(I had the chance to preach this sermon to a church full of pastors at a pastors’ conference. It’s based on Matthew 5:21-37. You’ll see from its very pointed applications that God’s Word is meant for pastors too! God’s Word convicts us of sin. God’s Word fills us with Christ. Whether or not you are a pastor, there is no one left out!)
One of the influential theologians of our day gave an in-depth interview last week. That great theologian, of course, was Aaron Rodgers. Did you hear about it? Hard to miss it. He described why he’s left Christianity. “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet … to a fiery hell. What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn most of his beautiful creation to a fiery hell?” Aaron Rodgers speaks for a lot of people. It sure seems like Christianity isn’t big enough to cover everyone. Christianity leaves too many people out. It seems inconceivable that God would send beautiful people to hell.
You hear that enough, and it starts to make sense, doesn’t it? I mean, people really do seem pretty good. It is hard to imagine that your friend or neighbor or son—or you!—really deserves eternal fire forever, isn’t it? Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashes… Seemingly innocent people die every single day… How could you and I say anything other than, “They are in a better place!”
Except there’s this inescapable, almost haunting thought woven throughout Scripture. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). The heart. Today we hear what Jesus really looks for. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).
So who is it for you? Let’s get right down to it. Which brothers are you angry with? We can be more specific. Forget about all the people out there. Who is it right here at this conference whom you can’t stand? Whom you avoid at all costs? Jesus knows. Who is it when you hear about their ministry, when you learn about their style, all you can think of is, “You fool!” I won’t tell you whom, but I’m afraid I’ve got some names. Sure, we can force a smile and a “Hi!”, but disgust sits inside. Except, “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” We pastors make a living putting on kind and gentle faces, but Jesus sees the depths of our hearts.
And he cuts. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Maybe your heart is so pure or so proud that it can’t think of anyone it hates. So Jesus asks, “What brother has something against you? Whom have you hurt and offended? Whom you’ve been content to leave in the rear view mirror?” That thought fills me with shame. Our sinful natures like to pretend they don’t know what Jesus is talking about. But we do. In fact, I don’t care if you’re an MVP quarterback or a righteous-on-the-outside public minister of the gospel, when Jesus preaches the law, there is no one left out.
Jesus could stop there, couldn’t he? One commandment is enough to slay us, isn’t it? But he knows how stubborn and vile our sinful natures are. So he goes deeper into our ugliness. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). As pastors, can we be honest? How many times as you have put the body of Christ into someone’s hand have your eyes looked down her chest? How many times as a woman has poured out her soul to you have you wondered what it would be like with her? Who is it in your heart? My heart is sick. How many times have you thought to yourself, “I’m glad no one knows my thoughts.” Except God does.
I wonder if that lust in their hearts isn’t what led Jewish men to be so quick to divorce their wives. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3). Jesus shut the door to that! Yet, how quick aren’t we to find the fault in our wives. “If only she had the biblical understanding I have.” “If only she shared the passion for ministry that I have.” “If I wasn’t tied down by her needs, I could accomplish so much more!” I wonder if that’s why Aaron Rodgers hasn’t ever gotten married. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is big enough to cover every person in the whole world. What God says about sin leaves no one left out!
I just want Jesus to stop. Just to let me be. I get it! But Jesus goes deeper than we’d ever want him to. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all…. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37). Do you keep your promises? Let’s see. The last time you promised a dear Christian soul, “I’ll pray for you,” did you really pray for them? I didn’t. What about all the other things you promise? To your kids? To your wife? To your associate? To God? Is your “Yes” really a “Yes”?
But no one knows, right? Is it really a big deal? Everybody thinks that we’re good! As long as we can hold it together on the outside, God’s got to be content. Actually, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). Brothers, what would be left of you? What should be left of me? When your sinful heart is exposed to the truth of God’s Word, there is no one left out.
The real question isn’t, “How could God send anyone to hell?” It’s, “How could God not send everyone to hell?” There’s so much more. “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And more and more and more. Don’t worry, Aaron Rodgers, there is nobody left out! I’m the one God should hate. I’m the one God should divorce. I’m the one God should lie too. I am the one who should burn in hell. You are too. In fact, there is no one left out!
Jesus should look us in the eyes and say, “You fool!” But he doesn’t. Instead, he let himself be called a fool as he died for us and for our sins on the cross. Jesus should close off the altar of God to people like us. But he doesn’t. Instead, he tore open the curtain and reconciled us to the Father. Jesus should throw us into hell’s prison and not let us out until we repay the last penny. But he doesn’t. Instead, he paid every last penny we owe with his blood on the cross. For you. For me. Along the way, Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). No grudges. No lust. No lies. Everything we fail to do, Jesus did for us.
Actually, there is no one left out. Isn’t that exactly what we’ve gotten to preach about over the past few weeks? “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Or that amazing conversation between the Father and the Son in Isaiah: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). What’s amazing about the grace of God in Jesus is that there is no one left out. Christianity isn’t too small. Jesus isn’t too little. “God reconciled the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). There is no one left out of God’s grace!
And when the Word plants faith in Jesus in your heart, God does something unexpected: He marries you. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). God isn’t lusting for someone else. God isn’t about to trade you in. God isn’t thinking, “I wish that guy were a pastor at my church instead of him.” God is faithful to you forever. How far does that faithfulness go? Well, God had Hosea marry a prostitute, then marry her again, to show how wide and deep and high and long is the love of Christ for his bride, the church. The only thing greater than our sinfulness is God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus.
Brother pastor, more than anyone else, you need the comfort found in Jesus’ marriage to his church. You are beloved. You are cherished. Not because you’re a pastor. Because you are the redeemed child of God and the bride of Christ. Your church might be shrinking. You might be personally struggling. People might be criticizing. You might be questioning your worth and purpose. And yet the truth is, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). That’s true for you. For every believer in Jesus. There is no one left out.
Because Jesus doesn’t ever lie. His “Yes” is always “Yes.” “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). For some reason, I have heard over and over again the past two weeks that the strength of a church depends on the health of its pastor. What a lie! God’s church and your life depend on Jesus Christ and his faithful promises.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7). God rejoices that you are sharing his Word. “[My Word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). The Word that you share is working in the hearts of people. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). It’s that Word of God that produces saving faith in Jesus. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). It’s not in vain. It’s never in vain. “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). You are not alone. You are never alone.
You stand before a group of people to preach. You want your message to hit every single one. You don’t want to just speak to a few in the front or a few in the back. You don’t want to just relate to those wearing suits or those wearing jeans. How do you hit everyone? You use God’s Word! The law cuts you up. It reveals your heart. It makes you stand convicted. There is no one left out! So that Jesus can put you back together. Reconciled. Loved. Forgiven. There is no one left out! Preacher, don’t make it complicated. When Aaron Rodgers sits in your pew, when the followers of Aaron Rodgers sit in your pews, preach God’s Word so that no one is left out.