A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this afternoon and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 5:21-26
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus makes an astonishing claim, saying that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. Larry pointed out as we made our way through this text, how we, like the Pharisees, can subtly put our trust in our own righteousness—our own ability to follow God. But this is a fool’s errand because what God values—what his law is meant to address—is our hearts.
Now, as we continue our study of Matthew, Jesus wants to show us what the wisdom he is teaching looks like when it is put into practice. The whole Sermon on the Mount is all about kingdom living. It’s about a certain way of being in the world that is shaped by identity—by who we are as disciples of the wise Teacher, Jesus Christ.
Over the next several weeks we are going to be looking at six specific illustrations of the ways that Christ’s disciples are called to live, and this afternoon we come to the first.
Each of the six examples of kingdom living that Jesus provides his disciples follow a similar pattern. Jesus begins by stating what his hearers have heard about the law—how they have understood it—and then he goes on to define what the law means.
[Read Matthew 5:21-22]
Jesus begins by defining the sixth commandment. From the very beginning, God has placed tremendous value on the lives of those who bear his image. The biblical narrative is filled with accounts of murder and murders, followed by the devastating consequences which follow. With murder always comes judgment.
Now, the Pharisees and scribes, they sought to understand the law in such a way that they could obey it. Their boast was their own ability, and so they sought to limit God’s law and construe his commands so that they could follow them. They were no murderers.
But Jesus, speaking out of his own authority, goes much further than those whose goal was outward conformity to God’s law. Jesus makes a statement of his own authority. He’s not giving his opinion of the law but is staking his claim as on par with the law of God: “I myself say.” He is the arbiter of God’s truth. If any rabbi stated the law of God and then said, “But I myself say to you . . .” they would be killed. Jesus’s statement prompts his listeners to ask, “Who is this? Who has the authority to determine God’s law?”
Then, out of his authority, Jesus gives the meaning of God’s law. “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” He is explaining that the law goes much further than they think. While they think the issue is the shedding of blood, for Jesus this is only the starting point for following God’s law.
Jesus defines the principle behind God’s command. While murder is wicked, it reveals an angry heart. The principle is that God’s concern is the heart. In Scripture, our hearts refer to the entirety of who we are. In our day we tend to associate the heart most with affections. We love someone with our whole heart. But the heart is not just our affections but our motivations, desires, will, and thoughts. It’s speaks of our identity, of all that determines how we act. And this is God’s chief concern: the heart. God’s law is meant to address who we are on the inside, our inner disposition.
God calls his people to pursue righteousness with their whole heart. This pursuit of righteousness isn’t seen only in outward actions of obedience but is characterized by an inner disposition to the kingdom of God. It’s marked by a heart that longs to do the will of God.
Jesus continues by defining the severity of anger. He says Matthew 5:22, “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.”
Jesus is not presenting a list of ascending offenses with corresponding punishments, each one more significant than the one before. Instead, Jesus is using somewhat offensive, but pretty ordinary criticisms of those around us, to help his listeners understand how serious our anger is when it comes out in what we say.
His listeners might have started chuckling at the thought of someone being tried in court for an insult, but then Jesus shocks them by saying that this behavior may lead to the very fire of hell! Jesus is saying that those who are angry, wrathful, spiteful, contemptuous—those who in a moment of anger want to hurt their brother or sister or wish the worst on their coworker or the person who cuts them off in traffic—these people deserve the very judgment of murderers.
It is our words and the feelings in our hearts that reveal our true spiritual condition, that reveal who we are. Jesus wants to awaken us from our complacency that too often leaves plenty of room for hateful words and murderous thoughts.
To emphasize his point, Jesus then provides two examples of what we are to pursue instead of anger. These examples aren’t laws or advice or legal counsel but are meant to show for us how important it is to be in right relationship with those around us. What Jesus has in mind is the anger that comes out in our personal relationships. A part of what it means not to murder is to be in right relationship with others.
[Read Matthew 5:23-24]
This first example addresses the importance of relationships in the church. Jesus describes an individual who is offering a gift at the altar. It is someone who has come to worship God.
This altar would be in Jerusalem at the temple, and so, the worshipper would have had to travel some distance with his offering to get to the altar. We can assume that this probably would have been around an 80-mile journey for this individual.
Jesus says that if you get there and then remember that your brother has something against you, to leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled to your brother.
This is as radical and drastic as it sounds. In forbidding sinful anger, Jesus is making it clear that we should make every effort to pursue its opposite—reconciliation. Right relationships in the church are so important that they necessitate decisive and significant action.
God’s concern isn’t only our outward behavior but the inner disposition of our heart. His priority is not just that we come to him in worship but even more so that our hearts are wholly submitted to him. As Proverbs 21:3 says, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
Here, Jesus is saying that your worship of God is closely tied to the relationships you have with others. To put it another way, our horizontal relationships with others impact our vertical relationship with God. When we come before God we come not as isolated individuals but as related people, people in relationship to others. And God cares a great deal about these relationships.
So, if you are aware of your sin toward someone else, go and be reconciled. Confess your anger and animosity, confess your pride and lack of charity, confess where you have been impatient and selfish, and ask to be forgiven. To put to death anger in our lives is to pursue reconciliation with those God has put is in fellowship with.
[Read Matthew 5:25-26]
The second example Jesus gives addresses difficult relationships, or relationships with those opposed to us. Jesus describes an individual who has been accused of wrong by someone else and is being brought to court. The wrong is likely failure to repay a debt that is owed. And Jesus says, come to terms quickly with your accuser. Don’t let this problem fester like a gaping wound but resolve it as quickly as possible.
With this example comes a warning. If you let the conflict remain unresolved your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you be may be put in prison. And once in prison you may never be able to get out. Jesus’s point is that we should not let bad relationships go unresolved, or they may bring us to destruction. Don’t assume that bad relationships will just go away. Rather, assume that they are a ticking time bomb that must be disarmed.
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, that all sounds good, but you just don’t know my situation.” You’re right, I probably don’t know your situation. But God does. And he goes with you in that situation. Even more than that he has brought you into that situation that you might depend on him, be conformed to Christ, that he might bring glory to himself.
Jesus is not teaching “reconciliation at all costs.” He is not saying to “get all your dirty laundry out there and deal with the consequences.” But what he is calling us to is exactly what he himself lived out in submission to the will of his Father.
He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. When he was oppressed and afflicted, he opened not his mouth. Instead, being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
“If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). Since we have been reconciled to God, let us pursue reconciliation with those around us. Let us walk in the way that Christ walked, in humility, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
Song of Response
Sermon Audio from Recent Sundays