The Sixth Sunday after Trinity: A Matter of Mountains

Lessons: Exodus 20:1-17, Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 5:17-26
Hymns: 579, 580, 590, 581, 689

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In my previous parish, a gentleman thanked me for focusing on God’s Word while preaching, instead of spending time on other matters. He lamented that one preacher from years ago tried to preach on farming and used farming analogies, which revealed that pastor’s minimal knowledge of all things agricultural.

Well, today, I’ve chosen to take up the topic of mountains and next week I plan to bring up gardens. And yet, these themes will serve as means of illustrating biblical teachings, for they are biblical themes.

When God spoke the words of our Old Testament lesson, He did so from a mountain—that mountain is known as Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb. God’s presence on that mountain was quite a sight. The terrifying experience is captured in Hebrews 12:18-21, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’”

God did not reveal His Law using beautiful pictures and comforting words. Instead, He revealed His Law in such a way to show the seriousness of God’s Law, the eternal nature of the Law, that the Law condemns, and the Law’s burdens are impossible.

At Mt. Sinai, God gave His people the Ten Commandments. They speak of God’s will for His people. They describe how God’s people will live. They are not merely suggestions. And their interpretation goes well below the surface.

On another mountain, Jesus sat down to preach. We heard a portion of His preaching in today’s Gospel from Matthew 5. All of Matthew 5, 6, and 7 constitute our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. You would think that His sermon would be filled with beautiful pictures and comforting words, but Jesus, too, preaches much Law. Yet, if you see that Jesus fulfilled this Law and kept the Law’s demands, you will also see much comfort—Gospel—in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

Last week, I brought up the Ten Commandments in connection to Peter’s response to our Lord’s miracle of bringing in two boatloads of fish. Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Peter knew the commandments and, as result, also knew of his unworthiness to be standing before the Lord. Peter could not assert himself or his abilities before Jesus. Instead, his sin was before him (Psalm 51:3). Last week, I implored you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ here at Grace, to learn the Ten Commandments by heart if you do not already know them. For Christ’s Church stands in miserable shape when Communicants cannot name the Ten Commandments. If you do not know them, then speak the Ten Commandments word for word each day. Once you learn them, continue to speak the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer daily, and consider their meanings.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches how to understand the true meaning of the Ten Commandments. When we hear, “Thou shalt not kill,” we may want to pat ourselves on the back, thinking, “I haven’t taken anyone’s lives so look at me. I’ve kept the Fifth Commandment.” Instead of gaining self-security from reviewing the Commandments, Jesus teaches their true intensity as He says, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21). When we hear, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” we figure that when we haven’t cheated on our spouses, we have kept the Commandment. Yet, Jesus says that if you look at someone with lust, you have broken the Sixth Commandment (Matt. 5:27-28).

So, on Mt. Sinai, we learn the Law. Yet, God did not reserve Mt. Sinai exclusively for the Law. Remember when God called Moses to deliver His people from Egypt by speaking to him through the burning bush? Well, that took place at Mt. Sinai as well. And last week, we heard of the prophet Elijah who fell asleep under a broom tree. When he woke up, an angel told him to eat some cake baked on a stone and drink some water, which God provided. That gave Elijah enough sustenance to travel for 40 days to Mt. Horeb, or Mt. Sinai. There God spoke gently to Elijah through a small whisper—a still, small voice. There, God comforted Elijah and pointed out that Elijah was not alone, but God preserved a remnant who remained faithful.

When Jesus goes up to the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John and reveals His glory, Moses and Elijah meet with Him and speak to Him of His upcoming departure—a departure which will take place on another mountain.

The place of the Skull, or in Hebrew Mt. Golgotha, Jesus is crucified. In the Latin, this place is known as Mt. Calvary.

Jerusalem itself sits on top of a series of mountains. Remember when God called upon Abraham to take his only son and sacrifice him? Well, Abraham took him to the mountaintop which would become Jerusalem. Isaac carried the wood up this mountain to be sacrificed. Yet, Abraham’s only son Isaac is not sacrificed. Instead, God provided a substitute for Isaac—a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. That animal was sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Then, 2000 years later, Jesus carries His cross to be crucified. As the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus is sacrificed on the altar of the cross to take away the sin of the world. All the world’s sin is placed upon Jesus when He went to Golgotha. Jesus took the blame for the many times we have broken the Ten Commandments. Jesus bore our sins of neglecting God’s Word to point that we may find ourselves having difficult naming the Ten Commandments or the books of the Bible. Jesus bore our sins of anger or lust and paid for them when He shed His innocent Blood.

Yet, that does not mean we can continue in those sins. The forgiveness of sins is never a license to be able to commit sin. For Jesus declared, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). And St. Paul begins our Epistle, saying, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1) Then Paul gives us the rationale: we have died to sin, so why would we want to continue living in it? We were joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection in our Baptism. Our identity is no longer in our sin, but in our Savior who is the author and perfecter of our faith. Because we have died to sin through our Baptism, we are set free from our sin. But if we figure that we may continue in sin for whatever reason (whether we think the Ten Commandments no longer apply, we attempt to reinterpret God’s Law, we bank on having the forgiveness of sins as an excuse to sin, etc.), we remain slaves to our sin and forfeit the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned for us on the cross.

This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is a serious warning that we must all remember. Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and payment for our sins by no means gives us license to sin as we please. First, that is no way to thank God for His mercy and love in sending Jesus to pay for our sins. Second, we should not desire to return to the filth of our sin now that we have been freed from it.

But what do we do when we find ourselves tempted to break the Law? And what do we do when we sin due to the weakness of our flesh? What does God think of us in our weakness and sin?

Well, we take no refuge in the Law, for it will not save. In fact, it will keep on accusing us of our many sins. Instead, we take refuge in Christ who carried our sins to Mt. Calvary and paid for them all. We lay our sins on Jesus. Then we claim Christ as our righteousness. Through Baptism, He covers us with His very righteousness. What this means is that, as Christians, God does not see us soiled in our sin. Instead, the Father sees us through Christ, who stood in our place and took our sin away. The Father sees us as being as perfectly pure, holy, and righteous as Christ Himself is pure, holy, and righteous. This is so because our sin is taken away and we are now credited with being covered with Christ’s very righteousness.

This forgiveness is granted by God through the Church. Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem on top of Mt. Zion. The Scriptures frequently refer to Mt. Zion as the Christian Church. The comfort God sends out through His Church is revealed in Hebrews 12:22-23, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God.” Here at Grace, we are in the presence of God.

Knowing that our standing before God is that we are righteous, how can we not but want to climb every mountain and serve as heralds, proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel of God? We have something in Christ Jesus which nobody can achieve for themselves.

The Ten Commandments remain. They instruct us on how God would have us live peacefully with Him and with our neighbor. They still accuse us, even as they instruct us.

And even more so, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still applied to us sinners. He acquits us of our sin and declares us acceptable to Heaven. Just as Christ is risen from the dead, so we too shall live eternally. For we belong to Christ our Savior who has kept the Law perfectly in our place and taken our sins away. We are baptized into His family. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.