a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on February 5, 2017
Passage: Matthew 5:13-20
Today we move into the second-to-last part of our series exploring the promises of God. Together have considered God’s promise of new life, his promise of faithfulness, his promise of ministry, his promise of blessing. Maybe you’ve noticed the thread weaved through each of these promises, the theme that seems to continually come up whenever we talk about God, his kingdom, and the good news we have been given in Jesus. It’s grace, isn’t it? Have you noticed these promises of God are unbreakable and unconditional? God breathes life into us, he remains faithful, he ministers in and through us and pours out his blessing upon us, just because that’s who he is. That’s what he’s like. God gives us gifts we could never obtain for ourselves, could never deserve, and in lots of cases didn’t even ask for.
Forgiveness. Abundant life. Healing. Resurrection.
He does it all just because he loves us. He loves you.
How then, do you respond? What do you do as a result of this grace?
How you and I respond to God’s grace has a direct effect on the people around us, because we will be either pointing them to God and his great love them, or we will forfeiting the chance to exhibit the character of Christ, or worse, we will directing them away from the truth of who God is and what his kingdom is all about.
Our actions and attitudes make a difference.
I was recently having a breakfast with a friend who had taken a break from church for a while. Upon returning to a church service he was greeted by a sermon primarily about the large number of people in this world that the preacher felt were probably going to hell. The basic message was a “turn or burn” style kind of communication. God’s coming to gettcha. There’s a big difference in what we communicate when we lead with that instead of “God has already come for you.”
Which of those attitudes best displays the character of God?
Or what about groups of Christians that raise millions of dollars for buildings and productions for the purposes of evangelism (God bless them), but miss out on helping the hungry people across the street? Or what those that work day-in and day-out to help the needy (God bless them) but never speak a word of hope to people about the life after this one? Or about their true identity as people loved by God and made in his image?
We are always communicating something about what we care about and who we’re all about in our words, attitudes, and actions. So, our response to God’s grace matters.
That’s why Jesus said we’re to be the salt of the earth. Salt brings out the flavor of the food you are eating. By itself it’s not that great, but it augments and points to something beyond itself. You never think of the salt in a perfect seasoned dish.
Our response to God’s grace matters.
That’s why Jesus said we’re to be the light of the world.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We’re to show people by how we respond to God’s grace what God is like.
Our response to God’s grace matters. The stakes are high. What many people will know about God and what they think they know about God will be shaped by how you and I live our lives. What an awesome responsibility.
On our own, it would be hard to know what to do. Although we have been made in the image of God, we have been so infected with sin that even though we know better, we tend toward those things that lead to death. So God has given us his law and commandments, explicitly revealed to his people Israel and to the world in the Holy Scriptures to help guide us in the way we should go. And now, because of Jesus we also have the Holy Spirit inside us to help guide us and empower us as we seek to live out our lives in way that is constantly pointing people back to Jesus.
Although we’re not saved by rules and regulations, they have always served as a roadmap, as reference points for lives.
Of course, the law without grace is a death sentence, because none of us will live out those things perfectly. We are crushed under the unbending requirements and our inability to live up to them. With grace, however, the law can become a means of grace. When we’re not depending on it for our salvation we can see it as a gift; a revelation of the ideal we’re to strive toward that we just couldn’t arrive at apart from the Holy Spirit. And of course, now that we have the Holy Spirit living and working in us we are empowered to actually do this stuff in ways we weren’t before we came to Jesus.
This is why Jesus said,
17 “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.
18 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.
Pretty much as long as the church has existed, there’s been a tendency for all of us to gravitate to one of two extremes. On the one hand, you might read this say, “Well, Jesus did everything for me! He fulfilled the law! I guess I can do whatever I want!” Of course that sounds like it makes sense…if Jesus has taken the consequence of my sin in his death on the cross, so I guess I can just keep sinning, no harm no foul?
Turns out, that’s a heresy called antinomianism, and it doesn’t work because the whole point our salvation is to be freed from sin and to do good works.
Ephesians 2:8–10 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So, just doing whatever isn’t the right response to God’s grace. Some of us go to the exact opposite extreme, and we try to prove our worthiness of God’s saving work. We don’t want to let him down. We want to make sure that God knows he didn’t make a mistake in forgiving us, in sovereignly choosing us. We acknowledge what God has done, but make sure we are busy proving to him and ourselves that he made the right choice. In a sense, although we know God has done his part, we’re not convinced it was totally enough, so we wear ourselves out trying to do our part. Ultimately this is a lack of trust in God’s judgement and it’s a heresy too!
It’s called Pelagianism. Again, the law’s not going to save you, only Jesus can do that. And has done that. But it is an eternal witness to God’s promise to guide us in this life and beyond.
Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly in ways we will never be able to do. He offered his own perfect life as a sacrifice on our behalf, and his sacrifice was accepted, and vindicated in his Resurrection.
When we believe in him, his Resurrection life begins to be made manifest in us.
Romans 8:1–4 (ESV)
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
God has promised us that the Holy Spirit—who spoke through the prophets for us in the Bible—will guide us and empower us to live it out.
“The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.”
What all this means is that the rest of Matthew 5, 6, 7—the Sermon on the Mount—are not simply abstract ideals.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ explanation and expansion of what had previously been revealed in the Old Testament. Remember that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of not only who God is and what he is like, but we what we are supposed to be as well. So we should listen when Jesus starts talking about anger, lust, divorce, keeping our word, turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, and judging others.
Sometimes it seems to me as if the church has given up on even trying to live out the Sermon on the Mount. But can you imagine if just one church really made the Sermon their rule of life?
It would be the norm to work through anger together, in community; where lust and mental sins would be understood and avoided as the poisons to the soul that they are. Marriage as God instituted it would celebrated instead of undermined. People would know that the church could be trusted. Violence would be explicitly rejected as way to solve problems, suffering would not be a surprise, and that church would actively find ways to love those that hated them. They be passionately committed to giving sacrificially to the poor, without fanfare. They would be devoted to corporate and private prayer. They would be known as a place of radical inclusion; where someone could belong well before they believe, and certainly before they behave.
Can you imagine if this was the church that the rest of world saw? Can you imagine if just one church made the Sermon on the Mount their rule of life? Can you imagine if just one Christian made the Sermon on the Mount their rule of life?
One of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton, wrote nearly a hundred years ago,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
Today I want to exhort, encourage, and challenge you to trust God’s promise of guidance.
He has revealed himself to you in his Son Jesus. Because of Jesus you know that he loves you, he has nothing but goodwill toward you, and that you are safe in him. Remember that beautiful ending to Romans 8:
Romans 8:38–39 (ESV)
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You are secure in him. You don’t have earn your salvation with your actions. He’s taken care of it. But now, you are free to respond the teaching of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit with joyful and free obedience. He has given you a way forward, a way to begin living in the kingdom in the present. For the most part these are not things that come naturally to us, but must be revealed to us by the Spirit through God’s word. And it’s not just for you, but for the whole world to see, as if the church were a city on a hill, that God has come for them in Jesus, and he has brought forgiveness of sins, abundant life, and never ending love.
Will you take steps of faith this week to live in the guidance that God has graciously promised and already given to us? Start small. Read Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 this week. Ask God the Holy Spirit to show you where you might need to shine a little brighter for the sake of the world. Read until a verse speaks to you and stop. Stay there for the rest of the day, pray over that verse, memorize it, internalize it. Don’t go on until the Spirit gives you permission. Only then continue. If you approach the Scripture this way, with humility I’m confident God will speak to you and you will grow closer to him and his plan for your life.
And more than that, as we do this together, I think we will all grow together into the likeness of Christ, so that the light that shines from this community will draw many people from darkness to him.