Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Epiphany (February 9, 2020)

MATTHEW 5:13-20


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Apostle Paul gave a stark warning about the direction the world will be going as it winds down to its end.  He wrote: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)  In other words, the world is not going to get better.  Technology may improve.  Creature comforts may become more comfortable.  But the sinful nature in mankind will assert itself more selfishly, brashly, and violently.
     Even though the world will become a darker place and people will fight against God's word more openly,  Jesus expects you to be holy.  Jesus reminds you what your place in this world is.  He was speaking to his disciples when he said, “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13,14)  You are Jesus' disciples, which means you are followers of his teachings.  Jesus' teachings are not just words to be believed, they are also words which guide our lives.  If we follow the words of Jesus instead of the world's attitudes and actions, we cannot help but stand out.  Our actions will be noticeably different, and the world will be convicted by them.
     Jesus expects you to be holy.  He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)  We mainly use salt to season our food.  But in the days before refrigeration and deep freezers, salt was mainly a preservative.  If you did not want your meat to become rancid, you packed it in salt.  As the salt of the earth, you preserve the world from greater evil.  Our society is casting off civility; just look at social media.  It is abandoning decency; just watch a TV show.  It is abandoning chastity; just have a college age student say that he is saving himself for marriage and wait for people to stare at him with disbelief and disgust.  Vices are celebrated, and whoever does not join in with the celebration is despised.  But you don't have to join in with the world and its evils.  You are the salt of the earth.  By faithfully following Jesus' teachings, you preserve the world from becoming more wicked more quickly.
     Jesus expects you to be holy.  He said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)  By following Jesus' teachings, you also reflect his goodness.  That means more than loving people you get along with.  It means loving your enemies.  It means doing good to those who hate you.  It means forgiving people who sin against you.  It means caring for people who don't care.  And it means that you are not doing these things for your own gain or glory.  Jesus reminds you where the glory goes: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  Such selfless love cannot help but stand out in a dark world—like a light shining in a dark place.
     Jesus expects you to be holy.  “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13,14)  But that doesn't mean it is easy.  You see people who despise Jesus, the Church, and God's word, and they do not seem to suffer any the worse for it.  It makes you wonder why you have to bear a cross when others seem to have no burdens.  But here our Lord offers a word of warning: “If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.” (Matthew 5:13)  We might hear the world applaud if we give way to its ways, but at what cost?  If we are no longer salt, we have lost the value that God gives us.  If we hide our light, it is because we want the praise of the world more than the favor of our Lord.  If we no longer fight against the tide of this sinful world, we will be swept away with it.  Beware.  Keep watch.  Jesus expects you to be holy; for only that which is holy can dwell in the heavenly kingdom.
     Jesus told his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)  Now, you don't know any Pharisees and you have never met any scribes.  In Jesus' day they were people of the highest moral standards.  Parents would point their children to them as examples of virtue.  And yet, Jesus said you have to be better than that.  Morals do not save you.  Decency, civility, modesty, and chastity are noble traits to have, but they do not save you.  If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, then you must be better.  Jesus does not say, “Be nice” or “Behave.”  He said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)  Unless you do that, “you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)  There are no exceptions to this.  That is why you need a Savior.
     When Jesus came to save, he did not do so by softening the demands of the Law.  He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” (Matthew 5:17)  Jesus does not say, “Your sins really are not that bad.  Don't worry about them.”  They are bad.  That's why you need a Savior.  Nor does Jesus say, “God is good.  He's not really that serious about his Commandments.”  God is serious about his word.  He does not relax his standards.  Jesus expects you to be holy.  That's why you need a Savior. 
     Many Christian churches try to open the gates of heaven wider by telling people that their sins are no longer evil.  They try to comfort sinners by saying that God did not mean what he said.  No one is called to repent except for making people feel bad.  But this is what the Lord says, “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.” (Matthew 5:19)  Jesus has not changed the Commandments.  He has not edited his standards.  Jesus expects you to be holy.  To say otherwise is to call God a liar.
     But here is what Jesus does do: He fulfills the Law for you.  He stands in your place under the Commandments to do what you and I have not.  Jesus gives perfect obedience to the Commandments.  That means he not only loves his disciples, he also loves his enemies.  That means Jesus has compassion on people who cared about getting healed but not about God's promises.  That means Jesus blessed those who cursed him and even prayed for people as they were nailing him to the cross.  His love, his faithfulness, and his obedience did not waver.  He fulfilled the Law by keeping it.  And he did it for you, in your place, and for your good.
     What's more, Jesus also took your place under the Law in regard to your sins.  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)  Jesus substituted his obedience for our sins.  He shed innocent blood to atone for our guilt.  He accepted the curse of God so that we should be pardoned of every offense.  Jesus has fulfilled the Law of God, and he did it for you, in your place, and for your good.
     Jesus expects you to be holy, and to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to be.  But the very holiness you need to enter heaven, Jesus supplies to you.  He grants you the honesty to confess, “I have not done the good I should have done.  But I have a Savior who has, and he answers for me.  He has made himself my sin and has made me his righteousness.  For being baptized in Christ, I am now clothed with Christ.  And if Christ covers me, then I am blameless before God.  Jesus expects me to be holy because that is the status he has given to me.”
     Jesus expects you to be holy.  And since Christ covers you, you cannot help but be a light to the world and reflect to others the mercy that Jesus has had upon you.  And since Christ dwells in you, you cannot help but be the salt of the earth, holding to a godly life despite all the wickedness that surrounds you.  You have been set apart by God to be his saints.  And finally, that is what it means to be holy—to be set apart by God for his purpose.  You are set apart from sin, from death, and from the devil.  You are set apart to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  If you don't feel like you are having as great an effect at preserving the world from evil, or if you feel that your light does not shine as brightly as it should, know that you are not saved because your performance was holy enough.  This is why you have a Savior.  Jesus is the source of your forgiveness, your righteousness, and your salvation.  Jesus expects you to be holy, as well he should—for that is how he presents you to your heavenly Father, and that is why you are saved.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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