Matthew 5:21-26 (6th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 16, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Gospel Lesson for today recorded in Matthew 5:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
The sermon today is a sermon for murderers. The challenge of today’s message is for each one of us to see ourselves in light of the Fifth Commandment. This means to see ourselves as murderers and to confess our sins of murder. Now before you decide, “Pastor, I don’t need to sit here for this because I have never killed anyone,” I’d ask you to wait a moment and consider what Jesus says in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount today. As Luther summarized it for us in the Large Catechism, “He says we must not kill, neither with hand, heart, mouth, signs, gestures, help, nor counsel.” This is a sermon for murderers.
Jesus proclaimed, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” What does this mean? It means that murder isn’t just the taking of a physical life, although it is that to be sure. But God, in the Fifth Commandment, expects more. The Lord expects that we should fear and love Him so that “we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” (Small Catechism) Our Lord Jesus illustrates ways other than killing them in which we have all hurt or harmed our neighbor.
The first thing Jesus mentions is anger. This isn’t righteous anger, based on God’s Word, the anger that Jesus demonstrated in the cleansing of the Temple. This is inappropriate, hate-filled anger. This is anger that holds grudges and harbors resentment. And I am confident in saying that there isn’t a one of us who hasn’t “been there; done that.” With the very anger and hatred against others harbored in our hearts, we have broken the Fifth Commandment. 1 John 3:15 repeats what Jesus says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1John 3:15) Perhaps Master Yoda was right in this, “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” It’s the suffering caused by sin, the suffering that our own sinful, hate-filled anger produces within us aimed toward others.
When you are angry with someone, that anger inside tends to lash out. As that anger lashes out, it hurts others. It harms others. In a sense, it murders them by causing them to suffer the effects of your anger. Thus Jesus say not only is anger a sin against the Fifth Commandment but also lashing out with insults and hateful words. These bitter insults spoken spitefully and slanderously against others hurt and harm our neighbor.
How often has our anger flared and our tempers lashed out at our spouse, our kids, our coworkers, or even perfect strangers so that we injure them by our words and actions? One of the other very fine Connecticut divers cuts you off, turns in front of you, or doesn’t yield the right of way—you flip him the bird muttering a curse under your breath. Even Christians are known to drop the “F-bomb” and every other dirty word in the book, aimed at other people including those in our closest relationships. Our words of insult and hatred cut through people as we make fun of them, spread rumors about them, or talk negatively about them, not putting the best construction on things. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is completely not true! Words hurt people. Insults hurt people. Lies hurt. Anger hurts. Hatred hurts. These all come from the same poisonous root as murder itself, Jesus says, as murder, anger, and bitter insults all can lead down the road to eternal destruction.
Eternal destruction is what our sins against the Fifth Commandment merit for us. Not only does our hate-filled anger hurt our neighbor, it hurts us. The hatred and anger in our hearts which we demonstrate in words and actions arouses God holy, perfect anger against us and our sins. And God’s anger is justified. He said don’t hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, but we did with angry words and hurtful actions. He said help and support your neighbor, and we didn’t. We spoke spitefully against them, made fun of them, hurt them with words and actions more than we perhaps ever realized.
However, out of pure, gracious love and mercy for us sinful murderers, our heavenly Father allowed His only Son to be murdered in order to win our eternal life. How well the example of Barabbas serves us here. We read in Luke 23, “But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.’ But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.” (Luke 23:18-25)
A murderer is saved and the Son of God is murdered. Oh how true it is for you and me, murderers all by our thoughts, words, and actions of sinful anger and hatred! We murderers are saved by the shedding of Jesus’ blood for us on the cross. He was punished for our hateful words and actions, for our harbored anger. Jesus was punished with the pains and torments of eternal destruction on the cross so that you and I might have eternal life. And Jesus’ death won complete forgiveness for our anger and hatred.
Jesus’ death has also restored us to God as His children. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) It was Jesus’ death and resurrection which repaired the breech between us and God caused by our sins. Because of Jesus, God is no longer angry with us because our sins are forgiven and we are at peace with God, reconciled to Him, one with God through faith in Christ.
What’s more, because we are reconciled with God, the way has been cleared for us to be reconciled to others. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross in His death and resurrection has repaired our vertical relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness we receive from Christ can be shared by us with others. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I are able to repair and nourish the horizontal relationships in our lives with other people through the same blood-bought forgiveness of Jesus. Rather than sharing our anger and hatred, we can go and be reconciled to one another, giving up our anger and seeking forgiveness.
Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Notice what Jesus says here: that you remember that your brother has something against you, not that you have something against your brother. If, in our life together, we know that our words and actions (done or said in anger with hatred) have offended another, those are the ones to whom we are obligated to go and be reconciled. Those are the ones to whom we go, in the forgiveness of Christ, and confess our sins to them, ask for their forgiveness, and receive their forgiveness in Christ. Here, we have been the offenders. Here, we are the ones, forgiven in Christ, to go and to make peace with those whom we have hurt, so that our life together in Christ may be one of unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)
And that takes the courage of faith to go and confess our sins to the one we hurt and to ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. Yet, that is what we are empowered to do by the Holy Spirit at work in us through Gospel and Sacrament. Having been reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins, we may be reconciled to one another in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
And so ends a sermon for murderers, a message of forgiveness for our anger and hateful words and deeds because Jesus was murdered on a cross for us. You and I are now reconciled to God and to one another. The Lord cover our outbursts of sinful anger with the embrace of His reconciling forgiveness and peace in Jesus Christ. The Lord enable us to seek out those whom we have hurt in our anger, to ask and to receive forgiveness, so that our life together in Him might be one of peace. Amen.