Jesus and the Law

Matthew 5:21 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.

Jesus begins in this passage in the sermon on the mount to unfold for the crowd the correct way to consider the laws of old. He begins here to challenge old and incorrect ways of thinking, and rather than diminishing the law, he elevates it to and strengthens it to a place where it is utterly unattainable by man.

If there were those in the crowd on that day who thought they were righteous on their own then he obliterates those thoughts with these words we just read. The self-righteous would be unable to stand if they understood His words on this day. When we read in the Bible that there is none who are righteous, no not one, we must believe it.

We could take this passage and only talk about anger and we are going to talk about anger, but if we only see anger and our trouble with it in these verses then we will have missed the point.

What Jesus does here is He begins one of six illustrations regarding understanding of the Christian life and walk. Each is an illustration. We will see illustrations in the coming verses regarding: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and love. These are very valuable. But they are only illustrations of a point being made. Jesus could have included other illustrations but the ones He gives allow us to get a sense of how to apply the scripture to any other situation.

We miss the entire message of the sermon if we do not take the underlying principle and learn how to apply it to the infinite number of decisions that we face throughout our lives. What is the underlying principle? I think there are two:

First - Seek and apply the heart intention of God’s instruction, not merely the letter of it. This is impossible to do on a human level. But as we seek him with all our hearts, he will reveal it to us.

Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

When we talk about what God wants, the answer always includes the heart and soul of man. In other words, He wants all of you, not just what you do but what you want, what you desire, He wants all of you.

The second principle is this: You cannot follow God perfectly, especially as we talk about the heart and motives. You cannot follow God perfectly and obey His desires perfectly so you need Jesus. Jesus is our righteousness.

So, two things: Follow God from the heart and you cannot follow God from the heart perfectly. Is that discouraging to you? Is it discouraging when I say, when you read, follow God completely from the heart and in the same breath, you cannot follow God completely from the heart? Is that discouraging to you? Does that make you feel heavy and seem hopeless? If so, I want to help you with that. Let’s talk about the second one first—the fact that you cannot follow God perfectly. I want to give you hope regarding this. Look at verses 21 and 22:

Matthew 5:21 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.

Jesus cites the Law and then adds weight to it by saying it is not just murder that is a violation of the Law, it is also the feelings and attitudes of the heart that is also a violation of the Law.

Murder is a good translation, it is killing without cause. This is not self-defense killing or killing in time of war or even legal execution. This is murder that Jesus is referring to. He does not say that hating is equal to murder only that it is also a type of murder that will be judged, deserving of judgement, right?

The point is to capture the attention of everyone in His audience. If there were some people there who could say well I am righteous, I’m good, I’ve not murdered anyone, well Jesus pulls them into this message by including the heart and attitudes that we have all had toward another person to ensure that everyone understands their guilt in this matter. He was shouting…you too are guilty! You, we are not innocent, not in our hearts.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

But what does Jesus say about Himself? He says in verse 22, “But I say to you…” Who is the “I?” It is Jesus. I don’t want to just get so caught up in ourselves and in our inabilities to perfectly obey to get depressed or sad or hopeless because we are so focused on ourselves that we miss the awesome statement that Jesus makes here. He says, “But I say to you.” The one who thoroughly understands not just the letter of the Law but even the depths of its nuance of its intent is the One who perfectly obeyed it. Jesus obeyed the Law in it’s fulness so that He could fully please the Father and be the perfect sacrifice for you and me.

Maybe this passage brings you down a notch in your opinion of yourself, we have all hated. Let this passage do that for you, it should do that for you; but at the same time and even more so, we should glory in Christ who, right here, shows us the completeness of His perfection.

This passage is for us for sure, it speaks to our inability but it is just as much or even more about our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy perfections. Though tempted, not only did He not murder, but He even did not hate, He didn’t hate from the heart. So when you hate, repent and glory in the Christ who for your sake did not hate.

I hope that this resonates with you and encourages you to think of Christ as being the perfect sacrifice, living a perfect life and obeying even every intent of the Law from His heart. He did this for you because you can’t do it for yourself.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us trusting in our perfect Christ but also with a heart even more bent on living life in a way that is an expression of our love to Him. And if we will live our lives as an expression of our love for Him then we will strive to live His way. We will more and more want to, from the heart, obey His desires for us.

And this is one thing these six illustrations do for us. They help us to see the intention of the Law, God’s heart on these issues, so that we can better know how to live our lives for Him. We don’t obey in order do gain salvation, Christ has taken care of that. We obey in order to show our love for Him. So in this first illustration we have to talk about this problem of hate.

Every human has struggled on some level with hate or anger. I remember when I was working on my masters degree in biblical counseling that much of the course work was very convicting to my heart. I realized through much of the coursework how desperately I needed Christ and how much I needed to grow.

But I had one class that was a focused study on the human heart and anger. I honestly thought going into the class that finally, a class that won’t be so hard on my flesh. I really thought that I had no personal issue with anger, I never considered myself to be an angry person. I quickly learned however that I just didn’t understand really what anger was. Because as we got into the topic I began to see that I did have elements of anger that were sprinkled all throughout my life.

Anger can show itself in different ways. It can be explosive, like a very visible, loud, oppressive type of behavior toward others; but it can also be an under the surface irritation toward others that mostly stays inside a person. Mine was more of the latter, but it was and is real and though well hidden at times was still a very ugly and sinful attitude toward others. Jesus says this, like murder, will be judged. It is deserving of judgement.

It is not that we just have to draw the line at murder but we have to back the line way up to include irritation and frustration too. Do you see how Jesus is drawing us all in? We cannot hear and believe this teaching and remain self righteous, we are all guilty before God. But it is in understanding this to be true that we can begin to confess and rely on God to change us rather than believe we are okay on our own.

Matthew 5:22 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.

This is so grievous to God that something must be done. Repentance is in order, a change of behavior that is brought on by a change in heart attitude. Here is what needs to happen:

Matthew 5:23 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.

We see real, genuine steps of repentance. Go and address the issue and make it right with your brother. The word brother is the word most often used to refer to a fellow believer. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we only have to repent toward fellow believers, but by saying brother He is illustrating that of all people, our fellow Christians should be the least likely that we have anger toward, why? Because we know and they know we have received such grace from the Lord, so we should not be angry toward them. Yet our sin runs so deep that the truth is that we will even be tempted to be angry toward and hate our fellow Christians. It ought not be so but it is at times. Leave your gift and be reconciled and then offer your gift to the Lord. Deal with sin and then worship the Lord with your gift.

Lastly Jesus finishes out this particular illustration with a final example:

Matthew 5:25 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.

The important idea is to come to terms quickly with those with whom we have disputes. Jesus calls for reconciliation to be sought eagerly, aggressively, quickly—even if it involves self-sacrifice. It is better to be wronged than to allow a dispute between brethren to be a cause for dishonoring Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

An accuser speaks of one’s adversary in a law case. Prison is a reference to debtor’s prison, (this is where a person would be thrown into prison for not paying a debt owed). This was an onerous situation because being in prison, most would lose all means of paying a debt so that it must be paid by others in order to free the debtor or perhaps the prisoner could somehow work within the prison to earn back what he had defrauded.

The point is…don’t hate each other, don’t be sinfully angry with each other, don’t demand your own way thinking everyone else is the fool. Humbly react and respond to other people as those who have received much grace, come to agreements, repent and think of others first. These are easy ways for us to honor our Savior and show our love to Him. We can do these things because He loves us and will care for us through each of these actions. He has got us right here and He will take care of us so we don’t have to lash out at others.

Do you see the importance of submitting from the heart? Jesus always lived this way. Thankfully so. He always lived this way, perfectly. And in doing so He has secured our salvation. Our place is ever more and more to live this way as well. But when you don’t, repent and praise our Lord for His faithfulness! He is the righteous One.

Matthew 5:21 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.