Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 18: “Murder” Part One 08.24.18

Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 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.”

On the same day that an innocent young woman named Mollie was murdered in Iowa, a convicted cop-murderer named Joseph was scheduled to die by execution in Texas. One was tragically murdered and the other was to be put to death. When Jesus spoke of murder, was he saying that all killing is murder? We use these words, kill and murder, interchangeably. Killing is not always murder.  To untangle this we need to go back to the Sixth Commandment:

Exodus 20:13 (NIV) “You shall not murder.”

The Hebrew word (rawt-sak) certainly can be used to mean “kill” but, in this context, it points particularly to the “slaying of an innocent human being.” This is forbidden by God. It is a clear prohibition against taking innocent life. In fact, while capital punishment is debatable in terms of how it is carried out, it is not forbidden in Scripture. Indeed, God requires it in the case of murder. We read:

Genesis 9:5-6 (NIV) “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow-man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Note that God explains why the murderer loses his or her right to life. Namely because each human being is an image-bearer of God Himself and to murder that person is to show utter contempt for the Almighty! God says he will “demand” an accounting. The murderer no longer has a claim to life.

This demonstrates that God distinguishes between murder and killing. The executioner of a convicted murderer is not a murderer himself even though he puts to death a murderer. The policeman or soldier who must kill to support justice is not a murderer.
In any case, we are glad that we are not murderers. That’s a good thing, of course. But…in our hearts perhaps we are? Could it be that, once again, we see Jesus is interested in our hearts and not only our outward behaviors? Because a pure heart behaves with righteousness outwardly? In our hearts Jesus, tells us we may be attacking God by hating His image-bearer. And that is a type of murder. This could be unsettling. Let’s look at the statement again:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’

All true. The disciples sitting on the mountainside just nodded and said “Right, Jesus. We must not murder and if we do we will be judged by the authorities. And we don’t want to be in that spot for sure. We want to avoid legal judgement. Anyway, we don’t go around murdering people. We are not murderers. So, we’re good.” Now, Jesus stuns them by saying he has a new insight for them:

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

“Excuse me? Excuse us? We can never get angry with other people? Really? Jesus, we have seen you angry with the Pharisees…right? Surely, you do not mean that it is ungodly to ever be angry with another person, do you? God Himself expresses all kinds of anger at those who sin against Him. Is anger always forbidden Jesus?”

(I am, of course, totally speculating on how this conversation might go. But I think our Lord might say something like this:)

“No, I didn’t say you can never be angry. I am saying you’d better have a very good reason for your anger because you will be judged by man and God. Anger is a serious matter and should not be embraced by my disciples unless there is real moral reason for it!” (Now, we feel better.) Jesus continues:

“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.”

Oh my. This just got very uncomfortable. We may even see some disciples squirming and standing up on the mountainside looking about. Perhaps they will walk away. Why? Because every one of us believes he has a God-given right to get angry and stay angry. Why? Because we consider ourselves righteous and the other person who has wronged us is wrong and probably not righteous! And if we are proud enough we might even say that their sin against us has brought into question even their right to life!

We might even decide that we have the right to judge that person and conclude that he or she is a worthless human being! Remember what those who hated Paul said? He explained the Gospel to them and they were furious. We read:

Acts 22:22 (NIV) “The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

Their anger was so great that they wanted to murder Paul! Jesus is saying that we must not call anyone else “raca”- a term of unthinkable contempt. This word can be translated “a good-for-nothing worthless person.” Is there really anyone like that? And even if there is, are we suited to judge that person? This mountainside is getting unpleasant.

“But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

People who have not been redeemed by Christ will spend eternity separated from God. That’s what Hell is. If I assess someone else as a “fool” I might be in that danger. Really. We might say “But Jesus. All kinds of people are visibly foolish. How can we help but tell the truth about someone who acts foolishly?” The word we read for fool is “moros” from which we get “moron.”

I think I hear Jesus saying: “Human beings are flawed by sin. All of them. You too. If you are so hateful as to call another person worthless and a moron…. you are willing to murder that person in your heart. And yet you claim to be my disciple? To be following me?”

More on this in Part 19. It gets even more interesting…and troubling.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

  1. tammy Coffey

    Wow!!!
    Ouch!!!
    Great teaching pastor!
    Thank you!

  2. Very thorough and insightful treatment of a controversial topic. Totally consistent with my understanding of God’s view of the sanctity of life, and the appropriate penalty for taking it in anger vs. the outcome of a proper judicial process. Looking forward to the balance.

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