Jim last week’s audio was entitled “Who Really Came to Abolish the Law”? In that program we were exploring the differences between those who abolish the Law vs. the One who came to fulfill.
..And we are continuing with this exciting series through this week’s audio entitled “Men of Grace or Men of Law: But I say to you..” Jim….
While many people get the warm fuzzies when referring to the Sermon on the Mount, especially as it starts out with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we must remember that many, if not most, of these same people are also the ones who later rejected him. Consider how well the feeding of the 5,000 played itself out. They loved Jesus when he gave them food, they even wanted to make him a king — I mean, who wouldn’t want a man on the throne who could turn a boy’s bagged lunch into a feast for thousands? — but then, every single one of them (minus the twelve, and maybe a few more) ended up walking away from him because they couldn’t andle the truth that he was the bread of God. Don’t forget how John explained it. Adam, can you read John 2:23-25..
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. John 2:23-25 (NASB)
I remind you of this because of the religious tendency to want to try to go back to something that never happened. We too easily assume that Jesus presented his new way of living to these people. We might imagine that he was somewhat impressed or encouraged by how they followed him, and yet, because he knew all men as well as what was in a man, he had no illusions as to what was really going on in response to his words. If we’re still trying to follow Jesus like they followed Jesus, we might ought to consider how well it worked out for them. Paul, speaking on behalf of his fellow apostles, said this:
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NASB)
I have no doubt that what Jesus said in his infamous Sermon on the Mount is filled with truth, but when interpreted by the natural mind, that truth becomes perverted into something it never was. And guess what? It comes across to that mind as logical and sensible. I hope you’re hearing me, because what I’m telling you is that I’m not interested in making the Bible say something it never did, but to challenge that which never was according to the same mind by which it was spoken. For we have been given the mind of the one who spoke these words. That’s why you’ll hear me address you according to your holy minds. Let the religious mind convince itself of its own fleshly projections of Christ, without you having to somehow justify yourself because you no longer share that perspective. Let the world say what it will as it hides behind its own delusions and hypocrisy. And let’s consider Jesus’ words to those people, the same one he later cried over because of their blindness and stubbornness of heart to believe.
So many of us are so scared to just stand in His grace from within without having to argue with one another. Hey I am all for reasoning with those who seem open but, let’s face it we aren’t God’s divine sales force you know?. lol
Adam, you have some comments in the middle of my sentences. Hold off until I get to the end where I read “and still are”
Anyhow, Jesus’ Blessed are you statements led into his bold pronouncement as to the fact that he did not come to abolish the Law … or the Prophets. But you know what? He insinuated that there were some who were doing that very thing. And for some reason — like maybe years of religious intimidation — we hesitate to see how he made it very clear as to who the real culprits were … and have been … and still are.
[it has been swept under the rug as such for FAR to long] [It is SO important to identify this]
We hear the phrase from Matthew 5:19, “whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same,” and we immediately assume it must be referring to the obvious law-breakers of the world — especially those grace people who demand that they are no longer under the Law and who teach others in this freedom from law.
Jim I know what you mean by this,it is like we keep hearing those who say “ you just wana get away with evil, so they are just making this whole grace thing up!”
I mean, it sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? For on top of that, he went on to praise those who keep and teach the commandments. And rather than think it might have something to do with what God would bring about, we instantly assume that he must have been describing the religious teachers who taught the Law. But are they? I ask because that is not how Jesus played it out. Instead, he amazed the crowd by so plainly expressing exactly who he meant:
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NASB)
It would be interesting to bring up the promised Kingdom that Israel sought in their own day. To us it almost appears as a new concept when Jesus arrives on the scene speaking of “heaven or Kingdom”.
Yeah, yeah, I know the verse is often used as a point in evangelism regarding how good works can’t save you, for that’s the way I came to know it. The way it was presented to me was that no matter how good you might be, even if you achieved a level as high as that of the scribes and Pharisees, you still wouldn’t be good enough to get into heaven. Now, while I do still recognize that Jesus used the righteousness or good works of those religious men in a comparitive way, he wasn’t trying to patronize them for those supposed good works. I want you to follow me on this, not because I’m trying to offer you my convoluted reasoning, but rather because I’m uncovering the complex psychology many of you have already bought into. I had. What I’m saying is that there is a good reason we’re so confused about good works. For on the one hand, we denounce good works for salvation; on the other, we hang onto the same kind good works for our Christian living. My friends, it is only the natural, religious mind that brings this confusion upon us.
Ah yes, exactly the same confusion that stirs up the natural minded folks that made an uproar in the Corinthian Church.[for God is not a God of confusion but of peace]
You see, we might say that people cannot earn their way into heaven because Jesus said that their righteousness, their good works, would have to be better than that of the best people in the world. Then we’ll add that all our righteousness is but filthy rags before God and that we need God’s righteousness applied to our account, which he does by Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we think that this seals it up pretty well. But in the process, we seal up a festering lie. And that’s the lie about the nature of the righteousness Jesus spoke of. For in this passage, Jesus was exposing the illusion of their righteousness. It’s not that their works weren’t good enough, as if they hadn’t tried hard enough, for he was about to show them the hidden agenda behind everything the natural mind considers good by exposing it in those they regarded as being the closest things to God. Contrary to all appearance, the scribes and Pharisees were being called out as the ones who annulled the Law and taught others to do the same. Listen to the similarity in the words Jesus spoke at a later time:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15 (NASB)
Jim what comes to mind here for me was the quote from Jesus coming from Mathew 10:24 were He talked about everything hidden that would become revealed. Jesus Christ was the Light of the World who was bringing exposure to man and his deeds.
Now doesn’t this sound more like the accusations that have been made against those who teach the truth of our freedom in Christ by having removed us from the Law? By the way, don’t let anyone convince you that in today’s world this only relates to Jews who don’t believe in Jesus. That’s just a diversionary tactic by those who have set themselves up by the same kind of false authority as in ancient times. In their day, by all appearances, the scribes and Pharisees were the respected spiritual leaders among all the people, but Jesus publicly turned that illusion upside down. And then they kept after him until they ran out of all other options. And that’s when they decided to move on their plans to have him put to death.
So, now we come to some of the most intimidating verses in the New Testatment Bible, the ones where Jesus says “But I say to you…” Now, I’m not going to treat what Jesus said as if he offered some new Christian way of living through individual verses, for that is the usual principle-based approach. I’m asking you to suspend your inclination to stop at each numbered verse, at least, just long enough to see outside that box. I want you to consider what Jesus said in the way he said it, as well as to who he said it. And let me slip a thought in right here: If Jesus were to give his Sermon on the Mount to our world today, the audience — as well as the words that comprised his message — would be much, much different. For Israel, his message was divided up in a way that would not have been missed by those who were present. Here’s the basic framework:
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” … but I say to you…
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; but I say to you…
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord”; but I say to you…
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you…
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but I say to you….
(There is one other OT quotation Jesus made about divorce, and though it’s usually set off as a separate principle, it’s not. It actually pushed home his point regarding adultery. Notice the difference in how he started it. For instead of “You have heard that the ancients were told…” or “You have heard that it was said…”, he simply stated: It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you…)
Anyhow, the first two are part of the ten commandments, you know, straight out wrongs. The third had to do with those “I swear to God” kind of promises that everybody loves to make. The fourth dealt with the details of payback. And the fifth is the divinely justifed us-against-them attitude that affects the whole world. Of course, we’ve learned it all as if it highlights the vast difference between the God of the OT and the God of the New. OT God is mean, Jesus is nice … then again, maybe not!
Let me reinforce my belief that there’s a bogus assumption regarding what Jesus meant when he stated “But I say to you…” and it affects everything we think he was teaching. You see, we somehow imagine that these people didn’t already know that anger led to murder or that lusting led to adultery. Do we really think they needed Jesus to make the connection for them? Do you think there wasn’t enough that had been recorded to validate it for them? I mean, Cain’s anger led to the murder of his brother Abel, right? And with regard to lust, didn’t Eve’s desire motivate her eating of the forbidden fruit? And that’s just the first few chapters in the first book of Moses. This was all old news to them, and yet somehow we read the words of Jesus as representing his new commandments. The same goes for love. Considering the fact that the greatest commandment in the Law was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself, what possible new spin on that commandment do we think Jesus was referring to when he said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”? Unless, of course, the newness was brought about when the author of love was put within the heart so that it became a reality, rather than a demand.
Now, as I suggested at the end of last week’s audio, Jesus was in the process of exposing the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. And no, it was not because he wanted them to villify specific religious people, but rather, he was revealing the same fleshly mind that was in them all by showing how it all trickled down. In other words, if those who were held in high esteem were seen for who they truly were and what they were really doing, what did it say about those who held them so highly? Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 1 Corinthians 11:19 (NASB)
That may sound a little confusing taken by itself, but in context, Paul basically told them that considering the ones who were approved among them, there would have to be divisions. That is, the approval of divisive leaders revealed the divisiveness of those who did the approving. And isn’t that the very thing Paul wrote to the Roman believers?
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. Romans 2:1 (NASB)
Honestly, any one of us can testify as to how this is exactly what we learned in this world. For Israel, those who were right there listening to Jesus speak, the way he exposed their leaders’ hypocrisy also exposed their own, because they approved of the same deceptive, two-faced approach to life and relationships. Isn’t that what you grew up under? Didn’t you learn how to play that game? Or maybe you still live under the same illusion that the young man who approached Jesus did:
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. Matthew 19:16-22 (NASB)
Now, you might be thinking “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m already saved!” But I’m telling you that the delusion of self-righteousness plagues the modern-day Christian mentality — just like it did with Israel under the Law. Just like it did with those who were listening to his message that day, and the days and months following. Yeah, you might be saved, but you may have been intimidated into believing that their lie has some merit to it. You may notice a similarity in the commandments mentioned here and in the Sermon on the Mount, but what’s more important is how quickly the young man claimed to have kept them. Had he been hanging around when Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, he may have taken a different approach. However, as one caught up in his own self-righteousness, he still sensed that something was missing.
What else do I need to do? Where am I lacking? What am I missing? Is that what you often wonder? Are those the kind of questions you look for when going to church, or when attending a Bible study or a Bible College, or when studying the Scriptures, or when posing questions to those who are regarded as Biblical authorities? If you get nothing else out of this, I want you to understand that these are the questions of the legal, religious, self-righteous mind.
Now, I realize that many of us love to jump in with grace answers when we hear questions like these. We’re often quick to proclaim, “There’s nothing you have to do!”, “Jesus did it all!”, “All you have to do is believe!” Been there, done that. No wonder we get so confused about the nature of faith so that we refer to it as something that can be done. We’ve been trying to give grace answers to fleshly questions! You see, Jesus wasn’t being a legalist when he answered the self-righteous inquisitor with the Law, and he wasn’t making up a new set of Christian laws by telling him to sell all he owned and to give it to the poor and then to follow him. Consider Paul’s misunderstood statement:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 1 Corinthians 9:20 (NASB)
Jesus came to bring freedom to those who were under the Law. He did not try to give grace answers to legal questions, he did not try to reason with the mind of the flesh, nor did he try to get around the Law, for all of it is pure futility. Instead, he exposed the illusion for what it was. He went right to the source of the lies — to their religious leaders and teachers — and revealed the sham so that all would see it for what it truly was. He was the light that was shining in the darkness, but the darkness could not comprehend him. That’s why he was recognized as teaching with true authority. So when he prefaced the sixth commandment as being a Bible-study lesson they had learned from their teachers, you’d better believe he had their attention.
“You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’” You see, they knew the story of how the Law was given to Moses on the mountain, written by the very finger of God, as it was given to their ancestors. It was passed down to them in such a sterile way that they were able to accept the command as being kept simply by holding back one’s murderous impulses. Now, while the common man might question himself, you can be pretty sure that, just like today, they held their religious leaders in high regard concerning morality … even if they knew better. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard a religious leader being justified simply on the basis that he or she is a minister or a reverend. They are often the last people that most people suspect of a crime or misdeed. Why? Because they’re supposedly devoted to God. They’re supposed on a higher path. And we buy it. Maybe if we were to really hear what Jesus said, we might not so easily fall for the illusion created by the religious mind.
After all, these were the very same kind of men who persecuted the prophets of old, and they were the same ones who were actively engaged in insulting them and persecuting them and falsely saying all kinds of evil against them. These are the very same men who sought to extinguish the light, the same who tried to hide the city on the hill and put a basket over the lamp to keep the light from being seen. These are the same men who were actually abolishing the Law by annulling one commandment after another by replacing them with their traditions, and they were teaching others to do the same thing. These are the same men whose righteousness had nothing to do with the Law itself but rather with their own fleshly interpretations. And now Jesus was in the process of laying it all out for every one to see, and he revealed the hidden hypocrisy of their leaders, as he moved from one commandment to another.
Murder: Matthew 5:21-26 (NASB)
“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.
If it was not for the mention of hell, we might not be so intimidated by this passage. I’m wondering, though, if you’ve considered how the judgment of hellfire — or more correctly translated, the Gehenna of fire — lines up with the other mentioned judgments in this same passage.
“Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”
Whoever is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court
Whoever says to his brother, “You good for nothing” shall be guilty before the supreme court
Whoever says “You fool” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell (Gehenna)
My question is: What court does Jesus refer to? Before you jump to the commonly-held belief that it is God’s court of judgment, you might want to reconsider. These were in fact the courts of Israel. Realize when Jesus said “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’ ” that only the first part was God’s commandment. This is important. You see, the second part — “whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court” — was more important to Israel’s leaders than the actual commandment. Why? Because it had to do with their authority among the people. Remember, this was all about how the scribes and Pharisees were actively annulling the commandments and how they had promoted their own righteousness under the premise of teaching God’s righteousness. Had they actually been teaching God’s righteousness, Jesus wouldn’t have put their righteousness in the limelight as not allowing one to enter the kingdom of heaven. Tell me if this doesn’t give a little insight into Paul’s lack of confidence in the judgment of human courts:
But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (NASB)
Let’s tie this in with what Jesus said earlier in the Beatitudes: Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 (NASB)
Do you think Jesus would have said something like that without following it up somehow? Do you think he just threw all those mentions of persecution in without there being some significance to what came after? Take a good look at the statement regarding those who would “falsely say all kinds of evil against you,” because it has everything to do with how Jesus had exposed their agenda.
The courts mentioned in Matthew 5 were the courts of man’s judgment in Israel at that time. Jesus would eventually be brought before their supreme court, for that was the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, which was Israel’s highest court. We also have the account of the man Jesus healed in John 9 who had been judged on the spot and thrown out of the Synagogue for having questioned the judgments of the Pharisees when they quizzed him as to how he got his sight back. The man’s own parents wouldn’t even comment on what happened between Jesus their son because as John recorded: “the Jews has already agreed that if anone confessed him to the Christ, he was to be put out of the Synagogue.” Based upon that and upon their false judgment of Jesus all during his life, as well as that mock trial they gave him, we have a pretty good idea as to their fleshly-minded judgments.
So, what they had heard from their teachers revolved around man’s judgment more than it had anything to do with the commandment of God. Pay attention to what Jesus was telling these people who knew what it could mean to be hauled before the Jewish courts. Moses gave them the Law that said Do not murder, and they knew the murderer would have to stand before the court. That part made sense. However, Jesus went on to say that those who were angry with their brother would also be guilty, not before God but before the court. Calling your brother a good-for-nothing could cause you to have to stand before Israel’s highest court (and no, there is no extra badness in using the specific word raka that Jesus mentioned). Once again, there is no mention of having to stand before God’s judgment. Are you getting this? This is the kind of thing the common people lived in fear of. If they were found guilty by one of those courts, it would ruin them, for they would be ostracized from the community. And if you know anything about living in a Jewish community, it means that you would lose your business, because nobody would dare patronize you … no matter how good your services were. You and your family would be shunned. You would lose your access to the temple and to the sacrifices. In that time and place, one was basically cut off from the community, as well as from God.
Okay, so now we get to where Jesus says that if you call your brother a fool your guilt could land you in hellfire. I know the religious institution has had a heyday inspiring guilt and fear with this mention of hell — but doesn’t it seem a bit out of place? I can tell you that the more I came to understand the significance of the actual history of the place called Gehenna — and yes, it was a real place just outside Jerusalem that you could walk to, but you wouldn’t want to. Not only was it the city dump, but it was also a place of shame for Israel. For it was the valley of the Son of Hinnom, the very place in their history where their ancestors had sacrificed their own children to Moloch, the god of the Ammonites (Jeremiah 7:31). Gehenna was an open wound in Israel’s side. When I called it the city dump, I was understating its full significance. For it was a place of shame, filled with continually burning fires. And these fires were not only kept ablaze to burn their trash but also to burn dead animals, as well as the bodies of criminals.
Do you see why Jesus brought Gehenna into the picture when he was describing the judgments of their religious leaders? And no, it was not to tell them that he or his father would send them to a place of eternal torment in the fires of hell for calling their brother a fool. You see, although it’s true that anger makes a man just as condemned before God as murder does, Jesus didn’t make this the moral of the story. I mean, why do we ascribe the same kind of thing to Jesus that he accused the scribes and Pharisees of? Consider a verse I brought up last week regarding Jesus’ harsh judgment upon these same religious leaders:
They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. Matthew 23:4
According to what many Christian teachers would have you believe, Jesus laid the mother lode on them with his Sermon on the Mount … and upon us as well. If you think the Pharisees were harsh, Jesus outdid them with his supposed new laws of Christianity. However, I want you to remember that this is the same Jesus who also said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. I’m telling you that there’s something else behind what Jesus said other than either a set of new laws or that he was setting them up for failure. And it fit into his overall denouncement of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. You see, Jesus had implicated the religious leaders — both past and present — as the ones who were doing the judgment. They were the ones who had falsely accused innocent people so they could have them murdered as criminals. His mention of a judgment into Gehenna — aka hellfire — was not a picture of God’s judgment, it was a picture of theirs! Who knows how many innocent people may have been condemned to death by their false judgments? Those who were executed as criminals were probably carted off to the fires of Gehenna where they would be forever regarded as cut off from their people as well as from their God. If Nicodemus hadn’t begged for the body of Jesus, I suspect that’s where he would have been taken.
Now, I know many would take exception to what I’m suggesting, but let’s consider Jesus’ conclusion to this first “But I say to you” section. You see, that’s the part where he starts off by saying “Therefore…” or “So…” You know, had Jesus really been telling people that their eternal destiny was on the line, don’t you think he would have followed it up with some kind of an impassioned plea having something to do with not taking the chance of spending an eternity in the fires of hell, like modern-day evangelists do? Don’t you find it rather odd that Jesus doesn’t suggest for the offender to take the opportunity while he’s at the altar to get his life right with God first? I can tell you that not many evangelists would tell a person to leave the sanctuary before they got saved. We would have them praying the sinner’s prayer before they took a step outside the door just in case! I know, I’ve been there. I’ve preached those messages week after week where I appealed to sinners to get things settled between themselves and God before it’s too late. But what did Jesus say after he seems to have stirred up enough guilt that they would have been begging him to save them? He told them to go and get things settled with their offended brothers first. And there’s a good reason for him saying that, and it has everything to do with how they were being treated by their leaders.
I know I’m asking you to consider this whole thing from a totally different perspective, and I can only imagine how some of you may be reacting to it. I know, it’s not what you’ve heard. But then again, that’s basically what Jesus told the people: “Here’s what you’ve heard from them … but I say to you…” Those five segments are directly connected to his across-the-board dismissal of everything the scribes and Pharisees stood upon. And no, their foundation was not what they claimed. You see, the very foundation of their leaders’ righteousness was rooted in the illusion that they were the authorites on God, which set them up as representing the door to God. Jesus struck that fallacy down, for he pubicly stated here, as well as numerous other times, that they did not know the way to God, even when he was standing right in front of them. How do you think they took a rebuke like that? Well, how would your church leaders take it if they were publicly rebuked as deceivers? I can assure you that the scribes and Pharisees were seething at what Jesus said, and you’d better believe the people understood what was going on with that whole thing.
For those religious leaders, what Jesus said would have been wrong on a few levels. Worst of all, he rebuked and exposed them. Then, he suggested that a man should leave so he could take care of business with an offended brother before presenting his offering to God. Talk about a total breech of protocol! I mean, any truly spiritual person should know that God comes first, right? And after all, according to them, God could not be found outside the confines of their religious teachings and settings. But those men were part of a system that had created a false God, one which was built according to the words of the prophets their fathers had persecuted. They had set themselves upon the seat of Moses, but they had judged the people according to their own fleshly perceptions — perceptions that were built upon their own fleshly desires.
Jesus brought up the issue of murder because it was one of the laws the scribes and Pharisees had taught the people, and yet the ones who preached were guilty of the very thing they condemned in others, for while they honored the ones who killed the prophets, they were severely judging others for every little word that came out of their mouths. And they wouldn’t hesitate to have them put to death for a minor offense if it suited their needs. Is it any wonder then that Jesus would tell the people to settle their affairs with any who might have a case against them? Why else did he end this segment with this:
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. Matthew 5:25-26 (NASB)
Like I said earlier, if Jesus had been trying to make the point that hell was God’s ultimate judgment, why then did he step his conclusion down by giving advice on how not to get thrown into prison? No, this fits perfectly with everything he had been saying so far. These people lived in fear of their leaders, and they dared not say anything against them. And here he was standing up to the men they feared, and somehow getting away with it. Now, Jesus was letting them know that they would be persecuted if they followed him. His word to them? Don’t try to get the upper hand against them, because they know how to play the game.
Next week, I’m going to jump into Jesus’ scary words about committing adultery in the heart.