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“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
On Sunday night, yet another mass murder occurred in our country. The lives of innumerable people have been profoundly shaken by this terrible tragedy, and so let us lift them up in our prayers, asking that God would bring them His comfort and that He would turn all of our hearts to Him, so that we would walk accordingly to His will for our lives.
Much has been said and written this week about what happened in Las Vegas. I just wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-22, which are listed above, and which I referenced on Sunday morning as I talked about the high requirements of God’s law. In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raises the bar on what it means to be righteous. Before this, it would have been possible to divide the world into two kinds of people: those who have murdered someone and those who have not. And assuming that we found ourselves on the “not” side of the ledger, we could pat ourselves on the back and consider ourselves righteous.
But not any more.
In this passage, Jesus tells his listeners that if they have even been angry with their brother, or spoken to them in anger, then they are just as guilty before God as they would be if they had murdered them. He continues a few verses later to say the same thing about adultery: the one who has lusted after another person is just as guilty before God as the one who has acted on that lust and committed adultery with them.
The main implication is that Paul’s words in Romans 3:23 are proved true: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one is right with God on the basis of what they have or have not done. The one who has murdered someone is no more guilty than the one has never murdered anyone. It is only through putting our trust in Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death for our sins that we can be made right with God.
I believe a second implication, however, is that Jesus is declaring here that the seeds for murder lie within each one of our hearts. The world is not neatly divided into evil people who are capable of murder and the rest of us good folk who would never do such a thing. No – we are all fallen. We are all made in the image of God but broken, and capable of great and terrible acts of sin. For most of us, this brokenness may only manifest itself in anger at our brother or in vengeful words spoken out of a desire to hurt someone else. But if you take that murderous seed, plant it in the wrong conditions, and water it with the right amount of hate, stress, mental illness, or any other number of factors, we might become a murderer as well. There but for the grace of God we go.
So let us walk humbly before our God and before each other, thanking Him for His grace that daily constrains us from acting out of our heart’s most evil inclinations, and committing ourselves daily to a life of repentance from our sin and keeping in step with the Spirit of God.
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