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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART THIRTEEN

PRESENTED 08-02-08

 

       In the last sermon in our series on the Sermon on the Mount we discussed Christ’s statement that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

       The teachers of the law and Pharisees obeyed the law externally while all the time creating devious little ways of circumventing the law to satisfy their self-centered life styles.  In so doing they were actually teaching people to break the very commandments that on the surface they appeared to uphold.   We saw the example of how they tried to get around the commandment to honor ones parents.  In doing this, the religious leaders were actually teaching the people to break this commandment. 

       Jesus had just given the Beatitudes which all pertained to what goes on in the heart.  The Beatitudes all have to do with how we think.  Then after correcting some misconceptions that may have developed regarding His mission and the law He goes on to explain what righteousness is really all about.

       Jesus follows His statement about our righteousness having to exceed that of the religious leaders with an exposition on the spiritual intent of the law He covers a broad area of behavior beginning with the commandment against murder and adultery and proceeds in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount to show in detail how we are to live the spirit of the law and not just the letter. 

       It is apparent that when Jesus said what He said about breaking and keeping the law and our righteousness exceeding that of the religious leaders of His day he was talking about the moral law and its spiritual intent.  He was teaching the spiritual intent of the law as opposed to keeping it only in the letter.  In so doing, He was showing His opposition to appearing to be righteous on the outside while actually being anything but righteous on the inside.  He begins by focusing on the ancient law against murder. 

       Matthew 5:21-22:  You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. 

       Some ancient manuscripts have Jesus saying, "angry without cause," instead of simply "angry."  This textual variation may be an editorial gloss that reflects a copyist's understanding of the passage.  Most manuscripts do not contain “angry without cause” and it is not rendered in this manner in most modern translations.   

       We know from the scriptures that murder was unacceptable behavior from the beginning. Shortly this side of the Garden of Eden, we see Cain being judged and punished for putting his brother Able to death. The Hebrew word used here is harag (haw-ray) which means to put to death.  It is used in relation to humans, animals and even plants in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Does the Cain and Able event signify we can’t put anything to death? 

       The sixth commandment, as found in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, says “Do not kill.”  Here a different Hebrew word (ratsach) is used which literally means to dash in pieces. It is used throughout the OT to describe the putting to death of another human.   Most modern translations render this Hebrew word as murder rather than kill.  Here is an example of the importance of determining the meaning of a word and also how it is used in context. 

       There have been people over the years who have taken the sixth commandment to prohibit the killing of anything alive.  Obviously this is not the intention of the commandment or what we should conclude from the Cain and Able event. Scripture itself clearly shows the killing of plants and animals to be perfectly acceptable.  Furthermore, even the basic injunction against the murder of a fellow human being needs to be looked at in light of the scriptures.  While the Sixth Commandment prohibited murder it allowed the putting to death of someone who committed murder. 

       Numbers 35:16-21; "`If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.

       The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.

       In this passage of scripture, the same Hebrew word that is used in the sixth commandment to prohibit murder is used here to identify someone who has murdered another human being.  It must be noted, however, that the person who committed the murder must be put to death.   A distinction is made between the act of committing murder and being put to death for committing murder.  Putting a murderer to death is not the same as the act of murder.  Murder is not being committed in the act of putting a murderer to death. 

       The taking of human life in response to breaking the commandment not to take human life is not murder.  It is the justice of God in action.  God intended from the beginning that humans do not kill each other.  From the beginning Gods intention was for humans to love each other and love does not lead to murder.  What leads to murder is hate, jealousy, anger and a host of other negative forms of human thought. Cain murdered Able because of jealousy that erupted when God responded favorably to Able’s offering and unfavorable to Cain’s offering.      

       God makes it clear that murder is absolutely prohibited because man is made in the image of God.  God makes it equally clear that those who shed the blood of man are to have their blood shed.  In Genesis 9:5-6, God said:  “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”  

       It should be noted that this proclamation by God was before establishment of the Old Covenant.  This declaration is defined in more detail under the Old Covenant as we saw in our reference to Numbers 35.  When it comes to the Old Covenant, we see the killing of humans decreed by God for a variety of offenses. Adultery, attacking or cursing your father or mother, kidnapping, and sexual relations with an animal were all punishable by death under the Old Covenant.    

       We know from the scriptures that God commanded Israel to go to war.  Going to war involves killing other human beings. God apparently does not consider it murder to kill other human beings in warfare.  There are many examples of God bringing judgement upon whole nations of people.  He would use one nation to bring judgement upon another nation. God brought Assyria in judgement against Israel and Babylon in judgement against Judah.  The book of Revelation shows great judgement in connection with the coming of Christ.  All this judgement involves the killing of human beings. We see in Numbers 35 that it is malice and hostility that leads to murder.  Accidental killing was not considered murder. 

       Numbers 35:22-25: But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.  

       This brings us back to the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reminds His audience about the ancient law that prohibits murder and what the consequences are for breaking that law. “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

       Notice that Jesus does not say the consequences for murder have been annulled.  He instead raises the bar relative to murder. He says to be angry with your brother will make you subject to judgement. 

       Jesus gets to the crux of the problem with murder.  He shows that the real problem is one of attitude.  If you are going to be angry with your brother you are just an event or two away from the possibility of killing your brother.  Here is where the spirit of the law comes into play. Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught the spirit of the law.  Jesus addressed what goes on in the heart.  Under the teaching that Jesus came to express it was not enough to simply avoid the physical act of murder.  It was what led to such an act that was of paramount importance.  Jesus was a master teacher of what it took to have peaceful human relations.  In the Beatitudes Jesus said blessed are the peace makers.   Being angry with your brother is not the pathway to peaceful relationships.  Apostle Paul, at one point in his ministry instructed not to let the sun go down on your anger. 

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was giving a dissertation on how we are to behave as human beings.  Jesus began with the beatitudes which provided general principles and now He was dealing with some specific areas of human behavior that are real problems for all of us from time to time.  We all get angry.  The problem is that angry can be like a festering sore that if left untreated can lead to serious problems.  A sore left untreated can lead to infection and infection can lead to death.  Anger left unresolved is a precursor to hatred and hatred is a precursor to violence which can lead to murder.  Apostle John virtually equated hating your brother with murdering him.

       1 John 3:15: Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

       In Matthew 5, Jesus does not define what kind of judgement one will be subject to for being angry with a brother or who will administer such judgement.  Christ did say that anyone who says to his brother “raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin.  “Raca” is a word of Aramaic origin and means a senseless, empty headed man.  It was a term of reproach used among the Jews in the time of Christ.  The Sanhedrin was the supreme Jewish judicial, ecclesiastical, and administrative council in Jerusalem before A.D. 70, having 71 members from the nobility and presided over by the high priest.  Here we see Jesus placing what he was saying into a first century contemporary context by referring to a governing Jewish body.  Jesus goes on to say that if anyone says, “You fool,” they will be in danger of the fire of hell which is the Greek Gahanna which was a reference to the ever burning garbage dump on the southeast side of Jerusalem.  The Greek word for fool is moros from where we get our English word moron.  

       It should be understood that Jesus is not saying that to be angry with your brother, to view him as empty headed or a fool is the same as murder.  Jesus is dealing with the dynamics that if allowed to fester, can lead to judgement of various sorts and if left unchecked can lead to murder.  Jesus is not saying that one can never be angry with a brother, or for that matter draw certain conclusions about a brother’s mental capacity at times.  Remember that Paul said don’t let the sun set on your anger.  Don’t let anger fester to the point that it eats away at you and puts you in danger of behaving in a way that brings judgement on yourself.  We must avoid taking too wooden of a view as to what we see in scripture. Jesus, himself, became angry at times with the religious leaders of His day.  He actually called them fools.  Was Jesus putting Himself in danger of Gahanna fire by called the religious leaders of His day fools?

       Matthew 23:16-17:  "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, `If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! (Greek: moros) Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

       Some commentators believe that when Jesus speaks of not being angry with your brothers, He is speaking primarily in terms of those who are of the same spiritual understanding as you are in regard to the kind of attitude that should prevail.  They base such conclusion on Matthew 12:50 where Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

       Whether there is any merit in this approach may be questionable.  What isn’t questionable is that Jesus was not establishing ironclad rules of behavior but simply showing what our overall approach should be to our fellow man if we expect to have peaceful relationships.  Jesus came to facilitate reconciliation between man and God.  He also taught reconciliation between humans.  Jesus knew the pathway to human reconciliation was to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness.  If we weren’t able to be reconciled to our brother, how are we going to have a viable relationship with God?  Jesus makes this evident in what He says next:

       Matthew 5:23-26: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.   "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.   

       Jesus is saying, “Don’t come before God in worship bringing God gifts while you have an unresolved issue with your brother.  How can you expect to have a relationship with God and get along with God while all the while you have a thing going on with your brother?  Reconcile with your brother and then come before God.  Then there can be a relationship. Jesus continues to pound home the theme of reconciliation by giving advice to settle matters as quickly as possible with an adversary. Jesus is simply advising that if you are in the wrong and if you don’t settle the matter you are going to have to pay a price.

       All of Christ’s teachings here are about human relationships.  It is all about being a peace maker.  Apostle Paul said in one of his letters that as much as it is possible, live in peace with all men. And this brings us to a related teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. 

       Matthew 5:43-46:  "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   

       Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were instructed to love their neighbor. There neighbor was apparently defined as those in there own group.  Leviticus 18:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”   In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that ones neighbor is not just those in your own group but anyone that has a need, even a perceived enemy.  In first century Palestine, Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other.  They were mutual enemies.  A Jew would not lift a finger to help a Samaritan and vice versa.  In the Good Samaritan story the Samaritan helps a Jew in need.  This Jews own country men passed on the other side of the street rather than offer a helping hand.  Jesus, in pointing our that God provides for the righteous and the unrighteous, is simply saying that we are to treat all humans with respect and strive to meet their needs regardless of what they may think of us or how they may treat us.  He follows this instruction by saying we are to be perfect as God is perfect. 

       If we read this statement in the context wherein we find it, Jesus is simply saying we are to love people as God loves people.  God loves people by providing for their needs.  Here is where we need to take a realistic and practical look at the entire teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount.  By being a peace maker, by being humble and not self centered, by avoiding being angry with our brother, by seeking to treat all humans with respect and doing our best to meet their needs, Jesus is teaching the foundational moral ethic that that we are to love each other which means we are to have genuine concern for the welfare of others and do our best to facilitate such concern by how we behave toward others.

       This being said, we need to take cognizance of what Jesus isn’t teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus isn’t teaching that we should never go to war. Jesus isn’t teaching that we are not to defend ourselves and our families against criminal activity.  Jesus isn’t teaching that a criminal shouldn’t be punished for his crimes even up to and including the death penalty.  Jesus isn’t teaching pacifism. Jesus wasn’t a pacifist.  When Jesus entered the temple on one occasion and found the merchants selling their stuff and the money changers doing their thing, Jesus became angry, made a whip and attacked these folks and forcefully drove them out of the temple.  Jesus became angry at the religious leaders of His day on a number of occasions and called them a variety of not so polite names.  He likened them to tombs of dead mans bones and repeatedly called them hypocrites. Apostle Paul referred to the persecuting Jews as dogs, not exactly a complementary term. 

        When reading the scriptures, we must balance what Jesus taught with examples of how He conducted Himself in various situations.  Jesus clearly taught us to pursue peace and live in a harmonious relationship with each other and with God.  When we fail to do this however, there is a price to be paid.  Often that price is simple the negative effects of our less than perfect behavior.  Sometimes that price involves the action of civil government leading to various levels of punishment.  Sometimes that price involves direct intervention from God in the bringing of judgement upon humanity.  The Old Testament is filled with accounts of God's judgement upon humans for failure to live the law of love.  God came in judgement against first century Israel in the A.D. 70 event for their failure to accept Jesus as Messiah and the Covenantal change Christ brought.  

       The Sermon on the Mount gives us direction as to how we should live.  It provides us with guidelines for facilitating the law of love.  It does not prohibit proper and just response to human failure to facilitate the law of love.

SERMON FOURTEEN