Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Angry Enough to Kill

Part 12 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:21-26

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“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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” (Matt. 5:21-22).


A Deeper Righteousness

In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus describes what he means by a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (v. 20). He desires that his followers have a righteousness that goes deeper than merely obeying the rules. He repeatedly says, “You have heard that it was said” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43), and then he declares, “But I say to you” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). [1] Jesus is not contradicting the OT law; he is correcting a misunderstanding of it.


Is Anger Really That Bad?

Why did Jesus teach that anger was such a serious sin? He compares anger with murder [2] and says that if we are filled with anger against another person, we are “liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22).

If we are filled with anger against another person, we have a murderous heart. 

There are degrees of anger. There’s a difference between the anger of a murderer and the anger of a father who yells at his son. Jesus is talking about an intense kind of anger. If we have this type of anger, we are like a murderer [3] in two ways.

First, if we are filled with anger against someone, we desire harm to come to that person. An angry person longs for revenge. He would commit murder if he could get away with it.

Second, if we are filled with anger against someone, we don’t value the life of that person. Genesis 9:6 says, “Who-ever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Premeditated murder was punishable by death because human life is precious to God. But the person with a murderous attitude sees his enemy as worthless. He “insults” him [4] and calls him a “fool” (v. 22).


Is Anger Always Wrong?

It’s possible to be angry without sinning: “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Sometimes anger is the appropriate response (e.g., when a child is harmed). Jesus was sometimes angry (e.g., the cleansing of the temple). He even said to the scribes and Pharisees, “You blind fools!” (Matt. 23:17). Unlike our anger, Jesus’ anger was always righteous.

When Jesus was angry, he was angry at sin, not because offended him: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). How did Jesus respond? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ anger wasn’t a self-centered anger. Many times we think our anger is appropriate, but it’s actually sinful. We get angry not because someone has sinned, but because someone has sinned against us.


The Heart of the Matter

We often blame external conditions for our anger (e.g., other people, “I had a bad day!”). “While external conditions can be very influential in our lives and should not be ignored, the Bible says that they are only the occasion for sin, not the cause.” [5] The cause of sin is within us: our hearts. Jesus declared, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). James writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Murder is generated in the heart.

If I have a murderous heart, I have forgotten about God's grace. 

I can’t calculate how much I’ve offended God by my sinfulness, yet Christ died for me. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If God so loved me, I also ought to love people who have wronged me.


The Urgency of Reconciliation

Jesus says that we are not to delay in seeking reconciliation with others (“First be reconciled to your brother,” v. 24; “Come to terms quickly with your accuser,” v. 25). “Interestingly, it is not the anger of the person Jesus is addressing of which he speaks, but anger provoked by that person. It is not enough to control one’s temper (though that is important); one must not arouse other people’s anger.” [6]
Reconciliation is so important that it takes priority over worship. 

The illustration that Jesus uses in verses 23-24 would have been shocking to Jesus’ original hearers.
Most of Jesus’ hearers were from Galilee, and their disputes with others would be centered there as well. Jesus’ teaching would require them to bind the legs of the sacrificial animal and leave it at the base of the altar in the Jerusalem temple, travel the approximately 80 miles back to Galilee to seek reconciliation and offer restitution to an offended brother, then travel the same 80 miles back to Jerusalem to complete the sacrificial ritual! [7] 
Even if reconciliation is not possible, we are to make an attempt. We should strive to be “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).


[1] When Jesus said, “But I say unto you,” he was emphasizing his own authority to interpret the OT law. “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29).
[2] The apostle John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
[3] Of course, the consequences of anger are less severe than the consequences of murder (i.e., the death of someone). If I had a choice between someone hating me and someone murdering me, I’d take hatred every time.
[4] A more literal translation of the original Greek is “says Raca to his brother.” “Raca” is an Aramaic word that means “worthless.”
[5] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 151.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 115–116.
[7] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, Kindle locations 2600-2603.