“Are you listening? Answer the question: Did you pay rent?” The defendant, Duane Brooks Jr., admitted to receiving $437 each month from County Aid for rent money.
So, the judge asks: “Did you pay rent?”
“Why not? You received money specifically given to cover rent.”
“Because I spent the money on myself.”
“But the money is meant for your rent. If you spend the money on yourself, you are stealing.”
“But I’m not stealing anything. I just don’t spend the rent money on rent.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4q_Ozl3JaA)
Judge Judy spent five-minutes explaining how money set aside for a specific need must target only that need. Duane studies her words, nods in agreement, and even says: ‘Yes.’ He comprehends the money must be used on rent, but does not wish to spend it on rent. He already has his mind made up as to how he wants to live. He plans putting his desires into action. Since that is what he wants, does that make his actions right?
Do you hold the right to make the Law conform to your standards? Jesus takes up that issue. He God’s standards: ‘You have heard!’ but then exposes the lies about God’s commands. Pay attention to the Savior speaking. He addresses God’s standard, not to lower it, but to raise it in our hearts. Are You Listening?
You know what that means, right? To listen? ‘Listening’ involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus speaks intentions. He touches on familiar teachings, teachings you and I and many have heard. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’… It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’… 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’… God chiseled those commands into stone. He holds every single heart to that standard.
Jesus’ words stand out because many did not meet that standard. Over the centuries many lied about God’s commands. The religious Pharisee honestly claimed to have perfectly obeyed the Fifth Commandment; he never ended life. The priest (with a straight face) could profess to have kept the Sixth Commandment; he never had an affair. Some flaunt their legally acceptable divorce papers. Others cover up lies with swearing, but stand proud for not mentioning God’s name.
Do you see what is happening? No one can reach God’s high standard. So, in order to meet God’s expectations, hearts redefine what God expects.
You might have heard ‘Do not murder,’ but many prod you to hate. Hate the Arabic race because of past violence. Resent dad for his stubborn arguments. Gripe that your daughter never calls enough. You can hate, just as long as you do not physically harm someone. But I [Jesus] 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. Society might tolerate grudges, but hatred kills a person in the heart. Hatred wishes evil on individual life and wellbeing.
You might have heard ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but society almost fuels lust. Stare at pornography because it only involves you. Imagine life with another spouse just as long as you do not touch. But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This is not attraction that leads to a first date. God commands marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Fantasizing wishes to act out with someone not your spouse.
Yes, divorce might be legal. Your government allows you to end marriage because you crave someone more attractive (or friendly). You can end your marriage because you cannot agree about spending money. You can end your marriage by having an affair. A judge might not hold you accountable, But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Swearing calls God as a witness. It asks God to stand beside you and declare that you are telling the truth. Yes, *everyone* in the world might swear, But I [Jesus] 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.
Are You Listening? Jesus does not condemn action only. He cuts to the heart. The heart creates thoughts, thoughts produce actions. Actions happen because of what your heart wants.
Yes, humanity might assume the right to force God’s commands to conform to the heart. But human opinions mean nothing to God. You cannot tell God: ‘Well, my husband deserves my anger.’ You cannot justify your fling, ‘She flirted first. He made me feel wanted.’ No, swearing is not acceptable because ‘everyone does it’ or because ‘it spices up sentences.’ The great King sets the bar: Be perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). He does not lower the bar because everyone falls short (Romans 3:23). You cannot actually change what God expects. You will only follow a belief not true. You will believe a lie.
That is why Jesus takes the time to preach. His words penetrate the heart, exposing every single lie— including the lie that we are good enough for God. He wants us to hear the lies about God’s commandments so that we can pay attention to the Savior speaking.
Think about that for a moment. Here sits Jesus, the long-promised Son from heaven. Why? Why is he here? If you could meet God’s expectations, then you have no need for Jesus. You can save yourself! The simple fact that Jesus sits here is proof that something is terribly wrong with us.
Jesus points at God’s high bar: Do not hate. Do not lust. Do not wish for divorce. Do not swear. Yes, his words hammer home that you (and I) do not have that crystal-clear pure heart.
That realization means to realize something else, something greater: That Jesus has such a heart. No lust, no fantasy. He encourages the married to forgive and those in relationships to marry (John 8:11). He speaks truth, he never has to convince others that he’s not lying. Even when men reject his truth, even when his truth puts him on death row, he keeps telling God’s truth.
I mean, even on the cross he forgives those who crucify him, he never rains down revenge. God did not so hate the world that he withheld his one and only Son so that every smug soul can be condemned to hell. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Jesus so loved the world that he laid down his life (John 15:13). God so loved Jesus’ life that he raises him from death.
Pay attention to the Savior speaking. Listen to these commands. Listen, because Jesus speaks to you. This is what he has done for you and worked in you. ‘I do not hate you. I am reconciled with you.’ ‘I have purified your impurity.’ ‘I will not divorce you, I will not mock your name and reputation.’ In your spiritual record-book is written in big, red letters: ‘PERFECT.’ Jesus has lived the life you (and I) have not. He has made you (and me) what we were not. He lifts us up to God’s standard! That means, I have nothing to prove to God. I have nothing to earn. I already have God’s forgiveness! So now what?
In his sermon Jesus reveals the life he intends for us. He sets us free from condemnation, and says, ‘This is how people set free from condemnation live!’
[I]f 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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Hatred can kill me! Pride refuses from admitting fault. Pride wants me to sit dominant over others. That hatred can fester in my heart that I refuse to forgive, and the less I forgive, the less I appreciate God’s forgiveness.
So Jesus says, ‘Reconcile.’ Work things out so that hatred does not gain a foothold in your heart and eat away at your soul. Apologize. Hold no grudge. Even if that sibling does not forgive you (or apologize), leave it be. Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away[…] 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. A miniscule temptation can blossom into sin which bears the fruit of eternal death. You may have to shut the computer down so that you do not lust. Stop texting the co-worker so that no boundaries are crossed. If television shows and movies or Facebook photos steer the heart into fantasyland, then turn it off! Do not run back into the filth. Jesus has purified you (and me), leaving a shimmering heart fully content in relationships.
Yes, God allows divorce to protect the innocent spouse (read Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Should one spouse leave the marriage or have an affair, the innocent party may be set free to legally marry someone else. If you divorced, find peace in God’s forgiveness. If you find marriage difficult, find strength in God’s faithful love. God married you. God strengthens you to imitate his patience and love.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. You may have to swear in court or entering military. That’s acceptable. For everything else, speak the truth. Speak the truth so often that no one will ever accuse you of lying. Speak the truth so well that you will never need to ask God to verify your words. Live honest and people will take your words at face value.
Are You Listening? That involves more than just catching sound with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in the sound of words. ‘Listening’ understands the content and meaning of those words. ‘Listening’ considers the areas of life impacted and then changes life to match what is spoken. ‘Listening’ conforms to the speaker’s intentions.
In these words from Matthew, Jesus makes his intentions very clear: God’s standard is perfection. Do not believe lies about God’s commands. The people you know may want to lessen what God expects. Your heart might think little of your behavior. Those are lies! Instead, pay attention to the Savior speaking. Jesus does not command what you must become. He reveals what you are. Set free by Christ to live free for Christ.
Today I brought… a light bulb! Pretty helpful invention, right? A light bulb emits light; I can see objects and obstacles once hidden. During these short days and long nights, a light bulb extends daylight long after sunset. A light bulb outside illuminates the front of your house, chasing away shadows (and any burglars lurking in those shadows). A light bulb can be quite useful.
Yet, this light bulb (in my hand) offers no help. It has no power source! Without power, it cannot push darkness away. It cannot reveal the unknown. It cannot chase away evil. A light bulb must have a power source to emit light. Disconnected from power a light bulb offers nothing.
Jesus makes the same point when he says: ‘You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14, 16). Jesus calls you (and me) light bulbs— and not just light existing for its own benefit, but light showcasing God’s Word in action. Our faith shines only when connected to the right power-source. So, Does Your Light Shine?
In Isaiah chapter 58, the Israelite nation does reveal an attitude. You find them fasting (they stop eating food) and they wear sackcloth— this scratchy, burlap-sack-kind-of-clothing.
Now, fasting had a purpose. It expresses sorrow. For example, King David committed adultery. Guilt crushed him. Shame ripped him up. His crime ate away at him. He sinned against God! (Psalm 32, 51) His soul hungered for God’s soul-quenching, heart-satisfying pardon. He craves spiritual relief. Or, when the nation sinned against God, the king might exchange cushy royal robes for grungy, scratchy sackcloth. That clothing expresses contrition (or remorse). The king visibly demonstrates his standing underneath God and that the nation depends on God. Every itch and scratch only yearned for the relief of God’s forgiveness, his love, his favor.
You realize these outward actions of fasting and sackcloth flow from a broken heart. A reason stands behind each action.
The Israelites go through these motions. That is it. They give no thought to the change of heart God wants. Instead, they expect God satisfied by a mere mindless routine, as though they deserve a reward for fulfilling a requirement (Isaiah 58:3).
God is not fooled! His eyes penetrate the motives of the heart! He sees through the farce! God exposes empty-minded actions. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
What answer do you think God expects? Not action without care. God craves actions flowing from a changed heart— and not just any action, but action shaped by his Word.
Yes, some worship Christmas and Easter only. Others think if you worship on Sunday, then you will have a week free from accident and frustration. Still others think they will go heaven if their name is in a church record-book. Even others treat baptism like a good luck charm and refuse to feed that newly-created faith. Is that what God wants? A habit? A routine? A felt obligation? No!
Before we point fingers at others, dig into your own heart. When confessing your sins do specific wrongs reappear, or do you mindlessly rattle off those words? How long does the sermon stick with you? Five days?… Two days?… Eight hours? … The end of service? … Do you ponder exactly what you ask in the Lord’s Prayer, or do those words just tumble out of the mouth?
It may seem like that behavior carries no consequence, but if you do not take God’s Word in, then your actions will show it!
What do your actions reveal? Does God’s boundless forgiveness steer you away from revenge? That you choose your words carefully?… That you avoid unnecessary tense situations? Get angry last week? Did you lash out because your brother cursed God and your mom mocked Jesus? Or, was it because someone interfered with your pursuit for pleasure? As a congregation, we want people to know Jesus, right? Like God, we want no one in hell, but all to have eternal life (1 Timothy 2:3-4). So, did you reach out to those who have not worshipped for a while? Before we say, ‘Well, they still believe in Jesus,’ remember: actions reveal the attitude of the heart. Those who love God love hearing his Word. In fact, God makes a Commandment about worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus himself worships each week (Luke 4:16). The Bible says: ‘Let us not give up meeting together’ (Hebrews 10:25). Do you take those words to heart? Do you reach out to the spiritual stray, or do you just let them stray out of your mind?
You know, Israel thinks God somehow depends on their existence. That God needs their obedience. That without people, God shrivels away. That God is honored by their action. That is sheer, utter arrogance. Thinking that God has no choice but to love us because of a ritual, a tradition, a church membership book is arrogant. Thinking that God does not care about the words spilling from our mouths is arrogant. It claims that you are so special that God needs you. God saves you because of your behavior, your character.
God exposes that corrupt heart. He says, ‘I do not want that!’ In fact, he looks down and sees the Israelites lying scattered across the desert floor like mere light bulbs. No power. No light. No life. Nothing and no one could change that awful reality— except for God. It takes God to energize fruitful living.
He sets the Light of the world into our world. Jesus chases away the darkened thinking that God somehow exists for us. For three years he hammers that truth home. Worship exists for weary hearts to find rest, not as a checkmark on the spiritual scorecard (Mark 2:27). People may speak and sing, but if done with an empty mind, then God only sees a whitewashed tomb— pleasing to look at, but contains something stinky (Matthew 23:27). Jesus lights up this truth: ‘You(!) follow me(!) and live!’ (John 8:12)
Jesus shines so brightly that we cannot help but notice him. We see Someone whose heart is pure. We see Someone who gives so much. Look at the cross and what do you see? [Y]our light [shall] break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily… Jesus’ selfless life heals our self-centered arrogance. His full and complete pardon cheers us just like sunshine cheers us up!
God promises: [Y]our righteousness shall go before you… Understand, that is not your righteousness (as though you did something morally pleasing). God says, ‘Jesus, the One who lived morally right, clothes you in his righteousness’ (read Jeremiah 23:6). When you approach God, that is the first thing he sees: Hearts completely dedicated to him. You stand so wrapped in Jesus’ life that the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. When the Israelites left Egypt and walked ahead to a new land, God not only led them, but also protected their rear. Jesus keeps any past guilt from overwhelming you. How? [Y]ou shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ Yes, you regret the argument last week. Failing to speak up haunts us. We shudder how the heart became so loveless. The devil will poke the past and screech: ‘But God, he is not perfect! She failed!’ The Lord will answer: ‘But Jesus paid for that crime.’ His payment became yours in baptism.
Do you see? God takes you, this light bulb, and connects you to himself. He gives you a new identity: ‘Light!’ He gives you a new purpose: ‘Shine!’ God energizes fruitful living.
That’s where Christian living starts: Focusing on what God has done for you. The reason you (and I) want to demonstrate compassion is not because someone deserves it or because we stand to benefit. We love, because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love Jesus, which means we also love his teachings. We love putting those teachings into practice (2 John 1:6).
That’s why God says: [L]oose the bonds of wickedness… Conduct fair trials, let the innocent go free, avoid lawsuits! [U]ndo the straps of the yoke. [L]et the oppressed go free, [b]reak every yoke[.] If a friend repays a loan with work, release him when the debt is repaid. Untie him from the obligation! Yes, families, children, parents are tremendous blessings, but they can pierce your heart. How can you move past that blow-up? He took advantage of your generosity. She never calls or cares! How can you let that wrong go free? How do you forgive when everything seems so unforgiveable? Start with Christ.
Start with Christ. What has he done for you? When we took his blessings for granted, when we treated him like some genie, when we argued with his Word, Jesus cancelled the debt we owed. He changed our future! No longer do we wallow as distant from God, but live as God’s children now! Once you were darkness— but now you’re different; you are light! (Ephesians 5:8) A lights connected to the source of love, you shine that love.
Do not dwell on the past. Holding onto the past will not change your future. If you want peace, then aim for peace by leaving the past in the past and by looking forward to the future. [S]hare your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and [do] not to hide yourself from your own [family]. Do not hide from the family of believers. Connect with them! Write cards. Give a call. Stop by the house. No, not because Jesus will love you less. Because Jesus died for your soul. He suffered for that soul. Because Jesus wants that soul in heaven, and wants to keep feeding that heart with the peace of his forgiveness. Like God, we want no one to perish.
The life we live now is drastically different! God’s love impacts behavior. The love he has for you will be seen through you. Like a light bulb powered by a source. You cannot help, but shine his Word through your actions.
That is why Jesus calls us ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14). You (and I) are light bulbs— and light bulbs have a purpose. They reveal the unknown. They chase away evil. They fulfill their purpose when connected to power.
God illuminates our purpose. In fact, God exposes empty-minded actions. He teaches our dependence on him. He connected us to his forgiving love. His Word inside our hearts will shape our actions for others to see. God energizes fruitful living.
So, think about it. What you hear today. What you spoke earlier. What you will pray in a few minutes. What forgiving love God has again assured you of. How he has changed your heart. How he has changed your actions. Does Your Light Shine?