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2006-06-11_Be Reconciled_Matthew 5.21-26

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Be Reconciled

Matthew 5:21-26   |   Shaun LePage   |   June 11, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case about the Ten Commandments called Stone v. Graham. The issue in the case was whether a display of the Ten Commandments in a public school was constitutional. The Kentucky public schools required that a copy of the Ten Commandments be displayed on the schoolroom walls. The cost to display the Ten Commandments was provided by private donations. The Supreme Court agreed that the students were not required to repeat the Ten Commandments or to read them. Nevertheless, the Court ruled that the display was unconstitutional. The Court concluded the case with these words: “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, mediate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.”

B.    I’m not going to spend any time debating that decision today, but it is interesting to me that as you enter the Supreme Court, the two huge oak doors have the Ten Commandments engraved on each lower portion of each door. And, inside the courtroom, directly above the Supreme Court judges, there is a display of the Ten Commandments! And, on the outside of the Supreme Court building, Moses is prominently displayed in stone—holding the Ten Commandments.

C.   My point in bringing this up is to highlight that the court considered that if the Ten Commandments were displayed, the effect might be that schoolchildren would obey them. No doubt, the court was referring to the first four commandments—those related to the devotion and worship of God. But, the sad fact is, the other six aren’t being obeyed either. The basis of “thou shall not murder, steal or commit adultery” is that there is a God who says, “Thou shall not…”

D.   Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, was in a meeting with the chairman of a giant publishing company who boasted, “Our newspaper chain was instrumental in the removal of the Ten Commandments from the walls of our public schools.” Colson asked him why he thought they should be removed, and the CEO answered, “They offend people of other religions. Besides, we must separate church and state.” Later in the meeting, this same executive brought up the subject of juvenile crime. He asked, “What are we going to do about the rising rate of teen delinquency? Occurrences of theft on the school campus have increased at an alarming rate over the past decade. What can we do to teach kids that stealing is wrong?” Chuck Colson said, “Maybe we should put a sign on the wall that says, ‘You Shall Not Steal.’” The newspaper man said, “That’s a good idea!”

E.    As we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a series of examples. Jesus taught in 5:17-20 that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He said, “I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then, in vs. 21-48, he illustrates His point with a list of examples from the Law. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was an outward emphasis rather than an inner emphasis. They tried to obey the letter of the Law, without any concern for the spirit of the Law. They had a shallow, incomplete understanding of the Law and Jesus explains that the righteousness necessary for entrance into the Kingdom was much, much deeper. In fact, it is an impossible standard apart from the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

F.    Let’s look at the first of His examples. One which lends itself well to a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. So, we will celebrate at the end of the message this morning in the hope that it will make it a more meaningful experience.

II.   Body—Matthew 5:21-26

A.   “You have heard…” (v.21)

1.     “You shall not commit murder.” The sixth commandment from Exodus 20:13 (see also Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17).

a)    It’s repeated at least six times in the New Testament (Matt 5:21; 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom 13:9; James 2:11).

b)    If the evolutionist is correct and we are simply animals (highly-evolved animals, but animals any way you want to say it), what is wrong with murder? Nothing. It’s simply survival of the fittest. But, if the Bible is to be believed, taking innocent human life is wrong because man is not just an animal. Mankind is special in the eyes of God. Listen to Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.” Killing an innocent human being is far different than killing an animal or a bug or a fish. Why? Because man was created in God’s image.

c)    This verse—given to Noah, after the flood as God was instructing him to repopulate the earth—makes it clear that “You shall not commit murder” was part of the moral law of the Old Testament. It transcends the narrow context of Israel and applies to all of mankind.

d)    But what was Jesus getting at here? Remember, Jesus did not come to “abolish” the Law. He’s not saying there was something wrong with this command. Look at the next phrase.

2.     “Whoever commits murder will be liable before the court” (v.21)

a)    This phrase is not found in the Old Testament. This is the rabbinic interpretation of the sixth commandment. In other words, this is what the scribes and Pharisees said about murder.

b)    But what’s wrong here? “Liable before the court”? This is a gross reduction of God’s requirements and indicates that murder was being treated lightly by the Jewish leadership. Murder was not to be treated as a simple infraction of the law. A jaywalker is liable before the court. Those who commit murder are liable before God Himself. Just a few verses after the Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20, God gave this command—Exodus 21:12: “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.”

c)    Another problem here is that the scribes and Pharisees were only concerned with the outward act of murder—not the inner issues that lead to it. Stephen—moments before he was illegally and mercilessly stoned to death by the Jewish leaders correctly diagnosed the condition of their hearts. Listen to Acts 7:51-53. Stephen said they had “uncircumcised hearts.” Their flesh had been cut, but their hearts were unchanged.

3.     Please write this question on your outline: What heart-change do I need?

B.     “But I say…” (v.22). Jesus then gave God’s perspective of this commandment.

1.     “Whoever is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court…”

a)    Let me say, first of all, that anger is not always sinful.

(i)   In Mark 3:5, Jesus was angry with the Jewish leaders. “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”

(ii) Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”

b)    Some ancient copies included the words, “without cause” in Matthew 5:22. The KJV includes the phrase, but whether or not this was original doesn’t really matter because surely this is what Jesus meant. “Whoever is angry with his brother without cause (his anger is not just and appropriate)” is in sin.

c)    What’s the big deal with “anger”? Is anger really as bad as murder?

(i)   On one level, no. Of course not. If I get to choose, I’d prefer having someone angry with me over someone murdering me. But, anger is an issue of the heart that manifests itself in many ways—the worst of which is murder. Anger is the root and murder is the fruit. Since we are all capable of anger, we’re all capable of murder.

(ii) I read a story once about Ronald & Nancy Reagan. The Reagans were entertaining some special guests in their home. On the morning before the guests arrived Mrs. Reagan left a note for her husband on the guest towels that said, “If you use these I will murder you.” When her guests arrived she forgot to remove the note. After the guests had gone home, she discovered the towels, untouched, with the note still attached. Obviously those guests believed that anyone—even Nancy Reagan—was capable of murder.

(iii)    Turn to Genesis 4:5-8. God told Cain to “master” his sin—which was anger—but instead Cain was mastered by his anger and the end result was murder. The root of anger in Cain resulted in the fruit of murder.

2.     Jesus went on in Matthew 5:22: “…And whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Listen to how this is paraphrased in The Message: “…Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.”

a)    Calling someone “good-for-nothing” and “fool” is to slander them. It is “murderous” because when we slander someone in this way, we devalue them. We do the same thing murderers do (on a smaller scale, perhaps, but the same thing nonetheless): We assault the image of God in that person. A murderer says a person is worthy of destruction—has no value. God says, No, that person was created in My image and therefore is worthy of honor. A slanderer says a person is worthy of destruction—has no value. God says, No, that person was created in My image and therefore is worthy of honor.

b)    Words can be so destructive. Constant picking and sarcastically cutting each other down is not good in any way. It is especially damaging to children.

3.     In case you haven’t figured this out, Jesus’ interpretation of the sixth commandment makes it impossible.

a)    If you and I were taken to court and accused of being angry with a brother, or verbally assaulting a person’s value, would we be convicted? Of course.

b)    As we saw in Matthew 5:17-20, we cannot fulfill the commandments of Scripture apart from Christ. But, since Christ came to fulfill the Scriptures, when we trust Him to be our substitute, we fulfill the Scriptures through Him—He makes us righteous before God.

c)    And, we are given the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for us to fulfill the Scriptures—when we walk with the Spirit. Listen to Galatians 5.14. According to Galatians 5, the deeds of the flesh include “outbursts of anger.” But the fruit of the Spirit—the results of walking with the Spirit—are the exact opposite. Listen to the list again in contrast to “outbursts of anger”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

4.     Write down this question on your outline: What root sins do I need to master?

C.   “Therefore…” (v.23-26). In these verses, Jesus gave two very practical examples to show us how to obey the heart of the sixth commandment. There is a lot we could say about these verses, but let me point out two key principles:

1.     Seek Reconciliation.

a)    Jesus said, “Be reconciled” and “make friends.”

b)    It’s not a matter of who’s to blame. Jesus didn’t say, “If you’ve wronged someone, go to them.” Nor did He say, “If you’re in the right, you don’t have to worry about it.” The lawsuit example seems to imply that you should “make friends” with your opponent to avoid punishment, but Jesus’ point is, anything can happen if you let a dispute go to court. The wise thing to do is “make friends” before it goes too far. Someone has called this the “Barney Fife method”—Nip it in the bud!

c)    When we are angry with someone or hurt by someone or if we’re in any kind of dispute with someone, we fulfill the heart of the sixth commandment by seeking reconciliation. We keep things from going too far by going and trying to work it out.

2.     Act quickly.

a)    Even if you’re in the worship service, “first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” He said, “make friends quickly” with your opponent.

b)    Not only should we take the lead in working toward reconciliation, but we should do so quickly. Today. Right now.

c)    Years ago, I was in a service where the preacher preached about bitterness. When he finished, he told us to bow our heads and close our eyes. He then insisted that if we had bitterness toward someone in the room we should take care of it right then and there. I was bitter toward someone in that room. My former basketball coach was in that room and I was bitter about how he had treated me when I was on his team. I’ll spare you the details, but this was not just a minor irritation. Often, I would think of him and become angry. I hesitated for quite a while, but I knew what I needed to do. I got up, walked over to the man and asked him to talk with me in the foyer. I poured out everything—all my bitterness toward him. He listened patiently and then agreed with me that he had treated me unfairly. He then asked me to forgive him. I was free of my bitterness. 

3.     Write down this question on your outline: With whom do I need to quickly seek reconciliation?

III. Closing

A.   Would you please bow your heads and close your eyes. I’m going to give you some time in a moment to pray quietly. I’d like you to look at those three questions you wrote down and pray those to the Lord. Ask God to help you answer those questions.

B.    We’re about to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

1.     If you’re here—at the altar, so to speak, ready to present your offering, so to speak—but you’re thinking of someone in this room who has something against you (whether you’re in the right or in the wrong), I want to challenge you to seek reconciliation right now. Before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. 

2.     If that person is not in the room, I want to challenge you to make up your mind right now that you will make a phone call, plan a visit, write a letter, or whatever is necessary in order to seek reconciliation.

3.     Celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

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