Pastor David B. Curtis


Are You A Murderer?

Matthew 5:21-26

Delivered 10/13/2002

Murders result from all kinds of conflicts: They come as the result of violent crimes; domestic squabbles; homosexual as well as heterosexual love triangles; gang war fares and types of arguments; fights and misunderstandings. Murders go on all the time. Right now our nation's attention is on the D.C. area sniper, who has killed 8 people. Every year in the United States, there are approximately 25,000 murders; 25,000 times the 6th commandment is violated every year in the United States. Murder is really a very serious problem in our world, and it is getting worse all the time.

We are all shocked and appalled by what this sniper is doing. We all view him as one sick individual, killing innocent people. But how about you, are you a murderer? That may sound like a stupid question, but hopefully, you'll understand why I asked it after our study this morning.

We ended our last study of the Sermon on the Mount with:

Matthew 5:20 (NKJV) "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

The emphasis is on the righteousness necessary to be part of the kingdom which the Messiah was about to establish. Jesus makes clear that this righteousness must be greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Such a statement would have a great impact on the Jews of Jesus' day. They had no concept of anyone being able to have a greater righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees of Jesus' day were meticulous in trying to keep every little detail of the Law in its external conformities, but they neglected the need for inner cleansing and purity. Jesus was saying that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was not good enough, because the righteousness produced and acquired by religious activity will not get anyone into the kingdom of heaven.

The same is still true today. Many people sit in churches on Sunday morning because they are trying to gain acceptance before God. That is part of the procedure they feel is necessary in order to be acceptable before Him and to get into heaven. Such individuals are following the pattern of the Pharisees. But Jesus said you must have a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees to get into heaven.

The standard is so high we can't obtain it. But Christ met that standard and imputes to us His righteousness. Though you can't obtain on your own the righteous standard Christ set, you can receive His righteousness by faith. God set the holy standard. And when you acknowledge that you can't live up to it, He says, "My Son is not only the Lawgiver, but He is the Redeemer as well, who provides the very righteousness that you need." Beloved, it's a fantastic thing!!

Jesus, who perfectly kept the law, imputes His righteousness to us so that when God looks at those of us who are believers, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ covering us. I stand before God as righteous as Christ. But, beloved, you can't even have that gift of righteousness unless you recognize that what you need is that gift of righteousness. As long as you live your life justifying yourself on your external behavior, you will never come to the desperation that reaches out and accepts the gift of righteousness.

From verse 21 through the end of chapter 5 of Matthew, Jesus elaborates on the righteousness that He is talking about. It is not a righteousness of external conformity to the Law, but a righteousness that comes out of a heart that is right before God. Without a proper heart condition, you cannot be acceptable before God, regardless of your external conduct. In this passage Jesus is going to show that the laws of His kingdom go beyond external behavior:

Matthew 5:21-22 (NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22 "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.

Jesus has made himself a pivotal point of history. The Old Testament points toward him; and now, having arrived, he introduces the kingdom and shows how the Old Testament finds its ultimate validity and real continuity in himself and his teaching.

Beginning in verse 21, we find a phrase that is repeated six times throughout the chapter: "You have heard that it was said to those of old...but I say unto you...."

The emphasis here is on the word "I." It could be translated, "I myself say to you." In other words, the Law was given through Moses, and the scribes and Pharisees made their own interpretation of it. But now Jesus Himself is going to give the only valid interpretation. He had the power and authority to take the Law and interpret what it said. He was, in fact, going beyond what the Law said to what it really meant. Jesus does not begin these contrasts by telling them what the Old Testament said, but what they had heard it said. This is an important observation, because Jesus is not negating something from the Old Testament , but something from their understanding of it. He's saying, "Your standard is too low. You only worry about murder, while God looks at the heart and says if there's hate there, it's the same thing." God had always been concerned with attitudes - that wasn't anything new. It was just that the people of Israel had lowered the standard, and consequently, needed to be reminded of that. They were justifying themselves by what they didn't do, while their hearts were full of murder, lust, lies, hate, and anger.

The scribes and Pharisees of that age had completely inverted the order of things. They just dealt with externals. But though the state of the heart was not their concern, it was Jesus' concern.

The scribes and Pharisees thought that because they didn't murder, they were all right...but they were hateful. Their religion was a legalistic hypocrisy of the worst kind that damned the soul. It failed to teach that true righteousness was a matter of the heart and not simply a matter external behavior:

Luke 16:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Men and God judge differently. Most people evaluate their lives and the lives of other people on the basis of external appearance:

1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV) But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
John 7:24 (NKJV) "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."

God is not so concerned with the outside as much as He is with the inside. The outside is only validated insofar as it is representative of what is on the inside. This principle is the basis of our text. Jesus emphasizes here in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the rest of His ministry, that external ceremonies and religious rites are not the important issue, because God's primary concern is with the heart.

In Matthew 5:21, our Lord says, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old,"Thou shalt not kill...." Where did that come from? I'm sure that you recognize it as one of the ten commandments, when God gave the Decalogue and said, "Thou shalt not kill." Those who oppose capital punishment and those who are conscientious objectors would use this verse to support their view. But a more literal translation of this would be "Thou shall not murder". It does not refer to capital punishment, that is, taking a life by the hand of those who " not bear the sword in vain...."(Romans 13:4b).

Genesis 9:6 (NKJV) "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.

God instituted capital punishment as a penalty for murder, because to take the life of a human being is to assault the image of God He created in man.

It does not refer to a just war when there are conflicts on a national level which carry out the will of God in judgment upon some nations. Nor do I believe that the text of Exodus 20:13 has anything to do with self-defense, because we have the right to protect the image of God in our lives and the lives of others when they are assaulted and attacked by those who would kill them. Furthermore, I don't believe it means accidental deaths. In Deuteronomy 19, for example, it says that if a man takes the life of someone inadvertently, then that man is not to forfeit his life, because there was no premeditation involved.

What the Bible is talking about regarding the command to not kill is murder, a planned and plotted act of violence. That is clearly brought out in the Old Testament as God Himself sent Israel into the Promised Land and commanded the Jews to kill all of their enemies. He later judged Israel for not annihilating their enemies as He had told the Israelites to do. Thus, it is not hard to understand that murder is the issue here.

The scribes and Pharisees said that as long as you did not commit acts of murder, you have obeyed the commandment. They felt that not committing murder gave one a righteousness that made him acceptable to God. They were saying, "If we don't murder, we're righteous." But Jesus said, "Your righteousness has to exceed that. Not murdering is not enough." And Jesus gives them a teaching here about murder that is literally shocking.

The term "judgment" in Matthew 5:21, literally meant: "the local court." In other words, Jesus was saying, "Your teaching says you must not murder, because if you do, you will be in danger of being punished by the civil court. The problem with that is it doesn't go far enough."

Jesus went on to explain His position in:

Matthew 5:22 (NKJV) "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.

The King James Version and the New King James Version have the words "without cause" after "angry" with his brother. The New American Standard Version and the New International Version do not. Some early manuscripts of the New Testament have these words, "without cause". These words may be a later addition. Some scribe may have thought Jesus couldn't possibly have been so rigid as to exclude all anger, and inserted the words to soften the statement.

The anger Jesus is referring to there denotes a settled, brooding kind of anger. "Raca" means: "empty-headed". Today, a similar expression might be "dimwit or blockhead". From a Hebrew perspective, a fool (Greek moros) was one who rebelled (Hebrew marah which means: "to rebel") against God. To accurately call someone a rebel against God would be doing him a favor. But to call him a fool as an epithet of hatred would be a sin. To say "You fool" is to cast aspersions on the character of the individual with an attitude of contempt or disdain.

The word Jesus uses in this passage to describe anger is the Greek word orgizo. This is a different word than is used for the fiery kind of anger that flashes up and dies down. This word refers to an anger that is tolerated, brooded over, and harbored in the heart. If someone does something to rile you up, then you mull it over. Months or years later you still have not forgotten. It is seething underneath as you look for chances to get back at the person who hurt you or secretly hope that God brings tragedy or calamity into his life so that he will learn a lesson.

"Raca" expresses the disdain you have for an individual against whom you have been harboring anger. Before long, you begin thinking of him as a fool - worthless or of no value. When you harbor anger against a person, you begin to look for things that are wrong with him, an opportunity to run him down. As you belittle him, you develop a feeling of superiority - you think you are better than he is and he deserves to be punished! You think it is time he was revealed for what he really is. These feelings often blend together as one comes out of the other.

As you read these verses, you may get the impression that He is building the statements in order to indicate progression in seriousness. But the point is repeated for emphasis. He is saying basically the same thing each time but is giving a little different emphasis to drive home the point.

The issue here is that anger is associated with murder. Do not lose the connection between verses 21 and 22. Jesus is looking at the command, "You shall not murder," and is giving the background for it. If you are going to obey this command, it is not enough simply to have never killed anyone. The condition of your heart is what is being examined before God. You can be a murderer in your heart even though you have not carried it out in your deeds. You would be glad if God would intervene and give the person some dreaded disease which would take his life. But do not forget that God is looking into the heart where the motives are. It reveals an attitude of spiritual disdain and contempt, looking down on others.

In Matthew 15:19, we find that murder is a manifestation of an evil human heart:

Matthew 15:19 (NKJV) "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.

Murders, thefts, and all those other things do not happen because of social deprivation or stressful situations; they happen because man's heart is evil:

Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Do you understand what evil lurks in your own heart? Could there be a murderer living in your own house, and could it be you? Understanding the implications of God's prohibition against killing becomes extremely important if it encompasses attitudes as well as actions. If this prohibition takes into account evil thoughts, attitudes, and intentions, then we are all in serious trouble.

Paul warned in Colossians 3 that anger should not characterize those who are the children of God. Such attitudes happen easily even in church as people harbor improper attitudes and feelings toward other believers. They begin to seethe inside, and as time passes the attitudes grow worse and the feelings grow more intense. But in Colossians 3, Paul says believers have died with Christ and have been raised to a new life with Him. Then he mentions all the characteristics of the old person that we should put away, "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth" (v. 8). Such attitudes and actions should not characterize the believer. Believers should never tolerate those kinds of feelings and attitudes toward others.

What do you think about murderers? Do you think to yourself, "Why, that terrible breed of humanity...that indescribable vileness that characterizes murderers. They're a different kind of person than I am; I don't murder...I'm not that kind of person." Then we are no different than the Pharisees at that point.

Jesus simply says, "It isn't the issue of murder alone; it's the issue of anger and hatred in your heart. You cannot justify yourself because you don't kill, because if there's hatred in your heart, you are the same as a murderer." Jesus' words not only affected the Jews' self-righteousness, but they should affect us, too, as to how we view ourselves. We justify ourselves all the time, admitting that we would never murder, while at the same time we get so angry on the inside with someone, that we mock and curse and hold grudges of bitterness against them.

Jesus taught that anger is the root of murder and, consequently, merits equal punishment. Our Lord was saying that what goes on inside of you is what God judges. In terms of the judgment of which you are worthy, you may never kill anyone, but you are just as guilty in God's eyes. In fact, all of us are guilty of this. Even anger with a brother to any degree is the same to God as murder:

1 John 3:15 (NKJV) Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

Though anger is a serious sin, there is a righteous anger that we need to talk about, even though that is not what Jesus means here. For example, there was a time when Jesus took a cord and started driving people out of the Temple (Jn. 2:13-17). There are times when God's indignation reaches its absolute limit and explodes in vengeance. There are also times when a believer has a right to be angry. In fact, I believe that the holier we get, the angrier we should be getting about some things. I think we need a little more of this latter kind of anger, especially in a day when everybody wants to talk about love, togetherness, and the absence of conflict. We begin to get so mealymouthed about everything, that we won't stand for anything. Some of us ought to learn how to express a little bit of righteous indignation about some of the things that are going on in our country, our churches, and our schools. We also ought to be angry about some of the things our children are exposed to, some of the trends our society is promoting, and some of the things that come waltzing into our homes on television. We ought to have the kind of anger that is not sin: "Be ye angry, and sin not..." (Eph. 4:26a). There is a right kind of anger.

When Christ got angry, it was not because someone hurt his ego or thwarted his will. He got angry when he experienced sinful behavior that was harmful to the person and to others. And his anger was without malice or contempt for the sinner:

Mark 3:4-5 (NKJV) Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they kept silent. 5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

But when people did the kinds of things to Him that make us angry when done to us; things like insults, rudeness, and abuse, he did not get angry. In contrast, when we get angry, it is sinful because it is self-centered. We get angry initially because someone interferes with our will, with what we desire. If a car cuts in front of you causing you to brake, you get angry. If you see a car do that to another driver, you don't get angry. There are many other examples, but the point is that when our will is thwarted, it bruises our sense of self-importance and our ego. We get defensive, we get our pride hurt, we get our feelings hurt, and we get angry.

The anger Jesus is talking about here in verse 22 is selfish anger. When you bitterly hold a grudge against somebody, no matter how small, Jesus says that you are as guilty as the person who takes a life, and consequently, you deserve the same judgment. There shouldn't be any difference, because they are both just as serious. In fact, the same Greek word for "judgment" is used at the end of verse 21 to refer to the sentence meted out by a civil court for murder. Likewise, Jesus says, "If you are angry, then you are in danger of execution. Capital punishment should belong to you for anger just as much as for murder." This is a devastating statement, because it forces us to evaluate our attitudes. It isn't what we do so much as what we are, and what we feel. I don't know a civil court in the world that would give the death penalty to somebody for getting angry. But if God is the One sitting on the throne and calling the verdicts, then we had better accept the fact that the one who is angry is as guilty as the one who kills.

It is important to understand the seriousness of what Christ is talking about when He says someone will "be in danger of hell fire."

The word He uses for "hell fire" is transliterated from the Greek as: "Gehenna". It is a word with a history, and is commonly translated as "hell" (Mt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; Js. 3:6). The word translated "hell" (gehenna) is used eleven times in the New Testament. Gehenna was the dump outside Jerusalem in a large valley southwest of the city. It was the garbage dump for Jerusalem. Gehenna began to be used as a place of human sacrifice in the days of King Ahaz. Gehenna is referred to in Jeremiah 7 as the valley of Hinnom. In this passage, people are burning their own sons and daughters as human sacrifices. That is how dedicated and committed they are to the worship of the fire god, Molech.

Later in Israel's history, a godly king, Josiah, came to the throne in Jerusalem and wanted to do away with the system of human sacrifices that had been practiced in the valley of Hinnom:

2 Kings 23:10 (NKJV) And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech.

Josiah wanted to do away with this practice, so he defiled the place by making it the garbage dump of Jerusalem. All of the trash, refuse, and dung from the city was dumped out there for centuries until the time of Christ. Characteristic of this place were the fires which were kept burning all the time - night and day. This fact is referred to by Christ in the Gospels as the place where the fires are not quenched and the worms have not died. That means the fires burn there constantly. The Valley of Hinnom was a place that had become identified in people's minds as a filthy and accursed place, where useless and evil things were destroyed. Christ used it to describe a place of suffering and torment. That is the background of Gehenna.

So, Jesus says that even if you are angry and go so far as to speak malicious words and curses against others, then you are as guilty and as liable for judgement as a murderer is. In this way, Jesus attacks the sin of anger, the sin of slander, and the sin of cursing, and with it destroys the scribes' and Pharisees' self-righteousness.

At this point, Jesus proceeds to give two illustrations of what He has been saying in verse 22. The word "therefore" in verse 23 indicates that what He is about to say is built on His previous discussion. These, then, are some practical applications of the statements He has already made. He continues in verses:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV) "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 "leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Every Jew was familiar with the ritual of offering sacrifices in order to atone for sin. They knew that sin separated them from fellowship with God. The offering of the sacrifice restored that fellowship and brought them back into a position of right relationship with God. What Jesus is pointing out is that a right relationship with God depends on our willingness to maintain a right relationship with one another. If we are not willing to live in right relationship with our brothers and sisters, then we are not fit to come and worship the God in whose image they are made.

Though their life was a circumscribed one of external worship, our Lord here condemns that very worship, because God is concerned with internal things, such as attitudes toward others, how you feel about your brother, and how you speak to him.

The Jews of Jesus' day concluded that if someone had something against them, all they needed to do was make a sacrifice that would wash it clean, then on they could go. People have not changed a bit. They view going to church as a spiritual car wash. If you have a bad week and get dirty, you just drive through the car wash, and it cleans everything up; then you drive for another week, and as it gets dirty again, you drive through the car wash again. Many people recognize that they have lied, cheated or lusted during the past week. So when the weekend rolls around, they just drive their spiritual car through the wash and everything comes out all right. That is their concept of a religious life. Do you know why so many people go to church week after week where salvation or the Word of God is not taught? It is because going there is their spiritual car wash.

Jesus says that reconciliation comes before worship. What a powerful point! You are to settle the breach between man and man before you settle the breach between man and God.

The second illustration He gives in verses 25 and 26 is a practical principle relating to our relationship with other people. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:25-26 (NKJV) "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 "Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

This is simply good, practical advice in pursuing reconciliation with those with whom we have problems. Such a course saves much personal heartache. It is necessary for the proper worship of God, and it is also necessary in having the right kind of life.

We live in a day where society is governed by the courts. We have a proliferation of lawyers and lawsuits. This passage gives good, practical advice for believers to follow: Seek to work things out through reconciliation. Another way of approaching the same principle is to realize that you do not always have to have your way and show that the other person is wrong. If you insist on your own way, that often results in heartache and further problems.

The main point is simply that we can't worship Him unless our relationships with others are right, so hurry and make them right - don't let them go to the place where there will be a civil judgment made and somebody loses in the end. Don't let it go too far. Don't let it go to the place where God, in judgment, moves in.

It is apparent from Jesus' clarification of this commandment on murder that we all may be guilty of violating it. Jesus, as usual, cuts through to the real issue. He reveals that attitudes can be as harmful as actions. Indeed, attitudes precede actions. Attitudes lay the ground work for actions to follow. It is in this area that we come face to face with the murderer in each of us.

It should be clear from Jesus' evaluation that our attitudes are vital. His analysis of God's commandments went far beyond the letter of the law. He is telling us that it is not good enough to simply keep the letter of the law. Our obedience to God must begin with our heart. First, there must be a surrender of our hearts to God. Our relationship with Christ must go beyond mere outward observance and service. Our hearts must be His. We must be those who serve from the heart. How is your heart?

Look into your own heart. What do you see there? Is there evil lurking there? Do you find yourself with attitudes that you should not have? Are there people with whom you are angry? Are there people against whom you are bitter? Are there people you hate? "He made me so mad I could have killed him." Beware! There could be a murderer in you.

Has your heart ever been cleansed by faith in Jesus Christ? You can go through all the external motions of going to church, singing the songs, listening to the same sermons and doing the same things for a hundred years and still be in danger of going to hell. Salvation is not a matter of going through religious externals. It is a matter of believing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to pay the penalty for your sins. If you will believe in Him, God will cleanse your heart on the inside and make you a new person. He will give you a new heart so you can be an acceptable person before Him.

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