ABC Extra – Being Subject to Judgment – Matthew 5:21-22

March 8, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment


In Adult Bible Class this past weekend, we continued our “Fit for Life” series with a look at our relational health.  As with emotional health in last week’s ABC Extra, I thought some statistics might offer a telling aperture into the state of our relationships:

  • As of 2003, 43.7% of custodial mothers and 56.2% of custodial fathers were either separated or divorced, giving credence to the oft-quoted statistic that 50% of marriages will end in divorce.  Many marriages are broken.
  • According to The State of Our Unions 2005, only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents – the lowest figure in the Western world.  Families are broken.
  • A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review found that Americans on average had only two close friends to confide in, down from an average of three in 1985. The percentage of people who noted having no such confidant rose from 10% to almost 25%.  Friendships are broken.

Between the breakdown in marriages, families, and friendships, it is clear that our relational health is on life support.

Jesus knew all about the disaster that results from relational sickness.  Divorces, grudges, and loneliness are devastating.  Indeed, from the very beginning, God spoke of the importance of relationships and relational health.  God says of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  And so God makes Eve for Adam.  God desires that we be in relationship with each other and with him.

It is with this in mind that Jesus offers us a stark and sobering warning about the damage a fractured or fissured relationship can bring: “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 5:21).  Notice that Jesus says those who murder are “subject to judgment.”  What judgment was rendered for murder?  Moses explains:

If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.  Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.  Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.  The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.  If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. (Numbers 35:16-21)

No matter what the means of murder, the judgment against it is the same:  murder invokes capital punishment.   But now, in Matthew 5, Jesus takes this dire judgment one step farther: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22).  In other words, those who are angry are subject to same judgment as those who murder.  Both anger and murder result in death.

As I mentioned in ABC, the Hebrew word for “murder” in the fifth commandment is rasach, a word that denotes murder in particular over and against killing in general.  Thus, this word describes not only the act of killing someone, but the intention behind that act. In other words, if you slay someone on a field of battle in self-defense, it is not rasach.  If you kill someone with malevolent intent, however, it is rasach.  Thus, when Jesus speaks against being angry with your brother, he is picking up on the intention behind the action in this commandment.  And so Jesus says, “Be it the action of rasach or the intention behind the action, the result is the same:  you will be ‘subject to judgment.’”

But can Jesus really be serious here?  After all, the judgment rendered against the act of murder is death.  Certainly the judgment rendered against the anger that accompanies the action can’t also be death!  Indeed, in first century Jewish communities, save the reclusive Essenes, there were no standardized punishments for anger.  How can Jesus now levy a punishment as harsh as death on a mere emotion?

Anger leads to death.  Sure, it may not lead to the kind of death that happens with capital punishment – a lethal injection or an electric chair or a noose – but it can certainly lead to its own kind of death.  Anger can lead to the death of a friendship, the death of community, the death of a marriage, the death of joy, and finally, if unchecked and unrighteous, the death of your soul.  This is why Jesus is so concerned about letting go of anger – because he knows the consequences for unrighteous and unrepentant anger can be devastating.

In truth, God has every right to be angry with us because of our sin.  And yet, because of Christ’s of propitiatory work on the cross, we can rejoice that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).  God’s wrath at our sin was placed on Christ at the cross.  God let go of his anger on Christ.  And now, even as God’s wrath has been turned back at us, we are called to turn back our anger at others.  As Paul says:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).  May it be so with us.

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Entry filed under: ABC Extra. Tags: , , , , , .

ABC Preview – Righteous Anger – Matthew 5:21-22 Pondering Christ’s Passion

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Kevin Jennings  |  March 8, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Hi, Zach! That last paragraph is gripping! God has every right to be angry with me? Is that really true? You bet it is! Mankind is the cosmic teenager, turning his back on his Creator and Father. If that doesn’t terrify me, I need to get my faith checked.

    The great desire in anger is to get even. In Christ, God gets even. Forgiveness is God’s pronouncement: “I’m not going to get even, because I have assumed this into myself and I took care of it at the cross.”

    How much it goes against our grain, as you say in the last paragraph, to turn back our anger against others – to give up the right to get even.

    Studies like this make me want to drive to S. A. and listen to your class!

    Reply

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