Title: “Correct Text, Bad Interpretation: Jesus Brings Clarity to the original meaning of the Law Concerning Murder, Anger, Contempt, and Reconciliation” (Part 2)
Text: Matthew 5:21-26
Date; Sunday, November 25, 2018
Speaker: Pastor Joseph
Introduction: This morning, I would like to continue the teaching we have begun last Sunday, which we have entitled “Correct Text, Bad Interpretation: Jesus Brings Clarity to the original meaning of the Law Concerning Murder, Anger, Contempt, and Reconciliation” (Part 2). Last Sunday, we provided both the cultural and historical context to this passage hoping you will get a good understanding of the meaning and message of the text.
The OT punishment or prescription for murder was death penalty/capital punishment:
- Murder is intentional manslaughter. Murder is against the law of God and the image of God (Gen. 4; 9:6)
- In this verse, Jesus refers to the six commandment that states bluntly, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). The history of the Bible includes many murderers and men and women who are haters of God and their fellow men and women. We should understand biblical history as human history in which we encounter all different types of people, especially murderers, haters of God, protagonists of evil against their neighbors, rapists, kidnappers, etc. Both the Old and New Testaments report the names of individuals who are notorious murderers including Cain, Lamech, Pharaoh, Abimelech, Joab, the Amalekites, David, Absalom, Zimri, Jezebel, Haziel, Jehu, Athaliah, Joash, Manasseh, etc. (Old Testament); in the New Testament, we encounter murderers like King Herod, Judas, the high priests, Barabbas, Herodias and her daughter, etc.” (MacArthur, Matthew, p. 291)
- The first human crime recorded in Scripture was a homicide; it is reported in Genesis 4:8, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
- Since this historic incident, human beings kill each other uncontrollably and violently. The crime rate in societies and cultures have substantially raised. Murder reveals the darkness of the human heart and the desperate need of man in his depravity for God and to be redeemed by Christ.
Intentional homicide vs unintentional homicide/manslaughter
Biblical Texts that prohibit homicide or manslaughter:
- Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” It is actually the first specific divine prohibition of murder. This verse is the one first in the Bible that specifies and proscribes death as the penalty for the killer.
- Punishment for death: Exodus 21:12-14, 12 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.”
- Leviticus 24:17, 17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.”
- Numbers 35:30-31, 30 “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 31 Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.”
- Proverbs 6:16-19:
“There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.”
For the Pharisees and the scribes, murder is to carry out the act of murder, that is “the act of spilling human blood in homicide” (Stott, Sermon, p. 83), and this was the Jewish rabbi in Jesus’ day taught the people of God about the deed of murder. By contrast, Jesus argues that the original intent of the sixth commandment includes premeditated thoughts about murder and ungodly feelings and attitudes such as anger, words, and insults are also murderous acts. Murder is not only the action by an individual to physically take another individual’s life; for Jesus, one’s murderous thought is also considered murder.
Jesus establishes a relationship between thought and action, intention and doing, etc. For the teachers of the law, murder was a civil issue that should be prosecuted in the Sanhedrin/the supreme court; for Jesus, murder was a spiritual matter, a deep issue of the heart, that offends God’s holy character, which must be prosecuted by the highest court, the divine court itself. The teachers of the laws must have forgotten the powerful and confessing words of David in Psalm 51:
- 6, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
- 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”
or the words of God to Samuel: 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
****Nonetheless, God does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked; he wants him or her come to repentance and turn to his evil ways
God does not take any pleasure in anyone’s death, even the wicked
- Ezekiel 18:23, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
- Ezekiel 33:11, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Full Text: Ezekiel 18: 18-30
21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.
25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.”
Full Text: Ezekiel 33:8-15
8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
12 “And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness[a] when he sins. 13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14 Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
Verse 22: Jesus’ threefold pronouncements associated with judgment:
- “Whoever is angry with his brother= liable to judgement” (v.22)
- “Whoever insults his brother= liable to the Sanhedrin/council” (v.22)
- “Whoever calls his brother fool (raca/moron) = liable to the hell of fire/Gehenna (v.22)
- Insult may provoke anger, and perhaps leading one to commit murder
- The word that is used here is the Aramaic “raca” meaning contempt (or “more”in Greek, meaning a fool) meaning “empty.” Moros (fool) means stupid, or dull. When you call someone empty-headed, you insult the person’s intelligence.
- Those words, however, in the time Jesus, bears both religious and moral overtones. In addition, Jesus and disciples lived in a culture of shame of honor. To call someone a moron, a fool, stupid, damn, or empty-headed was to shame the person, to undermine the person’s reputation, and to dishonor his credibility and character.
- Nonetheless, the difference between these two words “raca” and “more” is expressed in this statement: “Raca expresses contempt for a man’s head= you stupid! more expresses contempt for his heart and character= you soundrel!” (Stott, p. 84)
- “To be angry is the basic evil behind murder; to slander a person with a term such as Raca is even more serious, because it gives expression to that anger; and to condemn a person’s character by calling him a fool is more slanderous still” (MacArthur, Matthew, p. 295)
Being angry at someone and insulting an individual are deep problematic issues of the heart. Jesus outlines the consequences for each offense including judgment, the court/Sanhedrin, and the fire of hell.
- True Christian piety includes the preservation of the heart from being corrupted. Godliness is to maintain a pure motive at all times.
- That will bring to judgement, to court, and ultimately to hell, according to Jesus. As David cries in Ps. 51, God looks deeply at the inner disposition of the person. God always cares about the posture of our hearts and our thought-process. Let it be true, pious, and Christ-centered. On the other hand, in Ephesians 4:26-7, Paul warns the Christians in the Asia Minor: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” In this sense, anger is not a mark of spiritual growth; it is a destroyer to interpersonal relationships.
- The sin of insult: the punishment will be the appeal to the council and ultimately cast in the hell of fire, if it is unrepentant.
- The judgment Jesus is referring here is the judgment God will execute on individuals for internalizing hatred in their heart and storing inward anger. God will judge them if they do not express a humble attitude as David in his prayer-request for purity and consecration: “God, create in me a pure heart and a contrite spirit.” Repentance toward God from one’s sins is the only escape from divine wrath and judgment.
1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
- This is an indictment against insults: Do not insult people!
***This is a message about name-calling and accusations against a fellow church member.
Verses 23-25, The call to reconciliation: make peace with all people
- To escape God’s judgment, one must reconcile with his fellow brothers or sisters. To escape God’s judgment, one must deal decisively with sin in his or her heart including anger, hatred, murder, and any ungodly disposition toward someone
- The urgency of reconciliation is a mark of genuine and committed discipleship of Christ. The clarion call is to live peacefully with everyone.
- The text does not say that to leave your gift because you have something against your brother; it says the opposite to leave your gift if your brother has something against you.
Three words of advice from Jesus:
- Leave your gift at the church
- Be reconciled
- Settle the issue quickly with those you have wronged or those who have mistreated you.
“If you are in church, in the middle of a service of worship, and you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave church at once and put it right. Do not wait till the service has ended. Seek out your brother and ask his forgiveness. First go, then come. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your worship to God” (Stott, Sermon, pp. 85-6).
What is reconciliation?
- “Reconciliation leads to the idea of being in continuing friendly relations even with one’s opponent” (Morris, Matthew, p. 116)
- “The common definition of reconciliation as it relates to relationships is (1): 1. The restoration of friendly relations. 2. The action of making one view or belief compatible with another.
- We see from this definition that the words restoration and compatible are part of reconciliation. However, the root of reconciliation is the word conciliation, which is the action of stopping someone from being angry. When we have reconciliation, it means that we restore our relationship to one that enables us to be compatible and friendly with one another again.
- Reconciliation is the process of restoring a relationship to one that is friendly and compatible with each other. God values the reconciliation of relationships more than religious practices. For this reason, reconciliation should be a high priority and done in private with an attitude of humility and love. The person who has sinned should confess their sin and ask for forgiveness from the other person. Once forgiveness is granted and reconciliation is completed, the sin is no longer allowed to be brought up. Our motivation to reconcile with someone should be because of our love for Christ because of the reconciliation He gave us with God by His death on the cross.”
- In these two verses, Jesus provides two illustrations concerning the sin of anger; the first example pertains to a thanksgiving offering to God as worship; the second relates to a civil issue in which one party is accused the other of a wrong doing. The underlying claim by Jesus is that it is an urgency for people to deal appropriately with their sins through repentance and forgiveness. Upon failure not to repent of the internal sin will invite divine judgment. Human sin challenges the holy character of God; they must be dealt decisively and urgently. Sin calls for God’s emergency intervention.
- To put it differently, “If you have an unpaid debt, and your creditor takes you to court to get his money back, come to terms with him quickly. Make a settlement out of court. Even while you are on your way to court, pay your debt. Otherwise, once you reach the court, it will be too late. Your accuser will sue you before the judge and the judge will hand you over to the police, and you will find yourself in goal. You will never get out till you’ve paid the last penny. So, payment before prison would be much more sensible” (Stott 86).
- not all anger is evil; some acts or thoughts of anger are justified. God is described of having righteous and holy anger. On the other hand, Jesus is not saying if we can always justify our anger, we are then free to be angry. Not all, the caution here is to avoid being angry and to practice reconciled relations with people and live peacefully with them. Martin Luther speaks of righteous anger as “anger of love, one that wishes no one any evil, one that is friendly to the person but hostile to the sin” (Qtd in Stott, Sermon, p. 84).
Five Practical lessons about this passage on worship
- Internal sin is a deep hindrance to worship to God. Such worship is not acceptable to God. God will not answer the prayer of an individual who stores the sin of hatred and anger in his heart. He must confess that sin and ask for forgiveness.
- A Christian life characterized by sinful behavior and ungodly attitude does not honor Christ or bring glory to God.
- The Christian life should be a life of worship to God.
- Genuine worship to God begins with repentance of one’s sins and spiritual humility; this is the type of righteousness God desires.
- Authentic worship to God emerges from a pure and contrite heart.
***Ps. 66:18, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear”
Five Practical lessons on interpersonal relations
- The true worshiper is someone who is sensitive to maintain good and peaceful relationships with others.
- The true Christian will prioritize interpersonal relationships above ritual performance or church performance.
- If one is not first reconciled with God, one cannot worship, and one will not be able to reconcile with his neighbor. In this way, worship is first an act of reconciliation.
- If a Christian has an unresolved issue or disagreement with another individual, he should resolve this issue as soon as possible.
- Restored or renewed relationships are more significant than religious practices or rituals.
***Jesus threatens his followers with divine judgment for anger. Because Jesus prohibits anger, he offers counter-behaviors that illustrate what it means both beyond and in reconciled relations with others” (McKnight, Sermon, p. 79). Jesus is for reconciliation, not alienation or enmity. He wants his followers to be committed to a life of holiness and be different when it comes to murder, anger, and insults. He wants his followers to find peace and tranquility in their relations. Biblical Christianity is about reconciled relations with God and with others. The people of God are called to be people of reconciliation.
Warnings about anger:
- Psalm 37:8, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
- Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
- James 1:19-22 “19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves”
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