“It’s a Matter of the Heart”

Matthew 5:21-26

We continue to read through The Gospel of Matthew. We are reading the Sermon Jesus gave from a mountainside. Jesus has had to climb up this mountainside in order to make sure the crowd of disciples who have decided to follow Him can hear Him. Most of the people were there to be healed, or had heard Jesus was a healer and they were curious or eager to hear what this amazing healing man had to say. This was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and Jesus was promoting His prime message. The Kingdom of God was here and God’s Kingdom looked different from what the Pharisees and Sadduccess had been teaching. The Son of God had come down to set the record straight. 

Last week we read how Jesus, as the Son of God, had fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31&32. 

He was standing, in the flesh, teaching them the new covenant God was presenting. The Old Covenant, the one where Israel was to be faithful and keep the commandments and God would keep His promises, had been rendered worthless long ago. God had kept His side of the bargain, however, the Israelites failed to keep their side over and over again. So God sent His one and only Son this time, to set up the second covenant. This time rather than being based on keeping commands it was to be a matter of the heart. Just to keep the record straight, it had always been a matter of the heart, it’s just that humans who were in charge had managed to twist things for their ease and benefit. Left to our own devices things quickly go awry.

Today’s Scripture begins with verse 5, we read, the teachers of the Law, have taught, “You shall not murder.” 

Take into account, the people sitting in front of Jesus didn’t have a copy of the Torah in their home to read and meditate on when they felt like it. They were resigned to getting their spiritual education from those who spoke in the temple. Whatever the priest said was God’s Word, they believed it to be God’s Word. 

Jesus begins verse 21 with the words, “You have heard it was said,” from the scribes and Pharisees, “to the people long ago.”  Here Jesus reminds us that something isn’t necessarily true just because it is old. If it is not true no amount of time is going to make it credible. Time just makes it old. 

Jesus provides the true understanding of the law not to murder. He begins with, “But I tell you.” 

This is where Jesus shows His authority alongside Scripture and demonstrates what He is about to teach fulfills the meaning and intent and heart of this commandment. Now Jesus wasn’t saying that what was written in the Torah was false. He was, however, correcting what the Pharisees had taught. The teaching of the scribes and Pharisees taught that anything short of murder might be allowed. Jesus clarified that this was not acceptable. Jesus goes so far to say that those who are angry with their brother or sister will be subject to judgment. The teachers of the law focused on external performances, never the heart. Jesus brings the law back to matters of the heart. This was how the Kingdom of God dealt with issues. 

I want to be clear on what Jesus was NOT saying. He was not saying that anger was as bad as murder. 

We read in Scripture where both God and Jesus have times of anger. The ancient Greek word used here has a definition that goes beyond our English word for anger. It means the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge. 

In God’s Kingdom, humanity is sacred. Therefore Jesus continued with stating that this murder commandment also went to defend one’s character against using the word, “Raca.” This word is difficult to translate because we do not have an English word that combines the denotative of blockhead, nitwit or brainless idiot, with the connotative tone of voice that adds the sense of arrogant contempt. We can certainly hear that tone when it is used. 

It’s as though the definition of murder is what Jesus was expanding here. God’s creation belongs to the creator. Whether another human takes the physical life of that creation or the emotional existence of that life, murder has occurred. 

For Jesus that command is a pointer towards real issues of the heart about pride and contempt and anger. What Jesus focuses on in His ethics in God’s Kingdom is about what is going on in our minds and hearts. It’s the little movies we have in our heads about people we don’t like, and we degrade them and say what we really think about them. Essentially what we do is erase their humanity or murder them in our minds and our hearts.

The difficulty with the expanded definition is policing it. We can physically observe the death of a human being. It is not so easy to observe the degrading and murder of another human being inside one’s thoughts and words. This may be difficult for humans, but not for God, Hebrews 4: 12-13,

“For the word of God is alive and active. 

Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Jesus continues to teach more on personal relationships. When coming to the altar with a gift for God, remember the relationships you have with those around you. In God’s Kingdom, reconciliation with your brother or sister is far more important than performing a religious duty. 

God’s laws are meant to save us from ourselves.

Take the next exhortation given, verse 25,

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary..”

Jesus’ command knows that if we ignore or pass over our anger and malice with another, it genuinely imprisons us, not them. Paul expressed the same idea in Ephesians 4:26-27, 

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Why follow Jesus’ words? Jesus ends this exhortation with a figure of speech, 

“Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

This was a figure of speech where the ultimate penalty one pays, was not one’s last penny, but the suffering of eternity. 

Now if you have spent any time reading the Sermon on the Mount you may be thinking, “It seems like what Jesus was doing was taking the Old Testament law and ratcheting up even more so it seems even more difficult to obtain.” 

At first glance, I have to agree with you. 

But if you really think about it, that doesn’t sound like the ever loving, all forgiving God we have been reading about. I’m here to tell you that is NOT what Jesus was doing. Jesus was looking out at a crowd of people who had been mistreated by society for most of their lives. Their humanity was already degraded and worn down by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus was calling this group of people to feel their brokenness, and recognize that what had been taught thus far was wrong. 

What had been taught by the spiritual leaders of their day, hurt humanity, not helped humanity. That was not what God had planned. Jesus was explaining that in God’s kingdom their humanity was placed first and there needed to be a total renovation of the heart. As we read through this sermon we will see that Jesus will continue to expose issues of pride, lust, and  heartlessness. 

Jesus will continue to move closer to this group of misfits, and outcasts, and remind them and us that the way we think about people needs to be rearranged to fit the Kingdom we choose to belong to when we follow Him. When asked which laws were most important out of all 613, Jesus’ response was and always will be, Matthew 22:37-40,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The laws are from God and they are good. Their purpose is to uphold humanity, not rip it down. They are to be lived out as a matter of the heart, in a manner where we demonstrate that we love our neighbor as ourself. 

Jesus is our example. 

Grace in action. 

And He teaches us how, 

if we would only listen, 

in humility and 

then follow. 

Let’s pray.