Do you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course you do, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and you, a Christian, believe—to your blessed life everlasting—that Jesus is God and Lord.
But what about the Mohammedans? The moslims?
Do the Mohammedans believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course not, because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Mohammedans reject—to their unfortunate but just damnation—that Jesus is God and Lord.
And so, what about the Jews?
Do the Jews believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Of course not. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Jews reject—to their unfortunate but just damnation—that Jesus is God and Lord.
Every “believer” of every “god” will tell you that what “god” says is vital for your life—having both temporal and eternal consequences.
But even before you can care about all of the things God says, you have to care about who God is.
That’s important today because of both what Jesus says about the Law and that Jesus Himself says it.
Jesus says, “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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
“Israel cannot accept…as the Word of God the utterances of a man who speaks in His own name—not ‘thus says the Lord’ but ‘I say to you.’ This ‘I’ is in itself sufficient to drive Judaism away from the Gospel forever” (A. Ginsberg, Ten Essays on Zionism and Judaism, 232).
If you would say of yourself that you have a heart for mission…
Or—when you realize that there are so many billions of people in the world who don’t believe in the One, True God, but rather a false god—and you legitimately care about the unfortunate but just consequences of that horrifying statistic…
Realize that the problem is—they reject Jesus because Jesus says, “I say to you,” (cf. Matthew 5) and they won’t have that.
He says to us, “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” (Matthew 5:17).
And here, it’s necessary for us to understand that to fulfill something means, in part, to transcend it, to be beyond it.
This is not true for us. We can’t do this.
The closest we come are those angry words parents say to their children, following “I brought you into this world, and…”
But here’s another example: World War I wasn’t originally called World War I but what?
The War to End All Wars. So it was thought.
Now, The War to End All Wars is called World War I, because we do not transcend war. We are not beyond it.
You can’t fight and win a victory such that no future battles can be fought.
The point is, Jesus isn’t just some guy talking about the Old Testament.
What He says is remarkable—to the scribes and Pharisees, it’s scandalous—but to us it is the power of God and the wisdom of God to save us sinners because of what is said and who says it.
Jesus comes to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, to fulfill the Word of God—to do what we cannot.
St. Matthew makes this clear in that he records, again and again, that what Jesus does fulfills what was written.
At the birth of Jesus, an angel of the Lord said unto Joseph, “She [that is, Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus means “God saves.”
And so, God in the flesh has come to save sinners.
“All this took place,” St. Matthew writes, “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23).
So God in the flesh, God With Us, has come to do what we cannot—to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the Word of God.
That He can do this tells us who He is: God With Us, God—who has come to save us.
And that He tells us this, that He opens His mouth and teaches us to trust in Him, His Word, and His Work, that is the good news, our hope and comfort.
For our salvation—it’s not enough that God is, that God exists. We must also know Him.
And that we may know Him, He comes to us.
So far—this is all really good news.
But let’s hear exactly what He says:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I 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” (Matthew 5:21-22).
For everyone else, an explanation of the Bible includes other verses, other teachers, historical thought, context, something.
But Jesus quotes no other authority, because there is no other authority.
He doesn’t repudiate, revoke, or repeal the Law—really, He restores it.
“You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”
It’s human nature to make the commandment, “You shall not murder” about only the violent and final act. That way, for most people, you haven’t broken that commandment.
Moses dealt with the punishment of the violent act.
Jesus deals with its prevention.
So He interprets the Law such that everything is excluded from Christian behavior that leads to the violent act.
Name calling, then, is filed under murder not only because it inappropriately gives voice to anger, but it also triggers anger in others.
And—“Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
“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” (Matthew 5:23-24a).
You need to know that’s hyperbole, overstatement.
Do not fear to come to the altar.
Do not fear to leave your tithe.
If you remember, right now, that your friend or family in California has something against you, Jesus doesn’t want you to flee the altar and your Christian responsibilities to drive the twenty-four hours it would take to get there.
Rather—the point is—reconciliation with God is meaningless if you refuse to be reconciled to each other.
As God has forgiven you, you are to forgive each other.
“First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24b).
Approach God with a good conscience, and He will create in you a clean heart, a new one.
And—Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). We pray and promise to do so.
Now, with these explanations of the Law—hearing that we can’t fulfill it…and nevertheless hearing what we must do…
That Jesus can fulfill it…but that reconciliation with God is impossible if we refuse to be reconciled to each other…
Hearing it said like that, who’s willing to stand before God when that’s how the Law’s understood?
The full sternness of the Law makes us a little hesitant, about the eternal demands of the Law of God, doesn’t it?
Getting the Law right does that.
But we’re not without hope.
That Jesus comes to fulfill the Law—that He’s God and Lord and can fulfill it…that He does fulfill it…
And that He tells us so, not keeping it a secret but revealing to us God’s heart, God’s mercy, God’s love—God’s Word and Work to save us…
We have good news for every day of our life and after.
He’s revealed Himself as God and Lord, and we believe.
He’s told us that He comes to fulfill the Law—to save His people from their sins—to give His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28).
He tells us that and does it.
We believe Him.
We trust Him.
We know that He comes to seek and save us.
We rely on His love, His shed blood, His sacrifice and death.
We hope in Him, with certainty, confessing the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Here we stand, steadfast in the faith, with Jesus and unto life everlasting.
This is most certainly true—our righteousness, your righteousness, does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who have no god but their bellies and back pockets, because we all believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so, living by faith, you are great in the kingdom of heaven.
To that end, then, let us rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins such that we rejoice to forgive one another, desiring, as God does, not the death of the sinner—or even that they would just leave us alone and not talk all the time—but that they would turn—and we with them—from our evil ways—and live.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 6 Sermon, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt