Anger Is Murder
Passage: Matthew 5:21–5:26
Grab your Bibles and turn to Matthew 5. We're going to carry on in the series, looking at the Sermon on the Mount. You know, there's long been an error that many people make when they look at Scripture or when they look at the Christian faith. And the error is one where we separate the Old and the New Testament so much so that we almost see there being two Gods: the God of the Old Testament and Jesus.
Sometimes people, very inaccurately, almost put them at odds with each other. So the God of the Old Testament is the God of justice and wrath, and Jesus is the God of love and forgiveness. Obviously I hope most of us would know that is a very incorrect way of viewing the Bible, that we serve one God that has been portrayed to us throughout all of Scripture, and He is a God full of grace and truth, love and justice.
Similarly, I think some people struggle to come to terms with, "Then how do you apply the teaching of Jesus? How does it relate to the teaching of the Old Testament?" People have struggled with that. Some people say that there is total continuity with the Old Testament, that Jesus is doing no more than explaining what was already in the Old Testament. So in the coming weeks when we hear Jesus say, "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you," these are corrections of the interpretations from the scribes and the Pharisees, primarily, of the Old Testament. So Jesus' teachings were an amplification of the deeper meaning of the old teaching. Some believe that.
Some believe No, it's a new teaching that Jesus is bringing that stands in radical discontinuity with the Old Testament. They believe that Jesus' teaching abrogates certain aspects of the Old Testament.
I believe that there's a third view that is best, that kind of harmonizes those two. In other words, Jesus' teaching is radically new and supersedes the old, but it's still in continuity with it. I think the best way to understand it is the text that we looked at last week. That Jesus completes the Old Testament teaching. And so last week as we saw in Matthew 5:17 - Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." And that word "fulfill" actually carries that idea of completion. So Jesus, for instance, brought an end to the ceremonial laws of sacrifice and the dietary laws, but He didn't do this by abrogating them, but by fulfilling them. In fact He validates, He supersedes them in His own person.
And so it is with His teaching, that the Sermon on the Mount, the teaching of the New Testament, the teaching of Christ here is not nullifying the Old Testament precepts. It's actually establishing continuity with them. He’s fulfilling them. His teaching fulfills the Old Testament precepts. So beginning with this text today we're going to see Jesus hold up the first of six examples of how our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Remember we saw that last week. "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven." And so He’s going to show them now what that looks like, and we're going to see how Jesus' teaching completes the Old Testament teaching. You're going to see six times, "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you. . . . ."
Let me pause really quickly. It's important to note that He's NOT saying, "The Old Testament said . . . but I'm telling you this . . . ." That's not what He's saying. He's saying instead, He's contrasting His teaching with what they HEARD that the Old Testament says. So it's critical to understand this. Jesus is not negating something from the Old Testament. He's rather negating something from their understanding of it.
A subpoint here is, that's why we've got to know the word of God so well, that when people come and bring an interpretation of something in the scripture that we know the whole of scripture and we can distinguish it.
So He's not nullifying the Old Testament. The Old Testament teaching was misunderstood or misinterpreted many times, and He's coming to clarify that. Scott Dickson on our staff said this to me, and I thought it was a great illustration. It's almost as if Jesus were here today, and He heard some of the prosperity gospel preachers - you know the prosperity gospel basically is that if you follow Jesus, if you really have enough faith, that you're really going to be blessed with health and wealth in this life.
Imagine if Jesus came and said, "You have heard it said, 'I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.' And He says, 'But I say to you,' and then He explains what that really means. It doesn't mean that you're going to be rich in this world. It means that you're going to be rich within. You're going to be fulfilled and satisfied in Christ."
So if Jesus were to do that today, He's not negating that He's come to give life and give it abundantly, but He's negating maybe how some people have misapplied that, or misinterpreted that. And He's saying, here's what really means.
So this is what He's going to be doing over and over again in these next few verses, starting with correcting their understanding on the prohibition of murder. Now you might be here going, "Whoa, okay, I don't struggle with murder, so I guess I can go ahead and leave." And I think what you're going to find out very quickly is as He tries to help us with understanding what that means, you're going to find out very quickly that none of us is exempt from this message.That in fact all of need to heed the message here in Matthew 5:21-26.
“21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that 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. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny."
So let's start with the beginning there. When He speaks of murder, He says, "You have heard it said, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’" He is restating there in exact detail the 6th Commandment of the Ten Commandments that's found in Exodus 20:13, "You shall not murder." And He's coupling with it what the Old Testament law said the penalty should be, which is the death penalty. That comes from Numbers 35:31. "You have heard it said, you shall not murder, and if you do, you are guilty. And you are condemned to the death penalty."
And now Jesus raises the bar on the interpretation, as one with authority. He says, "But I say to you . . . ." And that phrase you gotta underline. Here Jesus is showing that He has authority over scripture. His interpretation of it is the correct one, because after all, He is the living and breathing word of God.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, just as an aside, in Matthew 7 when He finishes this sermon: the scripture says, "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes."
And so the authority He comes with, "But I say to you . . . ." Now remember what Jesus is trying to do here, throughout the Sermon on the Mount. First of all, He's trying to show how the disciples' righteousness must exceed the surface level of the scribes and Pharisees. But He's also -- remember we said this at the beginning -- all the Sermon on the Mount is also trying to show how the disciples are to live as citizens of the kingdom of God, that shine out against the way of the world. So He's doing both of these.
So what He's doing with this one, is saying look, the world understands that murder is a crime. So the religious establishment, who are focusing on the outward nature of just not murdering anyone, are missing it. Jesus is saying the standard of God is not merely not shedding blood. That is the world's standard, and to be focused on the mere act of murder is to miss the heart of this command. That's what He's saying.
And we're going to see that also with love, right? He says if you love people who love you, you've just met the world's standard. The kingdom standard is, you love people who don't deserve your love, who are your enemies. And so likewise He's saying look, the standard isn't just to not murder. The standard in the kingdom is to eradicate hate from your heart. And to go an seek to restore a broken relationship.
So the bar has come high on what murder is. Anger, friends, is murder in heart. Murder is not merely an action without any reference to the character of the murderer. What Jesus is saying here is there is something fundamental at stake here. The murderer's anger and wrath that lurks behind the deed itself, that is what is guilty of judgment.
So therefore, friends, we've got to let that truth sink in with all its absoluteness. Jesus is saying, if you have contemptuous anger, if you're harboring malice, bitterness, resentment towards a brother or a sister, you are just as surely headed for a fiery hell as a murderer is. I know that sounds harsh, but you've got to first let that sink in, I think.
I think we're quick to say, wait a minute - isn't there some righteous anger? We're going to get there in a second. But don't quickly go there. First let this sink in. Jesus relates anger to murder. And we need to let that relationship stand before we go on to look at, is there such a thing as righteous anger? So someone might say, didn't Jesus himself get angry many times? And the answer is yes, absolutely. We know He did.
Jesus got angry and He overturned the money changers' tables in the temple. They had turned the temple from being a house of prayer and worship into a greedy moneymaking business, and turned it into a den of robbers. So He overturns the tables. Jesus, in Mark 3, it says He was angry - it uses that word - He was angry at the people who were coming to him hypocritically and basically coming against His healing people on the Sabbath. We know in Matthew 23, He's angry with the hypocritical Pharisees, and in fact He calls them "blind fools." So is this contradicting what He's teaching?
Well, I think we probably know what the answer is: No. Jesus' anger in those situations is different from what He's talking about here. Jesus was angry at sin and injustice. But in none of those cases where Jesus was angry, was His anger wrapped up in His own personal ego. In other words, any time He experienced personal assault or insult, when He was, for instance, unjustly arrested, when He was unfairly tried, illegally beaten, spat upon, mocked, crucified - Peter tells us that throughout that, when He was reviled He did not revile in return. When He suffered He did not threaten, but He continued to entrust himself to "him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23). From the cross, He said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Let's not use Jesus' righteous anger to try to brush away what's happening here. And let us admit that man, we are quick to be angry when we are personally offended or affronted, and we're very slow to be angry when there's sin and injustice in our world. So let's let this sink in. And let's be honest.
When we are angered, friends, it's for selfish reasons. We feel someone has wronged us. We feel someone has maybe superseded us. Some event has not gone the way we think it should have. It may even be that there's a conflict and we might have some right, that we are right about some of the reason why we feel hurt, but in our attempt to defend ourselves, in anger we vilify the person that we have the conflict with. And we deceive ourselves, thinking that we're defending what's right and true, but really we're defending ourselves.
This happens so many times in our disputes. It happens with me. I'm an expert at this. My disputes with Meredith, obviously most of the time I'm right in those disputes, right? That's not true. That's not true. Many times I'm not. But let's just for argument's sake, maybe the 1% chance there's some truth to what I'm saying, the moment I raise my voice or I give her an ugly look, my heart has betrayed me. It's out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. It doesn't really matter what point I'm making at that point. My anger has betrayed me.
This happens often in our parenting. We turn to anger, right? Your anger is teaching, my anger is teaching my kids so much more than any point that I'm trying to make. So we must know that Jesus isn't just saying anger, He's also talking about contempt. This word, Raca, this Aramaic expression of abuse means calling someone "empty-headed," it's coming against their intelligence. Calling them stupid, for instance.
This word, calling them a fool, the Greek word [morass] which means "moron." Really there it means not just an intelligence thing but attacking their moral character. When you, not just when you're angered with someone, but in your heart if you're harboring resentment or you have an attitude of belittling someone. Because you think maybe their intelligence is less than yours or their character is less than yours. Jesus is saying all of this: anger, contempt, animosity, malice, hostility. Every part of it is murder in your heart.
This isn't like stiffer penalties - it seems like it's graduating here, that if you have anger you're guilty, if you say Raca, a, stiffer penalty, if you say fool you deserve hell - that's not what's going on here. What's going on is Jesus is multiplying the examples to make His point. Animosity against your brother or sister lands you just as much in hell as a murderer.
So the answer is this: we all are murderers. If you have harbored anger, contempt, malice toward someone else, you are guilty. Have you ever wished someone dead? Have you ever wished ill on someone? Have you ever rejoiced over someone's misfortune? Have you ever put someone down in your heart? Then your heart has known murder. And we cannot escape this truth.
So welcome to Murderers Anonymous No More. Every one of us is guilty. Every one of us has treasured thoughts about others that are as foul as murder in the eyes of God. And friends, this is part of our corrupt, sinful nature. In Genesis we learned that Adam and Eve had perfect communion, perfect relationship with each other. What happened after the fall? They turn on each other. And by the way, when they left the garden in Genesis 4, what's the first sin we hear about? Cain is angered because Abel, his brother, his offering is accepted over his and what does he do? His anger causes him to kill his own brother.
This is the heart of man without Christ moving and restoring and regenerating our hearts. We are wicked to the core, we turn in wrath against each other, we're full of discord, disunity, hatred, and contempt. It's the heart of us, and we've got to feel this. 1 John 3:15 says, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."
Now, you're hearing this and going, "Wow, I'm depressed." Good. Well, listen, here's the good news. All of this Sermon on the Mount, I think, is meant to show us God's standard and for us to look at our hearts and say, "I am wicked! There's no way I can meet that standard!" If you're feeling that, that is a good thing. That means the Holy Spirit is working in your heart correctly.
With this scripture, you are hearing the word of God correctly if you feel that. You're meant to feel, "Who can stand before God? Who can inherit the kingdom of heaven then?" No one can! And if you feel that, the answer is, yes, you're right. And that's why you must turn to Jesus. And the righteousness that He offers freely to you as a gift to be received by faith. That's the only way you can stand right before a holy God.
So listen, if you're a Christian and you're saying, Amen, yes, verse 21 and 22 is making the point very clear that God sees anger in my heart as sinful and I've got to deal with it decisively. So in order to make that point, Jesus gives two illustrations. If so far we've seen what not to do, man, don't be angry with your brother, now we are going to see what we are to do.
Let's read. Verse 23: "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
So the first illustration He gives concerns a man offering a sacrifice, an offering at the temple, doing his religious duty. There, the man is reminded by the Holy Spirit of an offense that someone has against him. And what Jesus is stressing here is that it's far more important for you to go and be reconciled with your brother than for you to offer a sacrifice to him. It's more worship to go do that first -- now He does want you to come back and make your offering -- that's good. But He's saying basically if you've got this resentment you're harboring, then the offering you're giving is a charade. It's really fake. It's bogus.
So today we might say, "Good, you go to church and you tithe, and you serve, and you do all these things." Those are good things. But what Jesus is saying loud and clear to us is that there's something much more important. For me. What's going on in your life? It's this harboring of resentment or man, you've offended someone. And we're so quick to try to move away from that conviction and say again, "Well, I do all these things: I go to church, I give money, and we try to deflect that conviction, because man, at least I'm doing this stuff, right God?" And God is not fooled here. You can't balance it out, you can't think that this good is going to make up for that evil. We're foolish to think that we can substitute religiosity for integrity, purity, and love. And Jesus sees through that. He’s saying, "That's most important to me."
Let me kind of pause here and say one thing that I think we've got to grab hold of. All throughout scripture, and I think this verse is one of the most central ones. All throughout the Bible there is this unified teaching, and here it is: that God cares greatly about how you relate to others. How you relate to others is of utmost importance to him. In fact, He’s going to say, "It's how you show your worship of me. It's how you show that you love me."
All throughout scripture, the greatest commandment - remember the lawyer that said, "Jesus, what's the greatest commandment?" He says, "Well, what do you read in the law?" He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus says, to stress the importance of that, "You're right. Go and do that, and you will live." That's how you live. That's how you inherit the kingdom of heaven. It's that important.
The second is like it. In other words, you are not really loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, if you are not loving your neighbor as yourself; if you're harboring resentment and anger against him. So this is all throughout scripture. How about in Matthew 25, when the sheep are distinguished from the goats? Again, what makes the sheep different? He says, "You treated the least of these - the way you treated them, you treated me." In other words, how you treat others is showing a whole lot about what you think about me.
Jesus blasts the religious establishment in Matthew 23, again, for missing the ultimate purpose of His call. He says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! You tithe, you do all this religious work, but you neglect the weightier matters of the law." Look what He says: "Justice, mercy, faithfulness." The way you relate to others. He says, "These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. In other words, the others are good, but you miss the heart of the commandment. You weren't moved to love and mercy and justice.
How about husbands? Listen, friends, husbands, turn with me to 1 Peter 3:7 "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." Now, when it says "living with them in an understanding way, showing honor to them as the weaker vessel," weaker there doesn't mean weaker in mind. It means men, generally speaking, we can overpower our wives either physically, or with our voices - we can overpower them.
What He’s saying is, "Look, if you are not honoring your wife, living with her in an understanding way, your prayers are being hindered." This is huge! It's as if God is saying, "There's nothing you can be praying for that is more important to me than you loving your wife and honoring her. You get that right, and then I'll listen to your prayer." This is huge.
"If I cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66). So why is this such a big deal with God? Turn to James 3:9-10. Looks what he says here. James is speaking about the tongue, and look what he says: "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God." Hold onto that. "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." I think this text is so informative for us. What James is saying is this: Men and women are made in the likeness of God, and so if you are speaking out in anger towards them and you're thinking you're blessing God over here, you're nullifying your blessing God. You can't do both.
So this is why it's such an offense to God when we harbor anger and resentment towards people who are made in the image of God. We might as well be harboring that resentment towards God. Again, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." Your heart, not just what you speak, but if your heart has animosity towards your brother, you have animosity toward God in whose image he is made.
So friend, hear me: Maybe you're sensing the dryness in your life. Don't miss this. Maybe you're sensing a dryness in your spiritual walk. You go to church, you're involved in community group, but nothing's really working. You don't feel vitality, you just feel death in your life, in your walk. It might be that God is trying to press down on us something very huge. The reason may be that we have not faced up to our sin against a brother or a sister. That God is saying there is a fundamental relationship in your life that I desperately want you to take hold of and see. And you've got to go and make that right.
So what are we to do? I'm going to give you four things I think we ought to do as application, and we'll pray. Number one, I think we have to Confess and Admit. Again, that we are all angry people, we anger easily. We're all full of hate, and we're murderers. You gotta confess that. Some of you, the Lord has already spoken to you about someone in your life. Praise God for that. That's the Holy Spirit.
I'm telling you, what we're quick to do when conviction comes, is not to confess it but to shift blame. We either blame others, usually the people who have wronged us, we think - we are quick to see the faults in others, right? We're quick to see the faults in others, but not our own. We're experts at the failures of our spouse or our children or our friends, but we minimize our own shortcomings. We blame our actions on our parents or our upbringing. Whatever it may be, we shift it.
Or we blame our circumstances, right? "It's because of what I'm going through. If you knew the kind of week I've had," right? That's why. It's like Jonah, the classic example. Jonah 4:1 says that Jonah, when God didn't destroy Nineveh, was angry with God - that's the word that's there. He’s angry with God because things didn't go the way he thought they ought to go - his circumstances. And God says, "You do well to be angry."
We must quit shifting blame and look at our own hearts, and confess, "I'm angry. It's because my heart is wicked. In my thoughts, I'm basically committing murder because of the malice I'm carrying around against this brother or sister."
Two: Reconcile specifically. So when He says, "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you," it's not just this vague/general, "Oh I become angry," no. The Holy Spirit puts a person on your heart. When that happens, He’s saying, "You leave your gift. Go to that person specifically." And it's not just a vague thing. "Oh, we haven't been doing good." No, there's an offense that God brings to your mind.
And by the way, it's not that you're angry at someone else and they may not know it, and in the middle of the service you go blindside them. "Hey, I can't worship because I'm really ticked off at you." That's not what's going on here. What's going on here is God brings to your mind an offense that someone has against you. And very specifically you are to go deal with it. You're not to love just in word or in talk but in deed and truth, as scripture says.
Now one might say, "Wait a minute. What if they're upset with me and I've done nothing wrong? In fact, didn't scripture say a couple of weeks ago that some will persecute you for righteousness' sake? What about there? 'Some will utter all kinds of evil against you, for righteousness' sake.' Am I still supposed to go?" Here's what I would say. I think Romans 12:17-18 is very informative for us. Here's what it says: "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." Listen to this: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves but leave it to the wrath of God."
What He’s saying is again, do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. So someone maybe is coming against you, and maybe you've done nothing wrong. "As far as it depends on you" - so that's what you've got to pray. "God, search my heart. Have I done my part to make peace with this brother? To make peace with this sister?" And guys, I'm telling you, Jesus is saying, "Before you go to another church service, before you go on another mission trip, I'm saying as far as it depends on you, you go and make peace with your brother or sister. That's worship for me."
So confess and admit it, reconcile specifically. Thirdly, reconcile quickly. Look at this next illustration He says. Verse 25-26: "Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny." Now don't misunderstand what He’s doing with this illustration. He’s obviously talking about a debtor's prison. Someone who can't pay off his debt is thrown in prison, and in prison not only does he have debt, but he can't make money in order to pay off the debt.
So what He’s trying to say is reconcile quickly before you are led to ruin in that relationship. What He’s saying is very huge for us. The illustration is clear. We are to seek to resolve our conflicts with others quickly. If we put it off, the relationship becomes more and more difficult to repair. Anger left in your heart breeds bitterness and it grows and grows. It festers and grows. Listen to me, men. The anger at first may feel like a balm on your heart because it kind of makes you feel better for the wrong you've experienced. But I'm telling you, you let that anger sit in your heart and it will dry your heart, callous your heart, and suck the very life out of you.
So many relationships have gone here. Hebrews 12:14-15 says, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled." So many marriages tragically because of stubborn, self-centeredness -- the spouse will not turn to the other spouse, and "as far as it depends on me," resolve this conflict quickly. And that anger, and that bitterness just grows and spirals and spirals and a wedge comes between that marriage, and they might as well be in that debtor's prison, feeling like they're in ruin.
Here it says "root of bitterness . . . by it many become defiled." What's so sad is in those marriages, the many who become defiled is often the children who are in the middle. So men, there is no greater work you can devote yourself to than to reconcile with your spouse as quickly as possible. You lead as the husband in that. You're to take the lead, the initiative. Not wait for your wife.
So men, when we're going to be gathering - you heard about a prayer breakfast coming up for men - listen, I want all of you to sign up and come join me on that first Friday morning that we meet. And let's meet; once a month we're going to be meeting. And let's get together - it's very early I know. And we're gonna get on our face, and we're going to pray and ask God to change our hearts, to restore our marriages. So come be part of that.
One last thing: ask God to transform your heart. The issue is your heart. The issue is my heart. Anger stems from a heart that is fixated on self at the end of the day. Watch over your heart with all diligence, Proverbs says, for from it flows the issues of God. And I'm telling you at the end of the day, we must turn to God and ask him to do what He alone can do. And that is to break our heart, to remove the callous, to produce in us Godly grief, not just worldly sorrow. Godly grief that turns to repentance, that turns to life.
You might be looking at me and saying, "Afshin, there is no hope for that relationship in my life." You might be looking at me saying, "Afshin, there's no hope for my marriage." I'm saying to you, you turn to God. The more you fixate on the wrong that someone's done to you -- you've heard me say this before, or maybe the one that's wronged you -- the more you're fixated there, your attention is there, you become more and more bitter and you become just like them.
But as you take your eyes off the situation or off the person and put it on Christ, and remember the way He loved you when you came against him, the way He didn't move in anger. He didn't revile back, but He loved you, and you say, "God, give me a heart like that." It's not too late. Joel says, "Rend your hearts, not your garments." Turn back to God. Even now, see, He may leave behind a blessing. Return to him with weeping, with fasting, and with mourning and ask him, "Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Turn to God. Let's pray.
Father, we love you, and God, we need you. And Lord, we are convicted to the core by this text. And Lord, I pray, Holy Spirit, that you would do a deep work in our hearts. Father, may we not deflect any conviction that you are sending our way. Father, may we not excuse any behavior, even if we feel justified to a small degree. Oh God, would you give us feet to do what we need to do? Give us faith to step out, to seek to reconcile. God, root out bitterness from our heart. Give us a heart that beats like yours. We need you. It's in Christ's name we pray, amen.