Jesus is great at turning tables and minds! In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus discussed the matter of Murder. However, to properly understand this passage we must understand that it follows on the heels of the Beatitudes and 2 transitional paragraphs.
In the Beatitudes we are told how to enter the Kingdom of God and how to act in the Kingdom of God; themes that will continue throughout Matthew’s Gospel culminating in Jesus’ demonstrating that He was not speaking metaphorically but literally as He literally allows Himself to be persecuted and killed, without retaliation.
On the heels of the Beatitudes is the paragraph about being Salt and Light. The first word in Matthew 5:13 is you, but it is plural not singular. This means that Jesus has in mind not just you as an individual but us together as believer/followers of Jesus. Together, we are supposed to be salt and light. Together we are supposed to live out the teachings of Jesus in such a way that we bring a difference to the world. If we don’t we become hypocrites and are useless – worse than useless we will be trampled underfoot by the world because as we all know, the world hates hypocrites.
What is the goal of this salt and light? That God would be glorified. Pretty much the same result God expected when He sent the 10 Plagues to Egypt…so they would know He was God (go back and look at the account in Exodus).
After this Jesus defends the integrity and authority of the Old Testament (so don’t try to throw it out, modern Christian!). Jesus argues that He came to fulfill the Old Testament and those breaking God’s laws (OT) and teaches people to do the same will not be looked favorably upon. But then He says we have to be better than the Pharisees!
What? Better than the most religious people around? How can we fast more than them? Give more than them? Be better than them?
And here is where Jesus goes from Murder to Love, all in a few verses. This is the Upside Down, Inside Out Kingdom of Jesus Christ – the God Incarnate who came from Heaven to Earth.
So the Pharisees, like most of us would easily have been able to say they never ‘murdered’ anyone – at least not according to the letter of the law. But Jesus is more interested in the spirit of the law.
Did God just mean don’t knife, club or shoot someone to death when he said “Thou shalt not kill” or was there something more to it. And this is where Jesus smacks the religious Pharisee and ourselves smack across the face with a 2×4, overturning our nice and neat tables of goods.
Follow carefully the flow of thought here. You have heard it said (and we all agree) that if you murder someone, you are subject to judgment (God’s judgment – see Gen. 9:6). BUT I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
Why? This part is pretty simple – because anger is the root of murder. Murder is the outgrowth of unchecked and undealt with anger. How many more murders would there be if we knew we could get away with it?
So, the root of murder – anger – is actually enough to cause you to fall under God’s judgment. OK, I can deal with that. But we’re just getting warmed up.
If you call your brother ‘fool’ or ‘moron’ you’re in danger of judgment too! What, that is equivilant to murder? Well the problem is that those words are words of judgment. By using those words in the manner Jesus indicates here (Proverbs regularly uses ‘fool’ to discuss people who reject God’s ways – of course they face judgment too!) we are pronouncing judgment on image bearers of God, which means that we are in effect attacking God – the underlying problem with anger and murder against an image bearer also. When you attack the mirror, you are really attacking the person looking in the mirror. If we are the mirror, God is the other. Matthew 12:36 indicates that we will additionally have to give account for every idle word (and by extension probably though).
So, because of the seriousness of the situation, IF you are worshiping God and realize that a brother has something against you – now note this, it is not I that am mad at him, it is he that is made at me – if you realize that, drop you gift/offering and go help him solve his problem with you.
Way contrary to culture (and the Pharisees). So I’m supposed to go stick my nose in my brother’s business because I know he’s mad at me even though I’m not mad at him! Why would I do that?
Because his anger at me is going to cause him to fall under God’s judgment!! (5:22). Wait, so Jesus is saying that if we want to really fulfill the law to not murder – we won’t literally purposely kill anyone, we won’t be angry at them (we can be angry at sin, just deal with it Biblically and don’t let it cause you to sin – Eph. 4) and on top of that we’ll go cause others to get rid of their anger at us! This is crazy! What’s this got to do with murder.
Murder happens because love doesn’t.! Jesus’ solution to murder and Jesus argument to the fulfillment of the commandment to ‘not murder’ is to proactively love one another.
Keeping in mind the historical context raises this to a whole new level as well. Most people offering their sacrifice in the Temple would have journied many days and would possibly have a live animal with them. The offended brother is probably back home (multiple days journey?). Whether Jesus literally wanted you to leave the lamb, go home and then come back again or not, the point is huge – Do whatever it takes to make sure you brother doesn’t murder you in the heart!
It’s not enough to be like the Pharisees who didn’t literally murder, we have to proactively love our brother so that they don’t fall under God’s judgment! That’s a whole new way of thinking about murder. Don’t let your brother/sister fall under the judgment of God because of their anger toward you. Go love them now! Help them get right with God and you. Otherwise he will take you to court and you will pay!
What? But I didn’t do anything! You are responsible for you brother if you know what’s going on in his life (contrary to Cain’s demonic “Am I my brother’s keeper?” response to God).
Wow, this is not what I thought it meant to not murder! Yeah, neither did the Pharisees. But this is how your righteousness can surpass that of the Pharisees (5:20). Anyone can do this – all it takes is a little (or a lot) of love.
Maybe another way of saying this is that Jesus equates our apathy regarding our brothers anger at us to murder – and we will be held responsible! Ouch!
Jesus fulfilled the law. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to follow in His footsteps. Will you fulfill the law? The law of love? A Murderous Love?