The Teaching of Jesus. Anger and Murder.
I think the world’s got a bit of a temper problem. Too much yelling at each other, not enough listening. Too much road rage and not enough realization that there are actually people inside those annoying shiny metal boxes. Ever have someone get out of their car and pound of your window because you cut them off or taken a parking space that they thought should have been theirs? Ever been the person who got out of the car and pounded on someone else’s window? Ever flipped someone off? Most of us think of ourselves as good people, until we’re alone in a car and late for a meeting. Or get our buttons pushed by the people who know how to push them. Ever raised your voice in an argument? Punched a door or a wall? Thrown something at someone? Got so mad that you get shut down and stop communicating? Where do think the anger comes from? Let me put it this way, do you think it comes from a good place? Do you think it makes things better?
As we continue in our series called “The Teaching of Jesus”—looking at the Sermon on the Mount, we’re gonna get down to the nitty gritty today. What God has in mind behind one of His most obvious commandments—you shall not murder. We’re gonna find that none of us are as innocent as we might have thought we were.
Matthew 5:21-26 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
“When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.”
Prayer: Father in heaven, help us to understand exactly what You want us to know about this passage of Scripture. Show us the desires of Your heart even as You uncover the darkness in our own. Show us how to deal with our anger and fill us with the comfort of Your grace and mercy—that because of Jesus we do not stand condemned. AMEN
Murder is Bad. Remember what the first big sin in the Bible was? After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were kicked out of the garden—what’s the first horrific thing that happened? Cain got jealous of his brother Abel and murdered him. So Jesus starts His teaching on what God expects from His people by going straight to the worst sin of them all. Cold blooded murder. Taking the life of another human being. I think we’d all agree, it doesn’t get any worse than that.
Nobody thought murder was a good idea. Even murderers don’t like it when you kill someone they’re fond of, or if you try to kill them. We’re pretty obsessed with murder—there’s no end of movies about serial killers or Law and Order, CSI, homicide TV shows. Most people are on the same page when it comes to murder—it’s not good—it’s the worst thing we can think of. We all know God is not pleased with murder. You’re gonna be subject to judgment for that one. Jesus wasn't trying to convince anyone how bad murder is, He already had buy-in there. Most people think you gotta be a truly evil human being to even consider murdering some, but Jesus wants us to understand how close we all come to going there—He says if you’ve gotten angry with someone you’ve already crossed that line—you’re subject to the same judgment as a murderer. That’s pretty shocking, don’t you think? Call someone an idiot and we’re gonna be brought up on charges, curse someone and we’re in danger of the fires of hell our self.
Interestingly, the word He uses for “Hell” is “Gehenna” which was not only a word that God’s people had been using for 200 years to refer to the final resting place for the wicked dead who have been condemned by God—it was also an actual place where unfaithful Jews had made human sacrifices during a rather dark period of Jerusalem’s history. So, they would have understood the connection Jesus was making between murder and judgement and bringing an offering to God that He wasn’t gonna be pleased with. In other words, if you’re hypocritical enough to come to worship and reconcile with God when you’re angry and out of fellowship with a Christian brother or sister—you’re as bad as the people who murdered innocent people at Gehenna doing human sacrifices. God sees our heart, He sees through our self-deception. It’s like we’re walking around with murder in our heart.
Jesus is saying if we try to harm someone by speaking to them in anger—lashing out with “F-bombs” and “F-words”— you know, like “you fool!”—we’re doing the very thing that God forbids in the 5th Commandment. You shall not murder. He’s letting us know what God wants: He doesn’t want us to give in to those dark impulses and murder people in our heart by verbally abusing them. When anger bubbles up inside us, He doesn’t want us to blast it onto other people with hurtful and violent words. Talking about the 5th Commandment, Luther said, ““Christ ... says that we must not kill, neither with hand, heart, mouth, signs, gestures, help, nor counsel.” Keep your angry words and your middle fingers to yourself.
We’re to be people who are slow to speak. Quick to listen. Slow to anger. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. You know who said that? It was one of Jesus’ younger brothers—the apostle known as James. Someone who would have seen the way Jesus handles anger firsthand.
Anger Management. There’s an amusement facility in Canada that has created something called a “Rage Room.” Basically, you can pay $20 an hour to smash things—you can buy things like office equipment, computers, printers, plates, vases and break them with baseball bats, golf clubs crowbars, pipes or hockey sticks—whatever you’re most comfortable hitting things with. You can bring your own stuff to smash if you want to. People say it helps them deal with stress and gives them a good workout. They have special rates for couples who want to do it as a date night. It kinda looks like fun, don’t you think? They’re starting to pop up in the United States, too.
Anger management. We all deal with anger in different ways.
Some of us externalize our anger—challenging everybody all the time, going toe to toe with every confrontation, escalating every conflict like the Incredible Hulk or all those people on daytime TV. I think there’s a whole generation that learned their people skills from Days of Our Lives or Judge Judy—escalate every little conflict, take everything personal. Other people repress their anger, try to ignore it, seal it up inside like a pressure cooker, internalize it until their eyes start twitching—Hold everything inside, either judging and critical until they’re full of resentment or they just stuff the anger down deeper and deeper, pretending it’s not there. We get anger wrong in both ways—by exploding at people or by refusing to address problems when they come up.
Anger’s a really important emotion. We’re not supposed to ignore it, but we’re also not supposed to let it control us. It’s an emotion, not a thought—not a strategy. When you start to feel angry, you gotta start treating it like a smoke alarm—like a warning signal. When we feel ourselves getting mad, it’s like our Spidey-Sense, it lets us know that something’s wrong. Maybe we’re feeling misunderstood, or disrespected, intimidated, or challenged—there’s something happening that we don’t think is right. We usually feel it in our gut before we recognize it in our head. So pay attention—when you start to feel anger, take a deep breath, then take another one, slow down, ask yourself, “What is bothering me about this situation? What’s really wrong?” Or maybe you already know—I never do, but maybe you’re better than me—if you know why you’re getting mad, then you need to choose your words very carefully. Recognize them as the murder weapons that they are. Your mamma may have told you that “sticks and stones can break your bones but names will never hurt you,” but she only told you that in a desperate attempt to help you deal with the cruel things those mean kids had said to you at school. She meant well, but it’s not really true—you know that long after your bruises and broken bones have healed, you still have those words stuck in your soul.
So be Slow to speak. Quick to listen. Slow to anger. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:20-21 Proverbs 15:1 says “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Let your anger help show you that something’s wrong and then instead of attacking and escalating the conflict, instead of going into “Hulk Smash” mode or getting in their face like some yappy chihuahua—find the fire and put it out. That’s what smoke alarms are good for. Don’t use your words as a weapon, but also don’t just get quiet and refuse to say anything. Silence is judgement—refusing to deal with conflict doesn’t really make it go away. Anger needs to point us in the direction of resolving conflict, not escalating it, not ignoring it.
The real point of what Jesus is getting at is that His people are to be people of reconciliation—people of forgiveness and mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, remember? Blessed are those who show mercy—you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is one of the primary ways it happens. Instead of lashing out at people when they make us mad, we are to speak but we’re to be slow to speak, quick to listen and not murder people with our words—offer apologies and forgiveness instead—which takes a lot more strength than yelling insults at someone when we get our feeling hurt.
God’s Purpose Behind His Commands. None of this means that Jesus doesn’t know the difference between actually murdering someone dead and calling them names and hurting their feelings, though. What He’s doing is showing us God’s intention, His purpose behind the command. When He tells us “You shall not murder,” He certainly wants us to understand that He doesn’t want us to pick up rocks and bash each other in the head when we disagree about something—that’s clearly a more serious crime than calling them an idiot or flipping someone off. But giving in to our rage is where it starts. Long before they reached for that rock, they had let their heart go there, they let their words go there, they let their imagination play that out.
I have a NewChurch logo sticker on the back window of my car and when people tailgate me or honk at me, I like to imagine that it’s the cross-hairs of a rear-facing bazooka—I line it up in the rear view mirror and KA-pow! I pretend to blow them up. See, that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re not supposed to be doing.
Also I’m not supposed to be circling the random stranger’s faces that I can’t stand when I’m stuck at the airport. Or avoiding people at church or school or work. Or jumping into every post that I disagree with on social media like some kind of digital justice warrior. Reading posts that I know will make my blood boil and then typing my response in all caps. Ending with the word “period.” That’s not what Jesus’ followers are supposed to be busy doing in the world. Period! We’re supposed to be the peacemakers, the merciful—changing the world from the dark ugly place that it is, to a place that has hope and light. We’re supposed to be the ones who make that difference.
Have you been a jerk? So Jesus says if you come to the altar, to pray, to make a sacrifice, to worship God—and you remember that someone has something against you—someone has something against YOU, not you have something against someone else. This isn’t so much about you forgiving someone who has been a jerk to you—it’s more about you remembering that you were a jerk to someone else. When this happens, stop what you’re doing and go to that person and make it right. Apologize. Make peace as far as it’s up to you.
Kim and I used to go to this non-denominational church that had Communion every week—and the way they would do it was unique. There was a table with baskets of bread and you would go get a chunk of bread, then go to someone that you had a problem with and share the bread with them. Think about that for a minute. Every week I had people line up for me. I didn’t used to be as charming and nice as I am these days—I would literally have a line of two or three people waiting to break bread with me, because I had offended them in some way. It was usually the same people each week. If we did that here at NewChurch, is there someone you would have to break bread with? Besides me? We are gonna have Communion today, is there someone you should send a text or email to before you come to the altar?
We are to be people who reconcile with each other. Forgive each other. Because when resentment and unforgiveness are fully grown, they become murder. If there’s anyone you secretly hope doesn’t make it into the kingdom of heaven because of something they said or did to you—then you’ve murdered them in your heart. You have cursed them—that’s not who you are anymore. Jesus has blessed you, He has forgiven you. He’s not holding anything against you anymore, so the idea is that you’re not gonna hold anything against anyone else.
Anger Hardens into Hate. Hurt turns to anger. Anger, when it hardens, turns to hate—don’t let it harden. Anger gives opportunity for the devil. It breaks fellowship between Christians, it drives them apart—any anger we leave between us and another person is gonna harden and become a little remote control for the devil and all the powers of darkness and evil to manipulate us.
The Sermon on the Mount started off with this: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the ones who know they can’t save themselves. You’re not better than other people—so stop acting like you are. Stop being so quick to anger and judgment. Get the chip off your shoulder. Don’t let your anger harden your heart toward anyone. The world was changed when Jesus came into it and you were changed the moment you believed Jesus blessed you—the moment you realized you can’t pay for your sins, so stop trying to make people pay for the things they said or did to you. Your resentment isn’t helping you, it’s not leading you anywhere good.
We have to be Slow to speak. Quick to listen. Slow to anger. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. The only thing that produces the righteousness of God is the grace of God that is only available because of Jesus. This teaching on anger and murder is the first example Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount of God’s intentions behind the Commandments—the reasoning behind what He wants us to do and not to do. God doesn’t want us to murder but it’s not just because it’s an evil sin—He wants us to get along. He wants us to reconcile with each other. To handle our disagreements without resorting to name calling and hurt feelings and violent words and actions. This is the heart of God. This is what a good life is supposed to look like.
But we’re gonna get mad. We’re gonna say things and do things. It always leads back to the same place—because we’re gonna get angry, we’re gonna be tempted to act foolish in our rage. That place of being poor in spirit, in knowing that we need grace, we need Jesus to bless us and forgive us again. I’m serious about texting anyone you need to reconcile with. In a few minutes I’m gonna invite you to come forward to receive God’s blessing, to receive His forgiveness. It’s pretty sobering to realize that all our misplaced anger is part of the reason that Jesus was murdered on the cross—so we could be shown mercy, so we could be reconciled to God. In Holy Communion we are reconciled to God and because of that, to be reconciled to each other as much as possible. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, that only comes from the body and blood of Jesus. AMEN.