When I was in college I got a speeding ticket. Actually I’m sure I got more than one speeding ticket when I was in college. But I remember one in particular.
My wife Jennifer and I were on our way to a concert in Wisconsin, and had gotten off the 65 mile-an-hour highway onto a 55 mile-an-hour highway. But, I didn’t realize the speed limit had changed.
So here I was going about 5 miles an hour over what I THOUGHT was the speed limit, putting me at 70 in a 55. I was pulled over and I got a ticket.
Of course, I was upset. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to have to waste my money on paying a ticket. I figured, this just isn’t fair.
I didn’t know that I was in a 55 zone. I thought that I was in a 65 zone. If the speed limit was 65 I would only have been 5 mph over and the cop never would have ticketed me! Besides, I had only been on the road for a few minutes, there probably hadn’t even been a sign to tell me the speed limit had changed!
I convinced myself that I should contest the ticket.
Thankfully I didn’t carry through on contesting the ticket. When I had time to cool down and think about things, I realized that I could convince myself it wasn’t my fault. But I was going to have a hard time convincing anyone else, and there’s no way I’d be able to convince a judge. I was speeding.
Proverbs 12, verse 15 says:
“The way of a fool seems right to him,
but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15 NIV).
Today our sermon is all about getting right with God. It’s easy to rationalize our own actions and put a good spin on them. We might even be able to convince other people that it’s not our fault. But what really matters is getting right with God.
In the part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we’re going to look at this week, Jesus explains that you can’t get right with God by dismissing God’s Law. You must understand what God’s standards really are. And you better get right with God before the court of the Almighty is in session.
If you’re following along in your own Bible, turn to Matthew 5, verse 17. You can also follow along in the bulletin. This section is marked as the sermon text.
Here Jesus says,
“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. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20 NIV).
Here, Jesus tells the people that He hasn’t come to “ABOLISH”, that is, to veto, or dismiss the commands of God. He has come to FULFILL them.
The word that Jesus uses for “abolish” is “kata-loo-oh”. It’s made from joining two Greek words, “kata” meaning “down”, and “loo-oh” meaning “to loosen, or destroy”.
Jesus is saying that He’s not there to “loosen down” the commandments so they could keep them. He’s not there to wiggle out and throw away some book of the Bible.
Jesus says, “If you think I’ve come to tell you that you can dismiss what the Old Testament Bible says, you’re wrong. The Word of God is the WORD OF GOD and stands firm forever. I have come to FULFILL that Word”.
Now that word for “fulfill” is very important to our understanding. In the Greek it is “play-ro-oh”. It means to “fill full”. And it basically had two meanings: 1) to do a thing, or 2) to explain fully what a thing meant.
When it came to God’s Law, Jesus did both. Jesus DID the Law of God perfectly. Never broke a single commandment from the Father. And, in this section Jesus begins to explain fully what God’s Law meant.
Look at verse 21. Jesus says,
“21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22 NIV).
Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you.” We’re going to hear this phrase a lot as we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus is saying is this, “Your religious teachers have taught this, but here’s what God’s Word really means”.
The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees had a shallow understanding of God’s Law. They had dumbed it down so they could keep it.
If this cup (hold up a cup with a “5” on it) is the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder”, the Pharisees only understood to here (2 oz).
They figured that they had kept the fifth commandment as long as they hadn’t actually taken anyone’s life. But Jesus says, “That’s just the beginning”. Jesus is going to fill this commandment up for the people and explain how far it actually goes.
If you are angry with your brother, you are in danger of judgment (4oz).
If you insult a person because you’re angry with them, you’re in danger of judgment (6oz).
And not only are you in danger of man’s judgment if you do these things, you are in danger of God’s judgment and the fires of hell (8oz).
Now, we’re not talking about “righteous anger”. Being angry because something is being done that is morally wrong, that is righteous anger. The feeling you get when you see pictures of aborted babies is righteous anger. The feeling you get when you see a bully picking on someone else is righteous anger. We’re not talking about that. Here we’re talking about sinful anger. Anger that might reveal itself with a bad word or two directed at the person you’re angry at. Anger that might be held onto in the form of a grudge.
The apostle John understood what Jesus was saying. If you have your Bible handy, turn to 1 John 3, verse 15. Years after John heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount, John wrote this in his first letter,
“15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15 NIV).
Ever call someone a bad name in anger? Maybe not “raca”, but the English equivalent? “Raca” was an Aramaic word that meant, “Empty head”. Kinda like our “moron”. Idiot. Retard. Ever call someone a name like that? Maybe not to their face, but to someone else? Jesus says that you have committed murder.
Turn to Ephesians 4, verse 26.
“26’In your anger do not sin’ : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV).
Ever been angry with a person longer than “righteous anger” allows? You’ve committed murder. You’re in danger of hell.
Is there anyone among us who could truthfully say they’ve never done these things? Never been angry with someone? Never gone to bed still mad at someone? We’re all murderers in the judgment of the Holy God. We’re all in danger of the fires of hell.
This is what matters to God. He’s not just concerned with blood on our hands. He’s sees the blood on our hearts.
This is God’s standard: A pure heart. That’s why Jesus could say, the people had to have a greater righteousness than the Pharisees to enter heaven.
The Pharisees thought that all God expected concerning the 5th commandment was that they not slit any throats. They figured that they were already righteousness in the eyes of God when it came to the 5th commandment.
Jesus blew that idea away.
When Jesus condemned the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, He threw a bombshell that rocked the people who heard Him. The Scribes and the Pharisees were considered the best followers of God! The holiest keepers of the Law. But Jesus says, “Nope, they’re only righteous in the eyes of men. In the eyes of God they’re only fit for hell.”
The Scribes and Pharisees had forgotten what was really important to God, if they ever knew at all. You ever been around someone who just doesn’t get it? Someone who is missing the point?
At our house we try to practice good hygiene. We take showers, comb our hair, brush our teeth. And of course we teach our children to do the same. But, sometimes children forget the point.
Parent: Go brush your teeth.
Parent: You’re back already? That was like 30 seconds. Did you actually brush your teeth?
Child: (whining) Yes!
Parent: Each one once? Go brush your teeth again! And this time, brush them until they are CLEAN.
If you think brushing your teeth means merely making contact with the toothbrush for any amount of time, you’re missing the point of brushing your teeth.
The Scribes and Pharisees were missing the point when it came to worship. And because they were teaching the people, the people were also missing the point when it came to worship.
What matters to God when it comes to worship? What is true worship in the eyes of God?
Jesus seeks to show us in Matthew 5, verse 23.
“23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV).
Jesus was talking to people in Galilee. The Temple, the ONLY place where sacrifices to Jehovah were made, was in Jerusalem. That was over sixty miles to the south. If you walked maybe you could make it in three days.
Sacrifices were one of the central features of worship in the Old Testament. Sacrifices were important to bring to God’s Temple.
Jesus says, that it’s more important to God that you drop your sacrifice, travel three days back home, ask for forgiveness from they person you sinned against, do whatever needs to be done to set things right with them, and THEN come back and finish the sacrifice to God.
Formal worship had value. Offering sacrifices in the ways that God had told Moses to offer them was important to God. But dedication to God expressed in diligently living out His ideas and thoughts, that had more worship value than all the formality, sacrifice and song that happened at the Temple (see also Mark 12:28-34).
This is what matters to God. Sometimes you may find it necessary to leave church early, so that you can truly worship. Don’t delay in setting things right with those you’ve sinned against. There may not be much time left.
Look at verse 25. To close His words about murder, and hatred, and judgment, Jesus says…
“25“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26 NIV).
What does this have to do with getting right before God? Jesus is simply using an common occurrence to illustrate a spiritual truth.
If you have committed a crime and you’re headed for court, you better settle before you reach the judge. You won’t get any mercy there.
All sinners are on the road to God’s Courthouse, and all sinners will be judged with no partiality before the Holy God. Jesus is saying, “You better get matters settled before you get there. While there is still time to escape your just punishment.”
So how do we do it? How do we get right with God before we’re judged by Him?
Turn to 2 Corinthians 5, verse 21. There the apostle Paul explains how murderers and sinners can get right with God before they die.
“21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
Jesus says to “settle matters quickly” with our adversary who is taking us to court. He Himself is our defense. He is our “Matter Settler”.
We are sinners, He was not. We are guilty of sinful anger, He was not. We have murdered, He was murdered. Crucified in our place so that we are forgiven all our sins.
On the cross, Jesus paid off our sin debt with His suffering. He paid off our sin debt to the last penny. Jesus Christ has made us right with God. Jesus Christ has made us the righteousness of God.
No longer are you in danger of judgment. No longer are you in danger of the fires of Hell. You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.
Don’t use this great news as support for your sins. Instead use the forgiveness Christ gives to you as ammunition against anger. As a shield against despair. As fuel for a glad heart.
Any sin that we commit, we can either justify, or we can let Christ justify it. We can say, “Oh, it’s not my fault, I’m not accountable, she made me do it, he made me do it, the devil made me do it, blah, blah, blah.” OR we can say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive me because of Jesus.”
We can declare ourselves righteous to ourselves, or Christ can declare us righteous before God. But only if Christ is our righteousness will that righteousness surpass that of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Only if the Son of God is our righteousness will our righteousness give us entrance into God’s House.
Jesus is our Savior. In Him we are righteous. Trust in Him. Amen.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.