Sermon on Mount 4
Sermon on the Mount
"Anger, Lust, and the Big ‘D’"
Matthew 5:21-26 "21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny."
As we continue on in Jesus' teaching on how we as kingdom people are to live, Jesus brings a message on the danger of anger. Remember, Jesus often uses the phrase that He does here, "You have heard that it was said to those of old time," (talking about Old Testament Law) and then adds, "But I say to you...."
He is not doing away with or marginalizing the Law in any way. He goes on to spiritualize it, to add depth of understanding to what the intent of the Law had been. This is what He will do with anger, lust, charitable deeds, and many other of the issues of life.
When it comes to anger, Jesus takes the 6th Commandment, "You shall not murder," and deals with the root cause of murder, which is anger. He will show us how anger un-dealt with is the very thing that leads to the breaking of the 6th commandment.
First, He tells us not to nurse anger toward a brother. If we do so we shall be in danger of the judgment. Most murders follow on the heels of anger not reined in. Jesus says that this kind of anger can lead to the judgment.
Since a natural human court cannot judge someone's emotions, Jesus here is talking about the judgment of God Who sees all. God judges things all the time on earth and chastens accordingly, while the objects of His judgment often don't even discern what is happening.
Now again, just like we did in the Beatitudes, we see a progression taking place. First there is anger resulting in God's judgment. But next we see an increase in the level of anger that results in vicious attacks on a person's character. Whoever says to his brother, 'Ra'ca!" which means, "empty headed idiot," shall be in danger of the council, which is a human court.
The idea here is that Ra'ca, or 'empty-headed idiot' is a derogatory, hateful, degrading term of contempt that was murderous in its ability to damage the inward heart and soul. Remember the Bible says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). The old saying, "Sticks and stones..." is not true. Words can hurt, maim, and kill.
According to Jesus, when the anger inside you grows to the point of speaking murderous, hate-filled, venomous words of contempt to another, you are in danger of ending up in court. Anger on that level is growing out of control. Anything can happen, even illegalities.
Then finally the progression of anger reaches the worst of all when you say, "You fool!" What's the big deal with 'you fool?' Jesus is pointing not so much to the word "fool" itself, as to the settled hatred behind the word. This final stage of anger has morphed into deep, unrepentant hatred.
The person that nurses this level of hatred is in danger of hell. The Greek word for hell here is Gehenna. Gehenna referred to the place where Solomon erected a high place for the horrible idol called Molech (1Kings 11:7). There the fires of that god had received their bloody offerings of infant sacrifice under Ahaz and Manasseh.
Therefore, Gehenna was a cursed, horrible, and revolting place that came to refer to the "eternal fires" awaiting the damned. Whether Jesus meant that anger unchecked can eventually consume your life with the fire of hatred, or that such anger can place you in danger of losing your soul, I don't know. What we DO know is that Jesus couldn't have been more clear about the danger of unchecked, festering anger.
Next, Jesus continues with the theme of anger and lets us know that we should also help our brothers and sisters to be freed of anger that is directed at us. If we go to church to offer the sacrifice of worship, and there in the altar we remember that our brother has something against us, Jesus said, "Leave your gift of worship at the altar and go straight out to make it right with your brother, then come and offer your gift."
So not only are we responsible to deal with our own anger, but if we can be a peacemaker with a brother or sister, we should help them in extinguishing the fire of anger. It won't always work. Some people don't want reconciliation. Hence Paul wrote, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Ro. 12:18).
Jesus finished His teaching on anger with the exhortation to do all in our power to pacify an angry adversary who is taking you to court before you ever get there. "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him..."
He is NOT saying to give an adversary everything they want, even if it's unreasonable. Nor to settle out of court any time someone wants to take advantage of you. Jesus didn't teach us to lay down and let people kick us around just because they have a bad day.
The implication is that the adversary is justifiably offended. Something we have done has rightly angered him to the point of taking us to court. Jesus said that if there is any reasonable way to extinguish the anger of and make peace with that person, do it.
Otherwise, that person's anger might be instrumental in taking us before the judge who in turn agrees with the offender's case and turns you over to the officer who takes you to jail. In other words, sometimes the best thing you can do is admit your mistake, humble yourself before the offended person, and seek mercy.
Next, Jesus turns to the subject of lust and adultery. The principle He's tracking remains the same. The 7th Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" is more than just not committing the act. Jesus once again takes us to where adultery begins--in the heart starting with lust.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (5:28).
Moses' commandment dealt only with the action---don't commit the act of adultery. As with anger and murder, Jesus's commandment helps us to deal with where adultery begins before the action takes place---in our heart.
The intent of the word "lust" is stronger in the Greek than in the English. It is not the passing glance, not even the momentary impulse of desire, but the continued, sustained gaze by which the impulse is deliberately cherished till it becomes a passion. It is the lingering look that says, "If I could, I would."
No one can avoid the initial recognition and appreciation of an attractive person. This is not Jesus' point. Jesus is addressing that one who decides to keep looking with lustful desire; who nurses their lust and indulges it. This, says Jesus, is what leads to the actual act of adultery.
This is what David did when the Bible says "...he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold" (2 Samuel 11:2). David didn't turn away. He kept looking. The Bible uses the very same Hebrew word of Samson when he "saw" Delilah.
He didn't just see her. It means "she was in his eyes," literally it reads, "woman in eyes." She was "in his eyes," stuck where she couldn't get out. That is the look Jesus is talking about. This is the adultery of the heart.
Now Jesus next uses absurdity to make a point. And he uses two members of our body directly involved in the act of adultery---the eye that lusts, and the hand that reaches out to act.
"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you....And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off....For it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."
Of course, Jesus is NOT encouraging self mutilation. Unfortunately, many in history have taken His words literally and cut off hands or gouged out eyes. Here's the deal. If you were to do this, it STILL would not solve your lust problem. Jesus is simply showing us the extreme danger of unrestrained lust and its power to destroy a life, even to damn it to hell.
The only way to truly be free of lust is to daily and hourly walk in the Spirit, allowing the Holy Spirit to sanctify your heart. Paul wrote, "...if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:13).
For me the profound value of Jesus' teaching here is that if you follow His advice, it will help you to stop a sin in its tracks before it becomes a full blown tragedy. Is there anger in your heart? Practice forgiveness and stop murder (either verbal or literal) in its tracks.
Is there lust in your heart? Repent of it, spend time in the Word and prayer, and avail yourself of the power of God's Spirit. The Spirit of God is like a water hose that will douse the fire of raging lust.
Next, it only makes sense that Jesus now deals with marriage and divorce since much of divorce takes place in order to give vent to pent up lusts in the heart that are seeking freedom from marital ties. Jesus says,
"Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery" (5:31-32).
In Jesus' day, a woman was sent packing for the most trivial and ridiculous reasons. It literally had come down to, if a man found anything distasteful in his wife, even if he decided he was simply tired of her, he could send her away. Jesus took a stand against this abuse of women. He said that he who divorces his wife lays her under a strong temptation to commit adultery, and that was wrong.
He also taught that unjust divorce was no divorce in the sight of God, it was not valid; so any man who married a woman who was unjustifiably put away committed adultery also, since God considered her former marriage yet valid.
I know this opens up a thousand questions that we could spend a whole evening on. But due to time we must move on. Perhaps we'll take an entire Wednesday evening on this topic in the future.
NEXT TIME: Foolish Vows and The Second Mile