Today’s passage begins with “you have heard it said”. Jesus will begin his topical teachings with this phrase in the coming passages as he teaches the intent of God’s Law to his people. Teachers of The Law read it out loud but would then interpret the intent of The Law to fit their lifestyle of cheating the people with high temple taxes, jailing people for disobeying details of the law they created, all for the purpose of using God’s Law for their own satisfaction, lining their pockets, and lording it over the people.
Jesus will openly make it clear to the Pharisees and other leaders just how much they abuse The Law in Matthew 23:1-25, (Another great sermon!)
“Then Jesus spoke to the people and to his followers. He said, ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees have the authority to tell you what the Law of Moses says. So you should obey them. Do everything they tell you to do. But their lives are not good examples for you to follow.’
‘They tell you to do things, but they don’t do those things themselves. They make strict rules that are hard for people to obey. They try to force others to obey all their rules. But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.’
‘The only reason they do what they do is for other people to see them. They make the little Scripture boxes they wear bigger and bigger. And they make the tassels on their prayer clothes long enough for people to notice them. These men love to have the places of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues. They love for people to show respect to them in the marketplaces and to call them ‘Teacher.’
But you must not be called ‘Teacher.’ You are all equal as brothers and sisters. You have only one Teacher. And don’t call anyone on earth ‘Father.’ You have one Father. He is in heaven. And you should not be called ‘Master.’ You have only one Master, the Messiah.’
Whoever serves you like a servant is the greatest among you. People who think they are better than others will be made humble. But people who humble themselves will be made great.’
‘It will be bad for you teachers of the law and you Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You close the way for people to enter God’s kingdom. You yourselves don’t enter, and you stop those who are trying to enter. “It will be bad for you teachers of the law and you Pharisees! You are hypocrites.’
‘You travel across the seas and across different countries to find one person who will follow your ways. When you find that person, you make him worse than you are. And you are so bad that you belong in hell!’
It will be bad for you teachers of the law and you Pharisees! You guide the people, but you are blind. You say, ‘If anyone uses the name of the Temple to make a promise, that means nothing. But anyone who uses the gold that is in the Temple to make a promise must keep that promise.’ You are blind fools! Can’t you see that the Temple is greater than the gold on it? It’s the Temple that makes the gold holy!
‘And you say, ‘If anyone uses the altar to make a promise, that means nothing. But anyone who uses the gift on the altar to make a promise must keep that promise.’ You are blind! Can’t you see that the altar is greater than any gift on it? It’s the altar that makes the gift holy! Whoever uses the altar to make a promise is really using the altar and everything on the altar.
‘And anyone who uses the Temple to make a promise is really using the Temple and God, who lives in it. Whoever uses heaven to make a promise is using God’s throne and the one who is seated on it.’
‘It will be bad for you teachers of the law and you Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You give God a tenth of the food you get, even your mint, dill, and cumin. But you don’t obey the really important teachings of the law—being fair, showing mercy, and being faithful. These are the things you should do. And you should also continue to do those other things.’
‘You guide the people, but you are blind! Think about a man picking a little fly out of his drink and then swallowing a camel! You are like that. It will be bad for you teachers of the law and you Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You wash clean the outside of your cups and dishes. But inside they are full of what you got by cheating others and pleasing yourselves.’
I know this was long, but we needed to understand WHY Jesus opened each teaching with “You have heard it said…” Jesus walked into a ministry to set the world right about what God wanted from his people for their own good and for His glory. Jesus was following John the Baptizer, who was the “warm up act of Truth”, who spoke the same words in preparation for Jesus Who WILL set things right so people can be set right with God!
NOW, let’s read each passage knowing why. Jesus will take each statement of The Law farther than anyone has ever taken it with love as the foundation and peace as the goal.
Matthew 5, NIV
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
WHAT ELSE DO WE LEARN?
I have read that one out of every thirty-five deaths in Chicago is a murder, and that most of these murders are “crimes of passion” caused by anger among friends or relatives. Jesus did not say that anger leads to murder; He said that anger is murder.
There is a holy anger against sin (Eph. 4:26), but Jesus talked about an unholy anger against people. The word He used in Matthew 5:22 means “a settled anger, malice that is nursed inwardly.” Jesus described a sinful experience that involved several stages. First there was causeless anger. This anger then exploded into words: “Raca—empty-headed person!” These words added fuel to the fire so that the person said, “You fool—rebel!”
Anger is such a foolish thing. It makes us destroyers instead of builders. It robs us of freedom and makes us prisoners. To hate someone is to commit murder in our hearts (1 John 3:15).
This does not mean that we should go ahead and murder someone we hate, since we have already sinned inwardly. Obviously, sinful feelings are not excuses for sinful deeds. Sinful anger robs us of fellowship with God as well as with our brothers, but it does not put us into jail as murderers. However, more than one person has become a murderer because he failed to control sinful anger.
Sinful anger must be faced honestly and must be confessed to God as sin. We must go to our brother and get the matter settled, and we must do it quickly. The longer we wait, the worse the bondage becomes! We put ourselves into a terrible prison when we refuse to be reconciled. (See Matt. 18:15–20 for additional counsel.) It has well been said that the person who refuses to forgive his brother destroys the very bridge over which he himself must walk.
SO, don’t murder and don’t even think about murder. Think loving reconciliation and peace above all else.
Ah, “all we like sheep”…What have you heard said that contradicts what God wants?
Jesus indeed teaches the opposite of what the world then and now thinks, says and does. That’s why it is hard for some to enter and consistently walk in the Kingdom of God. We need the Holy Spirit to help us. Call on Him and He will provide all the help we need.
Dear Father, Lord and Savior,
Thank you for making it clear what you expect of us. Thank you for pointing out The Way to You with humbled hearts. You are God and we are not. Continue to transform us to be all you intended for us to be.
In Jesus Name, Amen