From the root to the fruit: Devotional Commentary for October 4-10
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
And Jesus continued:
21 "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'
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.
Having assured us He came to fulfill the Law, and after admonishing us that our righteousness must be greater than that of the Pharisees, Jesus now focuses on specific provisions of the Law and spells out the essential import of each stipulation in light of the different aspects of human relations and our individual responses to God. Being the Word Who became flesh, Jesus speaks with Authority and clarity.
The first subject He addresses is the Law on murder. Jesus reminds the crowd that they ought to be familiar with the Law. The Law given to their forefathers says you shall not commit murder. This is not just plain killing, implies Jesus. It is an act of killing rooted in a hateful heart. Killing is the fruit. But hatred is the root.
This is something the crowd should already know. It is the Law. The Law says no one should commit murder. Whoever does shall be held accountable by the court, by God.
Jesus then adds, there is more to this than just penalizing an act of killing. He gets to the root of the problem that generates the urge to kill. So whoever is angry enough to kill, or whoever considers a brother or sister good-for-nothing, or whoever calls another a fool, is as guilty as committing murder. Any person with such attitude toward others is guilty enough to be condemned to hell. While the letter of the inscribed Law designates killing as a culpable act worthy of punishment, Jesus affirms that the spirit of the same Law traces murder back to its bitter root; a hateful, depraved heart. What the heart despises the hands destroy.
And Jesus continued:
23 "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
25 "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.
26 "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
Jesus does not waste any moment. He gets right to the point. He tells the crowd that no one can worship God with a hateful and depraved heart. The heart must be cleansed before any meaningful worship can be offered to God.
Worship is the sacred medium by which we commune with our Father. Whether it is prayer, bringing an offering, preaching, or singing, true worship is predicated on peace within the Body of Christ and the heart of the redeemed. It is impossible to please God or honor Him with worship if the heart is replete with negative passion.
One cannot genuinely worship God or bring an offering to Him if one is at odds with a brother or a sister. Indeed, it is better to postpone worship and make an utmost effort to attain peace instead of coming to the altar with a guilty conscience, says Jesus to the crowd. Therefore, one must hasten to reconcile with one's opponent before the latter gains the court's attention in his favor.
Peace must be made quickly before misunderstandings and resentments fester among brothers and sisters and within the Body of Christ. The heart must be set free from the grips of ill-feelings and bitter attitudes. Liabilities and negative sentiments against one another must be settled before the guilty is condemned to prison. Such incarcerations last until all debts are paid up and all liabilities are cleared. So Jesus says to reconcile and be at peace with one's opponent.
To be sure, Jesus explains that the Law against murder is also the Law against hatred, bitterness, and destructive anger. The attitude that leads to murder is also the passion that defiles the temple in our heart and grieves the Holy Spirit. God is displeased with a heart where bitter roots grow.
Jesus had already declared He came to fulfill the Law. But His teachings and the manner of His righteous living exceeded the letter of the inscribed stipulations of commands and prohibitions. Here in this passage and those following, He speaks what the Law said and explains what it all meant.
When the Law said do not murder, it also meant that the heart should be free from all causes and reasons that breed such reprehensible actions worthy of punishment. It meant do not commit anything that is prohibited by the Law. But it also meant do not ponder evil nor entertain ungodly thoughts. Avoid anything that leads to disobedience. These statements might sound direct and simple, yet they are difficult to observe given our sin-nature. Who among us is not guilty of such a disgraceful mindset and reprehensible actions?
The essence of Jesus' admonition is that we should altogether abstain from any contemplation of thought and action that might be against a brother, a sister, or anyone else for that matter. We have been made one in Christ by God's Grace. We have no godly reason to humiliate, embarrass, or destroy one another even if the sin-nature in us feels justified to do so. Instead, contentious differences must be resolved long before the controversy develops into a legal action or before we destroy each other.
As children of Grace, we must be gracious toward one another and extend to each other the Grace that we have received from our gracious Father. We are all sinners saved by Grace. No exceptions. Therefore, we have no reason or authority to impose the destructive impulses of our sin-nature upon anyone created in the image of God. Any contrary behavior serves to demonstrate that we are still living in subjection to our sin-nature, our worship of God dramatically crippled, our communion with Him severely disrupted, our allegiance to Christ weakened. What a sad commentary on us who claim to have faith in our Lord and Savior. So Jesus says to us, do not be angry, condescending, or hateful so we would not commit murder. Be forgiving as we are forgiven by God. Be peaceable with one another even as God is at peace with us in Jesus Christ. God is displeased with a heart where bitter roots grow.