Sermon audio here.
There’s a direct connection between your faith in Jesus and how you treat people. To love God is to love those around you. Hatred along with its bitter fruits of slander and gossip are signs of unbelief. For Christians, reconciling with the people you don’t like is non-negotiable. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (St. Matthew 5:43).
It doesn’t matter who started it. Jesus calls you to do the same thing He did: seek the well-being of those who seek your harm. If Jesus is your Lord, He is also your example. We get upset over the cruelty of others even when we’ve provoked it. Jesus prayed for the welfare of those who hated Him without cause even while they were putting Him to death! That’s the sort of love Jesus expects His children to show. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Today’s Holy Gospel’s a warning: everyone who hates his brother is in danger of going to hell (St. Matthew 5:22). This is such an important point that Jesus says basically the same thing three different ways:
1) everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment
2) whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council;
3) whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (St. Matthew 5:22).
Faith is not compatible with hatred. Being mean to people, even those who are mean to you, is a sign of unbelief and it puts your salvation in jeopardy. It’s no big deal to love your family; everyone does that. What sets Christians apart—or is supposed to set us apart, at least—is love for enemies (St. Matthew 5:43–48). God’s love doesn’t discriminate; neither should yours.
Jesus’ idea of love isn’t a warm fuzzy emotion. Jesus defines love as what you do, and it’s usually not pleasant and it’s never self-serving. The greatest example of love, Jesus says, is laying down your life for your friends. Some friends He had! Those closest to Jesus couldn’t get away from Him fast enough. The rest of the people were practically foaming at the mouth as they shouted “crucify Him!” By comparison, their demands for Jesus’ blood would have made the cries at the United Center for the Stanley Cup sound anemic.
Saying you love God is meaningless unless it affects how you live. Loving God means loving your enemies and doing everything in your power to live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12:18). Anyone who says, “I love God,” but hates his brother is a liar (1 John 4:20). The more you get into conflict, the weaker your faith and the colder your love becomes, and eventually your relationships are damaged beyond repair—both with God and everyone else.
There’s no denomination in the world that talks more about faith and grace—or probably understands them less—than Lutherans. People began figuring out new ways to abuse the Gospel almost before Luther could even finish preaching it!
Here’s how the thinking goes: if we’re saved by grace alone, nothing we do matters. The flesh can’t get away from its obsession with rewards and punishments. Unless there’s a paycheck or threat involved, the flesh won’t do a thing.
Grace is the opposite of reward and punishment. We’re saved by grace alone; there’s no sin Jesus didn’t die for. But as far as the flesh is concerned, this means there’s no motivation to do good works or to avoid sin, so nothing Scripture teaches about living by faith is taken seriously. Luther once said, “Whoever does not want to believe the Gospel, live according to it, and do what a Christian ought to be doing, should not enjoy any of its benefits either,” (Exhortation to Confession, 5).
Lutheran doctrine doesn’t put good works in the background. It just refuses to treat them like they’ll earn you God’s favor, even if that means risking nobody will do them. Jesus doesn’t need our help in protecting the Gospel from abuse. If that was a risk He was willing to take, we should take it, too. But neither should our inability to keep the Law cause us to soften its demands. Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It doesn’t matter that it’s impossible. It’s what Jesus expects, and faith never aims for less than perfection.
You know what you call someone who believes that Jesus is God but doesn’t live like it? Satan. Faith without love is exactly the sort of “faith” demons have. They know God’s Word is true, they just don’t act like it. The highest worship you could offer Satan is to act like sin doesn’t matter. Faith purifies the heart and despises sin. Faith doesn’t need a reward for living as a child of God.
As much as we like to talk about being saved by grace through faith, we don’t like to live that way. We absolutely don’t want faith meddling in the affairs of daily life. Faith means loving your enemies, and that’s something you don’t want any part of. There are people you love to hate. There’s hardly anything the sinful flesh enjoys more than watching bad things happen to people you don’t like.
That’s how Jonah was. If anyone ever deserved punishment, it was Jonah. He did the exact opposite of everything God told him to do. He was as wicked as can be, and God even had him thrown overboard. But when God was gracious and sent that fish to save Jonah from drowning, you didn’t see him objecting. There were no pleas, “Come on, God—you’re not really going to let me off that easily, are you?”
But Jonah wasn’t nearly as lenient when it came to his enemies. He hated the Ninevites and couldn’t wait for the fireworks and brimstone to get going. God’s patience with them absolutely killed Jonah. He was so angry with God that he actually prayed for God to take his life (Jonah 4:3). Jonah would have gone to the cross and died a million deaths if it would have prevented Nineveh from hearing the Gospel.
Jonah forgot that faith meant loving his enemies and praying for those who persecuted him. Jonah wanted the benefits of the cross without having to bear it. For Jesus, bearing the cross meant dying for His enemies. All He asks of you is to love your enemies and pray for them.
When we hear the full preaching of the Law, things like “love your enemies”, we write it off as impossible and so we don’t even try. Or we look around at others, say “no one is perfect” or “God will forgive me” and take a “why bother?” attitude.
The problem with “why bother” is that it’s always met with severe judgment. The apostle instructs us to run the race; fight the good fight; keep the faith and your eyes focused on the prize. We who have died to sin cannot continue to live in it.
Jesus said not even a dot will pass away from the Law, but by ignoring His repeated commands to live by faith, we’ve essentially torn whole books out of the Bible. Jesus suffered and died so that we might live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness (SC, Creed:II).
Somehow we’ve gotten this idea that you can break as many commandments as you want—as often as you like—so long as you have that eternal nationwide policy on your side. All you need to do is come to church or even stay on the church’s rolls and pay that premium by sending in your offering. Then, you can live however you like and your death benefit is guaranteed. It’s not.
Satan would love to sell you an eternal life insurance policy. Nothing would please him more than for you to believe your faith is only there in case of emergency and keep you from using it while you’re living. Treating faith like eternal life insurance is the opposite of living by faith.
The Israelites thought they could live however they wanted and God would love and forgive them no matter what. They were in for an unpleasant surprise. St. Paul writes,
“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” (1 Corinthians 10:9–12).
The Israelites thought they were safe. They were churchgoers. But the Destroyer came along and destroyed them. Learn your lesson from Scripture, lest you drive the Holy Spirit away from you for good. The Bible is filled with example after example of God punishing sin—severely. Persistence in sin drives the Holy Spirit away and hardens the heart. God does not take sin lightly, and neither should you.
Jesus is explicit: those who get into heaven are those who do the will of the Father, not those who pay lip service to Him (St. Matthew 7:21). Where faith exists, you can’t help but live a godly life (St. Luke 6:44–45). By its fruits true faith is known; works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living (LSB, 555; st. 9). Sin, on the other hand, is evidence of unbelief.
You prove your lack of faith every time you sin. Even so, Jesus calls you His friend. He loves those who hate him, and everything He does is proof of this. He Has created you, sustains you, took on human flesh for you, suffered the wrath of God in your place, died and rose again for you, intercedes for you at the Right Hand of the Father, and gives you the Holy Spirit and faith through preaching and the Sacraments. Jesus shows His true feelings for you by everything He does.
Even though Peter ignored Jesus, Jesus didn’t ignore him. All it took was a passing glance at Peter’s eyes, and the fallen disciple went out and wept bitterly. The Lord kept His eye on Peter, and Peter saw that the only thing that was greater than his sin was the Lord’s mercy. Later on Peter would recall that Jesus had suffered all these things for him even while he was in the midst of denying Him. The Lord’s merciful gaze cut Peter’s heart like a knife, and out poured the blessed sorrow of contrition.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17). It is His delight to gladden the broken and contrite heart. The Lord looks with favor upon those who tremble at His Word, those who are humble and contrite of spirit (Isaiah 66:2). Jesus shed His holy, precious blood for you so that you might live as His child now—that you might live a godly life here in time and there in eternity.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Walther, Law & Gospel, Thesis X.
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Matthew 5:20–26
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 2015: For Eternal Life Insurance, Just Dial 666!
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