Murder in Your Heart
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 5:21–5:26
Good morning! We are walking our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and today we get to what is most commonly called ‘the part where Jesus talks about anger.’ And while Jesus does have something significant to say about anger, in this passage He is actually addressing something even bigger.
Look back at the last verse of our passage last week. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:20 Now, as much as I would like to say that Jesus there is talking about the righteousness we receive when we believe in Christ, I don’t think that is what He is talking about. It may be connected, but it’s not simply that.
In some way, we are to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes. So, how is that? We talked some about this last week, but the Pharisees were concerned with the external. They wanted to add lots of caveats to the law so they could feel like they were accomplishing it. They wanted to make the law accomplishable and manageable. They didn’t understand the law, so they were minimizing the law. The law was meant to show us our sin, not to heal us from our sin. Spurgeon once said, “the law is like a mirror that can show how dirty your face is, but just try washing your face in it.”
And Jesus’ indictment to them, was, yes, you look great on the outside, but you are dying on the inside. On the inside, you are prideful, condescending, judgemental and angry people. The way someone exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees doesn't have to do with the the actions on the outside, it has to do with the heart on the inside.
And to some extent, the rest of this chapter is Jesus working to show them the true state of their hearts. But in our text, Jesus is doing this in a very specific way. He’s doing it by way of the 6th commandment. Thou shalt not kill.
So, I’m not into the teenage years with my kids yet, but I know many of you either are or have been. I could imagine more than a few of you would know what it’s like to see some really specific thing that is off with the heart of your child and you do your best to lean into it and they respond by saying something like, “Geez, Dad. It’s not like I killed anyone!”
Technically true. No one has been killed, but that comment is a way of using the external to justify or hide from the internal. No one died, but we still have to deal with this issue of you not coming home by your curfew. We still have to deal with this issue of you not being nice to your sister.
And this is exactly what is going on in this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. No, no one died, but murder is on their hearts. So, I simply want to look at this passage and see 1) How we can see the true state of our heart and 2) How we can deal with the true state of our heart.
- How we can see the true state of our heart
Jesus says we can see the true state of our hearts through anger, insults and dismissals. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 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. - Matthew 5:22
Ok, before I unpack that, there is a more important question we need to answer. Is
Jesus changing the law? Is He saying, Moses said this, but I say this? Or the Old Covenant said this, but the New Covenant says this? Again, we answered this last week, but in case you weren’t here, the answer is certainly no.
Do you remember how Jesus responded to the devil during His 40 days of temptation?
With Scripture. And He always preceded quoting Scripture with a very important phrase: “It is written..” But what does He say here? “You have heard it said..” This is a very different thing. Jesus is saying you have heard the law interpreted in one way, but let me tell you how it should be understood.
The Pharisees have tried to make it about murder, Jesus is trying to make it about the heart. I heard one pastor compare the pharisees attitude to a factory who had been without an accident for 100 days. If you’ve been in a factory, you know they put these signs up a that say 100 days without an accident. The Pharisees are saying a whole lifetime murder free!
And Jesus is saying, the act of murder isn’t the issue. The seeds of it in your heart are. Think about an acorn. The whole tree is somehow in that acorn and the same is true of murder and our heart. So, let’s look at the characteristics of that seed.
First, anger. Kevin DeYoung makes a pretty compelling argument that there is maybe no more excused sin than anger. We even have euphemisms to relieve ourselves of any culpability when it comes to anger. We say things like, “I lost my temper.” My temper was there, but I just can’t find it anymore. I can’t be held responsible for that. Or, “I was just blowing off steam.” Blowing off steam in an old steam engine was what kept the whole thing from exploding. That almost makes anger feel necessary. The same with, “I just needed to vent.” Geez, I’m glad she vented or who knows what would have happened! And then, my favorite, “He just pushed my buttons.” I have these buttons and once they are pushed, I can’t be held accountable for what happens. And the more kids I have the more buttons I develop.
And the idea we communicate is that some things like murder are under our control and we should be held responsible, but other things like anger, well, that isn’t under our control and we shouldn’t be held responsible. At my last church, the average age was like 13 ½ so I did a lot of weddings and a lot of premarital counseling. I saw all kinds of bumps ahead of these couples. She has no idea what a budget is. He has no viable plans of employment. He wants one kid, she wants six. He wants to live in the city, she loves the country. We can work through these things, but anger. That’s one of those issues where I would say we need to slow down some because it is dangerous and it can be brought under control.
So, what exactly is anger? Anger is ill will towards something or someone who you think stands in between you and what you want. I hate that person who got the job I wanted. I can’t stand the guy who got the girl I wanted. I’m angry with my kids who stand in between me and the sleep I need! I’m angry with my parents who stand in between me and the fun I want to have. Or maybe we are angry at that car that cut in front of me and cost me five seconds on this commute. The same for revenge. I can’t be happy as long as he is.
Do you see what is happening here? When we are angry we think that someone stands between us and something we want. Maybe it's our hopes in life. Maybe it’s that spot in line. Maybe they stand in between us and the image we want. Anger is saying in the loudest possible words, “I want that person gone!!!” And if someone is angry enough, scared enough or desperate enough, that seed of anger will grow into full fledged murder. So, can you see why Jesus is linking anger and murder?
Maybe think about it like the Titanic. The Titanic struck an iceberg and then what happened immediately after that? Nothing. The ship stopped. I’m sure there were some on board who thought, “Well, we haven’t sunk so maybe we’re ok.” But the hole was already in the hull. The water was rushing in. Anger is the hole in our hull and this is why Jesus says “...everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”
Secondly, Jesus says whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council. Now, I don’t think Jesus is introducing any kind of scale of offenses here. I think He’s trying to get at the same thing three ways. He’s trying to show the Pharisees that the seed of murder is in their hearts and that seed merits being brought in front of the entire Sanhedrin council. Imagine their version of the Supreme Court.
Do you remember back in Genesis 9 why murder is bad? Why it is that we have freedom to kill plants and animals, but not people? Because we are uniquely made in God’s image. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. - Genesis 9:6
Any offense on an image bearer of God is a step toward the murder of an image bearer of God. And it doesn’t matter whether that insult is to that person's face or simply made behind their back. It doesn’t matter whether that insult is toward someone you know or don’t know. Insulting a coworker is no different than insulting a senator you don’t like. All of it is the proof of the seed of murder in our hearts.
I was personally convicted of doing this this week. Someone sent me a video from a prominent Christian institution and some young man was leading a few songs before hand and he was so bad it could have been an SNL skit. I mean, I really wasn’t sure it wasn’t a skit until half way through. So, what did I do? I sent it to my friends. Especially the ones associated with this institution. What was I doing? I was insulting this guy. I didn’t know him. He was probably doing the best he could. Now, I know there was no anger in my heart, but the same seed was at work. He is made in the image of God and in that moment, I was treating him as anything but.
We see the seed through anger, through insults and, finally, through dismissals. and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. - Matthew 5:22 This word fool is the Greek word ‘moros’ from which we get our English word ‘moron.’ When we call someone a moron or an absolute idiot we go from insulting them to trying to strip them of whatever value we can. It’s the final card in the stack of insults to be thrown in Jesus’ day. Now, I’m sure if you’re on the construction site today the word ‘fool’ is at the top of the deck of insults, not the bottom. But in this Jewish ancient near east context, it would have been close to or at the bottom. It would have been one of the most significant insults they could throw.
So, whatever the final card in your deck of insults, when you use this word, you completely write someone off and when we do, we see the seed of murder because the full manifestation of dismissal is murder.
We have so many examples of ill will of some group of people coming full force in culture and resulting in mass genocide. Of course it’s easy to point to Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi or something like that. But I want to bring it a bit closer to home. In 2017 CBS ran an article in which Iceland was boasting that they had eradicated Downs Syndrome. How did the do it? By killing all the babies who had this condition. As a society, they didn’t want to have to deal with the difficulties of this condition so they decided to dismiss these babies. They decided they had no value and they killed them. When a society dismisses the value of a group of people, the logical conclusion is murder and this is not simply and Icelandic problem.
Now, I can imagine two types of pushback here. First, what about all the times the authors of the proverbs call people fools? Proverbs is generally talking about people who are truly foolish. Jesus is talking about misapplying that word because we don’t like what we see. There is a big difference.
Second pushback, but didn’t Jesus show anger in the temple as He turned over the tables? And didn’t he use the same word, fool? Yes and yes. So, why is Jesus not liable to the hell of fire? Because there is such a thing as righteous anger. I think the King James calls it ‘righteous indignation.’ So, how do we know if our anger is righteous or not?
I’m going to borrow from Kevin DeYoung and give us five tests for sinful anger. If any one of these five is a yes, then it is most certainly not righteous anger.
First, is your anger without cause? Is there a reason you can nail down for your anger? In verse 22, you probably have a footnote that says just this. Whoever is angry with his brother ‘without cause.’ Scholars generally agree that this phrase was added later which is why it is not in your passage, but they also agree that it was probably added to give clarity to the original intent. There must be a good cause for righteous anger.
Second, is your anger proportionate to your offense? Do you have a short fuse and a big bomb? Anger is what we call a secondary emotion. It’s not primary. It’s used to cover over primary emotions. When we have a short fuse and big bomb, it’s usually covering over a more vulnerable emotion like fear, sadness or guilt. This is not righteous anger.
Third, is your anger out of your control? Ephesians 4:27 says that when anger is out of our control we give the enemy of foothold. With our kids, we frequently have to ask “Who is in control right now, you or your anger?” My favorite answer to this day was “Angry is in charge.” If your anger is in control of you, the enemy now has a foothold.
Fourth test, does your anger have any relation to the holiness of God or the truth of the gospel? We see good anger in Mark 3:5 when Jesus is angry over the people’s’ unwillingness to see Him for who He was. Are we angry with our co workers because of some gospel related issue or simply because we think they stand between us and a more prosperous or efficient business?
Fifth, and lastly, Anger is bad when it festers. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let it linger. When we hold on to our anger we think we are punishing the object of our anger, but we are only punishing ourselves and those closest to us. Allowing your anger to fester is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Anger, insults and dismissal is how we see the seed of murder in our heart. The penalty is judgement, the council and hell. So, what can we do about the true state of our heart?
- How we deal with the true state of our heart.
The cure to murder in our hearts is reconciliation in our relationships. Now, there is a horizontal aspect to this reconciliation and a vertical one. Let’s start with the horizontal. That is, between us. Jesus tells us that if we have anger toward someone else, we must do everything within our power to reconcile. He says that it is necessary and it is urgent.
We see that it is necessary in verses 23 and 24. 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.
Remember that Jesus is speaking here to people in Galilee. He’s saying that if you are at the altar in the temple in Jerusalem and you have purchased your live sacrifice and you realize that your brother has something against you...not that you have something against your brother...that he has something against you...it is better to walk back to Galilee and restore things before you sacrifice.
This probably sounds extreme, but I think that was Jesus’ intent. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, Jesus wants you to work toward reconciliation. I was the beneficiary to this teaching some years back when I stranded Angela and me in Bristol England. We lived in Pisa, Italy at the time and in an effort to save money, I booked us tickets to a conference on a low budget airline called Ryan Air. If you book these kinds of airlines, you have to book each leg separately. So, we arrived at our layover at 11 am waiting for our next leg at 7pm, but when we arrived at the desk to check in for our next leg, they informed me that it departed not at 7pm, but 7am. It had left and their wasn’t another flight until the next week. Apparently, Europe is on military time, so there is not am and pm. I had botched the whole thing and now we are stranded on an island and I have a credit card with a $400 limit on it. All my fault. Angela looks at me and says, “I saw a subway sandwiches restaurant down that way. We haven’t seen one of those in a long time. Why don’t I get you some lunch while you figure this out:) I wronged her and she is lavishing me with grace. Do you know what that did to my heart. I wanted to book her a
first class ticket while I swim. Reconciliation does something to you heart. It softens it for both parties.
Jesus is saying in the clearest possible way that worship isn’t genuine if you aren’t working toward reconciliation in your relationships. He probably has 1 Samuel 15:22 in mind which says that obedience is better than sacrifice. Essentially, Jesus is saying that He cares more about us restoring our relationships than He does us going to church. Now, hopefully we can do both, but what he doesn’t want is a bunch of Pharisees who come every week, but have hostility, not restoration in their hearts.
So, we see the necessity of dealing with anger, next we see the urgency in verses 25 and 26: 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. - Matthew 5:25, 26
We need to come to terms quickly or there will be a point of no return. It’s easy to think that we’ll deal with that broken relationship later, on our terms, but Jesus is saying that there may not be a later. If your heart isn’t in a place to forgive now, why would it be later? Remember, mercy toward others is a kingdom ethic "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. - Matthew 5:7
It is urgent that we reconcile our horizontal relationships. But just saying that isn’t always enough. Sometimes the rift between you and someone else just seems too big.
You have wronged them too significantly. They have hurt you too irreparably. Many of us have relationships where we wonder how in the world we could possibly do what Jesus is saying. And that is where the vertical reconciliation becomes so vitally important.
I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but in Luke, Jesus says the exact same thing, but He says in not in horizontal terms, but in vertical terms. 57 "And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny." - Luke 12:57-59
Do you see what Jesus is saying? We are born angry at God because we want to do what we want to do and He stands in between us and what we think will satisfy us. We want God out of the way and in doing so, we commit murder against Him. Not just murder in our heart, but real murder because it is our sin that sent Jesus to the cross. To be killed in our place.
And here is where it all comes together. Here is how we deal with our hearts and find the fuel to reconcile with others. However you have wronged someone, it pales in comparison to how you have wronged God. You are forgiven where it matters the most so you are willing to risk rejection in an attempt to reconcile with others. However you have been wronged. Your ability to forgive is expanded exponentially the more we see how much more we have been forgiven.
Anger isn’t something that we can just turn off. It isn’t something that will likely fully go away, but it is something we can gain ground on. Jesus says the cure to murder in our heart is to simply admit that we are murderers. Admitting that is what softens our hearts and leads to reconciliation in our relationships.
The problem with the Pharisees, even if everything looked great on the outside, they had murder in their hearts. Our call as Christians is has to do with the heart. And the more we deal with our hearts, the more we will joyfully be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.