************ Sermon on Matthew 5:21-26; 18:15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 8, 2001
Matthew 5:21-26; 18:15
"Be First to Seek Reconciliation"
Topic: AngerAnger, my brothers and sisters, is destructive. It poisons relationships. It often brings violence. And, doctors tell us it is bad for one's health too.
Subtopic: Of Man
In the Spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine.
The Orioles' John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.
Subtopic: Of Man
What does it take to make you angry? Do discourteous drivers, imperfect children, or a forgetful spouse make your blood boil? If so, you are endangering your health. Dr. Redford B. Williams of Duke University Medical Center says, "Individuals who harbor hostility and anger toward others are five times more likely to die from heart disease than those who are more calm and trusting." Angry people are involved in many hassles in their lives. This negative arousal may cause an unhealthy increase in blood pressure and eventual damage to the heart.
Dr. Williams and some of his colleagues did a personality study on 118 students in law school. They were graded on their hostility. Twenty-five years later, 20 percent of those who had scored highest as being angry persons had died, compared with only 5 percent of those who had registered lowest.
No question about it, anger is hurtful to the heart both physically and spiritually.
This evening Jesus speaks to us about anger "without a cause." He tells us how destructive and sinful this anger is. And, He tells us what to do when this anger is to be found in our life.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking to people who are redeemed, who are saved, who are cleansed and washed because He went to the cross and the grave, because He entered Jerusalem to die and be buried. He is telling saved people how He expects them to live.
I The Pharisees: Reducing the Law
A Jesus starts off by warning us against the teaching and practice of the Pharisees. He says:
(Mt 5:21) You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'We have two separate Old Testament statements here joined together by the Pharisees. "Do not murder," is the sixth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. And "Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment" comes from Numbers 35. These are both Biblical statements so what conceivable criticism can Jesus level against the Pharisees here?
First, by joining these two statements together the Pharisees are reducing the meaning and even the demands of the sixth commandment. The Pharisees are saying God, in the sixth commandment, only forbids actual murder. Therefore they fooled themselves into thinking they kept and fulfilled the sixth commandment.
Second, what the Pharisees did was to reduce and confine the punishment for breaking the sixth commandment to mere punishment at the hands of the civil magistrates. "Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." The word "judgment" points to the Jewish courts of justice. There was one in every city, consisting of 23 members. In these courts a killer was judged. What they were actually saying, then, is this: "You must not murder because if you do you will be in danger of being punished by an earthly judge." They did not mention or think of the judgment of God at all.
B It is easy, too easy, to be like the Pharisees. It is easy, too easy, to think we have kept the Law of God. At one time the Apostle Paul was this way; before his conversion he thought he kept the Law perfectly (Rom 7:7-8). The rich young ruler is someone else who thought he kept the Law perfectly (Lk 18:18ff).
My brothers and sisters, do you think – even for a moment – that you keep the Law of God? Boys and girls can so easily say, "I tell no lies, I don't steal, I obey my parents; therefore all is well with my soul." Young People can say, "I don't do drugs, I don't drink alcohol, I don't engage in pre-marital sex; therefore all is well with my soul." Adults can say, "I don't commit adultery, I declare all income on my taxes, I don't take God's name in vain; therefore all is well with my soul too." When we talk this way what we are doing – like the Pharisees – is fooling ourselves.
As we will find out, it is harder to keep the Law and the sixth commandment than we often think.
II Murder Is ...
A How does Jesus understand the sixth commandment? What does He mean by murder? Jesus says,
(Mt 5:22) But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
Jesus tells us that the sixth commandment includes not only actual physical murder but also anger without cause against a brother or sister. Those who are angry without cause against a brother or sister are guilty of murder. You should not be angry with your brother or sister. Anger in the heart towards any human being, especially towards fellow believers, is murder in the sight of God.
Jesus says those who are angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Here Jesus deliberately uses the same language as the Pharisees. The judgment in mind is that of the local Jewish courts I mentioned earlier. Jesus says that these courts should also judge a person who is angry with his brother or sister.
Many times throughout my ministry I have come across angry people – people, that is, who fight, quarrel, and argue with their brothers and sisters. I have seen homes torn apart, brothers and sisters and parents who don't speak to each other, members of the church who will cross the street rather than share the sidewalk with a fellow member.
Subtopic: In the Family
Title: Two Sisters
Charles Swindoll tells of two unmarried sisters who lived together. Because of a slight disagreement over an insignificant issue, they stopped speaking to each other. Unable and unwilling to move out of their small house, they continued to use the same rooms, eat at the same table (separately), and sleep in the same bedroom. Without one word. A chalk line divided the sleeping area into two halves, separating a doorway and fireplace. Each could come and go, cook and eat, sew and read without crossing over into her sister's domain. Through the night each could hear the breathing of the foe, but because neither was willing to take the first step to reconciliation and forgiveness, they coexisted for years in grinding silence.
When a person harbors hatred and resentment in his heart, he is often hurt by the poison of his own malice. He thinks he is injuring his enemies by displaying his wrath, but the real harm is inflicted deep within his own soul.
Topic: AngerAnger is like a frenzied rattle-snake – you end up biting and hurting yourself.
Subtopic: Of Man
Title: Like a Rattle-Snake!
A couple of weeks ago a group of us were cycling about Yokohl Valley. The lead cyclist steered around what looked like a stick – a four-foot stick – on the road when suddenly it coiled up and started to rattle its tail. I don't know who was more startled – the rattle-snake or the first four riders. The snake was poised to strike.
I have heard that if a rattlesnake is cornered, it can become so frenzied that it will accidentally bite itself with its deadly fangs.
Lest you get the wrong idea, let me tell you that not all anger is sin. Some Greek manuscripts add the words "without cause" to verse 22. It is anger "without cause" that Jesus condemns. After all, Jesus Himself was angry about injustice (Mt 21:12-13; Mark 3:5). Furthermore, Jesus did not hesitate to call the Pharisees fools and hypocrites. Jesus' anger was a righteous indignation, a holy anger, an expression of the wrath of God Himself against sin and evil. And Paul says, "In your anger do not sin" (Eph 4:26). We can be angry, but we are not to sin. We can be angry, but it is not to be anger "without cause."
We are to be like God. The holier we become, the more anger we should feel against sin. But we must never, ever, feel anger against the sinner. We must distinguish between the person and what he or she does.
Tell me, how do you react to things that happen? Do you find yourself flaring into a raging temper when a person has done something to you? Do you sometimes feel anger against a person who really has done nothing to you at all? This, says Jesus, is murder.
B Murder includes more than anger without cause. Jesus says it also includes contempt.
(Mt 5:22) Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin"Raca" means empty or worthless. It is an attitude of contempt, of dismissal, of disdain, of scorn. What we are to think of is the Jewish custom of shaking out one's garments or sandals. Nehemiah did this after the people of Israel had taken an oath. He shook out his lap and said,
(Neh 5:13) "In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!"Jesus advised His disciples to respond this way to those who refuse to listen to the Gospel:
(Mt 10:14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.Paul did the same thing when the Jews in Corinth reviled him. He shook out his garments and said, "Your blood be on your own heads" (Acts 18:6). To shake out your garments or sandals is to say you want nothing more to do with a person or town, that they no longer exist as far as you are concerned, that they are banished from your sight and thoughts. But notice, Nehemiah and Jesus and Paul do this to those who reject God and Christ.
In our Scripture reading Jesus is talking about Christians who do this to a brother or sister. Jesus tells us this evening that it is worse than murder when someone banishes his brother or sister from his life, as if he or she does not exist for him.
C Finally, Jesus also says murder includes hatred and bitterness. He states:
(Mt 5:22) But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Jesus is building up to a climax here. First of all, there is a climax in the courts that are mentioned. In talking about anger Jesus talked of the judgment that should be given by the local courts. Then Jesus mentioned the Sanhedrin which was a higher court. And now He mentions hell which is the verdict of the highest court of all, the judgment throne of God.
Second, there is also a climax in the sins that Jesus condemns. He starts off with anger. Then He mentions "Raca." Now He mentions "You fool!" This appears to be a technical Jewish term which means "be damned." Today, we would say "Damn you," or "Go to hell." Jesus says that anyone who damns his brother or sister and wants them to go to hell shall be liable to hell themselves. This is language which should never be used by a Christian. This is an attitude which has no place in the church.
A Face it: we all become angry at one time or another. And, many times – perhaps most times – our anger is murder. We seem to have a horrible time separating the sinner from the sin and end up hating both.
What are we to do when there is anger, contempt, or hatred between us and a brother or sister in the church? Jesus tells us what to do:
(Mt 5:23-24) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."If I have something against my sister, I am to go to her. If my sister has something against me, I am to go to her. Whether I am the wronged or the wrong-doer, I am to go to my brother or sister and be reconciled.
(Mt 18:15) "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over."
Usually we say if someone has something against us, it is up to them to see us. Jesus doesn't let us get away with that. Both the wronged and the wrong-doer have a responsibility to clear up the matter.
Even if the other person is in the wrong, I have a duty to seek reconciliation. I must seek reconciliation even if it means I must humble myself, make a fool of myself, and let the other person gloat over me.
Jesus' command: be the first to seek reconciliation. This shows us how much emphasis is laid by Jesus on harmony in the church. This shows us how much Jesus hates murder in the church.
B The removal of hatred, the presence of harmony, is so important that Jesus tells us we should even keep God waiting.
(Mt 5:23-24) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."There is no sense in putting money in the offering plate if you know in your heart that you are not right with your brother. There is no sense in taking the Lord's Supper if there is enmity between you and your sister. There is no sense in praying or singing or worshiping if you are estranged from a fellow believer. Be reconciled, and then offer your gifts, participate in the Lord's Supper, pray, sing, and worship.
C What if there is anger, hostility, or bitterness between us and an unbeliever? Jesus speaks to this as well:
(Mt 5:25-26) "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. (26) I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus speaks here of a believer who is taken to court by an unbeliever. According to Jesus it is wise to make friends with the unbeliever – to go up to him or her and try to settle things – before the court case starts. By doing so the court case may be avoided and the believer will not run the risk of going to prison.
This is a parable of our relationship to God. Before the final court case, which is the last judgment, we have to make peace with God. We have to do this while we are still alive. If we don't we will be condemned and go to the eternal prison.
When we find anger, hostility, or bitterness between us and another person Jesus tells us we are to be the first to seek reconciliation. That's what He says to people He has saved. That's what He expects of people He has saved.
In this way, too, we are to be like God. You see, because of sin man became estranged from God. Because of sin there is enmity between God and man. What does God do? He seeks reconciliation in and through Christ even when or if our lives are filled with anger, hostility, or bitterness. Though we are in the wrong, He takes the first step. He doesn't wait for us to come to Him; rather, He comes to us in Christ. And, in Christ, He endures the shame and pain of the cross so we can be reconciled to Him.
Be like God, my brothers and sisters. Be like God and take the first step when there is enmity between you and another person. Be like God and take the first step even if the other person is in the wrong. Be like God and endure, if necessary, even shame and pain so you can be reconciled.
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