“But I Tell You…”  Matthew 5:21-37

Four words got Jesus into trouble.  Did you know that? 

The Sixth Sunday After The Epiphany  February 11-12, 2023

“But I Tell You…”  Matthew 5:21-37

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

             Four words got Jesus into trouble.  Did you know that?  Just four words but He kept on using them over and over again.  The four?  “But I tell you…”  In Matthew 5 He uses that phrase 6 times.  “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder’.  But I tell you, anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”  “You have heard it 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.”  “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

            When Jesus said those four words He got into trouble.  He quotes Moses (“You have heard it said”) and then says that He – Jesus – has a better word, a final word.  “But I tell you…”  Can you imagine the big shots in the church listening to Him say that?  They questioned His right to say such things.  They questioned His authority.  

            Moses was a pretty big guy for the Jewish people.  To quote Moses was to quote God.  In Moses’ obituary, the last words in Deuteronomy, it says, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”  (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

            Jesus, now early in His ministry speaks over Moses.  He speaks four words – “But I tell you.”  Those would be the words of His undoing.  Do you remember when Jesus acted like a mad man in the temple in Jerusalem?  He turned over the tables of those who were selling their goods, throwing the coins everywhere.  And those in power asked him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  (John 2:18)

            In Mark 2, again early in Jesus’ 39-month ministry, His authority was questioned.  Four men brought a friend of theirs to Jesus.  He was paralyzed and because so many people were in the house where Jesus was they couldn’t push their way through.  They climbed up on the roof, dug through the roof and lowered the man in front of Jesus.  Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Now, that got Jesus’ opponents mad.  Who is he to forgive sins?  Only God can do that!! So Jesus answers His critics, those who would say He has no right to use those four words, “But I tell you…”  Jesus says to them, “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘ Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’  And he did.  (See Mark 2:1-12)

            Four little words, either spoken by His words or by His actions got Him into deep trouble.

            Four little words get us into trouble as well.  He demands way too much of us, doesn’t He?  It is an awful thing to take the life of another person.  To kill another human being is reprehensible.  Terrible.  But Jesus knows that the filth of the heart is as dirty as the actions of the hand.  “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”  (Matthew 5:22)  William Barclay in his commentary says, “So Jesus forbids forever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.”  (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Page 139)      

            James, the brother of Jesus says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”  (James 1:19-20)  John, in his epistle says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”  (I John 2:9-11)

            Four little words get us into trouble.  Whenever we think that we are somehow better than others Jesus says, “But I tell you”, and the level of godliness gets deeper and more demanding.  We can’t live in bitterness and anger toward others – even those idiot drivers who drive our roads.  His four little words can’t turn into our four-letter words!!

            You want four more words?  Probably not!!  But Jesus says, “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)  And then Jesus goes on to talk about plucking your eye out, the eye that is sinning, and throwing it away.  He talks about cutting off your hand, the one doing the despicable sexual sins, and throwing it away.  He says, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  (Matthew 5:30)  Does He mean it?  Should we actually do it?  No, you’d better not.  We’d all be blind and crippled!!  But He does mean it.  He is serious.

            Sexual sins can destroy a person.  They can destroy the person who does them and the person who has been the person used or abused.  If you are watching pornography, trapped in lust, you are outside of the will of God.  If your talk is filled with crude and filthy words you are not living as God’s child.  If your body and its ways and purposes are not pure, Jesus has four words that are meant to jar your conscience and change your actions – “But I tell you”.

            But those words are the greatest and best words.  I know that those four words got Him into trouble.  I know, too well, that they get us into trouble.  But those words bring us life.  Those four words – “But I tell you” – are words that we hunger for.  In Luke 5 we read about Jesus inviting a well-known sinner named Matthew to be His disciple.  Those who knew Matthew knew his shady character.  He was a tax collector – regarded as the scum of society.  When this happened it caused an uproar.  Jesus was confronted, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?  This was the answer that Jesus gave, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Luke 5:30-32)

            “But I tell you”, has now become a word of forgiveness and grace and hope.  In John 6 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  And then He adds, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”  (John 6:35, 37)

            Lovelytheband has a song whose lyrics make sense to me.  The refrain to the song goes:

I like that you’re broken, broken like me.  Maybe that makes me a fool.

            I like that you’re lonely, lonely like me.  I could be lonely with you.

             Jesus, in His great love and mercy and compassion comes to us who are broken and lonely, and have struggled with life and sin, and invites us to His side once again.  In Luke 7, a leader of 100 soldiers has one of his soldiers who became seriously ill.  This man had heard about how Jesus cared for all people and that He had authority to make sick people well.  So he sent some other soldiers to bring Jesus to the place where this ill man lay.  But when Jesus was on His way, the leader of 100 soldiers sent word with this message, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  (Luke 7:6-7)  “Just say the word” – and Jesus did – and this man was healed.

            Four words got Jesus into a bunch of trouble.  Four words, and what they demand of us, get us into a bunch of trouble.  But four words, “But I tell you”, are the words that tell us we are forgiven and strengthened and healed through Jesus.  May our God keep on speaking to us and may our ears and our hearts receive His word.  Amen!!        


1 comment

  1. Linda Marquez says:



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