Matthew 5:21-37 (EHV) 21 “You have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of hell fire. 23 “So if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother. Then come and offer your gift. 25 “If someone accuses you, reach an agreement with him quickly, while you are with him on the way. Otherwise your accuser may bring you to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Amen I tell you: You will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ 28 but I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out and throw it away from you. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to be regarded as an adulteress. And whoever marries the divorced woman is regarded as an adulterer. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘Do not break your oaths, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear at all: not by heaven, because it is God’s throne; 35 and not by earth, because it is his footstool; and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your own head, since you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Instead, let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no.’ Whatever goes beyond these is from the Evil One.
As a pastor, sometimes people react differently to what you say than you’d expect. For this weekend only I have fixed this dilemma. Any time I hold up one of these signs I want you to follow the instructions on it, ok? Today you will laugh at bad jokes, applaud, and even gasp in surprise. It’s going to be great. I’m a firm believer that when you do something a little different people tend to remember things better.
Let’s set the scene, shall we? Jesus is still a new face to most of the Israelites. Yes, he has lived among them for about 30 years, but he wasn’t much of celebrity during that time. Jesus is now just beginning to preach in public and perform miracles. At the time of our sermon text for today, large crowds are starting to follow Jesus to listen to him speak. Today we get to hear a part of what some label “the sermon of the mount.” It’s Jesus’ inaugural address in which he tells people what he expects from members of his kingdom.
Right before our text Jesus starts with a shocking statement. He exclaims that ,”Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Hold up “gasp” sign). For those of you who don’t know, the Pharisees and teachers of the law spent their whole lives studying the Old Testament scriptures. They could quote Bible verses in circles around us. Both they and the people around them viewed them as so very righteous. (hold up “oooooo ahhhhhh” sign) How could anyone possibly be more righteous than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law? This is the question Jesus begins to unravel for us today. He starts by addressing four common misconceptions held by the Pharisees. These four topics will show the Pharisees and us how we should deal with one another in our relationships. In each section Jesus says something along the lines of, “You have heard it was said…,” to show the common thinking of the time. Then Jesus would say something along the lines of, “But I tell you…,” to show people what God really means concerning these four misconceptions. So keep your eyes open for those two phrases in each section as we move forward into our account.
The first topic Jesus broaches is murder. (hold up “gasp” sign). He says, “You have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” We heard the first words to our formula: “You have heard that it was said.” So this is the commonly held idea of the time. This is what the Pharisees and teachers of the law believed and that is not a bad place to start when talking about murder, but Jesus takes it one step further. He says “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
This may not sound like a huge revelation to you, but this is actually a pretty big statement for the Israelites. You see, the Pharisees and teachers of the law believed it entirely possible to keep God’s command of not murdering by simply not going out of the way to kill someone. “Alright, let’s see. I haven’t murdered anyone today. I have kept the 5th Commandment perfectly. I’m soooo righteous.” Jesus explains God expects a whole lot more than that when he says, “you shall not murder.” God means that the commandment can also be violated by one’s words and actions. What Jesus is teaching agrees with what the rest of the Bible tells us. One is example is found in 1 John 3:15, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” That’s a pretty bold statement.
Let’s do a little experiment. How many of you have ever felt hatred towards someone else? I want you to raise your hand if you have. If you grew up with siblings, your hand better be up in the air. For some reason, nobody can get under your skin like family can. In fact, all of your hands should probably be up. That means that we have all broken the 5th Commandment: You shall not murder. If the Pharisees and teachers of the law were honest with themselves, they would realize that they had broken it too. They were not as righteous as they thought.
Two quick things before we move on to the next topic. First, we are not talking about righteous anger here. If some parents threw their child out of a window and you were angry about that, that’s not the anger we are talking about in these verses. If something like that makes you upset, that’s a good thing. God gets angry at sin. That is a good thing. In these passages, Jesus is talking about the sinful anger that festers. The anger of revenge/hatred/jealousy and things like that. Second, the Bible says when you have this anger dwelling inside of you, fix it! Don’t let it grow. Let’s say I got into a fight with you before the service today and we were angry at each other. We don’t want that hanging over us the whole service. I don’t want to be focusing on how angry I am at you when I should be worshiping the one true God. We can cut this sin off before it becomes worse and refocus our hearts on God. Not repenting of sin is always a barrier between you and God. Take that barrier down. Make sure you get what you really need from God. That’s the end of our topic on anger. Let’s take a look at the second topic Jesus addresses: Adultery. (Hold up “gasp” sign).
Jesus says ,”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus explains adultery just as he did for the last topic. It’s not just the actions of adultery that are sinful, it can be thoughts or what is in someone’s heart as well. Jesus here argues against the “there is no harm in just looking” philosophy. This includes pornography and wishing desperately you could find a way to be with someone else’s husband or wife. I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand if you have committed this sin because you already know if you’ve done something like this, but I’m guessing more of us would raise our hands than most would expect. Jesus explains why sins of adultery are so dangerous. Undressing a person with your eyes is just as much of a sin as committing adultery, but the former is more of a baby sin, while the latter is the full-blown adult sin. They both deserve punishment from God, but adultery is more harmful to your spiritual well-being and more dangerous to your faith. This is why Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Jesus is not promoting self-mutilation. He’s just making sure you are aware of the seriousness of sin. He doesn’t want you to lose an eye or cut off your arm. He wants you to cut off sin in its tracks before it gains momentum in your own life. He doesn’t want you to fall away from him. The Pharisees were letting sins of adultery steer them away from God. This topic goes hand in hand with Jesus’ next topic: divorce.
He begins by saying the familiar formula we heard in the first two topics. “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes here the victim of adultery.” This passage isn’t saying there are no good reasons for divorce. It’s not saying you need to stay in an abusive relationship. What it is doing is combating what the Pharisees were doing. They figured, as long as they gave a certificate of divorce, they could divorce for any reason whatsoever. If a male decided he wanted a younger wife than the one he currently had…divorce. If a husband found someone’s cooking he liked better…divorce. If husband and wife had an argument over who should do the cooking…divorce. In a timeframe and culture in which males dominated, they were misinterpreting the Jewish laws and then abusing their power leaving women everywhere without status or wealth for no reason whatsoever. The Jews made it technically legal, but God was not pleased. It’s a reminder for us today, that God wants us to remember our wedding vows and do our best to make our own marriages work, as well as encouraging others. This is a difficult task in a today’s society, but God will help and bless us as we ask for his help.
There is one final topic we are going to look at today and then we will connect all four together to see the big picture Jesus is aiming at. His last topic is swearing. This isn’t the “bad words” type of swearing. This is the “oath-taking” type of swearing. Jesus says, “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you do not swear an oath at all.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law had a system in place. Swearing by God was an oath they would try not to break. But then they would swear on all these other things and each had a different level of importance. They did this to the point where they would make specific oaths something less important for the sole purpose of breaking that oath. For instance, if one said something like, “I swear by the earth that I will not get a divorce.” that person would often break his oath and then say it wasn’t such a big deal because he only swore by the earth. Jesus tells us that thinking doesn’t fly in God’s eyes. Except in important matter (as shown in other passages-these topics are just meant to be general teachings here), a person shouldn’t swear on anything. One reason is God made everything so it reflects back to him when you swear on something he made. A second reason, is we often have no control over if what we swear will happen. A third reason is God made words more important than that. They don’t need qualifications. A Christian should strive to make all his or her words reliable and trustworthy without swearing. To phrase it differently, Christians should simply let their “yes” be yes, and their “no” be no. That means not saying things like “I swear to God” even if we didn’t intend any disrespect to God.
So what’s the big picture Jesus is getting at with these four topics? In each section he points out how often people sin in all four categories. People commit sins of murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths with their thoughts, words, and actions, even without realizing it. If you personally haven’t sinned in one category, you’ve probably sinned in another. Jesus would continue his sermon to list even more categories in which people sin. The whole reason he is doing this is to show the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that they were not as righteous as they thought they were. He does this to show us we are not as righteous as we think we are. We are just like every other human on this planet, sinful and deserving God’s wrath. Even one sin means I deserve to go in the only place which will take imperfect people after death, hell. It’s only from this understanding, that we see the need for someone to save us from our sins and stop us from descending into an eternity of torment. In our text, Jesus is setting people up to look past themselves and see the one who actually saves: Jesus. This is the beautiful message we have the privilege to share with each other every single week. Jesus knew we needed a Savior and knew he was the only one who could foot the bill. As fully God, Jesus humbled himself to become also fully human in order to take our place. He was perfectly obedient to the law. He did not sin even once. Then he took the punishment of all our sins on himself. He died on the cross, was even forsaken by God the Father as the most dreadful part of what he experienced. At that moment, it was finished. The nightmare was over. All your sins were and still are forgiven. All of them, whether they were in the categories we talked about today or not. Jesus has made you clean and perfect in God’s eyes. He has reconciled you in your relationships, namely the most important one. Your relationship with him. God bless you as you hear and treasure this wonderful news. And all God’s people said… (Hold up “say ‘Amen’ sign”).