I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

Your Gift on the Altar

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Anderson sermon
St. Matthew 5:20-26 “Your Gift on the Altar”
July 7, 2024 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
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Lord God, heavenly Father, we confess that we are poor, wretched sinners, and that there is no good in us; our hearts, flesh and blood being so corrupted by sin that we are never in this life without sinful lusts and desires. Therefore we beseech You, dear Father, forgive us these sins, and let Your Holy Spirit so cleanse our hearts that we may desire and love Your Word, abide by it, and thus by Your grace be forever saved; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, by Veit Dietrich, p. 159)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 5th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

[Jesus said:] “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who sees in our hearts how poor, wretched sinners we are and yet He has mercy on us, forgiving us our sins with His life on the altar, dear fellow redeemed:

Now that my vacation is over, it’s time to get back to work. There are many who have enjoyed this holiday weekend, maybe some have been off all week, and tomorrow they will begin waking up to their alarm clocks to head back in. Now there are some positives to working. Not only are you getting paid, but some jobs have room for advancement. I remember working at Walmart and every year employees would look forward to getting a raise. To get that raise, employees will show how they can work outside of the box, get their tasks done, and how in some places they exceed expectations. Of course, employers would love it if their employees’ exceeded expectations in every aspect of their job. Our text talks about us exceeding some high expectations and the gifts that we have to offer. You might be wondering what are those gifts that you have to offer, and can you exceed the expectations? After we listen to the text, you will see how Jesus makes your gift on the altar possible.

While Jesus is preaching His sermon on the Mount, He is using terms that the disciples and the people would know like righteousness and the altar for sacrifice. Our text begins with Him saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The people see how the religious leaders act. Those guys look close to perfect. It’s like when someone tells a pastor that he should be the one who prays for them because obviously a pastor is closer to God than regular folks. Both ideas are false. The religious leaders put on a good front. They know how God’s laws should impact people. How is anyone going to hold to the law better than they can? Jesus bridges what He said with what the Pharisees believe by pointing out the ten commandments which the disciples and the people would have heard all the time in the synagogue. The law is read every week, but is it being followed in the right way?

Jesus reads them the familiar law saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Again, the Pharisees have it right, “you shall not murder” because, “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17). Jesus says there is more though. You are guilty of an earthly judgment, but He tells the people if they fling insults at one another and have hate in their heart they are guilty of spiritual judgment. This will shake the people, as not only do they do this with their own people, but we can read in Scripture how they treated the Samaritans and other gentiles.

When we hear what Jesus tells the people about being angry and using insults, it’s only with a quick search of our lives where we see how not only, we let our anger slip in, but we note how many times we have negative thoughts toward our neighbor. We can do it so offhandedly that we hardly notice what we are saying. The psalmist writes, “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34:13). Once the hateful words have left our lips, they can’t be recalled. They sting and we don’t realize until later. Jesus points out the inevitable. We are guilty of breaking the commandment and the punishment is the hell of fire. Jesus turns to the gift. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” This gift is a gift for God but it’s a gift we rarely want to give. The gift is a sacrifice. A sacrifice of blood for our sins. For us today, that is repentance. Most of the time, we would rather hold tight to anger than ask for forgiveness.

If we hold tight to anger, Jesus lets us know that our repentance is not sincere. To remedy the situation, we must admit our wrongs fully before God. So, Jesus tells us to do the hard part. Before we stand in front of the Lord, we are to race to the person we have wronged and make things right with them. It is hard for us because as we struggle, we realize how hard it is to get rid of our grudges. We can be sinfully competitive for that raise that we put down our coworkers. When we fail to put our gift on the altar, then what Jesus says is clear. The Pharisees righteousness is not attainable for us. All we can do is cry to the throne above where the holy judge sits, “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary” (Psalm 28:1-2).

In that most holy sanctuary above, the holy judge makes His decree. He reveals His law and the perfect righteousness that is needed. As man is unable to have that perfect righteousness, man does not need to worry. God’s Son has perfect righteousness. God’s Son does not get angry with His oppressors. Where we couldn’t be reconciled to God because of our hate, Jesus is reconciled because of His obedience. It is through His work that the gift at the altar is accepted as St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

The people will soon see this death. As Jesus points them to the gifts that they bring to the altar, the people will see that these gifts were acceptable through His sacrifice. When the people sinned with anger in their hearts and with insults flowing from their tongues, it was the blood of beasts that pointed to this one atoning sacrifice. A death and resurrection that makes complete satisfaction on the altar in the holy sanctuary for them. The sanctuary that no one can have access to because of sin. Jesus provides the access to the altar as He goes before the Father on man’s behalf.

On your behalf. It shouldn’t be this way. Jesus gave up everything. Here you stand condemned as you see how you can’t fulfill the law. You see that fifth commandment and it hurts when you see the anger you have had and the words that have come out of your mouths. This is the point of Jesus’ message, a righteousness you can’t attain on your own and to see how He has done it for you. He exceeds you with perfect righteousness which He can only have as God. This is the kingdom that He proclaimed. A kingdom that you belong to through His work. He dwells with you, teaching you His Laws. Laws that are important for your well-being. But in your sins and your weakness to do what is right, Jesus goes to the altar on your behalf. St. Paul echoes His work, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).

Jesus brings you in. He has too. No matter how hard you have tried your job performance is unsatisfactory when it comes to the law. There is no moving up and there is no raise. You can only bring your gift, your repentance to the altar. Jesus points you to sincerity when you rush back to ask the person wronged for forgiveness. Jesus knows those who fail with their anger. So, He was humble. With His perfect righteousness, He made Himself the lowest of the low. He didn’t look for an earthly advancement. And with His death and resurrection He brings you close to Him. He is your gift on the altar and you see Him in the Holy Supper. Jesus Christ saves you from the hell of fire. He will judge the living and the dead and He will judge you innocent from anger, murder, spiteful words, and all other sins because He was not angry, He did not kill, and He spoke the truth in love to cloth you in righteousness.

As your Savior cleanses you with His righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, He tells you the urgency that is needed when it comes to making amends. “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” This isn’t a work to make your situation better. This is the responsibility of those who are penitent. It is hard to make things right as there must be admittance to wrongdoing. You don’t have to worry about working up the ladder. As the Law points out your wrongdoings, the altar points out your salvation. There is your gift. The love that God grafts in you as He shed His blood for you on the cross and clothes you in the exceeding righteousness of the Pharisees. Who keeps you in His grace. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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