Murder Without Swords
Scripture: Matthew 5:20–26
Murder Without SwordsMatthew 5:20-26
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
I don't believe there has ever been a culture that hasn't defined a standard of "rightness." When probed about their thoughts, all people seem to have some firm convictions as to the correct way to conduct their lives. What is permissible? What should be advocated? What is the correct behavior for a human being? From strict standards to the belief that we should have no standards, all of us have drawn lines as to what is appropriate behavior. If you don't believe me, all you have to do is watch 10 minutes of "The View" or "Hannity and Colmes" and you will see what I am talking about! In our postmodern age, we seem to celebrate a diversity of thought. Everyone is right and no one is permitted to call another's beliefs into question despite them being: Incorrect, contradictory or outright ludicrous.
Most people today also accept some form of a "Higher Power." Interestingly, we are masters of creating him (or her or it) according to the patterns of our beliefs (that I was just speaking of). If I believe I am sovereign and my beliefs are accurate and the divine being exists to serve me, quite naturally this being will be a figment of my imaginary power. He will be a reflection of me.
Then wanting to be accepted by my god, I create rules that I can abide by and enforce those standards of conduct on others. For example, my god finds it to be the greatest sin when intolerant people inform homosexuals and fornicators that they must repent. My god is a loving god, which means that all people regardless of their profession will be accepted by him. Here is an example of a god who plays by our rules: Have you ever heard anyone say they are going to heaven because they haven't committed any "big sins." I will have a lot to say about that one this morning!
We have become a society of Pharisees. Sure, the rules and regulations are much different, but still, we have established a pattern of behavior and obligated God to bless the way we have chosen to live our lives. We have sought to domesticate God, manage Him and inform Him how He must rule the universe. Creating a god in our image is very convenient. It gives us the best of both worlds: Living as we please combined with divine approval!
The Pharisees during the time of Christ did exactly this. Instead of following God's law, they wrote their own. Through their traditions, they boiled down the expectations of God into achievable duties. Then, they met their own self-prescribed standards and boasted of their righteousness. To the average onlooker, they appeared to be the most righteous people in the land.
Yet Jesus Christ saw it simply as self-righteousness and their religion as nothing more than man-centered beliefs and external performance. So in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brought the true Christian living that is expected from the true God and lived out by the true citizens of His kingdom. It is a heart attitude. It is a higher standard than anything the Pharisees ever dreamed of.
Imagine the conflict this created between Himself and the Pharisees. And imagine the shock this created between Himself and the people-especially when He made comments like the one found in verse 20. "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
For the next few weeks we will see Jesus define for His people the true law of God, a righteousness expected, a righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees. They have been called "The Six Antitheses" and they are found in verses 21-48. Quite often they begin with a "You have heard" (5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43) and end with a "But I say to you" (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).
There is no doubt that Jesus brought correction to the way the law was perceived. Yet the question we have to answer is what type of correction did Jesus bring? Was it to recover the Old Testament law that had been redefined and maligned by man, or was it to intensify the law beyond its original revelation that came through Moses?
There is no question that the true law of God needed to be recovered since the authority of Scripture was replaced with man-centered traditions. But in each of these six cases in Matthew 5, I do not see Jesus quoting their traditions. Rather, I see Him quoting Scripture, the law of God. Therefore I believe Jesus came as the new lawgiver, one superior to Moses, the final Prophet that would bring the fullness of God's revelation. Remember from verse 17, He fulfilled the Old Testament law. And after fulfilling it, He came to show how everything in the law pointed to Him.
In these six antitheses we see Jesus at times advancing the law, at times tightening the law, at times rendering the old law obsolete and at times restricting the law. In my opinion, His words are far from a true exposition of God's law. Rather they are taking the law in a new direction that He saw fit. Remember, the Scriptures say He amazed the people with the authority in which He spoke (7:29; 9:8).
This morning, we will take a look at the first antithesis found in verses 21-26.
1. THE LAW OF MOSES STATED
First we see Jesus clearly state the Law of Moses, the first point. Verse 21, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'
As I said before, we do not see Jesus stating an improper practice of the Pharisees. We see Him stating the Law of God directly from Exodus 20:13, one of the Ten Commandments.
God's disapproval of murder goes all the way back to Creation. As early as Genesis 4 (only one chapter after the Fall), judgment was brought upon Cain for killing his brother, Abel (Gen. 4:8-12). Even long before the Law of Moses, God said in Genesis 9, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6). Here we see the reason why the intentional killing of another for personal reasons is so offensive in God's sight, and we also see the prescribed consequence-Capital Punishment (cf. Ex. 21:12; Num. 35:16, 30-31). That is what Jesus meant at the end of verse 21: "Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court" (a fair trial before the judge based upon witnesses and then the proper punishment as prescribed by the law). Murder resulted in execution. Remember that!
Though there is debate over the biblical way to deal with murderers in the New Covenant, the command that forbids murder is clearly continued throughout the New Testament. There can be no doubt that "the LORD hates…hands that shed innocent blood" (Pro. 6:16-17).
And in just about every society, murder is condemned and penalized with the highest punishment available. Just ask people, "What is the worst possible crime?" And their response will almost always be, "Murder."
Yet though we all find murder repulsive, there is one thing about murder that is very attractive. When we realize that we will probably never commit this ultimate sin, we feel comfortable that we have attained some acceptance from God. Again, ask those same people why God should allow them into heaven, and their uniformed response will almost always be, "Because I haven't murdered anyone." Murderers like Hitler and Gacy and Judas go to hell. Good people, non-murderers like me, go to heaven.
Do you remember Jeffery Dahmer, the deranged serial killer who murdered 17 men and boys in the 1980's? Do you remember that he supposedly gave his life to Jesus Christ while in prison? I can still remember the controversy I sparked in the Teacher's Lounge when I said if Jeffery Dahmer's faith was genuine, he will be in heaven over many honest churchgoers and law-abiding citizens.
Now I readily admit that there is something in our flesh that finds that thought repulsive. Mass murderers deserve hell! But the problem is, we all deserve hell. Good people deserve heaven! Yes they do, but the problem is, none of us are good enough. This was the error with the Pharisees. They defined the criteria of right and wrong based upon their own standard. Though we wouldn't admit it, we become a society of 21st Century Pharisees and my simple illustration proves that the church is full of them!
2. THE LAW OF CHRIST STATED
Here comes the hammer from Jesus Christ as we move to the second point. He never denies that murder is wrong, but He advances the Law of Moses to emphasize God's concern for the heart. And in doing so, He places anger on the same level as murder.
Verse 22, "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court."
It is easy to say I am right with God because I have never murdered someone. But when I contemplate my own guilt regarding anger and understand that anger is equated with murder, I find myself a little less comfortable about my self-righteousness. It is easy to look down on the sinfulness of murderers, but according to the teaching of Jesus Christ, each of us in the eyes of God have slain hundreds. And let's be clear, it is not only the anger expressed (by blowing up), it is also the internalized anger that the other party never sees (by clamming up). Should I say we have slain thousands?
But we ask, what is the connection between anger and murder? Very simple, murder does not start in a vacuum. It begins with dislike and bitterness and jealousy which leads to strife and malice which leads to verbal attacks and physical abuse which ultimately works its way to murder.
Murder does not start with pulling the trigger or plunging the knife. It starts in the depths of our wicked hearts. Jesus put it this way in Mark 7, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders … (Mk. 7:20-21).
Jesus is placing a moratorium on any form of unrighteous anger. We are talking about a spirit of hatred, a seething resentment, a refusal to forgive, a brooding contempt, a deep-rooted bitterness, a feeling of animosity. Such an attitude is contradictory to the citizen in His Kingdom who is called to be "peacemaker" (5:9) because such an attitude is contradictory to the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6) who dwells within the hearts of His children. How can I image forth God's peace or have fellowship with the One who prayed for those crucifying Him, if I am angry with my spouse or children or church family or co-workers or neighbors or even my enemies?
The extent is clear. In verse 22 He speaks to "everyone." In verse 22 He says we must not be angry with our "brother." That should be understood in the broadest sense possible. Put it together: Everyone is not permitted to be angry with anyone!
The consequence? Interestingly, the wording is the same as before. Verse 21, murder subjected violators to be "liable to the court." Verse 22, anger subjects violators to be "guilty before the court." Remember, to go before the court for murder meant execution. Here, Jesus elevates anger to merit the same punishment. The only difference is the latter is the courtroom of God since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger (John Stott).
To feel the weight of His teaching, Jesus continues in verse 22. The repetition regarding anger is simply intended to stress the point, but there can be no doubt that the consequences increase in intensity.
Parts 2 & 3
"And whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."
In the second and third parts of verse 22, Jesus reveals a manifestation of our anger, both resulting in abusive speech. First He speaks of calling someone as the NIV and KJV puts it, "Raca." The NASB translates it for us as "good-for-nothing" (blockhead, imbecile, brainless idiot). Second He speaks of calling someone a "fool" with a malicious intent. The Greek word is moros (where we get the word "moron").
"Oh good, I don't use either of those words!" Simply avoiding these two words is being Pharisaic in our interpretation. The point Jesus is making is that our words reveal our heart (12:34). And all forms of derision, gossip and slander reveal a heart that is corrupt with anger.
The consequences in verse 22 that began with the court have escalated to the supreme court (the Sanhedrin) and conclude with being tossed "into the fiery hell." And you thought the Capital Punishment that Moses spoke about was severe!
Folks, this teaching is coming off the lips of Jesus Christ, and though eliminated from most pulpits today, is consistent with the rest of Scripture. We cannot live in sin (namely anger) and expect to receive salvation. Galatians 5, "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are…enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions…and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21; cf. Rev. 22:15). First John 3:15, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 Jn. 3:15).
Speaking on this subject the great preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, said, "Do not say, 'I cannot help having a bad temper.' Friend, you must help it. Pray to God to help you overcome it at once, for either you must kill it, or it will kill you. You cannot carry a bad temper into heaven."
Think of it this way, "anger" is one letter short of "danger."
3. THE LAW OF CHRIST APPLIED
It cannot be any clearer. We had better take our anger as serious as God does!
So to aid us in understanding and applying this truth, as we move to the third point, our Lord provides two illustrations.
The first illustration is seen in verses 23 and 24. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."
Can you envision the scenario? Someone goes to the Temple with an animal sacrifice in his hands. While standing before the altar he suddenly remembers that someone has a problem with him. The command here is that the man should drop what he is doing, be reconciled with His opponent, and then come back and complete His offering.
The point is clear: Our worship is unacceptable before God until we are reconciled with other people. Ken Sande in his book The Peacemaker said, "Peace and unity are so important that Jesus commands us to seek reconciliation with a brother even ahead of worship! He teaches that we cannot love and worship God properly if we are at odds with another person" (p. 49).
But what if I don't have a problem with the other person? That is not what the verse is teaching! The verse clearly informs you of your need to meet with someone if you know they have a problem with you! Sande goes on to say, "If you learn that someone has something against you, God wants you to take the initiative in seeking peace-even if you do not believe you have done anything wrong" (p. 148).
But what if the other person refuses to be reconciled with me? Am I never permitted to worship? Romans 12:18 is very helpful: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." There is no doubt that there comes a time when you have done all within your ability to bring reconciliation. But since reconciliation is a two-way street, your conscience can be clear if you have done everything within your power (repeated attempts, great patience) to achieve it. Obviously if this were not the case, Jesus Christ, based on the incredible opposition He faced never could have been able to worship (Jn. 15:25; cf. Mt. 24:9).
But why is this such a big deal? Because this is a command. Because peace and unity among believers greatly affects our Gospel witness (Jn. 17:23). Because it demonstrates our ability to forgive as we have been forgiven. Because it eliminate the inevitable stumbling blocks that are created between unreconciled believers. And because it is extremely unloving for someone to say, "Can we meet to talk about our differences" and for you to say, "No."
Do you see how this ties into anger? We are not right before God if we are not right with other people. Despite the embarrassment and humility and inconvenience, this is the greatest way to weed out anger and grudges in the body of Christ.
The second illustration is seen in verse 25 and 26. "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent."
From a worship setting to a judicial setting.
In this case, the picture is painted between two parties on their way to court awaiting an uncertain outcome. The suggestion is to settle the matter between themselves rather than potentially losing it all based upon the decision of a judge.
The point is the same as before: Work out your differences with another. Do it quickly. For the consequences in not doing so will more severe before the divine Judge. As D.A. Carson put it, "Malicious anger is so evil - and God's judgment so certain-that we must do all in our power to end it" (Matthew, EBC, p. 150).
Do you see how serious God takes our anger? Do you feel the weight of God's expectations for His kingdom citizens? Do you see the level of righteousness that God requires?
Now do you know understand why Jesus said our righteousness must surpass the scribes and Pharisees (5:20)? In other words, despite what the Pharisees taught and most people still believe today, we have not conformed to the righteousness required in God's kingdom simply by refraining from homicide.
And since we are in the business of drawing lines (as I mentioned in the introduction), how much must our righteousness surpass the scribes and Pharisees? The answer is found in verse 48. The line is drawn higher than we could ever imagine. The standard is God's character Himself! "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48).
Far from establishing and achieving God's favor, every human being that ever walked the planet falls short of attaining this standard-a standard of perfect holiness, a standard that one internal act of anger is enough to send us to hell.
Therefore we finish with two conclusions:
First, anger does not characterize the citizens of God's kingdom. For those who continue in this behavior can have absolutely no assurance of their salvation.
And second, our only hope comes in receiving the mercy and forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ. For as we learned last week, He is the One who fulfilled the law (5:17) and He is the One who will give us His righteousness if we receive it by faith.
Put it all together: When we receive grace from God, we are to breathe grace to others.
So are we trying to achieve God's acceptance by our own works? On today's Scripture alone, that is a losing proposition. And are we proving the righteousness of God that we have received by repenting from our anger?