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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

69 - JUSTICE




69 – Matthew 5:21-32

In our last study we began to visit the parts of Matthew immediately after the Beatitudes exploring what Jesus meant by salt and light as well as the explanation that he was the fulfillment of the law.

3)      We learned that Paul, James, the writer of Hebrews, and the Jerusalem Council all were in agreement that love for one another represented the keeping of the whole law.

4)      In the balance of chapter 5 Jesus will expand on this concept of loving your neighbor and loving each other as fulfillment of the law.

5)      Later on in this book in Mathew 23:23 Jesus says this: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. We find coming next here in chapter 5 is Jesus expanding on these concepts of justice and of mercy and of faith.




6)      Murder: The ultimate injustice.

a.       21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.




b.       Jesus uses here a device called a “limited negative” the “you’ve heard it said… but I say”. Jesus is saying, yes, this thing you’ve heard is true, but let me expand on that as it’s not limited to that only. He uses this device 6 times in this chapter.

c.       One of the most often mistaken of the 10 Commandments is the commandment not to murder. Much disservice has been done with translating “thou shalt not murder” as “thou shalt not Kill”.

d.       The important distinction between killing someone and murdering them is a matter of justice. It’s not true that God is against all killing. After all there were several crimes in the law for which the penalty was death. Practicing the occult, blaspheming the name of the Lord, adultery, a total of 16 different crimes, including murder were punishable by death. Now if it was killing alone then those who carried out the punishment would also have been guilty.

e.       God is in favor of capital punishment as the result of a judicial process. What he’s against is the unjust taking of a life.

f.        Paul tells us in Romans 13:3-4 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

g.       Paul says it is God’s minister who is bearing the sword. The sword is obviously something that can be used to kill. But who? Those who are evil. God clearly tells us in multiple places that the ultimate penalty and product of justice can be death.

h.       Those of us who are against abortion often used the moniker “pro-life” to describe our position. At some level this has created some confusion on the part of those who are on the other side of this issue. Often those who advocate for abortion will criticize the pro-life movement because many in the pro-life movement are also in favor of capital punishment. They claim that this is a hypocritical position. And they would be correct if the position was truly pro-life under any circumstances. But this is not the pro-life position. It is truly a pro-justice position. The problem with taking the life of an unborn baby isn’t simply because it’s the taking of a life but because it is the unjust taking of an innocent life. The pro-life movement is really a pro-justice movement.

i.         Returning to our text: 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ Jesus is saying “You shall not take innocent life, and whoever takes innocent life will be in danger of the judgement.”

j.         This is why there is so much outcry when civilians are killed in war. It is understood that noncombatants are considered to be innocent. This is one of the main reasons why chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare are so widely condemned. These weapons are indiscriminate in nature. This is why hospitals, schools, churches and refugee camps are considered off-limits in times of war. The people in these places are considered to be innocent. This is also one of the things that made the war in Iraq so difficult for the Allied forces and the current war on Hamas so difficult for Israel. The Jihadi side of the equation uses schools and mosques and hospitals as bases of operation.

k.       Continuing on with our text: 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

l.         The word “Raca” is an Aramaic word meaning “empty headed one” or that someone is dumb. Notice that Jesus put the qualifier on “without a cause”. Jesus is again here addressing injustice. It sounds like it might be something that would be okay if it were true.

m.    23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

n.      The longer I go on in my Christian career the more I understand the God’s main concern is relationships. First, our relationship with him and second our relationship with each other.

                                                              i.      Matthew 22:34-40 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

                                                             ii.      Whenever there is a broken relationship, it is the result of an injustice. Sometimes it is the commitment of a truly unjust act against someone. Other times there has been no unjust act but instead an unjust interpretation of an act.

                                                           iii.      God is so concerned about relationships that he would rather have us leave the altar and go to be reconciled. Notice it says that your brother has something against you. Not the other way around. If someone has something against you it’s your job to solve it. Like we talked about in the beatitude on blessed are the peacemakers, “as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”.

o.      25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

                                                              i.      Jesus is clearly talking here about a time when we have done something wrong. Our guilt is assumed in the context. It’s only when you’re guilty that your adversary handing over to the judge would be dangerous. Jesus is saying that when we’ve done the wrong thing the obligation is on us to make it right.

p.      Taking the whole conversation here in context is entirely about the requirement for us as Christians to act justly. Murder is the ultimate expression of injustice but injustice is manifested in many other ways in Jesus is here rebuking all of them.

7)      Adultery in the Heart

a.       27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

b.       This is the cause of a fair amount of confusion. Let me do what I can to clarify.

                                                               i.      Jesus isn’t saying that if you see someone attractive and are tempted that you have committed adultery. It says in Hebrews that Jesus was tempted at all points as we are and was yet without sin. Temptation is not sin.

                                                             ii.      Everyone has had the experience of seeing an attractive person of the opposite sex and having a sense of temptation. The idea here is not that. The idea is that if you are looking for purposes of lusting, then you we have a problem.

                                                           iii.      Lust means nothing more than desire. If the purpose of looking at another woman or man is to create or drive desire for them, then we are in dangerous waters.

                                                           iv.      Much like the idea of murder that we previously examined, Jesus is concerned with an attitude of the heart toward justice. If a man is looking at a woman who is not his wife for purposes of increasing his desire for her, this is an injustice. It’s unjust to the woman, unjust toward that man’s wife if he is married and unjust toward her husband if she’s married.

                                                             v.      Faithfulness is a matter of justice.

                                                           vi.      There are two of the ten commandments here, # 7 not to commit adultery, and #10 not to covet your neighbor’s wife or goods. Adultery literally violates the marriage contract of another person and the looking for purposes of lusting is to plan for that violation.

                                                          vii.      Now about this matter of plucking out your eyes or cutting off your hand, there are people who have done this out of misunderstanding and thinking that Jesus was to be taken literally here. Jesus is using hyperbole to illustrate the seriousness of the crime of unjustly desiring what is not yours.

8)      Marriage Is Sacred and Binding

a.       31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

b.       Again, Jesus uses the limited negative to expand on the injustice of divorce. Marriage was intended by God to be a lifelong binding of two people into “one flesh”. This is a covenant that is never to be broken. When Jesus offers here the exception of sexual immorality is indicating that the covenant has already been broken. In Israel at the time a woman’s prospects without a husband were bleak. A woman pretty much had to be married or to remain under her father’s roof because economic prospects for a single woman didn’t exist. If a man divorced his wife when the covenant of marriage had not been violated, he was basically forcing her to marry another so she would be cared for. This is what it means when he says, “causes her to commit adultery”.

c.       The same is true in reverse, when a man marries a woman who is divorced, he is marrying someone who should still legally be the wife of another. He is violating the marriage covenant between her and her prior husband. Remember that a woman who was caught in adultery was stoned. Her availability for potential marriage is an indicator that she had not been caught in adultery.

d.       We have here another extension of the concept of justice. For man to divorce his wife and force her into a second marriage when the current marriage covenant is unbroken is a grave injustice. For a man to marry a woman who was unjustly divorced is another grave injustice.

9)      Jesus Forbids Oaths

a.       33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let [n]your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

10)   Go the Second Mile

a.       38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

11)   Love Your Enemies

a.       43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

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