Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 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.”
“You Have Heard That It Was Said”
This section of the Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus unravelling the false interpretations of what righteousness was, and His expounding on the correct understanding and execution of it. When Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said,” followed by, “but I say,” He is not dismantling the Ten Commandments and overriding it with His own Law. Jesus was tearing up the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees as He led the way to true righteousness.
Matthew 5:21-26 is one complete section and is the first part of six separate “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say” statements in Matthew 5. Today, I’m only going to look at the first two verses of this first section in order to focus on the implications of “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say” and their relationship with the rest of Jesus’ teaching throughout this chapter.
There are a lot of people who talk about Jesus yet know very little of anything He taught.
For many, Jesus is just an emblem. Like a cross around your neck or rearview mirror, it hangs there but it’s not one you carry (Matthew 16:24). The idea of Jesus satisfies just enough to discourage most from knowing Him personally. Those who have a casual interest in Him typically don’t like what they read and they go back to the image of Jesus created in their minds. And back to sleep they go.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Chirp . . .
It reminds me of someone who pre-orders a ticket to a potentially sold-out show only to arrive to a nearly-empty arena. With a message like Jesus taught, is it any wonder most megachurch pastors in America don’t teach it? But Jesus is alive and well, and His Word still reigns in the hearts of those who diligently seek Him.
The scribes and Pharisees diligently sought after God. In their day, they set the standard for righteousness and taught others how to do the same. The Mosaic Law was the foundation of their religious expression and they were masters of the Law – or so they thought.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Bible Journal post titled “Living the Law,” there were a total of 613 commands: 248 were “positive commandments” to perform an act (matching the total number of bones and organs in the male body), and 365 were “negative commandments” to abstain from certain acts (one for each day of the year). In an effort to interpret the original Law, the scribes and Pharisees added thousands of complicated regulations to the already demanding 613 commands.
And you thought the “Ten Commandments” were hard to follow?
In their zeal, they missed the love Moses had for God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and for man (Leviticus 19:18).
Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
Jesus was about to tear down their high tower of “iotas and dots” (Matthew 5:18), but His approach to dismantling their understanding and teaching was not subtraction but addition and extraction! Instead of Jesus removing some of their added laws and getting back to a more “manageable” number of commandments to keep, He reveals the true nature of the Law which was more than their hidden intentions would bear.
He says of them in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
He says in the preceding verses, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).
How many people who have never opened a Bible know the phrase, “Practice what you preach?”
Jesus sums up the fatal error of the scribes and Pharisees with one profound statement in Matthew 23:5, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” He goes on to expound all the ways they do this in Matthew 23:5-7 which I will cover Lord willing in a future Journal entry.
In looking closely at today’s text, Jesus begins to unravel their false understanding and teaching by focusing on a basic law that for most everyone is an easy slam dunk to obey, right? Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment'” (Matthew 5:21). It appears that as long as we don’t murder someone, we meet the demands of the sixth commandment and will avoid judgement. For those who do not murder, this seems like great news!
But the “halakha,” which is the tradition the rabbis passed down from each generation to the next, not only added to God’s Law, it was also a superficial understanding of the Law. The scribes and Pharisees relaxed the commandment “You shall not murder” by limiting it to the physical murdering of someone with the punishment handled by the local Sanhedrin (Matthew 10:17). This superficial understanding of allowed the scribes and Pharisees and everyone else who do not murder to meet the demands of the law and dunk the ball of obedience.
The scribes and Pharisees added rules and regulations to the Law while loosening the demands of the Law, which resulted in missing the purpose of the Law completely.
Jesus is about to reveal to them (and us) the deeper meaning of “You shall not murder” with His first, “but I say” statement in Matthew 5:22:
“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.”
Remember that “easy slam dunk” I mentioned and how most everyone thinks they obey the commandment, “You shall not murder?” Well, Jesus just blocked your shot. Emphatically! He said, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” He then follows with, “whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council” and ends with, “and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” So much for an easy two points for not murdering!
Jesus takes murder way beyond the physical realm and focuses on the attitude and intent behind the act itself. As Jesus clearly states, murder includes anger towards a brother, insulting a brother and saying “You fool” to someone. To be liable to “the hell of fire” is much more severe than being liable to civil judgment even if the punishment is physical death.
In the court of God, angry thoughts and a careless tongue are judged.
That is why our Lord said in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Moses had emphasized love for God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and for man (Leviticus 19:18). The scribes and Pharisees missed that as they
Tomorrow, I will look at the rest of this first section, when Jesus says in Matthew 5:22-26, “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. 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.”
Father, you know how much anger I have had in my heart and how easily and frequently I’ve insulted others and said much more than just, “You fool” to many people. I’m thankful that although I would have thought I was able to keep your commandment “You shall not murder,” you have revealed through the teachings of Jesus and His Spirit that to you, anger and insulting someone is the same as murder. Help me to continue to focus on my attitude and intentions and not only my behavior towards others. I pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Thank you for reading my Daily Bible Journal!
Reading, reflecting and writing from the Bible has so radically impacted my life in Christ, it’s as if I’ve been on auto-pilot when reading the Bible in the past. There’s something about “sitting with the text” and through prayerful reflection, sharing what comes to mind. Because I’m posting online for others to read, I consider my words carefully and try to be clear and accurate.
This daily process enhances my understanding of God’s Word and embeds it into my conscience. It literally gets “hidden in my heart!”
I hope this encourages others to be in God’s Word every day.
For God’s Glory,