Jesus Closes the Loopholes
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The brilliant comedian W. C. Fields had a reputation as a womanizer with a fondness for alcohol. He was not known as a religious man, but as his death approached, he began to study the Bible. When a friend asked him what he was doing, Fields replied: “I’m looking for loopholes.”
Looking for loopholes. When it comes to God’s Word we all do it, though most of us gathered here today are not nearly as forthright in admitting our self-justification as Fields is reputed to have been in this case.
But Jesus won’t have any of it. In our Gospel for today He continues to teach us about the Law. God’s Law remains God’s Law. God hasn’t relaxed it, softened it up, or dumbed it down so that you might be able to keep it. God’s Law is not something you can keep. It’s there to show you what you should be doing, what you fail to do, and how much you need Christ and His forgiveness.
We are not the first to look for loopholes. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day taught that people were saved by keeping God’s commandments, so they interpreted God’s laws in ways that made them keepable. When Jesus taught His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, He wasn’t changing God’s Law by either making it harder or dumbing it down: He was teaching His disciples what God had intended all along. This is the Law He still intends for you today. So, it doesn’t matter what “you’ve heard said” by others; what matters is what Jesus says to you.
Jesus begins: “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).
Anger, insult, and murder: a sin of thought, a sin of word, and a sin of deed. You can see a progression that plays out on the evening news. The clear majority of murders do not occur among strangers, but among family members, friends, and neighbors. Not by premeditated plots and schemes, but spontaneous crimes of passion. Someone gets angry, so someone insults, and someone gets murdered.
In this world, anger, insult, and murder are three very different things that merit very different punishments. Anger might cause you to lose friends or alienate family members if you can’t control it. An insult might result in a civil suit for slander or libel. The penalty for murder is serious prison time or even death.
But, as Jesus treats them in our text, these three sins are all the same: they all bring judgment, even the hell of fire. Now, Jesus is not saying that an angry thought or a hurt feeling is the same as an actual murder; but He is saying that all three have the same sinful root. If you commit any of these sins—in thought, word, or deed—you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s what these sins share.
They also share this: each of them puts you at odds with God. I’m not saying your neighbor is a saint. He might be a jerk. But God loves your neighbor so much that He sustains his life, gives him daily bread, and has given His Son to die for him. If you’re angry at your neighbor, you don’t want God taking care of him. If you insult him, you speak ill of one to whom God would have you speak His saving Word. If you kill him, you take a life that God has given. If you hate him, you are declaring that God is wrong to love him. But why would God hate him and love you? What makes you think you are so much more loveable in God’s eyes?
The devil will tempt you to such sins, to bear grudges and retain anger against others. Every situation will be different. In some cases, somebody will have hurt you very much: righteous anger makes sense, but your anger will never be righteous, since the heart from which it proceeds is wretched and unclean. Your anger will always come with some measure of selfishness and self-righteousness.
Whatever its source, anger is a fire that seeks to destroy—destroy your neighbor and destroy you and your faith. Repent of it. When it flares up, repent of it again. If you’ve got something against a brother, go and be reconciled. If they’ve got something against you, go and be reconciled. But don’t ever believe that you are justified to remain angry at someone for whom Christ has died.
Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Lust and adultery. There’s obviously a progression here, too, often by way of pornography. There are various consequences, too. Lustful thoughts are the most common of sins, while adultery destroys marriages, lives, and the future of children. Yet, according to God’s Law, lust and adultery share the same sinful root, and both ultimately lead to “your whole body be[ing] thrown into hell.”
God is the Creator of each person. He gives to each beauty and body as He sees fit, as well as the ability to bring more life into the world. He also places great worth on each individual. Regarding a person’s body and procreative powers, God declares: “You are of such worth that, before another can be intimate with you, he or she must promise before God and man to be faithful to you for life.” That’s what those marriage vows are about. Not only upholding the sanctity of marriage itself, but the sanctity of the individual man and woman in the marriage.
Lust devalues others. It declares, “You don’t have that kind of worth in my eyes for that sort of commitment. You’re not worth as much as I, and so I feel entitled to use you any way I want to please me.” By lust, you treat someone as an object to be used, not as a neighbor to be served. It doesn’t matter if that “neighbor” is part of the adult film trade who devalues herself and invites the sin: who are you to confirm her in her sin and debasement? She is also one for whom Christ died: who are you to encourage her to remain impenitent?
Lust devalues your spouse, because it says “that fleeting fantasy means more to me than the lifelong love and honor I promised you before God and man.” It also sets unrealistic expectations of love. Romance novels wouldn’t be near as appealing if they had less pages about the action in the bedroom and more of the mundane details of daily life—changing diapers, cooking meals, washing the dishes, listening attentively to someone tell you about their difficult day, or visiting your spouse every day at the nursing home even though you’re not sure on any given day she recognizes you. Your marriage was given you to reflect Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Would you try to exchange that sacrificial, holy love for a few stolen moments of infatuation, a quick rush of endorphins and dopamine?
Flee lust. Its consequences are destructive enough for this life. Far worse, it will destroy your faith: you cannot rob others of the worth God gives them—even just in your own mind—and at the same time embrace the worth that God gives in Christ. You cannot say, “I am a child of God, bought by the blood of Christ” and at the same time say, “That person is worth so much less than me.” Such disdain for your neighbor is contempt for God’s Law and a denial of your need for grace.
Jesus goes on: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I 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” (Matthew 5:31-32).
I know for many of you this is a sensitive and painful subject. You’ve lived it. Divorce is a messy thing, too complex to talk about here in great length. The point of this passage is that it’s a serious thing, not simply a realignment of living arrangements. Again, the consequences in this life and the harm done to family are horrible. But beyond that lack of love for neighbor, a divorce rips up what God has joined together for life. Planning one, especially scheming to bring one about, is going to do serious damage to faith. Should marriage be in your future, choose carefully. If you are married now, work hard in service to the other. Where your sin threatens marriage—repent and pray. If you’re ready to give up, don’t. God hates divorce: that’s His Law. Nevertheless, if you’ve been divorced, remember: you are not forsaken—even when we are faithless, God remains faithful.
Anger, murder, lust, adultery, and divorce: All of them have their source in the sinful heart. Each has consequences in this life, and that is a blessing because those consequences are meant to warn you of the greater consequences of hell if you hold onto these sins and do not repent. That is the primary function of God’s Law—to show your sin and your need for the Savior.
The way to hear the Law is not to look for loopholes, to try to find ways that it doesn’t apply to you, but to recognize how it all applies to you. You are the murderer, the adulterer, the guilty party in a divorce. In yourself, you have no righteousness, no innocence, no claim to make before God. But Christ became sin for you that in Him you might become the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the Law for all who believe. Jesus didn’t just preach the Law; He did the Law and He died under the Law to rescue you from the Law that would condemn you.
Jesus closes the loopholes. He speaks this Law to show you how dangerous and deadly is sin, so that you might repent and declare: “Almighty God, my maker and redeemer, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You that I am by nature sinful and unclean and that I have sinned against You by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore I flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ.”
Having so confessed, you’re ready for the Gospel. Where you deserve God’s righteous wrath, He poured it out on His Son on the cross instead. Jesus suffered the judgment, the condemnation, and the hell of fire in your place. Though you are guilty of anger and insults, Christ forgives you. Even if you are, literally, a murderer, Jesus has laid down His life so that you might have life forever.
Where you have reduced and demeaned others by your sins of lust, Christ has died for you. The holy Son of God has given you worth—the price of His own innocent, precious blood. Rather than live for Himself and His own gratification, Christ offered His hands and feet to nails and His back to the scourge in order to deliver you. He does not require you to pluck out your eyes or hack off your limbs in order to atone for your sin: Jesus has suffered for you in His body already, up to and including the hell of fire for your adulterous thoughts and deeds.
Where you have undergone divorce, it probably still eats at you because you know your sin, your part, and you’ve got to live with yourself. Confess your sin, for you hear this Gospel that Christ has died to lay down His life for His bride, the Church, of which you are a part: and though you or others prove faithless, He always remains faithful to forgive you.
Dear friends, as Jesus demonstrates in this text, the consequences of sin are devastating—but they need not be for you. Christ was devastated on the cross in your place, and He bids you to confess your sins and trust in Him for forgiveness. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.