S. Epiphany 6.20 “What Jesus Wants” Matt. 5:21-37
Maybe it’s difficult for women to say what men want (maybe not?); but it’s basically impossible for men to know or fathom what women want. Maybe that’s just me, maybe Valentine’s Day (and my deep, romantic streak) just got me thinking a little too much on this, but experience and wide reading on the subject suggests to me it’s not an uncommon conundrum. As a guy, I’m not complaining about it. It makes marriage endlessly exciting for us. I do feel sorry for my wonderful wife though. I try to present interesting puzzles to her in my behavior, keep her guessing, keep the mystery alive. It’s perhaps not always appreciated? To quote Matt Berninger: “it’s all… all show business, sweetie.”
As concerned as we should be to figure out what people want, we should be far more concerned, principally, always, passionately concerned for what God wants. Right? He made us. We serve, we exist at the pleasure… We sometimes forget this, though. We’re like the cat in the old joke: a collie, a pit bull, and a cat all die and appear before God in Heaven. God asks the collie: “What do you believe?” The collie replies: “I believe in keeping the sheep in line, pleasing my master.” God says “Well done, stay by My side.” He asks the pit bull: “What do you believe?” The pit bull says: “I believe in honor, strength, and the elimination of my master’s enemies.” “Well,” says God, “I think we can find a place for you up here, somewhere…” Then He says to the cat: “And what do you believe?” The cat says “I believe you are sitting in my seat.”
The first thing God wants (and makes clear in the Scriptures) is for us to get clear on our place. We are the made not the Maker. We are the helpees not the helpers. We are debtors to God not creditors. God’s Law is all about getting us straight on this. Eve ate the forbidden fruit because she thought otherwise. Adam, you notice, went along; not because he thought the same, but because he didn’t want to be happy, he just wanted to be with Eve. I’m glad stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore…
Because there is now something of a divine-human communication gap, a lack of real communion and understanding from our side of things. Because of this Original Sin Thing, God became one of us, became a Man, Jesus. Literally taking on our body, spirit, soul, He can think our thoughts, speak our language, empathize fully with our problems and even bear them all Himself and fix ‘em. Of course, He could (theoretically!) have done this without becoming Man, but He does it for our sake, so we’ll understand Him better. This is the way. This is why our next Wednesday evening pastor’s class, which begins after Easter will be “On the Incarnation” by Athanasius. You can get a copy and start reading now. It’s very enlightening.
It’s also why Martin Luther (almost alone among the modern church fathers) emphasizes there is no God but Jesus, for us. It is useless and vain to speculate (as the medieval scholastics did endlessly!) on what goes on in the divine realm between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scriptures say next to nothing on that, and the little it does say is way over our heads. No, Luther says: “wherever you put down God for me, you must put down the Man, Jesus!” For there is no other God but Him and all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus; so we will look for God nowhere else but in Jesus. If all of Christendom acknowledged this, we would not have all the goofy “worship” and stupid theology about 6 24 hour days and other nonsense. We wouldn’t create endless schemes proving (or disproving) how the bible meets our standards of reason and science. We wouldn’t be endlessly trying to unchurch the church (for Christ’s sake!) by catering to the heathen! We’d just worship and adore Jesus and all be far better off…
Anyway, there is no God for us but Jesus Christ. So, if we know what Jesus wants, we know what God wants, period, end of search. Highly useful knowledge! We would know our place and find it delightful. We would be what we were always supposed to be, and yet never so far quite have been, if we’re honest…
Now, Jesus tells us quite clearly in Holy Scriptures what He wants. He spells it out super-clear and direct in our Gospel reading today. But centuries of bad theology have made His clear words opaque to many of us. So let’s cut through some of the confusion and get clear again on what Jesus, our Lord and God, wants for us:
In a nutshell, Jesus wants us to go to heaven, to enjoy eternal life in Paradise forever with Him. That’s it. That’s all He wants for us! But sin keeps us from that Heaven. So, Jesus wants to get rid of sin for us. He did that by living the Perfect Life, dying the fully atoning death for all the world’s sin, and rising victorious, bodily, to share it with us by faith in Him alone—and that Good Gift we call the Gospel.
But if we can’t tell what’s sinful, embracing sin, faith can be weakened, even destroyed. So God gives the Law which does three things: Thing One: it curbs bad behavior for Christians and non-Christians, showing the misery that sin always brings and making us (selfishly!) wish to avoid that.
Thing Two: the Law mirrors us; that is, shows us what we’re really like. We have no natural inclination or ability to follow the Law, so we stand accused as people who literally have no chance to get to Heaven by our good efforts or intentions. Thing Three: the Law guides the Christian as to what is the Good Way of Life and what is the Bad Way of sin, death, hell.
There is, especially and oddly enough, for Lutherans, some confusion about this Third Thing the Law does, the guiding thing. Since the other two uses of the law are entirely negative, some confused people (like John Agricola back in Luther’s day, and others we could name today) got the dumb idea that the Law itself is only and entirely negative—that only the Gospel is something positive.
But, if you let art flow over you, you will not make this mistake (how can anything from God be bad, solely negative?). Paul says the Law is holy, just, and good—and he’s reliable!). In our Gospel today, Jesus shows how all sorts of things that we think are not sinful are actually sinful—stuff like lust, hate, covetousness in the heart. Bad thoughts are as bad as bad actions!
Now, Jesus would have us take the most extreme measures to avoid all bad things—even cutting off the members of our very bodies that lead us into sinful modes of life!
But why? Not because (as Agricola wrongly thought) that we have to do these good things to earn God’s favor, but because sinful things always erode the Faith in Christ Jesus that alone gives us life…(!)
Simply put: Jesus wants you to go to Heaven, to have a great time with Him for all time and eternity. It’s all He wants for you. And you get there not but what you do, but solely by receiving Jesus’ perfect, divine Life as your own, by faith alone, mirroring Him—a Mystical Valentine, wrapped up in the Word, Sacraments—in the Worship of Jesus in His Church…
There is nothing we can or have to do to get to Heaven! But there are things we can do—sinful things—that shipwreck our faith, love, trust in Jesus. Jesus wants us to avoid that, by walking always with Him, by faith alone, that all His Goodness, His Peace—surpassing understanding!—would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.