Saturday, January 13, 2024

2024.01.13 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:21–26

Read Matthew 5:21–26

Questions from the Scripture text: What have they heard (Matthew 5:21)? What was it that was said to those of old? What would murderers be in danger of? Now Who is speaking (Matthew 5:22)? What does He warn will put them in the same danger? What else would put them in what other danger? And what other saying would put them in what ultimate danger? To what hypothetical situation does Matthew 5:23 refer? What does this worshiper remember? What must he do (Matthew 5:24) before he resumes the situation in Matthew 5:23? What new situation does Matthew 5:25 find the hearer on the way to? What must we do, since that is where we are going? What will happen if we get there, and He still has a good case against us? In the context (cf. end of Matthew 5:22), what is this prison and debt referring to (cf. Matthew 18:30)? How long will this be, with that Judge and that prisoner and that offense (Matthew 5:26)? 

Why must we have perfect righteousness to enter the kingdom? Matthew 5:21–26 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these six verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the King Who has given us His law is also a perfectly just judge.

Hearing the King of the royal law, Matthew 5:21. The “you have heard” (verse 21) refers to what they heard from their rabbis. But the “it was said” is “to those of old.” We know originally said “You shall not murder.” Their rabbis have rightly taught them that murder would put them in danger of the judgment. The danger of sin is not merely the earthly penalty. 

Earthly judgment reflects heavenly, not only in the church (cf. Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18) but also in the state (cf. Romans 13:1–7). But don’t make the mistake of thinking that heavenly judgment is therefore as superficial as earthly judgment. When Jesus says, “but I say to you” (Matthew 5:22, cf. Matthew 5:28Matthew 5:32Matthew 5:34Matthew 5:39Matthew 5:44), He identifies Himself as the authoritative Interpreter of what was spoken at Sinai. 

He Who thundered at that mountain is now preaching the sermon on this mountain. He is YHWH Who delivered Israel, the King on the mountain, the King of the kingdom of heaven, and the Judge before Whom all men will stand. This is why we must have Him Himself alone as our righteousness. It is always why His work in us must pass muster on the last day. He does not tolerate the smallest sin, and neither must we.

The problem with unjust anger and hateful speech, Matthew 5:22. We must not consider ourself “safe from the judgment” if we have not committed life-ending murder. The evil of murder is that man is made in God’s image (cf. Genesis 6:6). Murder is wicked because it is a blasphemy; it fails to value the image of God in another. Now, the Lord Jesus calls our attention to another such evil blasphemy: being angry with our brother without a cause (Matthew 5:22). 

Note that this blasphemy is committed not with the hands but with the heart. Only God can see this anger. And f it is “without a cause,” then we are not angry for God’s sake. The source of this anger is in our flesh. Such anger disregards the image of God in our brother. 

If we are “ok with” such anger, then we are out of alignment with our King, His kingdom, and His judgment. He is on a mission to eliminate such anger from us so that we may be fit to enter the kingdom. And we must be on-mission with Him. 

Many would pursue the mission of the kingdom in this world. Praise God, and may He give them to serve faithfully, and add fruitfulness to their service. But, if eliminating unjust anger from our hearts is part of His mission, then let us pursue it with the same zeal and resolve and dependence upon Him! Anyone who is ok with his unjust anger should heed the King’s warning that he is in danger of the judgment.

The Lord Jesus completes the thought with two more cases. The heart that overflows into saying “Raca!” and is not repentant against it, belongs to a man who should expect to find himself under church discipline. The heart that overflows into saying “You fool!” and is not repentant against it, belongs to a man who should expect to find himself in Hell. 

Just as “raca” and “fool” have nearly identical meanings, so we are to see the parallel between the council and hell-fire. The council, of course, is on earth. There is no council in heaven; God is the only officer of His court (which makes Matthew 28:18 and John 5:22 all the more amazing)! But the council has a duty to follow the Lord in His judgments. 

When what was in the heart overflows out of the mouth, and an offense is committed against the brother, there ought to be repentance and reconciliation. Unrepentance of verbal lashing out is an appropriate case for church discipline (cf. Matthew 18:14–20). Why? Because such puts a man in danger of Hell (end of Matthew 5:22). And we may note that unrepentance of unforgiveness puts a man in the same danger as in Matthew 5:25 (cf. Matthew 18:32–35).

The connectedness of reconciliation with God and reconciliation with man in the church, Matthew 5:23-24. Invisible to modern English versions, the Lord Jesus “gets personal” at this point. The generalized, plural “you” that He has been using ever since Matthew 5:11 suddenly narrows to the singular. The situation in Matthew 5:23 corresponds the need to settle our conscience before God in Christ, so that we may approach Him in Christ. As we concluded when considering Leviticus 4:1–6:7, this is the ongoing application of the sin/trespass offering, which Matthew 5:23 calls a “gift at the altar.” 

Before any of the other offerings could have been made, if there was any issue of conscience, the sin offering had to be made first. But if that sin offering included an offense against a brother, it had to be accompanied by restitution (Matthew 5:24, cf. Leviticus 5:14–6:7). 

So, also, we should always come to the public worship having made things right with God through the blood of Christ—and this requires having made the effort to make things right with man. Here is an ordinary part of the believer’s Saturday evening. The world is giving itself to entertainments and amusements, but the believer is preparing to come into God’s presence: making sure things are right with others, asking and receiving forgiveness and reconciliation; making sure things are right with God, asking and receiving a cleansed conscience through Christ’s blood, preparing heart and mind for the public worship to come the next day. 

This does not mean that an offended brother in bondage, excluded from the public worship until he feels satisfied. Sometimes, the sin is actually in taking offense where none has actually been given. But let a brother offer what reconciliation ought to be acceptable. With such restitution given, we can come to God in our repentance and enjoy the cleansing of our conscience by the blood of Christ, so that we can bring our hearts freely and boldly to God Himself in the public worship (cf. Hebrews 10:11–22).

The connectedness of reconciliation with God and reconciliation with man in the state, Matthew 5:25-26Matthew 5:25 changes to a court scene, evidently over some debt. In light of Matthew 5:22, the lesson is how seriously we must take God’s everlasting judgment. We must beware of arriving at that Great Day with unrepented sin! If reconciliation with a brother made in the image of God is a prerequisite for public worship, how much more is it a prerequisite for entering eternity?! 

You are going to die. You are going to enter eternity. You are either going to come to the judgment as someone who is justified in Jesus and made holy by Jesus, or you are going to come to it as someone who does not have Jesus at all. Those who have Jesus will have received repenting from Jesus, just as they have also received right standing from Jesus.

So, agree with your adversary quickly! Do not let matters remain unresolved. Agree with your adversary on the way! Do not think that there will be opportunity at the judgment itself. Indeed “the last penny” in Matthew 5:26 is not some earthly debt that can be repaid. It is debt against the image of God in our brother; debt against the glory of God itself. verse 26 is warning against a righteous and just punishment that is forever (cf. Matthew 18:34–35).

From Whose mouth do you receive the commandments of Scripture? What difference has that been making in your life? What difference are you resolved that it would make? How? With whom do you find yourself easily angered? At whom do you tend to lash out with your speech? What is the problem with that—what are you disregarding in them? What is your habit for preparing your conscience to come to the public worship of God? What place does reconciling with others have in it? What is your habit for keeping up with these things throughout the week? What might you be doing differently in your relationships (especially your nearest ones, in the home, and in the church) if you were truly conducting them in light of the fact that we are all on our way to the judgment?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for giving Jesus to be our sacrifice and our Savior and our King. Grant that we would hear Him and heed His words, as He teaches us about His own law. Thank You that He has kept that law in our place, and that He is all of our right standing before You. And thank You that He prepares us, by His Spirit, for entry into His kingdom. Grant that we would live as subjects now, more and more, through the grace of Christ, in Whose Name we ask it, AMEN!

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