“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” (Matthew 5:21-26)

Before we begin this week let us look at Matthew 5:20 again. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Jesus is not necessarily trying to demonstrate the impossibility of keeping the law as much as He is calling His disciples to a deeper and more in depth holiness. The Pharisees themselves were looked up to by the general population as the most righteous of men. They openly and proudly practiced their righteousness before men. For them the law was kept in a physical sense without regard to the deeper spiritual conformity of the law. What is in the heart of a man determines what he truly is, as Jesus taught. “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:11) What we speak comes from the heart. If the heart is wicked all of our action will reveal our wicked intention.

The Pharisees were appearing to live the righteous life but their hearts were full of pride and selfishness. Jesus knows the heart of a man and this is why He told us of people like the Pharisees. Their outward appearance is that of righteousness but their hearts are full of deception. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

The righteousness of the Pharisees was a flawed righteousness and even as good as they appeared it was not enough to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was teaching His disciples that their righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. There is only one comparison for righteousness that can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Try as we must, we will fall short of the glory of God.  The only righteousness that we can have that will grant us entry into Heaven is that of our Lord Jesus Christ. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) With that said, as we study the remainder of chapter 5 let us do so in the light of Matthew 5:20.

Because of the way that the Pharisees view the Scriptures they missed the full meaning of God’s Law. When they looked at the sin of murder they saw it as a sin against man. I am amazed that they missed it as their great King David knew to who the sin is committed against. David committed adultery and he committed murder to try to cover the adultery up. The Prophet Nathan was sent by God to let David know that his sin was not a secret to God. Once David realized the full measure of what he had done he confessed and repented of his sin. In David’s great Psalm of confession he acknowledges that sin is against God, as it is a rebellion to God’s Word. “Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.” (Psalm 51:4) We must realize what the Pharisees should have, that our sins are against God.

The physical act of murder is but the symptom of the evil that is in the heart of a man. This is where Jesus looks and sees when He examines the heart of a man. He sees the anger and the hatred that has caused the physical action of murder. The truth is that the murder occurred in the heart of the murderer before that act was carried out. This is why one must know their motives, their intentions, and examine their hearts closely. “Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:40)

If there is trouble with sin in our lives perhaps we should look to the root of our sinful actions. It is important to look deep into the heart of our intentions. The heart is deceitful even to our own selves. We must be on constant guard, as the adversary is always on the prowl. “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) If we have sinful motives underlying our good intentions, then a cloud will dim our visibility when seeking His face. “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)

When we face opposition our anger only escalates the approaching altercation. We should handle our disagreements with gentleness. To challenge someone is not to inflict wounds. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) We must exhibit the love of God that has been given to us, even if it is to walk away while the tension dissipates. In times of strife the love of God demands that the Christian be the peacemaker. If we are wrong, then right the wrong. If we have been wronged and there is no restitution, then be forgiving. “Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7) We do not want to leave with hatred within our heart, as this leaves sin crouching at the door. It is better for ourselves and others to be the peacemaker. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, March 30, 2016

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