Jesus declared that the Laws and prophecies of the Old Testament would remain unbreakable and true until the end of time. In His own life on earth, the Lord obeyed them with absolute perfection in response to His heavenly Father. This was no drudgery. His love for His Father was great. He delighted to obey. It also wasn’t weakness. He wasn’t a pathetic weakling, shivering fearfully in the shadow of an ominous tyrant. He enjoyed doing right…and He had the power against all temptation to do it.
Think about your day. Were you able to always do exactly the right thing at all times? What are the things you struggle with? What thoughts? What temptations? What wears you down? What comforts, pleasures, or fears have power over you that you can’t resist? Be honest. Now consider that nothing in this world had that kind of power over Jesus. He had the breathtaking strength of total mastery over Himself at all times to respond only to the will of His God. He was magnificent in His response of holy perfection to His Father’s divine will.
The Lord Jesus wanted His disciples to have that dignifying strength as well. He wanted them to live in rich obedience to His Father. But there was a problem. Most of the Jewish people in Jesus’ audience knew about the Law from the teaching of their Jewish leaders. These leaders added their own traditions and rules. They treated the thoughts of men as if they were equal to the Word of God and mixed them all up together. The people did not understand when they were learning the pure, bright, holy truth of Scripture, and when they were hearing the thoughts of regular, sinful men. Even as the people tried to obey their God, their leaders sent them down the wrong paths. They obeyed bad ideas. Everything was messed up!
Jesus knew the difference between the ways of God and the ways of men. He wanted to make it clear. In His Sermon on the Mount, he gave six examples of how the poor in spirit and pure in heart should seek to obey God’s commands.
As Jesus gave each example, He started with, “You have heard it said.” Then He would repeat a Law that the Jewish leaders had taught badly. Then He would say, “But I tell you…” Whoa. That is huge. Jesus was getting right in the face of the religious leaders, claiming He knew a better way to understand God’s Law. But the thing is, He had the right. He was the One who gave them the Law in the first place! His listeners were going to have to decide who to believe. Jesus made it clear that the common people of Israel were not only able to discern for themselves…they were expected to. They didn’t have to go through the religious leaders. God Himself had come to them, and those who had ears to hear would respond.
To help His listeners understand the right way to follow the Law, Jesus gave brilliantly clear examples of what it would look like in daily actions. His illustrations were a bridge between the abstract concepts of the Law and the way the Lord meant for His people to live them out. If Jesus’ listeners followed His teaching, it meant that the way they made everyday decisions was going to have to change. Even the thoughts in their heads could be purified!
As you read, watch how Jesus shows the true penetrating, purifying hope of each Law. Imagine what a beautiful world it would be if everyone honored these laws not only in their actions, but in the deep places of their hearts! Imagine what Heaven is going to be like when we will be totally free to from the struggle to obey!
The first Law that Jesus wanted to illuminate was the truth of the Sixth Commandment. In Exodus 20:13 it says, “You shall not murder.” Now, it is really easy to understand from these words that God doesn’t want us to murder others. But the heart of this command went much deeper. It was about much more than actually killing someone unjustly. It was about respecting the whole life of another person. Every facet of every person’s life, all the way to the extremes of death, was to be honored before the God who made them. That wasn’t something the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day wanted to do. Many of them reveled in belittling the lives of others, judging them, or diminishing their hopes in light of their own aspirations. Just look at how they treated Jesus! It made their teaching very shallow. Jesus was about to fix that. He said:
“‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”
Now Jesus was going to explain how deep that command really was:
“‘But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of Hell.”
The sixth commandment was not just about taking a life unjustly. It was about the attitude of the heart that each person holds towards everyone else. Most people will not murder someone in their lifetime. But we might fester in the deep, dark, angry malice and hatred of murder in our hearts…and it will destroy the potential for life and love in a thousand ways. It is quite possible to live in a world of subtle contempt towards every person in our lives. Holding on to anger, insulting others, constantly comparing ourselves to them in a jealous need to prove ourselves as superior, withholding love and forgiveness, gossiping…these are all forms of vengeance. They are ways we destroy another person to protect and gratify ourselves. We may not kill the body, but we are stabbing and ripping through the souls of those around us, often in subtle but constant ways. It has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
A humble heart that is poor in spirit will seek to be continually purified from these things. A disciple who longs to be worthy of God’s Kingdom will be very careful to have a right relationship with others, and they will diligently guard against these dark attitudes in the heart and mind. And we know that Jesus will be right there with us, applying the work He did on the cross for our forgiveness and transformation, interceding for us before God as our Great High Priest (check out the book of Hebrews).
Jesus went on to describe some things that His followers can do to live out the goodness of this Law. Let’s say you did something to offend someone else. You know you are wrong. The sign of a genuinely pure heart is that they will be eager and determined to make things right. They will rush to the person to ask for forgiveness. In fact, Jesus said that even if you were in the middle of doing something for God…even something high and holy like offering sacrifices, you should stop what you are doing to make things right with the person you wronged. The degree to which we resist this is a measure of the degree of impurity of our hearts. Reconciling and making things right is even more important than the most sacred religious ritual…and a repentant spirit is an even greater gift to God. What He really wants is our selves. Isn’t He beautiful? How He longs for us to love each other!
Jesus went on to explain that it is wrong to offer gifts to God while allowing tensions to fester with fellow brothers and sisters in His Kingdom. If we are being taken to court, we should try to settle it before we even get to the judge. We have to fight for peace.
Now, this passage might give some the impression that any expression of anger is a terrible sin. Is anger always wrong? John the Baptist furiously rebuked the religious leaders for being a brood of vipers. He called them out for being poisonous snakes in front of everyone! Jesus called them that, too, and He was angry when He did! Was Jesus sinning? We know that can’t be true. When Jesus and John spoke these harsh words, they were speaking out against injustice and sin. They were standing up for the righteousness of God. That is a powerfully pure and holy thing to do.
When most of us say harsh things, it is not out of righteous judgment. Usually we are merely insulting or demeaning to someone out of our malice and pride and envy. These are very great sins. But there will be times when believers are called on by the Spirit of God to speak truth against corruption, and they will be filled with righteous anger when they do. It is right to feel anger about the things that anger God.
The disciples of Christ’s Kingdom can rely on the Lord for wisdom to know the difference between their own anger and malice and the pure, holy anger that comes from the Lord. As followers of Christ destroy their malice and cynicism towards others by inviting the work of God’s Spirit into their lives, their ability to love will grow, and so will their ability to discern. They will become wonderful, bright lights that shine on a hill and show the people of this world the ways of God’s Kingdom.