170219 Matthew 5:38-48

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 February 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Theme: Nothing Is Impossible With God

Today we come to the end of our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, not because we are out of sermon, but because we are out of Sundays in Epiphany. If you open up your Bible to the gospel of Matthew you will see that Jesus preaches for two more chapters on topics like prayer, fasting, worry and judging others. But the brief time we have spent studying the first part of this famous sermon should give us a pretty good feel for the overall message.

Recall that the Lord was talking to his disciples. Jesus was teaching his followers what it means to live as his disciples. And as I picture all those people crowded around Jesus, as I picture all those heads looking up at Jesus, as I study their individual body language and facial expressions, I can see a noticeable change.

Do you remember what brought this crowd together in the first place? The people wanted to see this miracle worker who cured diseases and drove out demons. And so they came from miles around to catch a glimpse of him, to listen to him and if they were lucky, to see him perform some more miracles.

Jesus introduced his sermon by making a list of blessings, but not what most people would consider typical blessings. He told his followers that they were blessed if they were poor, when they mourned, if they hungered and thirsted for righteousness. It wasn't the most encouraging start, but Jesus was just warming up. Maybe they were hoping that he would get past this part and get on to the good stuff.

But it was impossible for them to ignore the final "blessing." Jesus told his disciples that they were blessed when they were insulted and persecuted, when other people spread lies about them because of their connection with him. If that statement didn't kill the mood entirely, it must have caused some confused looks in the crowd.

Without pausing Jesus continued by telling the people (I can even picture him pointing at them): "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world." These were not questions. These were not suggestions. They were statements that sounded an awful lot like commands. And some of the people in that crowd weren't ready for them. They had traveled to the base of this mountain thinking about what Jesus could do for them, not what Jesus expected of them. The Lord wanted to make it clear that following him came with certain responsibilities, and the weight of Jesus' words was making some of the people feel a little uneasy.

If Jesus' sermon up to this point had wiped the smiles off some of the faces in the crowd, what he said next likely created more than a few frowns. With laser-like precision the Lord exposed the faulty religious thinking of the day, as well as the flawed thinking in many of his listeners' hearts, thinking like this:

If I haven't killed anyone, I have kept the fifth commandment, right? Wrong! If you are angry with your brother, you are just as guilty and subject to judgment. If I have never been unfaithful to my spouse, I have kept the sixth commandment, right? Wrong! Any man who even looks at a woman lustfully is guilty of adultery with her in his heart.

As it turns out the people weren't just looking up at Jesus. With this sermon Jesus was also raising the bar of what it means to be his disciple. And the crowds were getting restless. They were beginning to understand that they didn't measure up, that they weren't as good as they thought they were, that they weren't very good at all. And just in case some of them remained unconvinced of their sinfulness, what Jesus said next removed any doubt.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (38-42).

Person in the crowd: "Really, Jesus? You're telling me that I should be willing to give up my personal rights? You want me to not protect what is rightfully mine? You want me to literally go the extra mile? You want me to give and give and give and expect nothing return? No one is that selfless. No one is that generous. No one can do that. You might as well tell me that I should love my enemies."

Well, actually Jesus does say that in the next verse: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (43-45a).

I wonder if this was a turning point in Jesus' sermon. I wonder if this is when some of the people turned on Jesus or at least tuned Jesus out. They thought they wanted to follow Jesus, but not on these terms. Person in the crowd: "Even if I agree that persecution can be a blessing, even if I acknowledge that anger is murder and lust is adultery, even if I am willing to give up my personal rights and give to people in need, a person has to draw the line somewhere. How can I love someone I don't even like? How can I pray for someone who hates me? Jesus, what's left? What else do I need to do? You might as well tell me that I need to be perfect."

Well, actually Jesus does say that in the last verse of our text: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (48). There it is in black and white. It isn't the conclusion of Jesus' sermon, but it could be considered the climax. Jesus demands perfection. Complete perfection. Not more good than bad. Not the best I can do. The Lord says: "Be blameless, sinless, perfect."

And we can't. We can't even come close. Our hearts may be filled with love, but with a love that is totally misguided and misplaced. We love our things more than the One who gave us everything we have. We love to assert our rights. We love to get revenge. We love to hate our enemies, and we especially love to see them fail. We love to think that we are good people, that we are better than other people. But it's a lie. Every bit of it is a lie. Jesus' words force us to come to grips with the fact that we can't keep the commandments. We can't keep a single commandment. And be perfect? That's totally and completely impossible.

But nothing is impossible with God. Those words didn't originate with me. They can be found in the Bible, in Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel told Mary that God had chosen her to give birth to the Savior. She would be Jesus' mother, but there would be no earthly father. The child in her womb would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. It didn't make sense. It was genetically impossible, but nothing is impossible with God. And nothing was impossible for the Son of God.

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, there wasn't a hint of "Do as I say and not as I do" in his delivery. Jesus did everything he asked his disciples to do, and everything he did he did perfectly. If you need proof, just look at the final hours of his life. When his enemies brought a small army to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest him, he didn't resist. When his enemies slapped him in the face, he literally turned the other cheek. When his enemies taunted him and spit on him, he responded to their hatred with love. And when his enemies crucified him, he prayed for them. He didn't ask God to stop them. He didn't petition God to send down legions of angels to strike down every one of them. I might pray those prayers in my dying breaths, but not Jesus. Jesus asked his Father to forgive them.

"What Wondrous Love Is This" is not just the title of a Lenten hymn. When we sing those words we acknowledge that we can't put our Savior's love into words. Jesus did all those things he preached about, all those things you and I couldn't do, because he loves us. Jesus was willing to take our place, to take our punishment, to carry our mountain of sins to the cross, because he loves us. His grace is so amazing that we can't comprehend it. And if we can't even comprehend it we certainly can't imitate it, right? Well, what did the angel say? What did Gabriel tell Mary? Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing was impossible for the Son of God. And nothing is impossible with the help of God.

This is the place in the sermon where I could quote a couple Bible passages, give a few general encouragements, smile and say "Amen." And there would be nothing wrong with that. But before we close this morning I would like to put my claim to the test, and I want you to help me. I want every one of us here today to believe and rejoice in the fact that nothing is impossible with the help of God. So here goes...

Think of someone in your life who makes your life miserable. It could be a classmate at school who always picks on you. It could be a co-worker who seems to have it in for you. Just thinking about this individual makes you upset. It's not that you just dislike this person. Even though you know it isn't right, even though you know you shouldn't feel this way about anyone, you secretly or maybe not-so-secretly loathe them.

Now I want you to pray a silent prayer with me. I want you to ask God to forgive you. I want you to ask God to help you be more like him, to help you love like Jesus, to help you love all people, even that person, even the people in your life you would consider to be your enemies. Let's bow our heads and pray...

Silent prayer

Praying that prayer might make you feel a little better (and that's a good thing), but that doesn't mean all your struggles to love and forgive others will be over. We are all sinners dealing with other sinners in a sin-filled world. And so I encourage you to keep praying that prayer. Ask for daily patience and strength to love the people you don't even like. Remember your Savior's perfect love. Remember Jesus' perfect life. Rejoice in Jesus' perfect sacrifice. And when you pray don't forget the angel's promise to Mary. Never forget the Lord's promise to you. Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing was impossible for the Son of God, and nothing is impossible with the help of God. Amen.

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