21 “You have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of hell fire. 23 “So if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother. Then come and offer your gift. 25 “If someone accuses you, reach an agreement with him quickly, while you are with him on the way. Otherwise your accuser may bring you to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Amen I tell you: You will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ 28 but I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out and throw it away from you. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to be regarded as an adulteress. And whoever marries the divorced woman is regarded as an adulterer. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘Do not break your oaths, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear at all: not by heaven, because it is God’s throne; 35 and not by earth, because it is his footstool; and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your own head, since you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Instead, let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no.’ Whatever goes beyond these is from the Evil One. (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Every year, we hear of some young person dying of a heart problem, right after competing in a sport. Lately, we seem to be hearing about it more often than ever. Just think of that member of the Buffalo Bills football team who had a heart attack right on the field causing the game to be cancelled. Did he have a previous heart condition nobody knew about?
A lot of people look spiritually heart-healthy. But what’s really going on on the inside? Sometimes signs of spiritual heart disease are clearly visible. Drug addiction, getting into trouble with the law, marriage problems. But a lot of people are really good at hiding spiritual heart-disease. The fact is, we all have it. None of us is as healthy inside, as we may appear on the surface. As we delve further into the Sermon on the Mount today, Jesus goes right to “the heart of the matter” when it comes to sin, so that He can offer us the cure.
Spiritual Heart Disease
I’ve had doctors that were soft on me and others who were a bit more harsh in their statements. Maybe you have too. Our Spiritual Physician is pretty blunt in His diagnosis in His sermon. If you’ve ever had a lustful thought, you’re an adulterer. If you’ve ever lost your temper unjustly, you’re a murderer. If you’ve ever failed to keep your word, you’re a liar. “Ouch! Take it easy, Jesus! We’re on your side!”
But we need to know the truth. We need to know we’ve got Spiritual Heart Disease. Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’” (Matthew 15:19, 20a).
People often wait until they’re in pain before they go to the doctor. But that may be too late. Similarly, the world doesn’t regard people as evil, or even spiritually sick, until they commit murder or some other grievous crime. When we hear about horrible crimes like the recent mass shootings in California we think, “Wow! Where did that come from?!” But those weren’t good people who went bad suddenly overnight. They were sinners from birth. They were born with Spiritual Heart Disease. And if there’s one tough thing we’ve learned from Scripture, it’s that we ourselves were also born sinners! We like to imagine that we are pretty good, that it’s only those other folks—the ones that make headlines—who have the disease. That’s why Jesus so carefully points out the more subtle signs of the heart-sickness that we have. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Other symptoms He lists are refusing to forgive, holding a grudge, and taking cheap and meaningless oaths.
Brothers and sisters, I trust we can all be mature and honest enough to accept the jarring diagnosis Doctor Jesus is delivering. We’ve got the disease. We need treatment, major intervention, because this spiritual disease is fatal! Don’t be fooled by the fact that the worst symptoms have been hidden so far. Other people may not be able to see what goes on inside your heart, but God does.
Spiritual Heart Surgery
The only solution is Spiritual Heart Surgery. An operation can be a little intimidating—to be opened up and have someone else’s hands reaching inside your chest! But in this case, the Surgeon is Jesus Himself. He made you. He knows everything. And He can make you good as new! But He has to start with a knife, a sharp cut from the scalpel of God’s Law.
It hurts to hear that we’re wrong. It’s embarrassing and demoralizing to hear Jesus call out the secret thoughts hidden in our heart. It’s uncomfortable when we speak and take to heart the words we recite in our confession of sins. I am sinful by nature and have sinned against you in my thoughts, words, and actions.” Still, if we want to be cured, the scalpel has to sink in; the cut has to be made. It’s the first and necessary step in our Spiritual Heart Surgery. Without the law, there can be no Gospel. Without confession, there can be no absolution. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
But once that cut has been made, Jesus can begin to heal us. The moment we confess, God comes to us with sweet forgiveness. He pours out His soothing Gospel balm on our hearts and the healing process begins. We want that healing. We need it, and so we pray for it with earnest lips, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me, take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.”
Going into surgery is scary, but once it’s over and been successful you can breathe a great sigh of relief. You’re over the hump. From here on things will only get better. It’s the same with our heart of hearts. Once Jesus operates, once the sin is cut out and new life put in, we can begin the recovery process; our hearts truly can be recreated by God.
Spiritual Heart Diet
Nobody leaves the cardiac unit in the hospital, without lectures from the doctors and nurses. They send you home with a stack of brochures. There are strict orders about making some lifestyle changes.
The first change is the Heart Diet. Dietitians seem to change their mind every few years about what exactly should be included in a healthy heart diet. But when it comes to spiritually heart friendly food, there is no doubt whatsoever. We know exactly what foods we have to avoid, and we know exactly what we have to eat for our spiritual heart-health, because Doctor Jesus tells us. Just as there is junk food to tempt our bodies, there is also lots of spiritual junk food on the market. But that stuff can harden and clog our spiritual arteries and send us to an early spiritual grave. Good, healthy spiritual food is much harder to find. It costs more than what the world offers. But it leads to health and life. That food is the pure Word of God.
So how are you coming on your spiritual heart-diet? Are you lapsing back to junk food? Are you remembering your daily doses of the good stuff? How is your personal and family devotional life? Have you fallen out of the habit? Are you ignoring the Great Physician’s orders? Our spiritual heart works just like its physical counterpart. If you don’t take care of it with the right food, your heart-condition will deteriorate. The heart disease you were born with will begin to worsen until it claims you as another statistical victim. Don’t neglect your diet!
Spiritual Heart Exercise
But it’s not just diet the cardiologist and nurses lecture you about when you’re going home from the hospital. They also tell you to Exercise. Sitting around doing nothing is bad for your spiritual heart too. Jesus wants you to put your faith into action. It’s not enough to avoid self-destructive behavior like hatred and lust. He wants us to replace bad habits with good exercises, to replace our sinful attitudes with love—love for Him and love for our neighbor.
God’s spiritual exercise program is not optional for Christians. As Paul wrote, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance that we may walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).This is what we have been redeemed for. So, are you challenging yourself spiritually to do what God, your Doctor, prescribed? Are you actively dealing with anger, unkindness, impatience, greed, lust, and untruthfulness in your life? James wrote “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (1:22–25).
It is true that you can’t always tell an unbeliever from a believer from the outside—not at first, or from a distance. Some people’s heart disease produces mostly internal symptoms. But, of course, God can tell the difference from a thousand miles away. And finally, so can we, if we take to heart the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gave us this sermon, firstly, to show us how perfect God law expects us to be, so that we recognize our disease and our need for His healing. As the confessional rite in the old Lutheran Hymnal put it, “If we diligently examine ourselves, we shall find nothing in us but sin and death, from which we can in no way set ourselves free.” Use Jesus’ words to diligently examine yourself and then joyfully acknowledge that God has given you a heart transplant. He’s created in you a new heart. Take good care of your new heart. Faithfully take the medicine of eternal life in the Lord’s Supper. Read, mark learn and inwardly digest the pure spiritual food of Scripture. Exercise your heart by living your faith. Prepare for and look forward to the day when your cure will be 100% complete on the day when Jesus takes you home. –Doctor’s orders.