner trying not to make eye contact with Jesus? He is kind of putting his head down like, “Oh my gosh! Does Jesus know I was a tax collector? Does Jesus know I’ve been disobedient? I’ve not followed God’s law virtually at all.” Matthew is feeling shame and guilt. “Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t belong. Maybe I’m the outcast. Maybe I’m the disciple who shouldn’t be here.”
Jesus is completely rejecting a licentious approach to the kingdom of God, but look at verse 20. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is really bad news for you and me. He mentions the Pharisees and scribes precisely because they are the paradigm of the greatest righteousness imaginable within Judaism.
He is taking the greatest example you and I could think of of religious professionalism, of holiness and purity, and he is saying, “Unless you are way better than them, you don’t have a shot of inheriting the kingdom of God so long as you’re trying to play their game.” You know the disciples. The disciples are just like us. They’re a ragtag group of people. We’ve already talked about Matthew and Simon, but then you also have a bunch of fishermen.
I’m not sure if you’ve been around a lot of fishermen, but they’re not usually religious zealots interested in taking care of God’s law. They’re just average men and women. They’re not religious professionals. There are several women following Jesus called his disciples who have just been healed of demons. They’ve not spent their life learning the law of God. They’re just following this new traveling rabbi.
Not one of Jesus’ disciples was a religious professional. Here’s what you need to hear. You, Jesus’ first disciples, and I are all epic failures at the religious game. Jesus is trying to tell us by telling us that unless our righteousness exceeds, far surpasses, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we don’t have a chance.
So what is Jesus doing in these first three verses? What is he trying to tell you? What is he trying to tell me? He is confronting the legalistic and the minimalistic interpretation of God’s law. He is confronting both people who would identify with Simon and people who would identify with Matthew.
He is confronting us. He is confronting those of us who would say, “It doesn’t really matter if I fudge a little bit on my financial documents. It doesn’t really matter if I’m fantasizing about somebody else sexually other than my spouse. It’s not like I committed adultery with them.” He is confronting those of us who take pride in our religious activities and service. He is confronting those of us who have conformed our lives to a pattern of Christian subculture, not the kingdom of God.
He is saying both of these systems you and I identify with just by default will not help us inherit the kingdom of God. Whether you identify in the bucket of religiosity or licentiousness, neither will help you inherit and embody the kingdom of God.
Then he gives us these six illustrations, which we’ll work through fairly quickly because there are six…a lot. I want to be faithful to cover all of them. I’ll provide a few comments as we go. Here is the one thing I want you to take away from these six illustrations Jesus gives his disciples. He is intimately aware of the human condition. He is aware of your brokenness. He is aware of your sickness. He is aware of the heart-level issues, your motives, affections, and desires that are beneath the surface.
I don’t know if you know this. It was 106 years ago today the Titanic sunk as it struck the side of an iceberg. Given the anniversary, I was thinking about icebergs earlier this week. Have you guys ever seen a photograph of an iceberg? You know, the phrase comes, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” because most icebergs have just a tip that is actually above water and this huge portion… I think we actually have a picture that shows this. The “tip of the iceberg” is the idea just the tip you see, the portion that is available for everybody else to see…
I love this image because what this image shows us is there is so much more to an iceberg than you and I would ever realize. There is this massive part that belongs to an iceberg that isn’t available to the naked human eye. This imagery gives us this idea that there is so much more beneath the surface.
That is what Jesus is trying to get at in these next six examples. He is trying to say, “Okay, you don’t think you’re that sinful? You think you can obey God’s law to every finite detail? Let’s just take a quick look at your heart.” As we go through these six examples, I want you to think of this quote I heard from a Jewish rabbi as I was researching this week.
He says the history of Christianity is a history of Christians (you and me) trying to avoid the teaching of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount. I want you to be aware of your heart over these next six illustrations. What’s beneath the surface for you? What’s underneath the iceberg? Where do you get uncomfortable in your chair and want to say, “Well, he didn’t really mean… Jesus surely didn’t actually mean that”? I want you to be aware of your heart. Look at verse 21:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ’You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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.”
You’re going to see a pattern in every one of Jesus’ six examples where he says, “You have heard it said…” To what is he referring? That law Moses gave us. He is going to say, “But I say to you…” Jesus is showing he is the authoritative interpreter of God’s law. He is also the authoritative giver of God’s law.
In this first glimpse, this first illustration, we see every single disciple of Jesus must face the issue of the inner person. We must look below the surface. He is saying, “Okay, so you haven’t murdered somebody? Good for you. Since when was that the standard of morality and virtue? I say to you, why do you have anger in your heart? Why do you have malice against any other human being?”
Look at verse 23. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” As you know, going to the temple was one of the holiest moments in the life of Israel. Kind of a peasant in Israel might have only gone a few times over the course of their life because it came at great cost and great time.
The only altar we could have gone to would have been the altar in Jerusalem. Jesus, as he is giving this teaching in Galilee, was about 80 miles away. Going to go do your religious sacrifice and your religious duty would have come at great cost. You would have had to travel a week, probably with an animal on your back as you walk. It would have taken a lot of time.
Jesus is giving his disciples a picture, “Right before you are supposed to participate in the most important moment in your spiritual lives as you follow God, if you remember your brother has something against you, you should do your sacrifice really quickly and then go be reconciled to your brother.” Is that what he says? No. It says leave your gift at the altar, go 80 miles back home, be reconciled with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift.
Why does Jesus say that? Because he is so intimately aware of the darkness of our hearts. Jesus wants his followers to know a part of worshiping is living reconciled lives, not just to God but also to others. Jesus is for reconciliation…hear this…even if it means interrupting our most sacred religious duties. Your sacred religious duty is less important than being reconciled to your brother or sister.
Nothing expresses the reality of the kingdom more than reconciliation. Jesus is more interested in you having reconciled relationships than he is your religious ritual. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who famously said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” It doesn’t even have to just be an issue of race and ethnicity. It’s also an issue of relationships.
Think of those who either you have wronged or have wronged you in this moment, real people, people with whom you are not at peace with and not reconciled with. Jesus is trying to tell you reconciliation (living reconciled lives) is a first-order issue. It is not a second-tier, open-handed issue. We must be pursuing reconciliation. The pragmatist in me says, “Well, can’t I just offer my sacrifice and then go be reconciled?” Jesus says, “No way! Until you see reconciliation as your act of worship, don’t come offer me vain sacrifices.”
Verse 27: “You have heard that it was said, ’You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again, Jesus affirms the old law. “You have heard it said, but I say to you if you simply look lustfully at a woman, your heart is in a posture of committing adultery against her.” Verse 29:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
What is Jesus doing here? Demanding decisive action. He is not encouraging self-mutilation. He is using hyperbole here. His objective is not that you would cut your eye out or cut your hand off. It may be that you’d throw the computer away. It may be that you would get rid of your smartphone. It may be that you would come to Recovery, confess your sin, and get help. Jesus is telling his disciples, “Take drastic measures,” because sexual perversion begins in the eye, not in the action. Sexual perversion starts in the heart, not in the bedroom.
How are we doing so far? Is everybody encouraged? Yeah, me too. Imagine spending a few weeks in it. Verse 31: “It was also said, ’Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” As you know, the biblical picture of marriage is a lifetime union of one man and one woman. Divorce was never a part of God’s original plan. It was this beautiful picture of one man and one woman coming together in one flesh, two flesh becoming one.
In Deuteronomy because of Israel’s hardness of heart, Moses had offered a certificate of divorce, a permission slip basically, because their heart… The word is sclerosis. Their hearts were bent in and darkened toward each other. He offers this permission, and he says, “It was never God’s intention for divorce to happen, but when it needs to happen, here is a certificate for permission.”
Teachers in Jesus’ day had taken this teaching of Moses and used it to promote a permissive culture on divorce. They basically said, “Now you can get divorced for any reason.” You know, Matthew, chapter 19. They try to trap Jesus and say, “Is it possible for somebody to get divorced for any reason?” That’s a very technical term in the Bible. “Is it possible for us to get divorced for any reason?”
Moses’ permission had led to rampant permissiveness. Men in Jesus’ day had the opportunity to objectify women, to get rid of women as easily as they wanted to if they were no longer pleasing to them. We actually have historical records of Jewish teachers teaching you could divorce your wife if she burned the toast. You could divorce your wife if she simply did not look as youthful as she did when you married her.
What do you think this resulted in? Yeah, a lot of unhappy marriages but also a gross injustice done toward women. Oppression, suffering. It was so difficult for them to now earn a living because they were seen as the outcasts. It’s almost like Jesus would have been empathetic because he had a mom who went through something similar, almost. They were left oftentimes fending for themselves and fending for their children. Jesus is addressing this permissive view, and he says, “When you do this, you objectify and you oppress women and children.”
Verse 32: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality…” The term there is porneia. “…makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Jesus says divorce is possible in extreme cases of sexual immorality (certainly, adultery) and also preps gross sexual perversion.
One of the reasons he is doing it is he is trying to protect the dignity of women from men who would objectify and leave them for any reason because he wants to uphold the dignity of marriage found in Genesis 1 and 2. You have made a covenantal commitment to your spouse to never leave. To never leave!
He protects the dignity of marriage because divorce destroys this covenantal union God has brought together. Our covenantal unions of marriage are meant to embody and picture Christ’s love for his church to never leave, to never forsake. In broad terms, Jesus is against divorce and for marriage. However, one of my favorite teachers says it this way: “To have a high view of marriage means you also have to have a high view of divorce, which Jesus has.”
What do I mean by that? Jesus’ high view of marriage means he also knows there will be stipulations for men and women to pursue divorce not because it’s required but because it’s an option, because severe oppression, abuse, abandonment, or sexual perversion has destroyed the covenantal union that exists.
This is what Paul expands upon in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, when he says if your spouse has left you, you’re no longer required to stay because you’re enduring great hardship and oppression for them. There are many in our culture today who would use Jesus’ words here in Matthew, chapter 5, in order to keep a spouse in an abusive situation. That is a woeful and gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
He is saying be committed to each other no matter what. Be in covenantal union. This is God’s picture. But if there is a situation where a gross injustice (sexual immorality, abuse, neglect) is happening, only then because of our hardness of heart will God permit divorce. Jesus has a high view of marriage, and he has a high view of divorce. Why? Because he has a high view of image bearers. Look at verse 33:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ’You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.”
That just feels weird, right? But it’s there so we’ll preach it. Verse 37: “Let what you say be simply ’Yes’ or ’No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” When I used to read this text, I had to think about, “What is going on here? I’ve never sworn by my head.” People were swearing oaths in Jesus’ day in order to show their level of sincerity and their level of commitment.
It’s almost like they were saying, “I swear on my grandmother’s grave. I swear by my wife and kids. This time I really, really, really promise.” See, some people have taken the hyperbolic text way too far and said, “Well, you shouldn’t enter into contracts then. You shouldn’t enter into legal agreements that bind you.” That’s not what Jesus is saying here. What is he teaching?
He can’t envision a community of followers of his who would not operate with integrity and honesty at all times. How is your heart doing? Do you see yourself ever operating with more honesty, integrity, and sometimes with less? Jesus is saying, “My community is a community of honesty and integrity. Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Verse 38:
“You have heard that it was said, ’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
In verse 38, the concept Jesus is addressing here is the law of retribution. Eye for an eye. Tooth for a tooth. “You do this to me? I’m going to do the exact same thing back to you.” Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” This is the Greek term from which we get the concept of nonviolent resistance. Is anybody feeling uncomfortable?
The history of Christianity is the history of Christians avoiding the teaching of Jesus. “Respond to evil by not resisting with violence. If anybody slaps you on the right, give them the other.” What is Jesus teaching? Is he teaching, “Just continue to get abused for the name of Jesus”? He is not teaching that. He is saying when people bring shame upon you by hitting you, allow them to continue to shame you. “This is what will happen to me,” Jesus says.
If anybody takes your tunic, give them your cloak as well. How much clothes does that person have left? The answer is none. It’s a very image depiction of somebody being naked, of somebody just allowing violence to be done to them. “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” This was actually a Roman practice with which they would have been very, very familiar. It was called portering.
A Roman official could come to a Jewish citizen as they were oppressing and occupying their territory, and they could say, “I want you to move our equipment from this spot to this spot. I want you to take what we’re trying to do here in Jerusalem and move it outside of the city.” This is something that would have happened regularly to Jewish citizens where they had to just stop their everyday activities and do whatever the Roman government asked them to do.
Can anybody think of an example where this happens in the Bible? “Hey, Simon. Take that cross of Jesus’, and carry it for him.” Jesus is teaching this is the ethic of his community, even to the point of Jesus’ death that we would be a community who loves our enemy, who turns the cheek, who pursues not violence but seeks reconciliation. Look at verse 43:
“You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
All Jews knew the command (and you probably know it too), “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. […] You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But there was also great debate happening in Jesus’ day, as we do, around Jesus’ teaching. “Well, if Jesus tells us to love our neighbor…” What’s the next question? “Okay, who is my neighbor?”
It’s almost like they asked Jesus that question. Jesus is like, “I’ve heard it said I should love my neighbor, but who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns even this ethic (our religiosity) on its head that we’ll try to follow God’s law a little bit but no further. He says, “Yes, you should love your neighbor, but who else should you love? Your enemy.”
We want to see God’s kingdom come, don’t we? That’s not rhetorical. Don’t we? Do you want to see God’s kingdom come? Do you want to see God’s kingdom come in power? Love your enemies. When we love our enemies, we are bringing the future of God’s justice into the present. When you love those who you have no business loving according to worldly standards, what do you do? What does the Bible say? You’re sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven. You are representing the character of God appropriately. You’re a picture of God’s coming kingdom.
On June 17, 2015 (you guys remember this story), Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer service. You remember this story, right? Thirteen people were gathered there. They were having a prayer and Bible study. At the end of the time, they bowed their heads to pray, and Dylann stood up and tried to blow every single one of them away. He killed nine, left four survivors.
Just weeks after the shooting, Dylann told his cellmate, “I almost didn’t go through with it.” “Why didn’t you almost go through with it?” “Because they loved me so well.” That’s the ethic of Jesus’ community. That is sons and daughters representing their Father. A few days after Dylann confesses this, he is before the court, and he is addressed by the four survivors and family members of those who were deceased. This is an exact quote: “…I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
This is a picture of what it means to be a son and a daughter of our Father who is in heaven. There is nothing that shows the world more what God is like than when we love our enemies. Amen? Romans 5:8: “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We show God’s love to the world when we love our enemies because this is what our Father in heaven is like.
Look at verse 46: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors…?” Can’t you see Matthew awkwardly looking down? “Doesn’t Matthew even love those who love him?” “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect [teleios, whole, mature, complete] as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Again, Jesus is inviting his disciples to consider the nature and character of God. Friends, hear me say this. Do not draw your ethical standards from anything else other than the nature and character of God. God is our standard of love, of what our Father is like. We’re not to pursue legalism. We’re not to pursue minimalism. Rather, we are supposed to pursue adoption, sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaven.
Jesus is basing his ethic of us, of our community, on family resemblance that we would resemble our Father who is in heaven. Your life is meant to be a picture of the coming kingdom of God, and there is no better picture than the kingdom loving our enemies. That’s the teaching from Jesus today. How are you doing? How is your heart beneath the surface part, the area where we feel uncomfortable?
The point of Jesus’ teaching here is every single one of us is fazed. We can’t be unfazed by the teaching of Jesus. He has just spoken to your condition and to my condition with precision. He knows intimately what’s going on in your heart right now. The first point is Jesus confronts sin. Jesus confronts our hearts, not just our external behavior. He exposes our deepest and darkest motives, the parts of our hearts where we are truly sick. He is intimately familiar with our affections, motives, and heart.
I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming more and more aware that for myself, the capacity for self-deception is astounding. My capacity to think that my sinfulness is just the top portion of the iceberg is astounding. Just personally (I’m just kind of sharing with you where I’m at as a pastor, a minister, but more importantly as a brother in Christ of yours), I always want to put forward a picture of strength, of having it together.
Do you know why I do that? Because I’m so ashamed of my weakness. I’m so ashamed of what’s beneath the surface, so ashamed of the sickness my heart still has. I want to put forward a projection of strength and having it together. I don’t know about you, but for me when I do this for such a long time, do you know what begins to happen? I start to believe it. I start to believe it’s actually true. “Maybe I am that strong. Maybe I am that put together.”
I told a friend earlier about a month ago, “I can actually start to believe sometimes that I’m a JV sinner. I know I’m a sinner and I know I need grace, but I need less grace than that person, because I’m walking with the Lord. I’m putting it together. I’m being sanctified. I’m being made more holy.”
Isn’t it easier to be religious than surrendered? Isn’t it easier for you to put on a face on Saturday or Sunday than to actually surrender yourself to Christ, wholly and completely, both the top portion (the tip of the iceberg) and the bottom? Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reminded freshly of my weakness and brokenness. Without even realizing it, I was sinning against God and others.
I had a moment of clarity. Have you ever had that before? You’re not even aware of your sin. You think you’re pursuing God perfectly, and just pow! From seemingly out of nowhere, you’re confronted by Jesus, who confronts us in our sin. Just, “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. My weakness, my brokenness, is astounding. I’m in need of grace.”
The sickness beneath the water is exposed, and I’ll tell you this. Whenever you meet God in your sickness, in your vulnerability, it’s there that you’ll be reminded of God’s deep love for you. It’s in those moments where you’re reminded, “For God so loved the world that HHHe gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Over the last few weeks, I have been learning I am more disobedient than I ever thought but more loved than I’ve ever imagined. That is true of you this morning. Jesus is trying to expose for us in his grace, in his kindness, in his mercy you are more disobedient than you’ve ever imagined. “So you haven’t murdered. So you haven’t committed adultery. Do you know what I’m after? I’m not after your religious obedience. I’m after your heart. I’m here to make what is broken well, what is sick healthy.”
- Jesus forgives sinners. Jesus confronts us in our sin as an act of grace, but he also forgives sinners. Look back at verse 17. “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.” Everything in this passage, everything we’ve talked about today, hangs on one word: fulfilled. What does it mean that Jesus has come to fulfill this in our hearing?
The Old Testament prophets had preached a message of God creating a world that was perfect, that our rebellion brought sin, darkness, and weakness into God’s world, that there are now rebels in the kingdom. Rather than reflecting God, we now rival God. But a day was coming where God would restore all things. As Jesus’ disciples hear him say that word fulfill, their ears perk up because they know exactly what Jesus is trying to say. You don’t have to flip there, but I wanted to take you to Jeremiah, chapter 31 (the new covenant). Jeremiah 31, verses 31 through 34 say this:
“’Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ’when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,’ declares the Lord. ’For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord…”
Catch this. It’s no longer on stone tablets. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” “I will etch it not on stone but on flesh.” “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ’Know the Lord,’ for they shall…” What? “’…all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord.” Then the kicker. The gospel here in Jeremiah. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Jesus is trying to say these two things: writing God’s law on our hearts, not licentiousness, not legalism, but God’s law instinctively placed within us and forgiveness of sin is coming as he comes to fulfill the law. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Not only does Jesus confront sinners. What else does he do? He offers forgiveness for sinners and not just the tip of the iceberg sin. The deep, indwelling sickness that’s a part of all of us.
Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will use these words to describe what he is doing. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus has come to shed his blood so you and I might be forgiven, that you and I who sometimes think we’re JV sinners but very often find out we’re varsity-level sinners, that Christ died for you. You!
I want you to think about you right now, not the person next to you, not the person who isn’t here today. Christ died to forgive you. Forgiveness is only available by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We sing this all the time, and praise God we do because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because your sins have been forgiven. Here is the kicker. You need to know you are far more disobedient, you are way more messed up than you’re even willing to admit. That should deserve an amen. Amen? Amen! But Jesus loves you at your worst.
The sooner you begin to realize Jesus doesn’t love you at your best but loves you at your worst, the more intimate transformation you’ll be able to experience with him. When you’re actually able to be confronted in the deepest and darkest parts of your heart, it is there transformation happens. Ephesians 1:7 says this: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…”
Friends, hear this this morning. Our Father is rich in mercy toward you. He is rich. He is wealthy. He has more grace and mercy for you than we could ever imagine. Ephesians 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near…” How? “…by the blood of Christ.” The blood of Christ is strong enough to forgive your sin and strong enough to bring you near. Jesus says, “I have come to fulfill this.” He confronts us in our sin, forgives us of our sin, and I want to wrap up here.
- Jesus transforms hearts. That’s what this sermon ultimately is about, right? “I have come to put the law on their hearts. I will put it within them and write it on them.” Not only is sin forgiven, but also we receive new hearts. We no longer have to follow laws on stone tablets, because the law of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is happening, albeit slowly. It’s being written on our hearts.
Paul picks up this theme in Romans, chapter 8, where he says this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” Did you catch that? What the law couldn’t do, God has now accomplished by his Spirit.
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might…” What? What’s the word there? “…be fulfilled…” “I didn’t come to abolish. I came to fulfill.” “…who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
In Christ what was once the external standard is becoming an internal reality. In Christ, what was once rebellion now becomes instinct. The gospel is not just that you have been saved from something but that you’re being saved to something. This is not a sermon on behavior modification. It’s a sermon on sin mortification and spiritual transformation.
Walter Bruggemann says it this way. This is really good news. “…obeying will be as normal and as readily accepted as breathing and eating.” Don’t you long for that day? “All inclination to resist, refuse, or disobey will have evaporated, because the members of the new community of covenant are transformed people who have rightly inclined hearts.” The gospel is not just justification, but it’s also sanctification.
Here is what I want you to hear. Christianity without sanctification is a Christianity without Christ. Christianity without the pursuit of holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit is something. It’s something spiritual, but it’s certainly not Christianity or Christ’s Christianity. If the gospel does not bring us transformation but simply forgives sins, it’s not good news. But it is good news, right? Jesus doesn’t just say, “I forgive you of your sin. I want to transform your heart.”
Through the power of the Spirit today, we can be transformed from being angry to being peaceful, lustful to pure, deceitful to honest, vindictive to gracious, hateful to loving. Eventually these will be our instincts as we pursue spiritual transformation. Here’s what I want to do and just wrap up in the next minute or two. I want you to just consider your hearts with me. Consider the teachings of Jesus, not my teachings but the teachings of Christ as we opened his Word together.
At the very heart of Jesus’ message is this. The Bible says Jesus did not come to call the righteous. He came to call sinners to repentance. Any people like that in here? Yeah. What does that mean? It means Jesus has not come to condemn you. He has come to offer you life through repentance that you might repent. Repentance is not condemning. It’s freeing, to agree with God about this portion that’s beneath the water, beneath the surface, and say, “Help! Help me, a sinner! What nobody else knows, the deepest and darkest parts of my heart, that’s where I need your help, God.”
My question for you this morning is…Where is Jesus confronting you? As we read that text, where did you shift in your chair and get uncomfortable? Where do you want to avoid the teaching of Jesus? Is it anger, lust, dishonesty, retaliation, vindictive heart, hatred? Will you just do this for me? Will you meet Jesus there? Will you ask him, “Be my teacher. Help me”? He confronts you, but he forgives you. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but he also wants to transform you.
Would you ask him in this moment by the power of the Holy Spirit to transform your hearts from following the external standard of the law to following the internal standard of Christ? Legalism is broken, and licentiousness is broken. What is not broken? Spiritual transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is your only hope today.
Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to pray. As we pray, I want you to consider where Jesus is confronting you. Be reminded that’s where he is forgiving you, and ask him to transform you, because that’s what he does. Let’s pray.
To you, Father, and to the Son and to the Spirit, we offer all honor, glory, and praise. Christ, this morning we know you are seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us as our Great High Priest, intimately aware of our darkness, our sickness. Some of us have come to play a religious game this morning, yet you have confronted us in our sin. Would you please by the power of your Holy Spirit help the scales to fall off of our eyes, our hearts of stone to be made hearts of flesh? Would you remind us that in you we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins?
We also need you to do a miracle this morning. We are now intimately aware of the darkness of our hearts, and we ask you by the power of the Holy Spirit, would you break addictions? Would you break chains? Would you break the bondage we live in so frequently? By the power of the Holy Spirit, would you help us pursue righteousness? It’s in your beautiful and matchless name we pray, amen.