How many times have you looked at the commandments and thought to yourself that you’re doing pretty good right now? Haven’t murdered, haven’t cheated on your spouse. Less likely, but maybe even have gone a little while telling only the truth. Perhaps you were feeling pretty good about yourself and then Jesus interjects with this little ditty.
Now the question includes being angry or called someone an idiot, which probably means haven’t read the newspaper or watched the news? Or how about trying to give more emphasis to the truthfulness of what you say by adding “I swear to God,” or even “on my mother’s grave?”
What we really like though is this little voice, perhaps even saying to you right now, that says “yeah, but these sins aren’t that bad.” We may not murder but what about anger with our brother or coworker or sitting in this room with you but you never talk to because your angry or don’t like them? Perhaps you’ve called them idiot or worse, adding more sin to sin. We excuse it and say it’s not that bad because well, maybe they are and they deserve it. Perhaps what they did is bad and we self-justify in being angry with them or holding a grudge. So, we say we have no sin and deceive ourselves.
Or how about more. You have heard it said you shall not commit adultery. And you might think, “oh good, I’m not even married,” or “well, I haven’t cheated on my spouse.” We might even be tempted to excuse divorce as anything but sin as long as both parties agree to it being irreconcilable differences. You might be tempted to hear the soothing voice of this world that says go ahead and experiment, marriage is unnecessary all that matters is that your committed to each other now, do what feels good, it’s only natural, it’s only human. You might hide your adultery and evil, lusting hearts but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Hidden behind the walls or sheets where no one will see you or say something, hidden in the pages of a romance novel or magazine, hidden on the screen of your TV or computer.
We usually get caught up in the outward stuff and think that as long as we are nice to at least a few people and attend a service or two that we are pretty good. But the reality that Jesus unwraps is harsh and dark, our hearts are sin factories full of murder, hate, immorality, greed, lust, and idolatry. All the outward sin that we fight and try to fix has it’s root in our hearts. We can try and be as good as we want, we may be even able to outwards keep a commandment or two for a few minutes or if we were really good hours, but that doesn’t mean the sin isn’t there.
We may then want to throw the whole thing up in the air and say well everyone sins but we can’t all be damned to hell. Talk morality through with people, even Christians, and you get the feeling that the fires of hell are like running from a bear in the forest – as long as I can run faster than one guy, as long as I am better than one, I’m safe.
While we discount and say many sins are no big deal, Jesus takes them very serious. The sin which is in our hearts, the littlest of sin that we commit, leaves us liable to the fires of hell. Jesus doesn’t tell us this though to scare us straight. Nor is he exaggerating the point, for that too would be lying and deceiving. It is already past the point of no return when it comes to earning your righteousness, we have earned death and hell. We have heard it said that we can become better and redeem ourselves and that if you look within yourself and try hard enough you can do anything, but it’s all drivel and lies.
When it comes to our spirituality and our sin, we like treat it like a medical condition and perhaps get second or third opinions. We seek until we get the answer that we want to hear. We might go with the quack or the doctor who succumbs to superficial treatments and gives a placebo. We want the easier solution and say the problem is simpler than it really is so that we don’t have to worry about it. Let’s be honest, most of you came today and hoped for the optimistic voice that says your doing pretty good, everything will be fine, and it’s not that bad. That’s how a lot of what passes for religion says today, “it’s not that bad.”
It is that bad. It’s that bad in that fires of death and hell are deserved. You can cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if you want, but you still will have the other to deal with and if both are gone there is still your mind’s eye and lusts of the heart. Sin is a serious issue. Serious enough that the Son of God, the creator of the world, would have to succumb himself to death and hell for you. He takes on your sin. When we see the cross we see the punishment of death and hell that is our anger, our adultery, our murder, our greed, our deceptions, our idolatries.
While we are far from perfect, it’s not okay, for the Son of God died as that sin. Died to save us from the despair and punishment of death and hell. Forgives you of your sin, that is, sets you free from it. Sin can only be dealt with in death. Your sin and mine is dealt with in the death and resurrection of Jesus, joined in that dying and rising through the waters of baptism, eating and drinking the body and blood that was crucified and risen. In Him, your sin is dealt with, in Him your sin is forgiven. The bar is set pretty high but the death and resurrection of Jesus raises you to Him. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.”” Death and curse in our hearts, life and good, blessing in Jesus who became our sin and gives you a righteousness that is beyond the scribes and pharisees, the righteousness of God that creates in you a clean heart. Life and good are yours in the death and resurrection of this Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.