Scriptures: Matthew 5:20-22, Psalms 14:1, Ephesians 4:26, Mark 3:5, Matthew 23:17, Matthew 5:23-26
Have you ever had something said and going around about you that wasn't true? Have you ever lost it and found yourself angry and name calling and talking about someone? Have you ever had something going on so serious that it so damaged a relationship to the point that you and someone would not speak? Because of that, you justified your position and talked about the other person and the other person did the same? I have experienced all of those and you have too. It is about those situations that today's lesson is concerned.
Jesus was radical. Jesus shook minds and caused people to think. No man ever taught like he taught before (Mat 7:28-29). Good teaching should be fresh, sometimes be radical and often mind shaking. I could be preparing you for something a little later.
The right to say things that make us think is not an excuse or justification to say anything we want. I've been teaching for twenty years, and I find myself continuing to say dumb things. Last week was an example. If I said anything last week that offended you then I am sorry. I will do my best to never do it again.
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
That was another "bombshell" statement from Jesus and minds rattled. The Pharisees were the righteousness world champions. How could a common person's righteousness surpass the righteousness of a priest, or a college seminary professor, or a denominational pastor, or a television evangelist? It would be similar to eleven of us flying out to Oakland and playing the Raiders in a football game and Jesus telling us that we had to win if we were to go to heaven. (That's not a pick or a prophetic statement by the way.) It would seem impossible. How in the world could eleven of us defeat a professional football team? Those Pharisees and teachers of the law were righteousness professionals. They looked righteous, talked righteous, and crucified and stoned those who were not righteous according to their standards. How could that "world champion" type righteousness of the Pharisees be surpassed by common everyday people? Jesus took time and explained exactly what he meant.
Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'
Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again,anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
There are several thoughts that I want to make certain we get. First, Jesus said six times in this section (5:21-48) "You have heard . . . but I say." Let me show you.
Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder . . . But I tell you . . .
Matthew 5:27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery' . . . But I tell you . . .
Matthew 5:31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife . . . But I tell you . . .
Matthew 5:33 "Again, you have heard that it was said 'Do not break your oath . . . But I tell you . . .
Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth' . . . But I tell you . . .
Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy' . . . But I tell you . . .
These are more mind rattling statements because what Jesus referred to when he said, "You have heard . . ." was the ten commandments and the law of Moses. He was saying that what you have heard is not good enough for my kingdom. What you have heard is not deep enough for my kingdom. That didn't mean that what they had heard was all there was to know on the subject, but what they had heard was not good enough. Could it be that what we have heard is not all there is to hear? Is what we have heard good enough? Could there be more? I hope so.
The next thing I want to make certain we see is exactly what they had heard. Jesus quoted the sixth commandment (Exo 20:13) in this first "You have heard . . . but I say." That commandment says, "Thou shalt not kill." What's wrong with that commandment? Nothing is wrong with that commandment. However, what they had heard was only external. They heard that I can become as angry as I want at anyone, call anyone names if I want, and say anything about anyone I want. I can assassinate their character as long as do not murder their bodies. Jesus said that attitude was not good enough and will take a person to the fire of hell (Mat 5:22). Is that accurate?
A third point we must see is that Jesus used the Greek word pas three times in one sentence in 5:22. It is translated as anyone. The King James' version translates it as whosoever. It means each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything. Whom does "anyone" include? I know that sounds like a dumb question. My point is "anyone" includes Believers and Nonbelievers. I think anyone would include everyone. Any person who becomes angry and talks and says damaging things about people is in danger. The Bible is full of warnings about saying damaging things about people. None are more awakening than is this one. Saying angry, character assassination, hurtful, degrading things about people will bring the judgment of hell. We can't afford to miss this. It is a principle we must get into our heads and into our children and grandchildren. It can be the difference of heaven and hell. Going to church and saying I am a believer will not stop this judgment. It means ANYONE!
Another point we need to see is about name calling. The word "Raca" is a term of reproach. It literally means an empty-headed person. The thought is that a person purposefully makes someone appear ignorant. They have belittled someone making others loose respect and think less of someone. They have planted a thought intended to cause someone to question the integrity of someone. The person who did that was to answer to the Sanhedrin or elders (Mat 18). That means ANYONE. The Greek word translated "You fool!" is moros from which we get our English word moron. Christ's meaning was that the person did not stop talking has now said someone was not Godly - corrupt and vile and dishonest. It was a continued purposed attempt to assassinate a person's character. We see the Biblical thought of what a fool is from Psalm 14:1.
Psalms 14:1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
The elders (Sanhedrin) have addressed the situation, but the assault continued with name calling and character assassination. Jesus said the person who does that is on the edge of hell! They haven't murdered anyone according to what they have been told the sixth commandment said, but because of their character assassination, hell awaits. Our saying damaging things about people will bring us much closer to hell than any of us realize.
The context is ANYONE who does name calling and character assassination is in tremendous danger of the judgment of hell. Judy and I have come to a place where we refuse to talk negatively about people no matter what they have done or what we have heard. Occasionally we both slip, but the other one will say, "Watch it!" "Don't go there." That's all it takes. We zip it up. I really want to warn you. A lot of the hell we are going through in life could be because we talked about someone. Either this verse is true or it is not.
I want to share an observation I made several years ago. William Jefferson Clinton (Bill) was the then President of the United States. We all know the accusations made against him. As I watched his accusers do their talking and name calling, I also observed them, one by one, go down. First there was President George Bush who got into name calling during the election which he lost to Clinton. Remember Newt Gingrich - speaker of the House from Georgia? He attacked Clinton and down went Newt while Clinton remained President. Remember Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who went after Clinton because of Monica Lewinsky? I watched Starr go down and Clinton remained as President. Time and again I watched that happen. Don't do it. Avoid character assassination and name calling like you would avoid Anthrax. Both will destroy.
I want us to attempt to get a feeling of what happened that day on the mountain when Jesus taught this. The words "raca" and "fool" just don't get our attention today as they did that day. However, if I were to say, 'Whore,' 'Homo,' 'Spec,' 'Honkey,' 'Jap' we would get the feeling on the mount that day. A hush came over the people just as it came over us. Brains rattled. Jesus used the harshest name calling he could to make his point. What offensive name or word do you know that attacks someone's race or background or family? Put that word in place of 'raca' and 'fool' and you will have the feeling of what happened that day. First there was a question of "Did he say that?" Then the realization that what he said was true. Jesus was the first person to have the boldness to say it. He doesn't want people to go to hell and it requires more than a "sinner's prayer." I love the sinner's prayer, but people, that has nothing to do with what Jesus is here warning. Jesus wants us to know that name calling and character assassinations are serious enough to send ANYONE to hell. We haven't murdered anyone, but that's not good enough. That's not righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of religious people.
Let's talk a minute about anger. Jesus said, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." That anger is pointed at an individual. We are not going to hell because we become angry. Anger in itself is not wrong. The Bible actually encourages anger, but the avoidance of sin.
Ephesians 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Jesus became angry on occasions. He became angry when he cleared the temple (Joh 2:13-22) and he became angry when he was assailed for healing on the Sabbath.
Mark 3:5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Jesus also called the Pharisees fools - moros, same Greek word he used in 5:22. ". . . anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."
Matthew 23:17 You blind fools (moros)! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
However, Jesus never singled someone out and personally assaulted them with words of anger. He never degraded a person's character. He never tried to make someone look bad to others for his own gain and from his own anger. He never assassinated someone's character. A person who does that is in danger of hell fire.
Before I go on, how many of us are honest enough to say I have done that. I have talked about people and I have said things that damaged their character? (The rest of us are liars.) The Lord told us how to fix a situation if we are guilty of character assassination. Jesus gave us two examples. The first example is concerning our worship.
Matthew 5:23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
Matthew 5:24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
I absolutely love this passage. We have a wonderful picture to which each person listening can relate. Let's make this practical for us. We come to church with our offering. We have it in the envelope and we are so happy that we are able to give it. Suddenly, during a song or preaching, we "remember" that we have said something about someone. Sort of like right now. Jesus said leave the gift. Then "first go" and attempt to repair the problem with the person. Leave the gift. Don't use that situation as an excuse not to give, but first attempt to fix the situation. After we have done all we can do, "then come and offer" our gift.
What's the point? It is far more important to avoid hell than it is to fulfill an external worship. Jesus desires to save our souls more than he desires our money. I have seen people who attempted to cover up horrible things they had said about people by giving large offerings. The truth is no amount of offering or dancing or singing or lifting our hands will cleanse what is going on in our hearts. Jesus is far more interested in our getting our attitudes right than in our offerings. Leave the gift at the altar and get the attitude corrected.
The second example is concerning the quickness we need to move on this.
Matthew 5:25 "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.
Matthew 5:26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus said, "Settle matters quickly . . ." Character assassination issues need to be resolved quickly. The longer they go, the closer to hell's judgment we come. The person who continuously assassinates the character of others will end up in prison unless they quickly fix the problem. Eventually, they will cross the path of someone who will take them to court and will have them put into prison until they pay the price for the damage they have caused. This could be a natural prison or it could be a metaphoric prison such as sickness, financial bondage, lose of political position, etc. But it will happen. The point is, fix it and fix it quickly. There is no need in allowing it to send us to hell.
The righteousness necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven and avoid hell requires taking what we say about people seriously. The righteousness necessary to surpass the Pharisees is a righteousness of the attitudes of our hearts. We are not allowed to say detrimental and harmful things about people true or false. Do not expect to go to heaven if we have an attitude that we can say anything we want about anyone we want.
I want to make certain we got "the main thing." What have you heard as the main thing? I hope it's do not talk about people. Avoid talking about people like Anthrax or AIDS. That righteousness will take you to the kingdom of heaven. Slice it, dice it, put it in the blender and puree it. Do anything you need to do to ingest this one, but please get this one right.
I wonder if some of us have need to have a moment here. How is your heart concerning this? Whom have you assassinated with words? How about before next Sunday, before you bring your offering, pray and ask the Lord what you may need to do.