Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother [without a cause] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
This morning we move into a “new” section of the Sermon on the Mount. It is new not because it stands alone but because it builds upon what has already been spoken. During the course of the next 27 verses that we will study, 6 times Jesus will say “You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you . . .” He will speak about things like murder and anger, sexual sin and lust, marriage and divorce, lying and swearing, retaliation and the surrendering of personal rights and loving our enemies. It is very important that we remember that all of this is building upon two foundations, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and surpassing righteousness is measured by the position of the heart. Jesus is not going to dismantle the Law, He has already been very clear, He came to fulfill not to destroy, but what He is going to do is reveal the Law as it was meant to be rather than as it has been interpreted or understood by men. The Pharisees and the Scribes, the leaders and keepers of the Law had taken the Law and made it completely external, they used it as a way to control men and to show themselves as superior; Jesus’ teaching of the Law reveals it’s fullness, it shows that the Law was never about external actions but was always aimed at the internal issues of the heart. Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law, the application of grace, doesn’t reduce or enlarge it, it unfurls it, it opens the Law to be seen in all of its beauty and majesty, all of its power and all of its purpose. The Law had always been about righteousness, not the righteousness that earns the applause of men but the righteousness that reveals the beauty of God. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses His fulfillment of the Law to dissect our hearts and to reveal God’s heart for us. He shows that God does not turn a blind eye toward our heart issues just because we believe that we have avoided the ultimate external action. When Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel God told him, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” We have often used this verse very selfishly, it is quoted or alluded to in an effort to avoid judgment, our actions don’t matter, God looks at the heart, but this verse and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount actually make this reality a sharp edge. Like the Pharisees, how often do I do the right thing but do it without my heart being engaged? Even worse, how often do I do it for my benefit rather than God’s glory? How often do I do what is right so I can be seen as righteous rather than so that God can be seen as beautiful? God looks at the heart, meaning I can’t fool him with my efforts, I can’t convince Him that I’m “fine”, He knows my heart. That statement is both comforting and terrifying at the same time. Because He knows my heart I have no excuses and can’t justify myself, but because He knows my heart He gave His Son to be my justification, to fulfill the Law on my behalf and apply grace to me. My heart is the center of my relationship with God through Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law, but here is the amazing thing, the heart was always the center of the relationship. The Law was always about righteousness in the heart, it was not a list of negative things to avoid, it was the incredibly positive reality that God desired a people that would give Him their hearts and trust Him with their lives. The words that Jesus spoke on the day He gave the Sermon on the Mount are directed toward us as much as they were to his audience that day, righteousness begins and ends where God looks, in our hearts and so God must search, examine and confront our heart issues long before they become our behavior issues. This morning Jesus will begin to search our hearts and expose the reality of anger, it is not merely a problem many of us have or an emotion we need to attempt to curb, it can quickly become an attack on righteousness and an intruder in our hearts. Over the next couple weeks we will study this passage and I pray that we will be willing to see the reality and the cure for anger.