The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost July 8, 2007
27, 383(1-4), 779 [TLH 32], 370(1,4)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
In Christ Jesus through whom we have true repentance, dear fellow-redeemed:
Today we are going to address the subject of repentance. Among other things, repentance includes the acknowledgement of sin and the confession of it. To determine what is or is not sin we need to know God’s Law. God’s Law is summarized for us in the Ten Commandments. So, let’s review the Ten Commandments by going through them together. Please join me…
Thou shalt have no other gods.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.
Thou shalt not kill (“murder” specifically)
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbors.
That is the Law of God. That is His declaration of what is right and wrong. Those words are relatively well-known by many people. Unfortunately, because they only go as far as knowing the words, the true nature of sin is not fully understood. We can go through the commandments and conclude: “I have never committed adultery against my wife through an affair. I have never murdered anyone. I haven’t stolen anything that I can recall—at least not of value…” and right down the line of all the commandments. But for repentance to be real, we need to understand the real desire of God and take a true, deep, honest look at our lives compared to His Law.
Today, we will do that as well as find a solution for our sin as we consider the necessity and blessing that we LIVE WITH ONGOING REPENTANCE. That repentance begins when we I. Recognize and confess all sins, then II. Trust in Christ for forgiveness, and finally III. Cut off whatever tempts.
In the words we have read from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus draws our attention to two specific commandments—the fifth and the sixth. Jesus teaches us that God’s desire goes beyond the superficial. What Jesus says about the sins of the heart against the fifth and sixth commandments also applies to every one of the commandments.
Why did Jesus choose to highlight these two commandments? We can’t say for sure, but it may well have been because these sins were as common in His day as they are in ours; and it may also have been because these two commandments are two which are most easily dismissed by looking only at the obvious and extreme sins against them. Jesus does not want us to dismiss these or any of the commandments by simply saying, “I don’t do those big sins.” He wants us to get down to the heart of His Word and to apply that Word to the heart of our lives.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’” [v.21] This is the basic commandment. The righteousness and law-abiding nature of the Scribes and Pharisees would have just included this: do not murder someone. Jesus acknowledged that this is the long-standing Law of old. It had been taught since Mount Sinai and was nothing new.
Jesus went on: “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” [v.22] Now Jesus starts to hit a little closer to home. Whoever is angry without cause is in danger of the judgment. Jesus is saying that when anger is present in the heart, there is already guilt and sin against the fifth commandment.
Anger differs from outright murder in many ways. One is that anger can just be brooding in the heart and virtually invisible. Someone may be very skilled at hiding anger, you might never know that it is there, but the sin is still living and doing well in the heart. Anger is always known to God who sees and knows the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7, et. al.).
Jesus spoke of anger that is “without cause.” Our sinful flesh might look at these words of Jesus as a shelter for all kinds of anger: “I never become angry without some reason!” But when Jesus says, “He who is angry without cause…” He is not excusing sin. Rather, He is making a contrast between sinful anger and anger that comes from righteous reasons—reasons that are in accord with God’s Word.
Most of our anger comes from a selfishness, and all of our anger can turn into selfishness. Our anger usually arises because someone has “done me wrong” and it’s largely rooted in what it means to me. If I become angry out of selfishness that is not “with cause” and that is not a righteous anger.
Jesus was angry when He cast out the money-changers in the temple (cf. Matthew 21:12ff, et. al.). He was very angry, but it was not because of Him. It wasn’t because He said, “I don’t like you!” His anger was for the glory of His heavenly Father and for the purpose of the temple. It was an anger that grew out love for God and His Word and proper worship of Him.
God says in Ephesians, “Be angry, and do not sin” but He adds, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath,” (Ephesians 4:26). As sinners it is very difficult for us to pursue an anger that will stay on the holy side of what anger is—an anger that is not acting the least bit selfishly and comes out of love for God and our fellow man. Too easily and far too often we are on the other side because of selfishness in us. In James, God says, “…the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Jesus continued: “And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.” [v.22] Raca is an Aramaic expression about which there is little agreement as to its exact literal meaning. Essentially, it is an expression that we might use like, “Aw… get outta here, you’re being silly,” or “ahh…you’re just being dumb about that! You’re stupid.” Jesus says if someone questions someone’s intellect, and abuses him with words, such an individual will be in danger of the Council. The Council to which Jesus refers is the Senhedrin.
Jesus began by speaking about anger in the heart, then words, and finally He said: “But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of Hell fire.” [v.22] “You fool” is what Jesus uses as one step short of physical harm against someone. It is in the sense of saying, “You fool—totally, utterly, contemptible person! I hate you, get out of my sight you worthless, brainless, idiot!” That too is breaking the fifth commandment and is indeed worthy of judgment.
The apostle James was inspired to write: “…each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). From the hidden anger of the heart to the relatively mild words of the mouth, to utter contempt and hatred, and perhaps to the extreme of physical harm or even murder…ALL of these are sin. ALL break the command of God.
Jesus continues in verse 23, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” [v.23] When we have something against someone else or he has something against us—when there is bitterness and a rift exists, Jesus says to take care of it right away. Don’t harbor the sin. Don’t harbor the ill will and whatever conflicts against the fifth commandment. Rather, take care of it and then come and worship with a clean conscience.
When we come to worship we’re coming to repent, to seek forgiveness, to know that we are cleansed and pure and right with God. But we aren’t cleansed and pure and right with God if we are harboring sin, holding something against our brother, or doing something that causes him to hold something against us. First, take care of whatever stands between you, reconcile, and then come to seek forgiveness and a cleansing word from our Lord.
Next, Jesus gave some very practical advice: “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” [vv.24-25] Jesus’ practical advice is to solve your problems quickly before they grow into something bigger that will be even more difficult to resolve. This is very practical advice for life in this earth, but it also holds very important spiritual counsel because now is the accepted time. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Seek Him now before the night comes when it will be too late.
It is not wise, in fact it is sinful, to harbor sin and allow it to grow whether anyone else knows about it or not. We need to understand and recognize all of those pieces of our sinful lives and not just brush them off because we are not guilty of the big and obvious sins. All the way from the big and obvious sins to the little hidden ones of the heart, they are obstacles between us and our God. Confessing all of these sins is part of a godly repentance.
Sins may come from our tongues. “…the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Sin may be from our emotions. “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
As if that weren’t enough, we also break the fifth commandment when we do not love one another as fully as we might. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “…all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). What Peter describes is a full love toward others—showing an abundant love and compassion to one another. We do not fully attain this love and thus we fail in keeping God’s command.
Jesus also turned His attention to the Sixth Commandment: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” [vv.27-28]. A simple look to someone other than one’s spouse that somehow satisfies a sexual desire, that brings to mind a sexual thought, or any lust whatsoever is a sin. Jesus said that such “hidden” lust is as much a sin against the sixth commandment as going out and having an adulterous affair or pre-marital sexual relations. Just like the fifth commandment, the sixth commandment is also pinpointed to our hearts and to the things that perhaps no one else sees or knows. It exposes a depth of sin that is not so easily apparent.
Job once said: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1). Our eyes can go anywhere and find all sorts of reasons for lust. Society wants our eyes to go there because that’s what it uses to advertise and sell products. But the appeal to lust which the advertising community uses is the very same thing the Devil is using to try to get our souls pulled further into sin. Be not deceived! Our sin goes beyond the obvious breaking of the commandments. It includes the internal, the hidden sins of the heart. A godly repentance also goes beyond the external. It goes to the core and recognizes all of our sins and confesses them with sorrow and humility.
At this point, we have a pretty bleak picture. We are pretty beaten down if we take a look at all ten of the commandments which we recited and apply them to the deepest parts of our hearts, our thoughts, and our words. Who can deliver us from such death? Our Savior, Jesus can and does!
We have an abundant forgiveness through the grace of God. In the Old Testament reading we heard from the psalmist, King David: “As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far God has removed our sins from us” (cf. Psalm 103:12). All of the hideous wickedness that is in our minds and hearts is gone, released, set free and removed from us forever because of Jesus our Savior.
We will not find the solution for our sin from a self-help book in a library or on a bookstore shelf. We will not find the solution for our sin by digging deeper into our selves because our selves are already sinful. We will not find help for our sin anywhere but through Jesus. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
For this reason, when John the Baptizer came preaching repentance to the people and exposing their sins, he also said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Therein lies our salvation. What joy, what great thanksgiving we can have filling our hearts because we know that Jesus came and died for our sins. It’s an established fact: Jesus forgives your sin! And that forgiveness flows to you richly and daily through the faith which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains in your heart.
With sins forgiven but also with the recognition of our remaining sinfulness, the response of repentance is to cut off whatever tempts us. When John the Baptizer preached repentance, the people’s hearts were cut by the Law of God. They came to John and asked: “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10). John spoke to them, telling them to bear fruits of repentance. If you’ve stolen, don’t steal anymore and pay back what you are able. If you have been abusing someone physically or verbally, stop doing that and show kindness and love. The response to salvation is to act and live for Christ rather than for our selves. This is a fruit of repentance.
Fruits of repentance also includes staying away from what is tempting and not continuing to run back to it. Jesus said: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” [vv.29-30]
Jesus said if your right eye is setting a trap for your soul—by what it looks at, what it does—cut if off! Jesus is not suggesting self-mutilation, but stop looking! Stop looking at what is tempting and if it means relocating to a different place or finding a different source of entertainment, or a different set of friends, do it! As hard as it may be to imagine not doing what we are doing, if what we are doing is setting a trap for our soul, then cut it off! There is nothing that is worth losing our soul. Move on, get away. It is a fruit of repentance to no longer dabble in the things we know to be harmful for our souls.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Run away as fast as you can from whatever is tempting—stop looking, stop doing, do whatever it takes, get away. Run with your fellow believers headlong and with great speed to your Savior, to His Word, to the encouragement, to the promise that your sins are forgiven and there find strength and joy with what is God-pleasing.
Repentance is recognizing our sins, confessing them, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, and bearing the fruits of repentance—staying away from sin and running away from temptation. This is an ongoing cycle in our lives. There is not one of us who can say, “OK, I’ve repented, now I’m good.” Sin comes and we do fall into temptation and we start over again with repentance.
The ongoing cycle of repentance, unfortunately, means we are continuing to sin. But it also provides great joy because the Father continually opens His arms to receive us in our repentance and He does indeed wash our sins completely away.
Live with ongoing repentance, trusting completely in the grace of Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.