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.
We remember from last week:The main thrust of what Jesus will be explaining must be understood in principle long before we can look at the details. If we only look to the list in the details, we will never understand that the principles must be applied daily and not checked off. This misses the spirit of the law and only satisfies the letter. This was what Jesus was correcting. Paul’s point to the Romans in chapter 2 vs 29 says it clearly, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The first principle is just that, we must not miss the spirit of the law. This is not meant to be mechanical obedience but a living and active relationship. The second principle much like the first is this is not just meant to result in actions. If we miss that it is what comes out of our hearts is that what defiles us (Matt 15:18), we will miss the thrust of His teaching. The third principle is the fact that the law is not to be thought of negatively. We are not just known by what we don’t do, but more importantly by what we do. We are to love righteousness. This leads to our next principle that the commandments are not burdensome but they actually promote “free development of spiritual character”. Lastly the law is never thought of as an end in itself. The law was never meant to save, but be a tutor, a guardian (Gal 3:23-29).
The Scribes and Pharisees had developed an external regiment which missed the point. They were as Jesus rebuked them “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you :also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt 23:27-28)
So we cannot look at the verses today without tying the entire section of anger together (verses 21-26). Though we will be memorizing by two’s, we will want to understand; in principle, in context. Jesus has established that the issue of murder was not left on an external plane, but drove deeper to the literal heart of the issue. The spirit of the law concerning murder was not left to the letter as we understood better through Paul’s explanation in Romans, and Jesus is driving home that His economy for justice in light of murdering just might be a little different than ours. Based on the verbage, the digression of the external to internal reality of murder seems to be an increasing amount of punishment (He goes from judgment to the fires of hell). Right off the bat Jesus declares that murder is equivalent with being angry. ‘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;(Mt 5:21–22). Regardless of the meaning of judgment, or being liable to the council, or liable to the hell of fire, Jesus language seems to equate murder, being angry, insulting your brother and calling someone an idiot tantamount to doing the same thing. As Blomberg concludes: “But given the close parallelism among the first clauses of each illustration, the entire sentences should probably be taken as largely synonymous. All three metaphorically refer to the danger of eternal judgment.” Next week we will conclude with a little bit more of what this internal attitude, is but for the sake of brevity, todays verses shed a little light on the active stance we have with our internal attitudes. The verses today reveal that, should we conclude as we offer our sacrifices (yes more about that later) that we remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift and go, be reconciled with your brother. Notice it doesn’t say if you have something against your brother, but if you remember your brother has something against you…go, reconcile! The pattern of resolving any wrong before offering any worship to God is a pattern that is very revealing of the heart. The Psalms declare “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Ps 66:18) So to hold any bitterness towards any one without trying to right that before offering any act of worship would be equivalent to holding sin in the heart all the while thinking God will receive our worship. Not going to happen. Remember our look at Matthew 15:15-20 Jesus brought in evil thoughts, slander, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts false witness and slanders. These all originate in the heart and that is what defiles a man. Unless these are dealt with in the heart they are equivalent to murdering someone’s character. That same character that was created in God’s image. Ultimately, to have anger against sin is one issue, but to have that same anger against another person, who was made in the image of God is above our paygrade. Remember Stephen in Acts 7:60 as he is getting stoned…”Lord, do not hold this sin against them!.” This is the same as Jesus on the cross in Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” One could maintain that they could have played the “righteous anger card”, but that’s not the example we’ve been given (ok, so that’s convicting). Better to understand how much mercy we’ve been shown and give the same mercy. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:21). If as Paul concluded, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and John chimes in “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1John 2:5), the pattern of maintaining inner anger against another is akin to murder. Our position as Christians means that “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10, see also 2 Cor 5:18, 20; Col 1:) we too are to take the active stance of being reconciled.
A high calling, but we have been given direction and the Scriptures are clear that it all begins in the heart.