21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But 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.
23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."
In the previous issue, we looked at Jesus' statement: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). We taught that Jesus fulfilled the Law in at least three ways: by keeping the Law's requirements perfectly; by fulfilling its prophetical aspects; and by teaching its full meaning. In the next few sections of Matthew, we see Jesus carrying out the last of these as He teaches us the full meaning of some of the Law's commandments. In these teachings, Jesus reveals the true spirit of the Law. For the most part, the Law as given in the first five books of the Old Testament consists of commandments regulating external behavior. Indeed, in order to be enforcable by the nation of Israel, the Law (as given to that nation to enforce) had to concern itself with external actions, because men are incapable of adjudicating internal attitudes. However, God is capable of adjudicating internal attitudes. As the Lord Himself told Samuel: "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). So, in these next sections, Jesus will teach us the Law's full meaning and spirit, as it is enforced by God. We will learn that the commandments that regulate our external actions are just the physical aspects of the true and full law of God, which regulates both our external actions and internal attitudes.
Jesus teaches: "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" (vss. 21-22). Jesus begins here by giving the spirit of the commandment which said, "Do not murder." Though "it was said to the people long ago", simply, "Do not murder", the full spirit of the law is that "anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Now, Jesus is not merely giving us an exhortation that springs from the spirit of the law "Do not murder"; much more than that, He is giving us the full meaning of the law against the external act of murder, and extending it to also include the internal attitude of being angry with one's brother. Just as the one who "murders" will be "subject to judgment", so also, the one "who is angry with his brother" will also be "subject to judgment". Of course, men cannot adjudicate the commandment against anger because men cannot see the attitudes of the heart. Thus, the law as given in the first five books of the Bible (which was given to the nation of Israel as the law of their land) only gave the part of this commandment which concerned the physical act of murder, so that the leaders of Israel could properly administer the law.
Note the way in which Jesus emphatically gives the true intent of the law. He says: "But I tell you..." Jesus here is implying that He has the authority to teach us the true meaning of the law. Question: By what authority can He do this? Answer: By virtue of the fact that He is the Son of God, which was itself proven by His resurrection from the dead. Paul teaches us that Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). We would do well to listen and take to heart what Jesus says about the law because it is He who will judge us. Again Paul: "Who is He that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised from the dead--is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us" (Rom. 8:34).
Jesus goes on to give us an example that illustrates the importance of this law: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (vss. 23-24). This is backward from the "normal" thinking of the time. For the Jews, the offering of a sacrifice at the altar was very important because it was their means of atonement for sin, as well as one of their primary means of worship. For the Pharisees, given their meticulous adherence to the letter of the law, the offering at the altar, which to them was an act of reconciliation with God, would take precedence over any act of reconciliation with their brothers. But Jesus is giving precedence to being reconciled to one's brother: the precedence of reconciliation is higher than that of worship. The Lord says the same thing when He tells us: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 12:7).
Reconciliation is so important that Jesus tells us to stop in the act of worshipping, if we remember that we need to be reconciled. He says: "[L]eave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (vs. 24). Note again, Jesus does not say that we should make a mental note to be reconciled later, but He says that we should stop the act of worshiping and be reconciled before we continue to worship. Thus, dear reader, the study of God's Word is also an act of worship. Do you have anything against your brother? Does your brother have anything against you? If so, then stop reading this right now and go be reconciled!
By the way (now that you are back from being reconciled to your brother), it is noteworthy that the Lord did not say, "If you have anything against your brother, then go be reconciled" (although, I believe the Lord's teaching would apply to this case also). Rather, He said: If "your brother has something against you", then go be reconciled. "We are more likely to remember when we have something against others than when we have done something to offend others. And if we are truly concerned about our anger and hate, we shall be no less concerned when we engender them in others." So let us note, we must be concerned not only with our own anger, but also the anger we engender in others.
Jesus next gives an example that illustrates the practical advantages for being reconciled to your enemies: "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny" (vss. 25-26). When you are reconciled to your adversaries, you save yourself from their retaliation, and its consequences. We should all take note of this. In fact,... wait: Are not we all on the way to our ultimate court date? Are not we all on a journey towards our final judgment? In this case, our "adversary" is God, against whom we have spent our lives sinning. We must all be sure to "settle matters quickly" with God, who is taking us to our final judgment. We must all be sure that all matters between us and God are settled before we get to our final judgment or, most certainly, we "will not get out until [we] have paid the last penny." Fortunately for us, God has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him, even though, because of our sin, we are God's enemy: "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Rom. 5:8-10). May God be praised! He has done His part in being reconciled to us. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins, so that when we get to the final judgment, we can say, through Jesus Christ: "The matter is settled." All we have to do is to accept God's great gift of reconciliation by receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.