Boundless Law, Brighter Christian
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Rob Byker Boundless Law, Brighter Christian
1st Denver CRC Matthew 5:13-20
February 5, 2022 A.M.
Years ago the Christian teacher R.C. Sproul was invited to teach at a Spiritual Growth Conference about the topic of holiness. After the first day, the teachers gathered at a Conference leaders home and all the leaders got down on their knees and began to pray to their dead relatives. Sproul was appalled, “Do you realize what you’re doing would have gotten you the death penalty in the Old Testament, God said that prayers to the dead are so offensive to Him that he would punish the whole nation if it were permitted?”
The leaders replied, “We know that but that’s the Old Testament. We New Testament Christian’s are free from such concerns now.”
Sproul disagreed. He asked, “What do you think has taken place in the history of redemption that would make a behavior that was formerly so repugnant to God now pleasing in His sight?” They shrugged their shoulders. Breaking God’s law really didn’t worry them. They were sure God had deactivated and demolished the law. But behold here in our passage Jesus says, “Make no mistake, I have not come to abolish the law.” True Christian’s are not anti-law. We recognize our Maker’s claim to bind and direct our heart.
At present, I am now working as a Direct Support Professional for intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals. In that role, we take the disabled we support to a day program which has two big rooms, a kitchen and several offices. A few weeks ago I was tasked to watch one resident, let’s call him Kayden, as he pushed his wheelchair around the facility. Now my supervisors said, “We want Kayden to have as much self-direction as possible. Don’t push his wheelchair. Walk beside him as he explores. . I thought, “That’s a good policy.” But there were places, like the kitchen, are off limits to Kayden, he was partly blind. He couldn’t see the threats. But guess which place Kayden wanted to visit most of all? That’s right the kitchen. And when I blocked his path there, he would let me know about it, not with words, because he couldn’t speak. But with growls of frustration. He wants access to that kitchen most of all. Isn’t it true that once the law forbids something, we want it even more? In Romans 7:7b, Paul says, “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.”
We might think knowledge of the law only stimulates guilt when we cross it but the law also stimulates disobedience. Mark Twain once shared about coming upon a cart full of watermelons as a boy. He said, “As I am fond of watermelons I snitched one and ran into a nearby alley and sank my teeth into it. No sooner had I done so, however, than a strange feeling came over me. Without a moments hesitation I made my decision. I walked back to the cart and put the melon back, and then I took a ripe one.”
Some people are obvious law haters. But many others are law haunted. They have conflicting feelings about it. They suspect it has some role in their life. But they fear legalism and self-righteousness. So some Christian’s feel anxious about God’s law and don’t know how to view it. And so let’s learn Jesus attitude towards the law and adopt that.
Jesus Attitude Towards the Law
Jesus loves God’s commands. He says, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.” I’m all about fulfilling the law. To be sure, there are some Old Testament ceremonial laws we don’t need to be concerned about anymore. Laws associated with the temple and sacrificial system that are fulfilled in Jesus as the new temple and sacrifice. But the moral laws, the Ten Commandments, that law about praying to dead relatives, laws regulating sexual behavior, laws against witchcraft and fortune telling. These laws stand because they express God’s eternal will. And as Paul says in Romans 12, God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect. The Psalmist says the same thing. In Psalm 119:96, he gushes “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless." So the Psalmist is comparing two types of perfection. Earthly things might be perfect for awhile but then it passes away. It’s a perfect steak coming off the grill but leave it on the table for five days and the perfection perishes. This applies to all earthly things….including the best singers, the strongest athletes, the tallest mountains….they all have limits. They perish. Jesus says, heaven and earth will disappear but nothing will disappear from the Law and the Prophets until everything is accomplished. God’s will possesses a boundless perfection. It is eternally solid, ever durable, sure to prevail. Jesus trusted God’s will and would not set aside even the least of the commandments. He ranked them all precious. And He said any teacher who sets even the least commandment aside will be called least.
Now I think most Christian’s hate God’s commands. Some might. But I do think many of mistrust his commands. We are conflicted about them. Dallas Willard once described the conflicted Christian as someone who wants to do right but is prepared to do wrong.” We can be like the little girl in Sunday School who was asked, “What is a lie?” And she said, “A lie is an abomination to God and an ever-present help in time of trouble.” I can be conflicted like that. But Jesus wants to move us out of conflict over God’s law and into a conviction that is purely good. When we have conviction, then we will really shine for him.
When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world”, He means, “When you follow my commands, then you shine with a moral brightness this world needs. You become a city on a hill and bright lamp set up in a strategic place to show lost people who are bumping and bumbling in the darkness that the Jesus way is the best way.
Now in the remainder of Matthew 5 Jesus utters 6 commands in which he contrasts His way of righteousness versus the righteousness of the Pharisees. Over and over Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say to you” and he tells his followers that if we follow God’s law his way we will stand out as a bright light in a dark world. Our light will surpass the light of the Pharisees. For example, the Pharisees avoided murdering others but they were also filled with contempt for their enemies. But Jesus says, “My people will never show contempt.. My people will show courtesy, even to their enemies. And the world will lean in and draw near. At least some will. Others might take offense and lash out….but that’s another sermon.
For today, let’s understand that when we obey we let our light shine….we shine brighter and brighter. And our neighbors see and give praise to our Father in heaven.
But someone says, “But what if I fail to obey? Will God kick me out His family? I just seem to goof up all the time and fall short all the time. I’m not angry towards God’s law like those watermelon stealers but I get anxious about God’s law because I fear rejection. How can I ever adopt Jesus attitude towards the law when it makes me feel so crummy and so fearful?
Adopting Jesus Attitude
1) Savor His Achievement
The answer is we that we must distinguish between the provider of our righteousness
and the path of it. We need to distinguish between the source of our righteousness
And the course of it. Dallas Willard once said, “The Law is not the source of our righteousness. It is the course of our righteousness.” Jesus is the source of our righteous standing before the heavenly Father. In Matthew 3 our Lord Jesus came to John the Baptist to undergo baptism. John says, “Hold up! What are you doing? My baptism is a baptism for sinners who know they need to repent. Jesus, you are not a sinner, you don’t need to repent and so you don’t need to be baptized. If anything, I need to be baptized by you. You don’t need to be baptized by me.” But Jesus says in Matthew 3:15, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words Jesus says, ‘John, it’s my mission to be a Savior, a righteous substitute, not just a righteous example. I have come to provide righteousness for my people. Let me baptized because that I shows I God’s appointed substitute to die for their sins so that whoever believes that I paid their penalty will receive eternal life.
In Tim Kellers excellent sermon on this passage, he points out that Martin Luther used to say that the Law should guide the Christian’s conscience but the Law should not sit on the throne of the Christian’s conscience. When the Law sits on the throne of the conscience it will either make us proud and judgmental or guilty and despairing.
So Keller says, “Jesus Christ has to sit on the throne of your conscience.” This way when we feel guilty for falling short we can say to our conscience, “Christ paid for that. I’m perfectly accepted in him. He has fulfilled all righteousness for me. He is the king of my conscience O Law, He is the source of my righteousness O Law, NOT YOU! And I stand totally righteous in Him because of what he achieved for me at the cross!”
The Pharisees managed a surface level righteousness that looked good on the outside but the looks were deceiving. Jesus said, “I know your heart and I see pride, jealousy, greed, hypocrisy, lust and other unclean things there. You Pharisees are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones, decay and everything unclean. Your hearts look dirty.
God’s commands can guide a changed heart. But they can’t change the heart. Only God’s Word of Grace, only God’s authoritative verdict can do that. Jesus achieved our acceptance at the cross and it’s thing to break the law of a commander. IT’s quite another to break the law of our redeemer and friend. WWhy would I ever hurt the one who saved me?” I want to love Him. I want to please Him. I want to live His way, The same cross that assures us we are righteous in Jesus also melts away our rebellious attitude and replaces it with a soft heart that wants please our Heavenly Father. And few things please the Father more than Jesus flavored righteousness. Jesus urges us to seek first God’s kingdom God’s righteousness.
Pursue Jesus Righteousness by Prayer and Practice
He motivates us in verse 19b with the promise that, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Notice that word practice. It’s such a humble word. Jesus doesn’t say, “Whoever is perfect and proficient in these commands will be called great. No, it’s just whoever practices, whoever pursues, growth in righteousness is hard. So let’s take one of the commands of chapter 5 and think about what it would mean to practice it next week. In a few verses Jesus commands, “You’ve heard it said don’t murder, but I say don’t be angry….don’t be contemptuous. Anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca” will be answerable to the court. “Raca” is an insult word like Idiot. It’s an expression of contempt. Dallas Willard defines contempt as studied degradation of another person. We scan them for flaws then spotlight those flaws for others to see so we can shove them onto the reject pile. Now if that attitude is in our hearts, we can read a dozen Proverbs about kindness and 10 Bible commands about courtesy but we won’t change, because in our heart of hearts, we believe that group is worthless junk. If we want to change that belief, we need prayer. Practice means prayer.
So here is how I practice the command of courtesy. First, I pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” I pray, “Lord Jesus, I see that when kingdom comes, contempt goes. Please convert me to Christ-like courtesy. Thank you for not treating me with contempt when you saw me in my raggedy sinfulness. Please work me in me the courtesy that will please you. Amen.”
Practice also means put off activities that stir up your contempt. “If talk radio, or certain social media inflames your contempt for a particular group of people then eliminate your exposure to it….maybe that’s what you should fast from this coming Lent”.
Finally, practice means put on activities that stir up courtesy. Try to see sandpaper people with Jesus eyes, as a lost sheep, as a precious treasure. Every human being you see is a one of a kind, never to be duplicated image of God. Practice means treat all people as treasures and viewing society as a shop full of God’s valuables. We should imagine a little sign hanging from each persons neck which says, “Handle with care! Made in Heaven’s Workshop. Signed, Your Maker.” Let’s do that friends. Courtesy might not be popular in our world but Jesus says that if we practice His commands we will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.