Yesterday, as I was scrolling through the Twitterverse, I saw that a man was executed for killing a store owner back in 2004. The taking of another human life has long been seen as the worst of things that can be done to another human being and this means that it has always deserved the steepest of punishments. This was no different in the Old Testament.
Just a few chapters into the Scriptures and we see the world’s first murder. When it happens Cain, who murdered his brother, is made a fugitive and banished to be a wanderer (Genesis 4:12). When God re-establishes His covenant through Noah, after the flood, we read that the penalty for murder is death (Genesis 9:6). Later, we read of the penalty for murder being death in the Law of Moses (Exodus 21:12). Killing someone is a big deal. It is no small matter. The end of Genesis 9:6 tells us why it is such a big deal, “for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6b).
Here, Jesus is going to discuss the command not to murder given in the Ten Commandments. Well, it’s not quite accurate to say that Jesus is going to discuss the command. He is really discussing the wrong interpretation of the command that has been given by the Pharisees and others then tell us what the command really means. He, who we have already seen is the fulfillment of the Scriptures (Matthew 5:17), is going to explain to His disciples the meaning of murder.
We are going to find God does not accept the worship of those that murder in their heart.
Last week we ended on Matthew 5:20. That is the verse we start with this week. Jesus used it to catapult the discussion to the individual laws. “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20b). Now, Jesus is going to speak with us about the wrong interpretation of the Law that was given by the Pharisees and other teachers. Then He is going to give us the true interpretation of what it means not to murder.
Hatred is Murder (Matthew 5:21-22)
I want to be careful here because it is not as if all hatred is bad according to Scripture. If I love what is good then I must hate what is evil. This is just good common sense. If I love women then I hate those who abuse. If I love children then I hate child abuse and really those who abuse them. In this way, I think we image forth God’s justice. So, I definitely do not want to dive in here and say that all hatred is evil.
But, Jesus defines murder as much more than homicide. You see the Pharisees, who taught the Law, believed that simply not committing homicide was enough to keep God’s Law. This commandment is one that seems relatively easy to keep, and is kept by most people alive today…otherwise we’d all be dead. They hadn’t reached the right conclusion about the Law though.
Jesus was the fulfiller of the Law. He is the person who understands the meaning of the true meaning of the Law.
What does it mean to not murder? Killing someone, when it’s not self defense, is murder. But Jesus here says ,
“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 fire.” (Matthew 5:22 ESV)
So, everyone who is ὀργίζω, which just means angry, is “liable to judgment”. Then, he says, whoever says, ῥακά, which is not just an insult. It is a very derogatory term. It is calling someone “empty headed” or a “fool”. When this term was used it was more than just an insult. It is like calling someone worthless. Then, Jesus says that the person who says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell fire.” “You fool” is the word μωρός. It again carries with it an idea of worth. It is very derogatory.
All of these are issues of the heart. How could a court be able to judge whether or not a person has anger inwardly. And then to use these derogatory terms doesn’t send a person to a council, but to the “fire of hell”. This is an inward attitude that sees another human being as worthy of death. We are not talking about a murderer who is worthy of execution. We are talking about getting angry at someone and killing them inwardly. To have a disdain like this for another human being is a heart attitude equal to that of murder. It is also the attitude of heart that leads to murder.
Murder is wicked and evil. It is committed, at least inwardly, when one wants someone else to be dead. Another word for this is hatred.
This plays out in our world a lot today. Have you seen people burning effigies of Obama or Trump? Did you see the store window that had a depiction of a knife cutting our president’s throat? Do you remember the burning effigies of Obama hanging from a noose. We see this kind of hatred in our political landscape today. I think people genuinely hate each other over political issues in our day, so much so that they commit murder in their heart. What is it that Jesus is saying here? Because the attitude of their heart is the way that it is they are breaking the commandment not to murder.
People sometimes say things that they don’t mean, but there are rebellious children that mean it. A hatred for mother and father is an incredibly wicked thing. Wanting your classmate or neighbor to die because you don’t get along is an incredibly wicked thing and violation of this command.
Jesus, the fulfiller of the Law, delivers the true meaning of murder and the Law goes much further than we would have before imagined. The Law is perfect. He did not take the Law away or make a new Law but authoritatively delivered the Law and its meaning. And we find ourselves as being guilty before a Holy God who expects us to be holy both inside and out.
There are three uses of the Law.
First, the Law curbs evil. People being punished for killing people curbs the killing of other people. Knowing that one may be put to death for killing someone keeps them from physically killing another person though they may have already committed murder in their heart.
Second, the Law shows us what pleases the Lord. It pleases the Lord for us to be people who love rather than hate. It pleases the Lord for us to be people who do not store up this sort of rage and anger in our hearts, but we do fall short of doing this completely.
The third use of the Law is as a mirror. When we break God’s Law it reveals to us who we really are. We are sinners who need a Savior? How many of you have ever hated someone?
We don’t measure up to this standard. Who among us can say that we’ve never felt this level of disdain for another human being.
So, what does this mean for us?
For the person who is not a believer, you are quite possibly for the first time able to see yourself as you really are: a murderer at heart. You see yourself as a person who needs saving. The good news is that God the Son came to Earth for your redemption. He lived a perfect life and kept all the Law perfectly. He fulfilled it for you. And He died on a cross, paying the full punishment for your sin. You can go from being a murder at heart who is in rebellion against God to being in a right relationship with Him.
For the Christian it means that we strive to love rather than hate because that pleases God. It is easy for us to get swept up in the ways of the world and believe that if we haven’t committed a homicide that we’ve done okay. But that’s not true. Jesus here reveals to us that we need to be people who do not harbor this type of hatred and animosity toward other people.
How many people have massive hatred toward others because of politics? Was it really as acceptable as you thought it was to hate your classmates?
We are not part of the Kingdom of this world and need to understand that the standards of most people are not the standards that we live by. It is not okay to hate people and talk bad about them by mouth or by social media every day. That is not who we are. We are God’s people and this is not behavior that is pleasing to God. The constant anger of our society is not pleasing to God and it is a sin that we need to repent of in our lives.
God Does Not Accept The Worship Of The Angry (Matthew 5:23-24)
There is something else that should greatly concern us as believers. It is whether God will accept our worship. Is God pleased with our worship if we worship angry?
We tend to think that we can go to church and everything will be okay. We think that if we just show up at church then God will be happy with our worship.
I had a friend that would go to church on Sunday but act so incredibly worldly throughout the week. He was having sex before marriage. He was getting drunk on the weekends. But, I would see him on many Sundays at church. It was graduation Sunday. The Sunday where graduates would be honored and my church did something extra embarrassing and made us wear our cap and gown to the Church Service. So, we were recognized in front of everyone in our cap and gown. My friend, didn’t realize it was graduation Sunday. Well, he was graduating with me in a few days, so he knew that much but he didn’t know that he would be on stage. He was hung over from the previous night and now he was also the only graduate who was not wearing a cap and gown. He whispered loudly in my ear that he was hung over, everyone around him heard and now it was my duty to make sure he got where he needed to go. It was a mess. We made it through. And, lots of people saw the hypocrisy of it all.
Everyone saw the hypocrisy of worshipping while hung over. Do you know what people didn’t see or probably didn’t even think mattered that probably happens every Sunday? They didn’t see the hypocrisy of people worshipping God when they are filled with hatred.
Read Matthew 5:23-24.
Anger is not something that should be overlooked. Offering sacrifices was going to worship the Lord. And Jesus says here that before worshipping the Lord we are to be reconciled to those we are angry with or who have angered us. God doesn’t want us to go to worship with this sort of anger and hatred in our hearts. We need to be reconciled to those we hate first. Or, make every attempt to do so.
Jesus came and took the commandment “Do not murder” and helped people to see that the Law was so much more than just not committing homicide, but was an issue of the heart. When this sort of hatred lies within the heart we need to make every attempt humanly possible to reconcile then worship the Lord in the formal sense. This means that if you want to truly worship the Lord then you need to come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and work out your differences.
Let me give you an illustration of how this could work out in church. The Lord’s Supper is being passed out on a Sunday Morning. At the other side of the church there is a person who made you so very angry a few weeks, months, or even years ago. You should put down your bread and juice and go speak with them, reconcile before partaking because we want all that we do to be acceptable to the Lord.
Another illustration might be that you got into a fight with your parents this week and have not been communicating with them. You’re not talking with Mom or Dad. Before you go to church to worship the Lord make things right.
Deal With Anger Quickly (Matthew 5:25-26)
When I get into an argument or a fight I feel that it is necessary, if things get really heated, to step away from the situation for at least a few moments to allow myself some time to think and calm down. This is not a bad thing. I would sin more often if I didn’t give myself the break. But I also have the tendency, at times, to put these things in the past and not deal with them anymore. This might be okay if I’m forgiving a sin of someone. It’s not okay if it’s just being angry with them for a long time. This is exactly what Jesus says not to do.
Read (Matthew 5:25-26).
Jesus is here talking about dealing with things early in the process. These people are on their way to court to deal with a situation. At this time debtors were jailed until all debts were paid. It is obvious that it would be better to deal with that situation before you ended up sitting in debtor’s prison. The point is clear. Anger is not something that we are supposed to hang on to. Jesus is saying that it is much better to deal with situations like this early rather than later. Anger and hostility are so wicked and endangering to us that we need to deal with it quickly.
You guys have been there and know exactly what this is all about. How many times have you been in a dispute with someone and it got real bad. Then, you end not talking to each other and 3 days later are terrible enemies. Most of the time it would have been much, much better had the conflict been resolved immediately.
Ephesians 4:26 says not to “let the sun go down on your anger”. Here, Jesus is saying it in different terms. Deal with the situation quickly before things have gotten too bad.
We Do Not Measure Up To God’s Standard
Early on in this message I mentioned the three uses of the Law. We see in the Law a way of curbing sinfulness, a means of seeing what pleases God, but we also see ourselves through a mirror.
Like a person with chicken pox assessing the damage while he looks in the mirror we gaze into the Law and see spot after spot appear on our skin. And today we saw another spot appear on us as we looked at God’s perfect standard of holiness. It has shown us who we are and what we really deserve.
Jesus says that those who are guilty of breaking this Law are “liable to the hell of fire”. Remember, the Law was not homicide, it was committing murder in our hearts. The hell of fire was Gehenna. It is an actual place that came to mean the place of eschatological punishment. In our language “Gehenna” would mean “Valley of Hinnom”. It is a ravine south of Jerusalem where horrible, horrible practices like baby sacrifices were made to the pagan god Moloch (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6: Jeremiah 7:3; Ezekiel 16:20, 23:37). King Josiah saw the place as disgraceful because of what had gone on there and made it a dumping ground (2 Kings 23:10). And, it is thought that, in Jesus’ day it was filled with trash and had ongoing smoldering fires that would consume the trash. This place came to symbolize the place of eschatological punishment. In other words, this horrible place came to symbolize the place of eternal punishment for all those who died in rebellion to God. And it is here that all those who have broken God’s Law deserve to go.
Keeping this Law perfectly is out of reach. It is out of any of our reach, so what are we to do?
The Law has shown us our guilt. Now we see our need for the Savior.
We will find, later in this story, that Christ kept the Law perfectly, died on a cross for our sins, and rose from the dead three days later. Try as we might to meet God’s standard, we will fail. We have failed. And we need Christ. We need His mercy. We need His grace.
R. Dwain Minor