As we move into the heart of Jesus’ sermon, the ideas are anything but inconsequential. Jesus challenged His hearers then, and challenges us now with thoughts that go well beyond what is face-value. Jesus elevates the understanding of relatively straightforward commands by explicitly stating it isn’t just a physical violation of the commandments that matters, it is even the consideration of breaking them that counts.
It is important to remember that Jesus has just stated that to be considered righteous in the Kingdom of Heaven is to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees (verse 20). The Pharisees were intent on keeping the letter of the law, but Jesus goes beyond the letter to say it is an issue of the heart. This week we will review Jesus commentary on two of the Ten Commandments, although a third is implied. The three commandments we review this week are numbers 6 (murder), 7 (adultery), and 10 (coveting).
I encourage you to take a moment to read Matthew 5.21-30.
What did the people think?
Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. The Pharisees were intent on keeping the letter of the Law and would have initially scoffed at Jesus’ words because they were in no means guilty of taking human life. However, when Jesus began to offer the principle of a person’s thoughts or words being murderous, their countenance must have fallen. While few, if any, who were listening to Jesus would have committed physical murder, Jesus’ words make everyone guilty at some level.
Being taken before the council would mean standing on trial before the Sanhedrin (the word means “council”). But how could someone be judged for merely being angry? Thus, Jesus declares that a greater judgment awaits.
Jesus mentions leaving an offering behind to go make restitution. The offering being given would be handed to the priest and then the worshipper would watch. To leave the offering to seek reconciliation would be to make yourself completely vulnerable to all who were watching. Furthermore, some would have to travel great distances in order to make amends (no phones or modern means of communication existed), so the delay in worship might be days or even weeks, not just a few minutes or hours.
Adultery (Coveting) – It is most likely that some of the men listening may have taken great offense. Only the original hearers can know if Jesus words were meant for men only or for mankind in general, but the Greek/Roman culture, especially, allowed for men to engage in sexual relations with any unmarried woman whether they themselves were married or not.
Jewish women were required to wear headpieces and veils to cover themselves so the men would not be tempted by their beauty.
The reference to the right hand and right eye were specifically chosen by Jesus because most people are righthanded and the right side of the body was considered especially important to a warrior. Thus, to gouge out the right eye or cut off the right hand would be unthinkable to the 1st Century Jew.
What did Jesus say?
Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. But remember, Jesus is speaking on earth about the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Can you conceive of murder happening in heaven? Of course not. So, Jesus elevates the thought process to cover anger. Look at the progression of Jesus examples to see how important this issue is.
- Murderers will be liable to judgement. (v 21)
- Those who are angry with their brother will be liable to judgement. (v 22)
- Those who insults a brother will be tried before the council. (v 22)
- Those who call others a fool will burn in hell. (v 22)
Specifically, insults and naming of others is meant in an unjustified manner. This must be understood because Jesus used the word foolish regarding the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.17 and 19. But what Jesus is truly concerned about is the reaction of the one in anger. It is about the heart. In verse 23-24, Jesus shares that our human relationships need to be right before God will accept our worship. Notice the word reconciled in verse 24. God reconciled us to Himself through the blood of Jesus, so He expects us to reconcile with others as well.
Notice the story is in consideration of you remembering another has something against you. Jesus says go while the opportunity to reconcile is still possible. At some point, it will be too late, and you will be required to make full restitution.
Adultery (Coveting) – Jesus then moves to the next commandment – the one that covers adultery. Jesus explicitly states that looking lustfully at a woman is the same as being physically intimate. Moreover, Jesus ties the 7th and 10th Commandments together by using the same word for lust that was translated as covet in Jesus’ time-period.
We must be careful not to put words into Jesus’ mouth. Jesus did not say that we might not be attracted to another person outside of marriage. If that were the case, in the western world, where marriages are not arranged, we might never get married. If someone is attractive and we happen to notice that is ok. It is fixating on that person and their attractiveness (physical or otherwise) that leads to this sin. As Martin Luther once said regarding the difference between seeing someone attractive and being lustful, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
Jesus also does not endorse bodily mutilation. His statements in verses 29 and 30 are metaphors. One need not literally cut out an eye or chop off a hand because of sin. Besides a blind person or someone without any limbs can lust just as much as someone else. Jesus words are intended to show that it would be better to lose part of our body than to miss out on living in the Kingdom for eternity.
The reality of each of these statements is that Jesus has made it nearly impossible not to sin. By clarifying the true intent of these two (and actually three) commandments, Jesus shows that living with a holy God is far from ordinary living. It requires a much greater righteousness than anyone could have fathomed (v 20).
What does our world say?
Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. Many quote the commandment as Do Not Kill, but the King James is incorrect otherwise God would be breaking His own commands when He told the people to stone others for various offenses or ordering the Israelites to wage war with the Canaanites and others. Fortunately, the New King James corrects the issue, as does most every modern version.
But to equate anger with murder seems preposterous. After all, we have a right to be angry if we are offended, right? People can manage anger, right? Wrong! But we are led to believe that murder is something that guns commit, not the people who use them. Each time we have another mass shooting, the attention is placed on the weapon used even though each perpetrator has a background of hostility and/or mental illness.
Adultery (Coveting) – As for adultery, we don’t even call it by that term anymore. We use the term “affair.” The French word from which we get adultery meant to violate one’s conjugal faith, that is, to betray the trust of our partner. An affair on the other hand comes from the idea of an event or happening. Thus, affair sounds better and less harmful. It isn’t about a falsehood or breach of trust, it is just something that happens. In other words, an affair is no big deal, it is just something that happened, and thus it has become the favored term throughout society.
How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this idea?
Anger – In acknowledging the holiness of God, Jesus enhances the understanding for both the 6th and 7th Commandments. To have a knowledge of the glory of the Lord is to understand that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts as Isaiah recorded (Isaiah 55.9).
The example that Jesus shared of leaving the alter to make restitution was meant for reconciliation with other people, but the example can plainly be understood as seeking reconciliation with God. If we do so reconcile with God while living, that is, before our final trial, we may realize the grace of God and the forgiveness He offers. However, if we do not seek to be reconciled, every last ounce of payment will be demanded. The only problem is that the only payment that counts is the blood of Jesus and once we die, we cannot claim His payment as our own. Some may think this unfair, but the reality is that God has already made the terms abundantly clear, but we must choose which terms we will follow – His or ours. We must choose for whose glory we will live – His or ours.
Adultery (Coveting) – Again, Jesus’ teaching here is difficult, but it is not hidden from us. It may not be easy to follow, but that is the point. In our power, we have no means of considering ourselves righteous. If we want to truly be righteous we might consider removing the parts of our body that cause us to sin, or we can become perfectly righteous by remembering that Jesus sacrificed all of His body on our behalf.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to unpack what Kingdom living truly is. Jesus clearly states what God’s expectations for His people living in His Kingdom are. His teachings were counter-cultural then, and they certainly are now as well. If we want to live in our kingdom, we can do what we want. But if we desire to be a part of God’s Kingdom, then we must think, and act, radically different.
Ultimately, anger and adultery are not what we do, they are matters of the heart. If we recall the sixth beatitude, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Those who are murderous and adulterers are not pure in heart, and thus a strong judgment awaits. But those who seek and thirst after God’s righteousness have been made pure in heart. Therefore, they have the opportunity to be with God forever, even when we slip up and make mistakes on the earth.
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter this week is: J – JESUS
It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.
NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?
Choose one of these two sins to focus on this week.
If you typically struggle with anger, focus on letting God manage those moments when you feel yourself getting angry. Seek to forgive the person knowing God has forgiven you (Matthew 6.14-15).
If lustful thoughts have a strong influence on you, learn to avert your thoughts (as well as your eyes). We may appreciate the beauty that God has created, but the difference between lust and love is really about a focus on whose pleasure we seek – ours or others, respectively. Begin to consider the interest of others, not just your own (Philippians 2.3-4).