February 2, 2020
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,[e] you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult[f] a brother or sister,[g] you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell[h] of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister[i] has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,[j] and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court[k] with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
A couple months ago I read a book about the history of Oklahoma City and in order to properly tell the story of Oklahoma City you have to talk about the tragedy that shook the city to its very core, the bombing of its federal building in 1995 that killed 168 people. And in the book the author tries make sense as to why Timothy McVeigh, the man who orchestrated this heinous crime, would do such a thing. What could possibly lead someone to commit such a cruel and senseless act? Well, the author goes on to describe key events and moments in McVeigh’s life. How he was bullied as a kid. How he served as a young man in the Gulf War and became bitter and angry about a war he believed was unjustified, all of which developed and only strengthened a deep distain towards the United States government, and then how a couple years later he bet and lost all of the little money he had on his hometown Buffalo Bills team that someone how lost yet another Super Bowl, moving him to only further anger and despair, all of which culminated in an unspeakable tragedy some 25 years ago.
Now to be clear, the author nor I myself share all this to make any excuse whatsoever for this man’s actions. Nor do I mean to communicate to you all that if we struggle with anger in any way, that we are somehow one small step away from committing a similar act ourselves. Not at all. Rather, I share that story with you to help illustrate the principle that I think Jesus is getting at as we look at our passage today. And that is, even something as evil as murder is often rooted in something much smaller like anger and even more, that anger unchecked and unresolved can potentially have disastrous effects and manifest itself into something far, far worse.
This morning we continue on in our sermon series on the sermon on the mount, and this morning, we come to this passage on anger, which is part of a larger section within the sermon itself on the role of the Old Testament Law for us as followers of Jesus today.
And last week we saw what Jesus has to say about the law itself, that as for the 10 commandments and the hundreds of other laws given to God’s people long ago, Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. That is, he has not come to set aside the law and make it null and void once and for all, rather he’s come to fulfill it, bybeing the first and only person to have gone his entire life living in perfect obedience to it, measuring up to it in every way and then in a shocking reversal of roles later giving his life for all those who have fail to obey it time and time again.
And yet even in light of that good news, the law still applies, though functioning in a different way, where it’s obeyed and lived out because of a new motivation, where godgives us a new heart, with new desires, filling us with the Holy Spirit, so that obedience to the law wouldn’t be a duty or obligation or hoop to jump through, but rather a delight and joy. And so rather than diminishing the law itself, Jesus instead elevates it and reveals a higher, and I believe a more beautiful kind of obedience to it.
And it’s with that critical foundation set that Jesus now discusses specific laws themselves.
He begins by addressing the sixth of the 10 commandments, ‘do not murder.’
And when it comes to the command “Do not murder,” I think most of us look at this one and think, “Hey, alright, good news, I can check this box, I get an A on this one, after all, I’ve never taken someone’s life before.” Most people everyone who hears this would probably think, “Here at the very least is one commandment I’ve always kept.”
But Jesus says, “Not so fast.” Just because you haven’t literally taken someone’s life doesn’t mean that you’ve obeyed the spirit of this sixth commandment.
Here again is what he says,
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister,you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Certainly there’s a lot going on here in these first couple verses, but let me first me set the stage for where we’ll be going from here … just two parts to today’s message.
1. The Problem with Anger
2. Dealing with Our – and Others – Anger
The Problem with Anger v.21-22
Again, Jesus says, that not only ‘Whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.
The very fact that Jesus would draw a connection between murder and anger ought to make it clear that anger is a real problem. So then what exactly is the connection between murder and anger?
Well, one might be the same one we made with the Timothy McVeigh story, that very often murder and the decision to take someone else’s life is rooted in a deep hatred or anger towards that person or something more general itself.
Another connection or way of teasing out this murder-anger logic would be to look at the command “Do not murder” not simply as a command against murder but also a command for life itself, a command that’s meant to protect and honor life itself, treating everyone with dignity and respect as people loved and made in the image of God. And people filled with anger towards each other does not move us closer to this ideal.
So those are two connections, but maybe the straightest line we can draw between murder and anger is this -
Unresolved anger and the words we say in our anger can be deadly to relationships.
Unresolved, unprocessed anger can be a relational killer. Right? Isn’t this our experience? Anger has a way of destroying the relational space between two people. Whether it’s through the words we say in our anger, or the trust that’s eroded because of it or the distance that grows between people as they hold grudges. Consider how at our very worst moments, people say or think to themselves of the ones they hate, ‘I wish they were dead.”
Overall, I think part of what Jesus is getting at here is, “Hey, as followers of me, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, I want you to aspire to more than just the bare minimum of not killing one another.’ After all, who wants to live in a world or in a community where people settle for just not murdering each other, but yet where gossip and slander and anger and bitterness and endless backstabbing and unresolved conflict rule and reign? After all, our anger and words that we say in our anger can have a deadly power to them, just as any physical weapon does. And so, I think in many ways Jesus is calling us towards a higher ethic, towards greater kingdom living that is full of life, total human flourishing, where even something as small as anger is dealt with and rooted out before it becomes something far, far worse.
Friends, are we seeing the problem with our anger? It often does more harm than we even know and so of course, the question becomes, what do we do with it? How should we deal with the anger we feel towards others and even the anger they might feel towards us?
So with that in mind, here’s part 2.
Dealing with Our – and Others – Anger v. 23-26
In these remaining verses, Jesus gives two illustrations or examples, when it comes to dealing with our anger. The first has to do with conflict between a Christian friend, i.e. a brother or sister in Christ, the second an outside enemy or ‘accuser.’ We’ve only got time to look at the first one today, but in reality, both are driving towards the same point, that anger or unresolved conflict is an urgent matter and needs to be dealt with quickly. Here again is what Jesus says in this first example -
23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,and then come and offer your gift.
Do you see the urgency here?Jesus is saying, even if you’re in the middle of a worship service and you remember that your friend has something against you, leave immediately, go and be reconciled. This is unbelievable. Worship is the single most important thing we do as a church, yet Jesus says, ‘If this is your situation, get up and go. Right here, right now.’
So you all, if any of you decide that you need to get up and go right now in the middle of this sermon so that you can reconcile with someone, please know I won’t be disappointed in the slightest, because truth is, you’d be doing exactly what Jesus encourages you to do.
Jesus says, ‘Go and be reconciled to your brother or sister.’
So friends, with all this said, where are you experiencing anger right now? Where are you in need of forgiveness and reconciliation? Maybe you’re experiencing it at work. Maybe someone said something hurtful to you in public that you wish they would have at the very least said in private. Maybe your boss made an important decision that goes against everything you believe. Maybe you’re experiencing anger at home, angry with your spouse, maybe you feel missed and unseen by them after a long week at work or spending countless thankless hours with the kids. Maybe you’re angry with children, who never seem to listen to you and who love to say the word ‘no.’ Where are you experiencing anger right now and what are you doing about it? Because I think this is the other central message of this passage. Our anger needs to be dealt with. It’s like a fire that must be put out, or at the very least contained, so that it doesn’t spread far beyond our control.
And so, naturally the question is, what does this kind of reconciliation look like …
Well, here are four steps to forgiveness and reconciliation. For what it’s worth, I shared about these at great length in a sermon this past September which can be found on our church website, so I won’t do such a deep dive today, rather I’ll share all four of them with you in four minutes or less. maybe these will be helpful for you to use in a conflict you’re having with someone currently, or maybe you can put them in your back pocket for a rainy day.
And these four steps work in both directions – both when we’ve hurt someone and need to ask forgiveness as well as when someone has hurt us and we’re in the position to extend forgiveness to someone else. You may have noticed that in this passage Jesus says, ‘if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you.’ And here I don’t think Jesus is saying that we aren’t supposed to pursue reconciliation with those who have hurt us, but rather, it’s a reminder for us to remember and acknowledge how we hurt others since truth is we’re much more likely to remember when others hurt us that when we hurt them.
All this to say, here are four steps, I first learned them from the senior pastor at my previous church, Scott Dudley.
Pray / Go / Ask / Stay
Which yes, creates the unfortunate acronym P-GAS, but yet it’s awkwardness is what makes it highly memorable too. So maybe it’s part of Scott’s genius all along.
First things first, take a moment, or maybe even a few days, to pray.
And so as we pray, as we prayerfully consider the conversation that we need to have with that person, it’s a chance to do some thoughtful reflection and ask,
Why was I hurt by what was said or what transpired? Why did it stir up the emotions that it did? Why exactly am I angry or why do I think they’re angry with me?
And pray that you would be filled with and exude the fruit of the Spirit. That your words, your tone, even your body language would exude love, patience, gentleness and self control.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us this simple, yet important step towards forgiveness and reconciliation, when he says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault, between you and them alone.” The point here is don’t go to your mailman, your barista or even your closest mutual friend. No, go directly to the person you need to reconcile with.
And friends, because I am a sinful and flawed person, I almost certainly will at some point say something or do something that hurts you in some way. And while I’ll do my best to show self awareness and reach out to you if and when I remember that I’ve hurt you, please, please, please, if I have offended you or if you are angry with me in any way, please let me know. I never want there to be unresolved conflict between us and I always want to be ready to ask for forgiveness from you.
Ask “Will you forgive me?” while “I’m sorry” is a perfectly fine thing to say in the relatively small and trivial things in life, “Will you forgive me?” is a much more transformational and healing thing to say and ask for when we’ve really hurt the ones we love because it puts us in a position of need. It’s far more vulnerable.
And when the time is right, ask … “Did I miss anything?” That is, is there something that I’ve missed, something that I’ve said or done that I’m not aware of, that I haven’t asked forgiveness for. Ask “Did I miss anything?”
If it all possible, stay in the relationship. Pull up your sleeves, embrace the messiness, be willing to have difficult conversations, ask for and extend forgiveness graciously and if at all possible, stay. Stay in the relationship.
And so to summarize, allow me to share with you a helpful and catchy song I recently heard,
If you’re feeling mad, like you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four, 1, 2, 3, 4, pray go ask and stay.
Finally, one last thing I want to share when it comes to dealing with our anger and pursuing reconciliation, and that is, to always assume best intent.
When someone angers us, when they say something mean to us, when a decision is made or an action is taken that infuriates us, do what you can to assume best intent. That is, assume the best of them and the situation rather than the worst. This step alone will go a long way towards keeping our anger at bay.
For example, before moving to Dillon, Callie and I were renting a place outside of Seattle. And shortly after we moved out, we received only a very small portion of a pretty large damage deposit back. They claimed that our cleaning job wasn’t good enough. And initially I was livid. I was thinking, ‘You’re greedy, you’re lying and how dare you, my wife is one of the cleanest people I know. I was tea kettle hot, in part because, I was assuming the worst of them. But then, as cooler heads prevailed, I and we began to wonder, we do have a dog that sheds, could that be it, maybe they’re cash strapped and stressed trying to get the place ready for the next tenant. We tried, albeit difficult, to assume the best. And while we ended up compromising, assuming best intent, assuming the best of them helped keep us from causing further damage and saying something we might regret.
Assume best intent because Lord knows, if the roles were reversed, this is what I hope they’d do for me.
Pray, go, ask and stay and throughout it all assume best intent.
And I’ll finish with this.
Only a couple occasions do we see Jesus get angry. one of those times is when he’s with the Pharisees and he’s furious with their legalistic and restrictive understanding of the Sabbath when they look down on Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day. A very good and right kind of angry.
And of course, there’s another pivotal moment. It’s at his death … his final moments … as the religious leaders are angry and furious that this man would claim to be God himself, so they insult him, ridicule him, call him a fool, and of course worst of all, hang him on a cross, murdering him.
And there’s this stunning moment towards the end, where as he’s hanging on a cross, he’s looking at all those who did this to him, and rather than lashing out in anger, he says this, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Maybe, just maybe, he’s assuming the best of those who happen to be acting at their absolute worst. ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t even realize what they’re doing.’ All of this, so that you and I could be forgiven, reconciled to the father.
So friends, are you feeling like you’re on an island and everyone’s out to get you … Jesus knows what that’s like, far more than we’ll ever know.
Have you experienced condemnation, insulted by your enemies, betrayed by your closest friends, Jesus knows what that’s like, far more than we’ll ever know.
Are you feeling angry and aren’t know why … take it to Jesus, he came to absorb it all, taking all the world’s anger and the judgment we deserved upon himself.
Do you need to be reconciled to your brother or sister in Christ … well go in confidence, knowing that through Christ, God has made the first move, reconciling himself back to you.