Be Reconciled (Matthew 5)

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Service Notes

Sixth Sunday after Trinity + July 8, 2018
  • Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
  • Hymns: LSB #563, 562, HYLS #10

Theme Verse

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. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Sermon Text

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus connects the Third and Fifth Commandments. In this connection, Jesus places fulfillment of the Fifth Commandment as a basis for the fulfillment of the Third Commandment.

The Fifth Commandment teaches us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” We understand this to mean that we need to be there for our neighbors in their time of need.

The Third Commandment teaches us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” We understand this to mean that we need to be in worship, but Jesus tells His disciples that it's sometimes more necessary not to be in worship!

How can we have such a Word from our Lord when we're so worried about how many people are in worship today? Jesus speaks this Word in His Sermon on the Mount as He begins strengthening man's understanding of God's Law. He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”[1] He strengthens the Law because man has weakened it to suit his weakened, sinful nature. Jesus doesn't desire worship in this weakened, sinful state. He desires worship “in Spirit and truth.”[2] These are the two pillars for proper worship of our God.

Jesus encourages us to worship in Spirit. This was first said to the Samaritan woman at the well. It is put into proper context in Jesus' explanation of the Fifth Commandment. As we walk down the list of commandments, which we have already heard from Moses' lips, we see that breaking the later commandments keep us from being able to keep the earlier commandments. In this case, breaking the Fifth keeps us from being able to keep the Third. St. James states it this way: “Whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”[3]

As Jesus speaks about the Fifth Commandment, He talks about hatred and contempt as the same as murder. In our own judicial system, the definition of hate crimes is always being modified, but contempt, hatred and murder are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. In our minds, contempt is a minor irritation. Simply saying, “You fool!” as Jesus puts it.[4] Contempt is something that we're taught to let roll off our backs. Being insulted is something where we shouldn't give a second thought. It's part of daily life. Everyone gives a different reason we don't get along with others.

But Jesus puts up contempt as a violation of the commandment against murder. In our legalistic society, we often separate murder into degrees dependent on premeditation or intent. Sometimes it's even dropped to a level of manslaughter, which is typically defended as being in the heat of the moment or without intent. Jesus levels the playing field by making all these things equal. No degrees to seek justification for your actions or a lighter penalty. Anything that deals with sinful dislike is murder in God's eyes.

How does this relate to worship? Why would this be a moment for Jesus to say not to worship? Don't we come to worship because we're poor, miserable sinners?[5] Yes, we are here because we're sinners, but Jesus begins this section, saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”[6]

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”[7] We must seek reconciliation with each other just as we seek reconciliation with God. This is the point behind our greeting each other at the beginning of the worship service. We greet each other in the peace of the Lord so that we may properly worship. So that we may celebrate our peace with Him by proclaiming our peace with one another.

But listen to Jesus' words again: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you.”[8] A Christian doesn't wait for the offending brother to come and repent. A Christian goes out to forgive the offending brother. Christians go out from this place to spread the great message that they have received here. This is the point of the closing hymn in our service. It's a sending hymn. Sending us out into the world to joyfully proclaim this forgiveness to others.

We go out with speed and joy because it is a wonderful message. All sins are freely forgiven in Jesus. But Jesus didn't wait for everyone to repent before He died on the cross. He didn't even wait for Adam and Eve to repent before promising forgiveness to the whole world.[9] Jesus has always proclaimed the forgiveness of sins. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”[10] Holy and blameless. Forgiven of every sin. Before He created the world. But it did not take effect until He died on the cross. Until those marvelous words sprang from His lips, “It is finished!”[11]

Because it is finished, we go out to proclaim God's forgiveness. Forgiveness He gives to those who believe in Him. As God often calls us to imitate Him,[12] we go out and forgive those who have sinned against us. We pray this every time we pray the Lord's Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”[13]

Forgiveness is a gift to be shared. We aren't to hoard it in our hearts. It should overflow our hearts and go into our neighbors. It has been freely given to us. We need to freely give. God has not given us anything to keep to ourselves. Everything has been given so that we might be like all creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”[14] This is our job as His creatures. To freely and lavishly forgive as we have been freely and lavishly forgiven. As we sang to begin our worship, “Lord, I believe were sinners more than sands upon the ocean shore, Thou hast for all a ransom paid, for all a full atonement made.”[15] No one is outside Jesus' ransom. Outside His atonement. Unless they have not heard.

This is one of our biggest problems. We begrudge others in the most petty of things. Our memories of wrongs done against us plagues us. Even in our worship. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember ...” We don't forget about those who have wronged us when we step through the doors to this place. We are still plagued with our problems here.

We sometimes don't remember what we had for lunch yesterday, but what happened to us decades ago is still vivid in our minds. We don't easily forgive those who have wronged us. Even when we have verbally forgiven them, we don't always follow our words with the appropriate actions. We don't truly reconcile. We just cover it over and try to pretend it never existed. But it doesn't stay covered.

It comes back to the surface because everyone is sinful. Everyone needs the chance to repent and receive the forgiveness of their sins. Even if it's the umpteenth time they have sinned against us. Jesus commands us to forgive every time they sin.[16] “No one is good except God alone.”[17] Only God is good. He is the only true source for forgiveness. Therefore we come before His altar to find forgiveness. Only here are we able to receive the great blessings that He wishes to dispense. This is what we hear in the Baptism liturgy: “We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”[18] We celebrate this union together as we sing the second verse of the New Testament Canticle from the Service of Prayer & Preaching: “Dying, Christ dies to sin, once for all. Living, He lives to God. Count yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”[19]

All these blessings come to us in the Church's liturgy. Another of God's great gifts that He offers to us so that we may properly speak to Him. These words, whose structure has been passed on from one generation to the next for thousands of years, remind us of our need and gives us the comfort of His promise. His promise of reconciliation.

Since He has reconciled you, you seek to be reconciled with everyone else. Reconciliation only comes through forgiveness. Forgiveness given to you. Forgiveness you give to those who trespass against you.[20] Forgiveness that the scribes and Pharisees didn't have. Didn't give. Their righteousness was their own creation. They refused to forgive those who didn't measure up to their self-righteous standards. They didn't forgive because they didn't need forgiveness for themselves. They had no need to reconcile with anyone. They were the ones who you need to be reconciled with. You need their forgiveness. Forgiveness they will never give you.

But your righteousness comes from Jesus. His forgiveness of all your sins. “Your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.”[21] Your righteousness has reconciled you to Jesus. He has united you with Him in His death and resurrection.[22] He has opened Heaven's door so that you might enter. You will enter those pearly gates instead of the scribes and Pharisees. They will be left outside in their hypocrisy.[23] You will be inside because He is your righteousness.

Reconciled, you may come to worship Christ in Spirit and truth. You may offer your gifts at the Lord's altar without fear of being rebuked for it. Reconciled, you may stand here, in the presence of Almighty God, and rejoice in His forgiveness. You may enter because He ahs declared you innocent of all your sin, even your “hidden faults.”[24] So He commands you, “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”[25] Amen.

References

  1. Matthew 5:20
  2. John 4:24
  3. James 2:10 NASB
  4. Matthew 5:22
  5. LSB p. 151
  6. Matthew 5:20
  7. Matthew 5:23-24
  8. Matthew 5:23
  9. Genesis 3:15
  10. Ephesians 1:4
  11. John 19:30
  12. 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 3:7-9; Hebrews 6:12; 13:7; 3 John 11
  13. Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4
  14. Psalm 19:1
  15. LSB #563.2
  16. Matthew 18:21-22
  17. Mark 10:17-18
  18. Romans 6:4-5
  19. LSB p. 267; Romans 6:9-11
  20. Matthew 6:12
  21. Matthew 5:20
  22. Romans 6:5
  23. Matthew 23
  24. Psalm 19:12
  25. Matthew 5:24