No more murder – Matthew 5:21-22

It is with great gladness that I can say that no one in this room has ever been accused of murder. It really does bad things to one’s reputation if you’ve been accused of murdering someone.  Getting a job is hard; getting a spouse is even harder. Murder is all around us today. Local and national news stories profile murders of famous people, while the murders of lesser known people only receive a passing mention in local papers.

Having just called the people in the Sermon on the Mount to live a righteous life, Jesus begins the application of what it means for your righteousness to exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees. And He begins with an area that most people would think doesn’t apply to them at all:  murder.  No one likes murder; it’s a crime in all civilized and even uncivilized countries, yet it happens. However since most of us have never been close to committing this sin, we’re prone to think, like those who at the time heard Jesus, that this doesn’t apply to us. We mistake the fact that murder, like all sin, comes not from the outside but the inside. 

In verse 21, Jesus hearkens back to the old (but not outdated) command, “Thou shalt not kill…” This is found in Exodus 20:13. It is plainly spoken in Exodus but briefly let me add that the killing referred to here is murder. God commanded that no man or woman may take someone else’s life outside of war (Deut. 20:10-14) or defense (Exod. 22:2). All life belongs to God and only He may determine when it can be terminated. He created and formed us (Psalm 139:13) and all life belongs to Him and Him alone. Even the wicked who hate Him are to be treated with honor (I Peter 2:17) because they are made in God’s image.  We don’t know what it’s like to live in a society where murder is somewhat common and life is not treated with dignity; this is one of the blessings of living in a country founded on biblical standards.  Jesus calls the people’s attention to the teaching of the elders, first found in His command to Noah, that man may not shed the blood of another man (Gen. 9:5-6).

The punishment stated here was established by the Jewish elders, that whoever kills another man shall be in danger of the judgment, which was similar to our court system. A man would go before a counsel of judges who would hear the case and make a determination of the accused party’s guilt or innocence.  A guilty verdict would result in the man being killed.

Then in verse 22, Jesus raises the standard. Now this is not really raising the standard because this has always been the case. We must remember that God didn’t change in between the writing of Malachi and Matthew. Jesus is not stating something new; He is recovering what men had lost over time. The focus had become the action of murder rather than the place it starts: the heart. First I need to remove a potential hiding place many of us run to when defending our anger.  We think, “Jesus said if you were angry without a cause, and I have a perfectly good cause.” Well the Old Testament tells us when one could lead a charge against a person, and it was rare (murder of a relative, parent of a rebellious child, and a few others). Only the Lord gets to decide when you may be angry, but even then, all anger must be submitted to Him (Eph. 4:26). In other words, don’t look for relief from Jesus’ words in that phrase because it doesn’t provide any.

It doesn’t matter how religious you look if you don’t love your neighbor. Throughout the rest of this sermon, Jesus will expose the tactics of those who want to appear godly but really are not. The life of a disciple of Jesus begins in a renewed heart. When the grace of God comes to a man, it changes his heart, and from heart he will walk in righteousness.

He gives three levels of our anger that all bring God’s judgment.  This is the beginning of all murder (Matthew 15:19).

  1. The one who is angry with his brother.  We’ve already dealt with the phrase “without a cause.” Here He says that anyone who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of judgment. Are you angry with your brother or sister? At this point the flesh will again creep in and say, “It’s not anger, it’s deep-seated frustration.” Who are you kidding? Whether your call it frustration, exasperation, irritation, or anything else, you might very well be angry. How do you know if you’re angry? Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of it. If you find yourself quickly jumping to bad conclusions about a person, or thinking about a hurt that was supposed to have been forgiven, you are quite likely angry. The consequence according to Jesus, is the judgment, which would mean death.  Of course no one would literally stone a person for being angry with another, but the point should be taken: if you are angry with someone, you stand condemned before God. You are in sin. Don’t try to ignore it; don’t try to rationalize it; confess it to God and repent.
  2. Saying “Raca” to your brother.  This is an expression that is lost to us, literally.  We don’t know what it means, except that it was a term of ridicule.  It means something like dummy, idiot, or something like that. This person is one who is not only angry, but he calls the person with whom he is angry demeaning names. Have you ever been so upset that you called someone names? In Scripture, naming is a form of determining one’s abilities and future. When you name someone or something, you speak what you think of that person and his/her future life. To negatively do this is declaring something that only God can truly determine. It’s not wrong to say what is true: that one person is smarter than another; it is wrong to from anger call someone an imbecile. The penalty for this before God is the council, in Jesus’ days the equivalent to our Supreme Court. The penalty would be the same, but it would be known on a much broader scale. When you sin in this way, your sin is more readily apparent and your judgment will be more severe.
  3. Calling your brother a fool. At first this sounds like the previous statement, but it’s not. To call someone a fool in this sense is to say he is wicked and damned. In our day it is to tell someone, “Go to hell.” This person is so full of anger that he wishes and declares to the person that he desires him to live in eternal torment. For this sin Jesus gives the worst punishment: hell itself. The person who declares another wicked and damned is reserving for himself the same punishment. For the person at this level, actual murder is not far away. Once you disregard someone’s life to this point, you might be on the way to committing the sin. These sins start small but can quickly grow.

That’s not to say it’s wrong to warn people of everlasting damnation.  If it’s done properly, it’s good to remind people that if they don’t repent they will go to hell when they die. But Jesus’ point here is how anger drives a person to desire another’s damnation.

So where does this leave us? Let’s return to the earlier question.  Using Jesus’ words, are you a murderer? Are you angry with someone? This isn’t just about people at church or at home. It can be anyone. Are you angry with him or her.  Maybe no one else knows about it. Maybe he or she is not even a Christian.  That person is at the very least made in the image of God. Repenting of your anger may be what helps them see Christ. If you’re angry, you’re a murderer (I John 3:15). If you wonder why the church, why our church isn’t full of the Spirit of God, one of the reasons is murder. Illustration:  Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot, 1935, about murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. We must repent of our anger toward our parents, our spouses, our children, our neighbors, and our fellow church members.  It doesn’t matter why you’re angry; unless it is a biblically prescribed reason, we must either repent or risk God’s judgment.

Leave a Reply