Life Upside Down
March 4, 2018
The Sermon on the Mount is such a powerful message concerning the tendencies of our human nature. We all struggle with sin and the power that temptation has on our souls, but what is so interesting is that when we are caught in a sinful practice, we can so quickly justify why we fell prey to it. Rather than seek forgiveness and reconciliation, we often give excuses with our apologies.
Well, we found last week that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for attempting to make life all about the external actions and not have a heart of commitment to God. We often chime in and say in agreement with Jesus, “shame on you Pharisees for turning your relationship with God into legalism.” But before we are too harsh on them, we must understand that they were devoted to the study of the Old Testament Law. Probably more devoted than most of us are when it comes to the study of the Bible. But they were so immersed in the minutia of the Law, that they began writing guidelines to help a person to be obedient to the Law. But the problem is that the writings of the ancient Rabbis had come to replace the Scriptures.
The Pharisees made long lists of “do’s and don’ts” by which they sought to live righteously. However, their attempts to improve on what God said in the Law only resulted in a lower standard that they felt they could keep and live by. But the problem is that what the Pharisees developed was not God’s righteousness, but their self-righteousness. We fall prey to the same mentality.
Thus, as Jesus begins teaching the Sermon on the Mount and what true righteousness looks like, it looks like life turned upside down. He tells the crowd listening to Him that people will find true happiness, genuine blessedness, when their lives are characterized by self-emptying, mourning over sin, exemplifying meekness in their lives, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, becoming merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker in this world. He said that people will find genuine joy when they are the salt of the earth, the light of the world and even when they are persecuted by the rest of the world.
Truly this is life upside down! Then last week, in Matthew 5:17-20, we found that what Jesus is teaching is actually in complete harmony with the Old Testament. But even more than that, if our righteousness does not exceed that of the Pharisees, we cannot enter God’s kingdom! This is huge! This had to grab the attention of every single person on the hillside that day. Who could be more righteous than the Pharisees, the keepers of the Law?
But Jesus makes it clear that He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Scriptures. The things Jesus is teaching is not to abolish the Law and the Scriptures, but to fulfill it. Jesus is the only person that can fulfill all righteousness that is demanded by the Law. Thus, to be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees, we need Jesus’ righteousness applied to us. And that is what happens when we place our faith in Him as our Lord and Savior. The righteousness of the Christ is applied to us.
Well, as we continue in Matthew 5, we find Jesus saying a particular phrase several times that should capture our attention. The phrase is this: "You have heard that it was said.” Six times Jesus uses this simple phrase to show the difference between Kingdom righteousness and Pharisaical righteousness. What Jesus is doing here is He is contrasting the practice of true righteousness with that of the Scribes and Pharisees. "You have heard that it was said,” but I tell you . . .
Let’s read what Jesus has to say about reconciliation in verses 21-26 of 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.
So, Jesus begins with a statement about
Judgment Against Murder (v. 21)
Notice that the section starts off with the phrase, "You have heard that it was said to those of old.” Jesus is not referring to what God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, but rather, “those of old” is a plural use of the word referring to Rabbis of past generations. So, Jesus is not contradicting the Old Testament Law of murder, but He is contrasting the Rabbis teaching of this particular law. Jesus says you have heard this, so this is a common teaching that He is dealing with.
Jesus reminds them that what the Scribes and Pharisees teach is that you shall not commit murder, or you will be taken to court and suffer judgment. We want to quickly say, of course that is what is supposed to happen. Even today, if a person commits murder and is caught, they are tried in court, and a judge or jury give a sentence. But what has happened is we reduce this law concerning murder of another person to something you don’t want to do because you will face judgment in civil court. Don’t murder someone because you will have to face the consequences. Let me ask you something, “Is that why God stated in the Law in Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder?”
Absolutely not. You see, this goes back to Genesis. God’s purpose in this command is not because He doesn’t want us to face judgment, but because when someone murders another human being, they are making an attack against God, who has made all humans in His image. This is not about the legal demands of punishment for a murderer, but why murder is such a terrible crime.
Listen to the reason God gives for capital punishment for someone who kills another human being in Genesis 9:6:
"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
The Scribes and Pharisees reduced the commandment concerning murder to “don’t commit murder because you will have to face judgment from the local court.” They held to the letter of the Law, and that is a good thing, but were completely missing the character, intent, and purpose of the Law. Jesus goes on to illustrate this in verse 22 with the concept of:
Judgment Against Anger (v. 22)
Jesus goes on to tell the crowd on the hillside that just as a person who commits murder will face judgment, a person who has anger in his heart also will face judgment. Oh, it may not receive the same judgment in a civil court of law, but from God’s perspective, this is a matter of the heart and an angry person is guilty also.
In our self-righteousness we see no consequence for anger, calling other people names (insults), attacking other people’s character (fool or idiot), but in God’s righteousness, there is judgment for this. This is not a matter of the severity of the crime equaling the severity of the punishment, but the attack against God’s character that each represent. Again, it is a matter of the heart.
We tend to think we are pretty good if we compare ourselves to a murderer, but 1 John 3:15 indicts all of us.
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
The comparison Jesus makes causes us to stop and think a moment about how we feel about ourselves in comparison to a murderer. Do you think you are better than the those that are in jail because they killed someone else? Do you think you are better than those that have made the newspapers because of their gruesome and often seemingly senseless crimes? Don’t think you are better than a murderer, for if you have ever hated your brother, you are guilty of murder.
I don’t believe Jesus is referring to all anger in His statement here, rather a selfish anger that arises when we have been offended by someone. It is anger that simmers and boils toward another person over something they did against us. It is anger that manifests itself in derogatory insults against them. This is what Jesus is talking about in the rest of verse 22. It is a matter of the heart toward another person.
Now we know that there is righteous anger, even Jesus was angry over the sin taking place in the Temple. Ephesians 4:6 tells us we can be angry about some things but be careful about not letting it come to sin toward another. The point I am making is that there is righteous anger over sinfulness. We should be angry about the laws of our land that allow unborn children to be murdered in the womb. We should be angry that our nation is sliding down the slippery slope of morality. We should be angry about sinfulness in Christianity and should be angry about the sin we allow to pervade our lives. However, Jesus is not talking about righteous anger over sin. The anger Jesus is talking about is anger against another person, self-righteous anger.
It is that self-righteous anger that says we don’t deserve to be treated a certain way and we respond in insults, derogatory comments, or evil thoughts against them. Why? Because just like the murderer, your ultimate heart’s desire is that the offender no longer be in your presence, it is as if your heart’s desire is that they were dead. Certainly, you would not physically kill them, but in your heart it is a matter of murder.
What is the response of your heart when someone irritates you or does something against you? Let’s say you are driving down the road and someone cuts you off or pulls out in front of you forcing you to hit the brakes, or someone takes the parking place you’ve been waiting for. What is in your mind? What do your say in your heart? Is there selfish anger in your heart? Do you think they stole your space? Do you say something like “idiot,” “jerk,” “you fool!”? According to what Jesus has taught here, you are guilty before the court, and should face judgment. Are you any better than a murderer?
Pastor Scott Harris gives an anacronym that may help us when we face such people. The word is “P.I.N.O.G.A.M.” It stands for “Person In Need Of Grace And Mercy,” and that is what we are to give to people even when they personally offend us or irritate us. We need to extend to others what God has extended to us, mercy and grace. And that is exactly what Jesus is telling us in verse 23-26.
Reconciliation Avoids Judgment (vv. 23-26)
You see, the Scribes and Pharisees were in the same trap that we find ourselves in so many times. In a situation of anger, we find brokenness between us and another person. But we must keep in mind that the broken relationship is not just between us and another person, it is between us and God because that person is made in the image of God.
But often, instead of seeking reconciliation between ourselves and the other person, in our self-righteous thinking we say, they wronged me, they can come and apologize to me. They were wrong. But we must realize that a problem between two people is seldom one sided and if anger is involved on our part, then certainly we are sinning.
Whenever anger is a part of our heart’s response, relationships are broken not only between two people, but between us and God. Sometimes we continue on with our religious affairs as if nothing is wrong, but in reality, there is. When we have anger in our heart toward someone, our service to the Lord, the Bible class we attend, our time of communion, or whatever other religious activity we do is done with our relationship broken with God and also in danger of judgment!
We cannot have anger toward another, and perform religious activities thinking everything is okay. That is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. Jesus says you must leave your gift at the altar and go reconcile with your brother. Why, because our relationship with God is broken.
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
God will not accept your worship until you try to reconcile with your brother. While it takes both parties to accomplish reconciliation, we are to be diligent to do all that we can. If the other party refuses to reconcile, we need to forgive and continue on.
Jesus says we need to reconcile with urgency. He uses Roman custom and law concerning debtors to illustrate what He is saying in verse 25. A person could seek a settlement “out of court.” Once it goes to court, they are at the mercy of the judgment of the court. You could be thrown in prison and remain there until the debt is paid.
Thus, just as it is urgent for debtors to reconcile, so we should urgently seek reconciliation. It is not a matter of whether you are the one who has been wronged or not. Our text points out that if you remember that someone has something against you in verse 23, you have a duty to seek reconciliation because it is a hindrance to your worship. But in verse 25, if you are the one who has wronged someone, you must quickly seek reconciliation before you face judgment for the wrong.
For most of us, this is life upside down. When someone has wronged us or offended us, our reaction is to avoid them, take them to court, or hold anger in our heart toward them. But what Jesus is teaching us here is that it is a matter of the heart. Are we seeking to practice the righteousness of the Kingdom or our own self-righteousness? Just because we have not murdered anyone, doesn’t mean we stand right before God. If there is anger in our hearts toward another person, an image bearer, our relationship with God is broken and we stand in judgment for our sin. Someone has well said that the person who refuses to forgive his brother destroys the very bridge which he himself must cross.
In a few moments we are going to celebrate communion – remembering Jesus death on the cross for us. I want us to take what He has said to us in the passage seriously. If you are here today and you know that somebody has something against you, or you know that you have offended someone else and you have done nothing to reconcile the situation, you need to get it right with them. If that person is here today, then go to them and seek reconciliation.
In our culture today, we are told it is alright to be angry with someone as long as you don’t harm them. Jesus turns it upside down and says if you are angry with someone you are no better than a murderer. And even more, your worship is not acceptable as long as you hold onto that self-righteous anger.
Today as we close I want to give you a few moments to talk to God about things that may not be right in your life. As we prepare for communion, a time of remembering all that Jesus has done for us in taking care of the penalty of sin, may we be sensitive to the sin we allow in our heart and lives, especially the sin of anger.