In this sermon, Pastor David Capoccia investigates Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:21-26 regarding God’s command, “You shall not commit murder.” How does the truly righteous person act in regard to murder? David Capoccia explains Jesus’ answer:
1. The truly righteous person refrains even from damning anger (vv. 21-22)
2. The truly righteous person hurries to reconcile with anyone he has offended, both before worship and before judgment (vv.23-26)
Because of Jesus’ instruction, the pressing question for each person today is: “Will you be indicted for murder before God?”
The time we have in the word today, I trust, will be an edifying time, though a sobering time as we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Table. Let’s pray as we get ready to hear from the Lord. Heavenly Father, thank You so much for Your Word. Lord, it is a light to our feet, a lamp to our path. But Spirit, we need Your illumination to understand this word. We need the power of Your Spirit to put it in practice. Lord, I even need Your power to declare it faithfully and rightly as befits You. So Lord, we pray that You would grant that now, that this would be a sweet time together. Do Your work, Your great work of salvation and sanctification, even now. Amen.
If there’s one crime that continually outrages, terrifies, yet fascinates all of humanity throughout time, that crime is murder. Murder constantly makes the new’s headlines. Regular murder, mass murder, self murder – which is what suicide is. Of course that’s been in our headlines recently again. Murder even finds its way into our entertainment – our movies, television shows, our literature. Even classics, they center around murder. What is it that so easily grabs humanity’s attention and horror when it comes to murder? Assuredly, part of the answer, even the main part of the answer, is just how we are made. When God created man according to Genesis 1, He made us in the image of God. So whether we believe in God or not, or whether we believe the Bible or not, when it comes to murder, the ending of someone else made in the image of God, our hearts cannot help but cry out against it. To unlawfully end the life of a fellow human being, to destroy a person who is like us – an ability to think, feel, desire, worship. To snatch from someone not merely their possessions, their dignity, but their very life breath, it is the most despicable of evils, worthy of the upmost punishment.
Now, if murder is so obviously wrong, if it goes against what’s imprinted on our hearts, how can anyone ever bring themselves to commit murder? It happens all around us. Society always ask the question, whenever there’s a murder – why? What drove this person to do this? They investigate. They look for influences. Was it money? Was it drugs? Was it romance? Was it the system? We might conclude about murders that they are just especially depraved people. They are just darker in heart than the rest of us. We might even, if we compare ourselves to murders, feel somewhat reassured. You say – I might struggle with different sins, but at least I’m no murderer. We might shudder at the thought of murder and even thank God that we’re not murders.
But are we in fact free from this sin of murder? Can we accurately say that when we hear the command of God – you shall not murder, that we’ve kept that commandment? My friends, the shocking truth from the word of God is that the answer to those questions is no. None of us have perfectly kept the command from God not to murder. In fact, all of us are guilty before God just as much as any murderer is. How can that be? If it is true, what hope is there for me? What must I do? How can I change? The Spirit of the Lord is going to instruct us as we take a look at His word. He will give us the answers.
Please take your Bibles and open to Matthew chapter 5. The gospel of Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. We’re going to be looking at verses 21 to 26 today. Before we look at the passage, let me tell you a little bit about the surrounding context. Matthew chapters 5 to 7, the Lord Jesus Christ gives His great sermon on the mount. In this sermon, Jesus accomplishes a number of purposes, but He does so fundamentally by contrasting true righteousness and false righteousness. That is the behavior and life of those who actually know God and will enter His kingdom, and the behavior and life of those who only think they know God and only think they will enter His kingdom. This contrast between these two righteousnesses is fundamentally accomplished by analyzing the teaching and behavior of two groups of Jews at that time – the scribes and Pharisees.
You heard this read earlier, but look at Matthew 5:20. Matthew 5:20 says:
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now most Jews of that time would have found that statement very shocking because they considered the scribes and Pharisees experts on the law of God, the holiest of people. But Jesus, starting from that statement and continuing for the rest of chapter 5, He presents a series of contrasts between what the scribes and Pharisees taught and what God actually requires as a holy standard. The first topic of Jesus brings up is the topic of murder, which is what He addresses in verses 21 to 26. That’s the text I want us to consider today. Let’s read Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:21-26. Jesus says:
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.
We’re going to organize our approach to Jesus’s teaching in this passage by considering a central question. The question is – how does the truly righteous person act in regard to murder? How does the truly righteous person act in regard to murder? And the answer comes in two parts. Number one – he recoils even from damning anger. Number two – he hurries to reconcile with anyone he has offended. Now let’s see how Jesus develops these two parts of His answer starting in verses 21 and 22.
The first part is again, when it comes to murder and keeping that command, the truly righteous person recoils even from damning anger. Look at verse 21:
You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall cannot commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
Jesus begins by reminding his listeners of the teaching that they had received from the scribes and Pharisees when it comes to murder. The scribes and Pharisees have taught the Jews about how the ancient Israelites were given two rules via Moses and the law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. Those two rules, we see the first one – you shall not commit murder. Where is that from? That’s straight from the Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:15. But the second rule – murders are liable to judgment via human courts, which is basically execution, that’s not a quotation of the law of Moses but a summary of different Old Testament rules. The concept of capital punishment by human courts was ordained by God Himself, first right after the flood in Genesis 9:6. Genesis 9:6 – God says:
Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.
That was where the punishment was inaugurated, but it appears many other times in the Old Testament law. Exodus 21:12-14 or Leviticus 24:17 or Numbers 35:30-31, each one of these texts prescribing that murderers should be put to death by human courts. That is the appropriate punishment for murder according to God’s law. The scribes and Pharisees had passed this on to the people.
So you might ask – what’s the problem? Aren’t they being biblical? The problem is what the scribes and Pharisees have left out. They thought, like many people still do today, that merely refraining from outright killing counted as keeping God’s command regarding murder. But Jesus clarifies that God’s standard as much holier than that. Look now verse 22:
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.
I don’t know if you’re startled by this section, but it would have been extremely startling for Jesus’s original listeners, and for several reasons. First of all, there’s Jesus’s strong assertion of His own authority. He says – but I say to you, I Myself. The Son of God is asserting plainly it doesn’t matter what others have said. It doesn’t matter what kind of traditions you have. I have the authoritative interpretation of God’s law. I’m declaring it to you, and it is binding on you, Jesus says.
Second, there’s the universal nature of Jesus’s statement. Notice, Jesus refers to everyone. That is without qualification or exception. The anger too is unqualified. He says everyone who is angry. This means that what Jesus have to say about anger applies to anger in general, whether that angers concealed or expressed, whether it is violent or non-violent, whether it is a cold anger or hot anger. You might ask – is Jesus really condemning all anger without exception?There’s no qualification here. The Bible does reveal that there is such a concept as righteous anger. Righteous anger is anger on God’s behalf, anger that is concerned with God’s glory and concerned with what God deserves. God displays this kind of anger and He was right to do so. And Jesus also in His earthly ministry displays anger at times. That is a righteous anger. But typical human anger is not righteous. It is unrighteous, just as James says in his book James 1:20:
the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
When I say anger, I’m referring to that strong feeling of displeasure and indignation. Man’s anger is usually born from pride and selfishness. The heart says – I’m not getting what I want. I’m not getting what I need. I’m not getting what I deserve. Therefore, I’m angry. You see, God created man with a sense of justice, and our anger was meant to assist us as people in recognizing injustice and motivating us to set situations right for God’s sake. Anger was meant to do us good. But the corruption of a man’s heart by sin is such that both our sense of justice and our anger is twisted to serve the self.
We forget how Psalm 103 says that God actually treats us better than we deserve, even when we experience trouble and evil from others, it’s still better than we deserve. We also forget that for those of us who are we in Christ, that God has promised that every trial, every hurt that we experience, God is using for our ultimate good and His glory. Instead of remembering these truths and finding solace in them, we instead find fault with others and even find fault with God and therefore we get angry. This is the kind of anger Jesus is referring to in Matthew 5:22. It doesn’t matter how it’s expressed. This is typical human anger, which is centered on the self.
But how is this anger usually expressed? Well continuing on the Matthew 5:22, notice to whom Jesus says this anger is directed – a brother. Anger is usually directed at a person. What’s meant by brother here? This term is used throughout the New Testament to refer to a fellow disciple of Jesus, but it is broader than that. It does refer, first of all, to a fellow believer, but it also applies to the brotherhood of mankind – any man or woman made in the image of God. So then in verse 22, Jesus is indeed talking about universal anger. It is typical selfish anger that anyone feels toward any other person. That’s what He’s talking about, and that’s startling.
Jesus startles because He asserts His own authority. He startles because He applies it in the universal fashion. But thirdly, Jesus’s statement startles because of his equation, His plain equation of anger with murder. Verse 22, Jesus presents three seemingly slight offenses and then He announces their appropriate penalties. And notice what the offenses are. There is merely being angry. There’s calling someone “good-for-nothing”, which is from the Aramaic “raca”, roughly equivalent modern expressions like dummy, stupid, fool. And then there’s, thirdly, calling someone a fool. This doesn’t come from Aramaic. This comes from the Greek “moros”, from which we get the english word moron. Now, none of these seem like great offenses. In fact, they’re pretty equivalent to each other. There’s not that much difference between these things.
Yet look at what Jesus said the appropriate penalties are. For getting angry at someone, the appropriate penalty according to Jesus is the same way that murder is judged. And what’s that? Execution. For calling someone a raca, Jesus says that deserve judgement by the supreme court. He is probably referring to capital punishment by the Sanhedrin in Israel. That was the top governing body. They only dealt with the worst crimes. And for calling someone on moros, Jesus says that deserves eternal death in hellfire. In other words, it doesn’t matter which court you show up in. For the slightest bit of sinful anger, for the smallest words spoken in anger, the penalty is the same as it is for murder. It is death, even eternal torment. By the way, the word for hell here is the common word used for hell in the New Testament. It’s the word Gehenna, which is a reference to the valley of Hinnom. That’s literally what Gehenna means – the valley of Hinnom, which was just southwest of Jerusalem. That valley was once used as a site of human sacrifice to the false God Moloch. You hear about this in the Old Testament, but a certain righteous king named Josiah, he ended that practice and he desecrated and cursed the site, according to 2 Kings 23:10. Reportedly, the valley of hinnom, Gehenna, it later became the garbage dump of Jerusalem. It was where refuse was continually dropped off and burned. Now whether that tradition is true or not, Gehenna certainly became a common metaphor for eternal judgment. All that is detestable before God will one day be thrown, not placed gently but thrown, into the fires of Gehenna or hell, to be forever burned but never totally consumed.
And who does Jesus say has earned a spot in this Gehenna fire, this hellfire? The one who is merely angry with another person or calls them a name. You may say – but wait, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Why should anger or mere words be judged as murder? Besides, isn’t Jesus pulling a fast one here? I mean, did the Old Testament really say anything about anger being like murder? Actually, we can see the connection between anger and murder without very much trouble. We hear it quite explicitly in 1 John 3:15. John writes:
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
But it’s not just the New Testament. The connection between anger and murder is actually right there even in the Ten Commandments. The sixth commandment says you shall not murder. But what does the tenth commandment say? According to Exodus 20:17, the tenth commandment is – you shall not covet. You shall not have evil desire, inordinate desire, for something you don’t have. Where does that desire take place? Secretly in the heart. So are the Ten Commandments only external, or are they external and internal? Certainly, it’s the latter, isn’t it? You see, the great mistake that the scribes and Pharisees made and it’s the same mistake that’s so many people make today is that they thought that God’s commands were only to be obeyed on the outside. But the tenth commandment reveals that all of God’s commandments have a heart element as well. You must obey the command on the inside. Jesus is not changing the rules. He’s not adding to the Old Testament. He’s just explaining what was already there, but that was missed and ignored by those who were trying to establish their own self-righteousness.
Consider these two other Old Testament – verses 1 Samuel 16:7b. We saw this not too long ago in Sunday school. God says to Samuel:
for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Leviticus 19:17-18 says this:
You shall not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the God.
So why is anger equivalent to murder in God’s eyes and worthy of murder’s penalty? Because anger is murder in the heart. Everything that murder is on the outside, anger is on the inside. The angry heart hypocritically judges another person to be unworthy of life, of kindness, or love. Thus the angry heart seeks to harm or even kill another person in some sort of twisted self justice. And the only reason an angry heart does not result in actual murder in every one of us is due to God’s grace via external restraints like government and via the fear of consequences. Now friends, do you see how devastating this truth that Jesus declares is for each one of us? Why? Because we have all been angry, haven’t we? Angry out of pride, out of selfishness, which means according to God, what are we? We are all murderers at heart, worthy of the death penalty and eternal fire.
Think for yourselves, even about your recent experiences of anger. You saw a person do something you didn’t want that person to do, so you felt this angry passion arise in your heart. That was all. What does God say actually happened in your heart at that moment? You killed another person. You struck them down in your heart. You wish for that person to hurt, to suffer, even to die. God says you committed murder. And worse, again if you just think back to your recent experiences, when you felt that anger, you probably let a little bit of that anger, that murder, out of your heart, because murder doesn’t like to be contained. And so you spoken an angry word. You maybe gave a slight insult. Or maybe you said something that was so terrible, it could not be repeated here. Maybe you were subtle about it, passing off your hateful remark as a joke. I was only joking. Maybe you were overt at about it. You just spewed forth venom. Maybe you gossiped about a person’s secret. You’re trying to wound him from afar. Or maybe you said it straight to his face, even in front of other people, because you wanted to humiliate him.
There are many ways that we express anger in words, but what’s really going on when we do that, according to God? What are our words in those instances? They are the knife stabs of a murderer. They are the murder bullets, shot at point-blank range at another person. We are trying to execute someone with our words. You know what God thinks about that? He takes notice.
Now to this point, I’ve only discussed angry thoughts and angry words, but need I say anything about an instance where a person actually raises his hand to hurt, to harm someone physically, or to harm their property? If God is willing, more than willing, to condemn to hell somebody who is really angry with a brother, what do you think God thinks about a person who actually strikes another person? My friends, we have plainly not kept God’s command when it comes to murder. We have committed murder again and again in our hearts and with our words. Really before God, we are serial killers. I don’t mean that just to be rhetorically interesting. It’s the truth. We are mass murderers. We’re total villains before God. Therefore, we have no place in God’s kingdom. We only have a just place reserved trust in hell. That’s the truth.
But there’s good news. There’s good news in Scripture even from murderers, and what is that truth? Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to die for murderers. The Righteous One who is God, He became a man. He lived a perfectly righteous life on the earth. And then He submitted to death for crimes that He never committed. He was totally innocent and righteous. He was put to death on a cross as if He were a criminal. He was crucified with criminals. Why? so that He could take the place of His people. All those who are in Jesus Christ, He bears hell for them on the cross. The penalty of murder He bore Himself and He drink the last drop of the cup of God’s wrath, no condemnation left for those who are in Christ Jesus. And not only that, but He accounted, He attributed His perfect righteousness, the righteousness of His life where He did everything that God commanded that a righteous person would do, He attributed to that to His people so that their sin was paid for and they were clothed in His righteousness. He was the substitutionary sacrifice, and we know that His sacrifice was accepted. And how do we know that? Because Jesus rose again from the grave. Three days after dying He was in the tomb, but then He rose and then later on He ascended to the right hand of God, which proved God accepted His sacrifice on behalf of His people.
That is wonderful news. So, how can we find an interest in Jesus christ? How can we, each one of us, have our sins covered by Him? To do what Jesus said. What did Jesus proclaim as He began His ministry? Mark 1:15:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Repent and believe. There is pardon available for you. Yes, even you and me as murders if you will repent and believe. What does it mean to repent? It means to turn away from your sin, yourself, and your self-righteousness. You know your sins, not just anger and murder but everything else that you’ve done in contrary to God’s law. You ought to have worshipped Him, served Him, submitted to Him, but you haven’t. Now turn from that life. Turn even from your whole self. Jesus says – if you want to come after me, you must deny yourself. You must do that. No longer it’s what I want to do. I’m no longer the king of my life. I’m giving that up. I’m giving that over to the Lord. And turn even from your self-righteousness. There is no way you can work yourself back into God’s favor. You’re a murderer through and through. It’s stamped all over your record.
What could you possibly do now to make yourself right with God? You must turn from your sin yourself and your self-righteousness and you would believe in the Lord, believe in the gospel, believe that Jesus Christ is the only God and Savior and that He save sinners like you. Believe that His perfect life and perfect death is sufficient to cover all your sins and to make you acceptable to God. Not you plus Jesus, but Jesus alone. He did it all. Believe also that Jesus is not able only to supply forgiving grace to you, but transforming grace to make you someone who actually does righteousness by the power of His Spirit.
You see, Jesus’s words here in Matthew 5:21-22, they show you that you cannot satisfy God’s standard on your own. You need God’s mercy and grace and He is so good that He will supply to all who come to Him in faith. Ephesians 2:8 says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
Unmerited favor given to you and to me, sinners.
Jesus’s words on murder here are not just meant to drive us to the saving gospel. They also show us the kind of life that ought to result from embracing the gospel, from embracing the good news. Though no one will be perfect, even after coming to Christ by faith, it is nonetheless true that biblical Christians, true kingdom citizen, they will be characterized by exactly the righteous life Jesus implies in these words. True Christians are not murderers anymore. Not just positionally before God, but behaviorally. Outwardly, they don’t murder. Verbally, they don’t murder. And they don’t even murder in their hearts. Now Christians yes, we still fail from time to time, but sinful anger should no longer characterize our lives. That’s what a true kingdom citizen is like.
So if you claim to know Jesus Christ, yet you have been walking and sinful anger. If you’re not sure about this, just ask the people around you, God’s Spirit is calling you today to repent. Repent of your pride and your selfishness that maligns God and murders others because you don’t think you’re getting what you deserve. Turn away from that. Repent of your heart idolatry, which has worshipped something else as more important than God, loves it more than God and therefore resents when you don’t get it. You’ve got God, you can’t value something else more. Repent of the excuses you make to justify your own anger. It’s not my fault – they provoked me. Stop blaming other people. Stop blaming your circumstances. Instead humble yourselves again by realizing that God is good to you. He gives you far better than you deserve. You should be able to say like Jacob does in Genesis – I am not worthy of the loving kindness that You have showed to me. You should take hold again by faith the truth that God Himself, even if nothing else is going right in your life, God Himself is enough for you. And He will perfectly provide for you in His love and His wisdom through every difficulty you encounter.
Now there’s more here, and we want to get to it. We’ve seen that the truly righteous person recoils even from damning anger, but that’s not all. There’s something else the righteous person does when it comes to murder. Number two – he hurries to reconcile with anyone he has offended. We see this in verses 23 to 26. Actually we can break this into two parts. There are two areas, two ways the person hurries. This happens, first of all, before worship. Verses 23 to 24, look at those again. He says:
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.
Jesus now presents an illustration of what walking according to the previously expressed principle about anger and murder looks like. Notice the phrase He uses here. He says – your brother has something against you. What does that mean? In context this phrase refers primarily to a hurt that you have inflicted upon another person in anger. But the phrase is broad enough to also include instances where your brother is offended by something you did, even if you don’t think you did anything wrong.
Jesus says – if a truly righteous person goes to worship God by sacrifice and then suddenly remembers that he has an offended brother, what does he do? He halts the sacrifice. He goes to make reconciliation with his brother. Then he comes back to worship God with a clear conscience. Now, appreciate how radical a commitment to reconciliation Jesus expect from His people. Jesus says even if you’re right there at the altar. The specific context of this worship offering situation is not giving, but Jesus is speaking to crowds in Galilee and they are familiar with the traveling to Jerusalem that they would have to do to sacrifice at the temple. Normally that journey was about 80 miles and took three days. And even after when one arrived in Jerusalem, one probably had to wait in a long line of worshippers at the temple to be able to finally present an offering. It could take all day. But Jesus says it doesn’t matter how far you’ve travelled or how long you’ve waited to worship, if you remember that you have a broken or strained relationship with another person that you have not tried to reconcile, then stop everything and go seek peace. Even if it means traveling all the way back to Galilee.
Someone will say – but I’m right at the altar. Can’t I just finished and then go seek reconciliation? I don’t want to have to get back in line. Jesus says seeking reconciliation immediately is more important. Why? Because otherwise the worship is hypocritical. It is unclean worship. After all, consider if God has equated to anger with murder, then will God accept the offerings of a murderer when he has not repented of his crimes, that they have not been dealt with? Will God approve the heart of one who is still looking at his brother with contempt? Consider what God says to unfaithful Israel in Isaiah 1:15:
So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
My friends, how many of us have vainly sung, prayed, and taken communion while our hands are similarly covered with the blood of murderous anger? Will God have any interest in our prayers, our worship in such cases? He will not. He will hate that you have presented that to Him. He’ll have no regard for it. So what must we do instead? Exactly was Jesus says here – pause our worship and go seek reconciliation with our brother. Worship through obedience comes before worship through liturgy.
Remember you can’t force reconciliation with a person, but you can confess your faults. You can repent of your sins. You can seek to make things right with the one you’ve offended. We are called to do exactly as Paul says in Romans 12:18:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Jesus is saying the same thing. When it comes to murder, the truly righteous person hurries to reconcile before worship. And not just that. The truly righteous one also hurries to reconcile before judgement. This is verses 25 to 26. Look at those again. Jesus says:
Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you’re 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.
The situation presented in these final two verses is of a civil lawsuit or someone who is looking to collect a debt or monetary damages from another. Jesus commends making friends quickly, that is settling out of court while you are with your opponent on the way to the courthouse. If you do that, then you won’t be found guilty in court. You won’t be thrown in the debtors prison where you would otherwise be forced to pay for every cent you up. Now, is this just practical advice or is it something more? Well certainly the advice is practical. I mean if we’re following what Jesus has been saying this far, Christian should be people who do not need to be taken to court. We ought to be people who quickly and gladly make things right without costly judicial proceedings. Paul says the same thing 1 Corinthians 6:1-7. But the words in verses 25 to 26, they must be about something more. The entire context up to this point has been about how God will not accept the one who hold onto anger or who refuses to reconcile with a brother.
Additionally, this same lawsuit analogy is used by Jesus in Luke 12:58-59 to urge Israel to reconcile with God before it is too late. He uses the same analogy. He says – look, you’re going to be handed over to the officer and then he’s going throw you into prison and you’ll never get out. Therefore, I take these final two verses as referring not to human judgment, but divine judgment. Jesus is saying that we should make reconciliation quickly with those we have hurt and offended. If we don’t, that person, the person that we hurt in anger, he may bring the case, so to speak, before God who is the ultimate Judge. And God has already established that we are guilty, according to verses 21 and 22. So if the case gets to Him, then He will have no choice but to have His attendants throw us into the eternal prison where we will pay the full penalty of our crime. Will we be able to work off that debt in God’s prison? Verse 26 might make us think so, if we don’t know how debtors prisons usually work. You see, in ancient times, there’s virtually no chance of escaping a debtors prison. Why is that? Because your debt only grew while you’re in the prison trying to work it off. Just being thrown into debtors prison was like receiving a life sentence. There is no way out.
So it will be, Jesus says. But those who commit crimes of murder in their hearts and in their words, if they refuse to repent and if they refuse to demonstrate that repentance by quickly pursuing reconciliation with those that they’ve hurt. Otherwise, that murderer will be brought to trial. He will be condemned and thrown into the prison of hell to pay for every modicum of anger, every biting word ever uttered. But there will be no end to the torturous payment because the debt is limitless. Is it not plainly wise then, my friend, to make peace quickly now before you are indicted for murder? Is it not better to settle out of court and avoid the great Judge’s pronouncement?
Don’t misunderstand. Jesus is not saying by this illustration that if you ever failed to pursue a particular relationship and reconciliation that you’re automatically damned or you lost your salvation. But Jesus is making quite clear that the truly righteous, true kingdom citizens, they are marked by readiness to humbly pursue reconciliation with whomever they harm by anger or even by misunderstanding. That’s the kind of people Jesus expects will be the citizens of His kingdom. The truly righteous hurry to reconcile before the judgment of God comes.
So then, you’ve heard today sobering word from God. I think it will help us as we get ready to take communion. We started with the question – how does the truly righteous person act in regard to murder? We’ve seen the answer from Jesus. The truly righteous person does not merely refrain from outward murder, but he recoils even from damning anger and he hurries to reconcile with anyone he’s offended before worship and before judgement. I titled this sermon today – will you be indicted for murder? That’s the question I believe we all need to consider now as we end. God has clarified what the verdict and punishment will be for you if you let the case go too far. But there is a way of escape. That way is by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I urge you by the mercies of God to take that way. Make peace with God and make peace with your fellow men while there’s still time. Heed the word from Paul in Ephesians 4:26:
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Don’t dawdle. Don’t waste any more time. Make friends quickly now. Seek reconciliation. Because if you do, you don’t need to fear the judgment. There will be no condemnation for you. But instead, you can have the joyful expectation of entry into God’s kingdom, that kingdom of righteousness and blessing and life that you can taste even now if you will go to Christ in repentance and faith. I pray that you would do that.
Let’s close in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word that shows us not only do we need the gospel, but that the way of righteousness for true kingdom citizen is so good. It is right, Lord. It is right not to harbor sinful anger at all and to seek reconciliation with anyone whom we have offended quickly. Then You are pleased. Then You are honored. Then we are exactly as the beginning of Matthew 5 said – we are lights in the world. We are salt in the earth. Jesus, we cannot do this apart from Your Spirit. And Lord, please forgive us for all the times that we have not obeyed Your word. For any who are listening to this message today and they’ve never repented of their evil way, their way of murder, I pray that they would do so now. And they would find Your forgiving and transforming grace which is freely available for those who believe. For those who do know You, God, I pray that they would get out from that entangling sin, that sinful proud anger. Instead, walk in the way of peace – Your way. Your blessed way. In Jesus’s name. Amen.