Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But 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. 23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. 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. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. 33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Early on a summer morning two years ago, I woke up and started my day as usual. But before long, I started to not feel so well. Then suddenly, I was doubled over in pain on my hands and knees. Something on my right side felt like it was killing me – literally.
My wife rushed me to the ER in Kenosha. As I was standing before the receptionist explaining my pain, I just really wanted to tell her, “Get me a doctor! Get me a scalpel! Cut this thing out … whatever it is!”
Whatever it was happened to be a kidney stone.
Against my better medical judgment, the doctor did not cut it out. Instead, he gave me some pain medication and sent me home to let it pass. But he did give me this encouraging expert advice, “Now that you’ve had one kidney stone, you will get more.” Wonderful! I can’t wait!
The doctor was able to make a diagnosis without cutting me open because of wonderful tools like MRI scans and X-rays. In the old days, though, a doctor would have had to do exploratory surgery. Today, doctors can use a variety of means to make a diagnosis without actually cutting you open.
That’s what is going on in today’s Gospel, which is again a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is putting us into the divine MRI machine of His holy Law. He’s giving a divine CAT scan of our internal condition. The Pharisees and the Jewish people had heard that it was said that sin was something you did. But Jesus lets everyone know that God not only takes actions into consideration, but also words, and even thoughts, when He is adding up sins. Sin is not simply what is going on with our hands, but also our mouths; not only eyes, but also our hearts. Sin is not just outward actions, but also inward attitudes and feelings.
You and I are more concerned with the outward stuff. How do we look to others? How are we acting toward others? How are others acting toward us? How many times haven’t you heard someone say at one of our grade school basketball games or in our high school classrooms or after some kind of interaction with other church members: “That wasn’t very Christian”?
We are concerned with how we act on the outside. Jesus is concerned with how we behave on the inside. We believe that if we’re living fairly decent lives, then we are doing well as Christians. We’re basically “symptom free.” But being symptom free doesn’t mean you don’t have the disease, it just means you aren’t showing it very much at the moment.
If you were to look at your heart from God’s perspective, from the inside, you’d see all sorts of things that would shock you: Murder, lies, theft, adultery, immorality, greed, lust, idolatry, hatred, envy, prejudice, pride, covetousness. It’s all there lurking in our hearts where the disease of Sin lives. The outward sins we do all begin with Sin hidden in our hearts. We can’t see the disease of sin hiding in our bodies so God must give us a spiritual scan, a divine MRI.
We often see only the outward results of our sin. We see the murder on the nightly news, but fail to see the anger that lives inside of us. We feel the family tension, but fail to recognize that we need to reconcile with our family members in order for there to be peace and forgiveness. We notice the adultery, but look past the lust in our hearts that led to the adultery. We experience the divorce, but do not identify the lack of love that led to the divorce papers being signed.
This is why many stay away from church. Or why many of us don’t read our Bibles. We don’t want the Great Physician of body and soul to deliver His diagnosis. We would rather keep dealing with the symptoms that we see. Jesus wants to deal with the real problem – our sin. He gets to the heart of the matter – which is our heart.
Jesus tells us what happens when we try to self-diagnose our spiritual condition. Body parts start getting cut off. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. Though these are drastic actions, they are really only cosmetic in nature. Because our sinful nature is still intact. You can go ahead and cut off that offending hand, but you will still have to deal with the other hand. Go ahead and poke out that offending eye, but you will still have to deal with the other eye. And though it is certainly preferable to enter the kingdom of heaven wearing a prosthetic hand and a patch over your eye, it isn’t cutting off hands or poking out eyes that will get you into heaven.
There is only one way to enter into God’s heavenly kingdom. Listen to the Good Doctor’s diagnosis. The Good Doctor Jesus is an expert in you. He knows your humanity better than you do. He knows the spiritual condition of your heart much better than you do. He can read the details of the Law’s MRI. The outlook doesn’t look good. Not good at all. Our condition is incurable … terminal … damnable.
You may not have murdered anyone, but you have harbored the hatred and anger that takes you down that same dark road. You may be faithful to your marriage vows, but your eyes and heart have wandered away from your spouse. You may be truthful, but your version of the truth always comes with a little spin.
Jesus’ expert medical advice is that once you are a sinner you are going to continue to sin. Wonderful! We can’t wait! The Good Doctor’s diagnosis is that you are a sinner. Not because you sin, but because you have the condition called Sin. It’s fatal. The wages of Sin is death. There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no self-discipline, no religious tradition, no amount of keeping the commandments, nothing in the world’s little black medical bag that can cure a heart infected by Sin.
That’s the bad news. A doctor always gives the bad news first, then delivers the good news.
Here’s the good news. The cure has been worked. The cure is found in the blood of Jesus.
A family was involved in a serious traffic accident. Mike, the younger of the two brothers involved, was badly injured and needed a blood transfusion. Mike’s big brother Danny, who was all of eight years old, had the same rare blood type as his younger brother. The dad sat down with Danny and carefully explained to him why this blood transfusion was needed and how wonderful it would be for his little brother. After some silence, Danny responded by saying, “Yes, Daddy, I’ll give my blood to Mike so he can get well.”
At the hospital, a pint of blood was drawn from Danny’s veins. Only after the needle was removed did Danny turn to his father with tears rolling down his cheeks and ask, “Daddy, when do I die?”
The father suddenly realized with a shock that Danny had misunderstood his explanation of giving blood. Danny thought he was giving all of his blood in order to save the life of his brother! He thought that he would die after the transfusion was over. Yet he still had agreed to help his little brother.
Danny was willing to die so that his little brother would live. That’s what Jesus did for each of us. He shed His own blood to give us life. “He died for us so that … we may live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).
The blood of Jesus is the cure for all that ails us. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us how to live. In His cross on Mount Calvary, Jesus demonstrates how He died so we might live. There He paid for our sins by becoming sin for us. He took the disease of Sin into Himself and allowed it to kill Him. “God 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).
Jesus is both the cure and the Physician who administers the cure.
Other diseases affect the body, but cannot harm the soul. Sin is the only disease that affects both body and soul right to the core of our humanity. It calls for a drastic cure, extreme measures. The diagnosis for our sin called for the prescription of the Son of God being born as a human being, born without sin, so that sin might infect and kill Him. But sin could not keep Jesus in the grave. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. It is through His death and resurrection that sin no longer has control over us.
Look at how sin affects your relationship with God. Your hatred is murder in God’s eyes. Your looking is as bad as actual adultery. Your boasting and colorful language has become swearing and cursing. Your sin has put in danger of the fire of hell.
All those “little” sins – so often ignored, so seemingly trivial – are in reality death-dealing and as totally destructive as any terrible open sin.
You have received God’s diagnosis. You are a sinner. You are going to die.
You have also received God’s prescription in Jesus, who is both the cure and the Physician who administers the cure. He has taken your sin. You are going to live – eternally in heaven with Him.
Now that you have been given the prognosis of life, your response is to live your life in grateful thanks and faithful praise. That means controlling your emotions. It means ridding your heart of anger and resentment. It means begging your brother for forgiveness. It means turning off the computer and only looking at your spouse. It means working hard on your marriage. It means concentrating on the way you speak.
And it means repenting when you fail to do these things. It means returning again and again to the doctor’s office of the Christian Church. Here Jesus diagnoses you in the confession of sins. He provides the cure in the absolution. He washes your wounds in His baptismal waters. He strengthens you with His Holy Supper. He allows you to live through His shed blood.
People keep thinking that Christianity is a highly complex system of moral reform, a kind of self-improvement program launched by Jesus. They may especially think this way as they read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Certainly there are moral implications in the Christian Gospel, but it is definitely not a self-improvement program. In fact, it’s not even a way of life. Christianity is instead Life itself – the Life Jesus Christ gives us to live.
If sin is merely a moral blemish on an otherwise impeccable human character, then the worship service is nothing more than Christians getting together in one big self-help group, and the pastor is just a large-group therapist.
But, since sin means disease and death, then the worship service is an island of life on an ocean of death. The Christian Church is God’s hospital for the terminally ill. For this is where the Holy Trinity dispenses the medicine of heaven for this dying world. Jesus places the scalpel of His Word and Sacrament into the hands of His appointed surgeon, your pastor, in order to cut out the cancer of sin and death.
There may come a day when you find yourself doubled over in pain doing the kidney stone crawl. Or you may suffer some other painful affliction. Thankfully, though, our Good Doctor has diagnosed your greater pain – your sin. And He has provided the cure in His blood. Amen.