Christ Judges the Heart: Anger (Matthew Sermon 12 of 151)
April 11, 1999 | Andrew Davis
War Against the Flesh
When I began my ministry as a pastor in a small Southern Baptist church in New England, one of the dear ladies in the church up there made an embroidered cloth that hung down from the pulpit. It was beautiful; it had our church logo on it. It was just done in a wonderful way. It had two little Velcro pieces at the top which stuck across, and there was a little strip of fabric that went across here at the top that enabled it to stick there. She didn't waste that space. You know what she embroidered in that space up there? She embroidered, "Step aside sir, that they may see Jesus.”.
And every time I went up to preach, I had to look at that. "Step aside sir, that they may see Jesus." I want to do that today. The Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest preacher in all history, and this sermon is one of his greatest sermons. It's pure doctrine right from the lips of the risen savior Jesus Christ. He is going to be taking you, his people, through a tour of the sinfulness of the human heart. He began the Sermon of the Mount. If he were here, the first thing he would say to you is the first thing he said to his disciples, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
"Blessed are the poor in spirit" means blessed are the spiritual beggars, those who know their brokenness, know their need of Jesus Christ. If that's true, and if theirs and only theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, then what is the great enemy of the Kingdom of Heaven? Spiritual pride, arrogance, an attitude that says, "I don't need God, I don't need a savior. I'm fine just the way I am." It's the greatest enemy of the soul. And do you know what God gave for that enemy? The law — the law of God.
And today, Jesus Christ, if he were here, he would take the law in his hands the way a master musician would take a violin or a beautiful song and just play it into your heart. But it wouldn't have that soothing feel. It wouldn't have that comforting feel. It would bring you to conviction. It would bring you to spiritual brokenness. It would bring you to your knees. It would bring you to him, to say, "O save me Lord, wretched man that I am. Who will save me from this heart, such as it is?" That's what he would do with the law.
I'm hoping now to bring the law right into your heart. It's amazing to me, the deceptiveness of the human heart. It's amazing the deceptiveness of my own heart. It's a twisted wicked thing, always trying to wriggle out of conviction. Recently, I had the privilege of going to Washington, DC for a conference and I saw the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Magna Carta, too.
One of the interesting little documents that I saw while I was there was a letter written by John Dillinger. John Dillinger was one of the most notorious bank robbers in American history, living around the time of the Depression. On December 28, 1933, The Chicago Police Department declared him to be public enemy number one. He was making a mockery of all of the law enforcement officials, and so, they declared him public enemy number one.He wrote a letter in which he said, "I guess, my only bad habit is robbing banks. I smoke very little and don't drink very much." Isn't that amazing? What is that? That is self-righteousness. He looks at himself and he passes the test. Now, it's a pretty feeble test. “Robbing banks is okay, so is smoking and drinking in small amounts. Beyond that, we have no other standards. “ Isn't that remarkable? I think that all of us do that to some degree. We make rules and regulations, we have our own laws, we keep them sometimes, and we basically have a good assessment of ourselves. Jesus comes in like a lightning bolt to shatter that with the law. Making your own rules and regulations is the enemy of your soul, because you will not seek salvation if you live in that attitude. Jesus said "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord,'" and he will say to them, "I never knew you, away from me, you evil doers." Don't you want to know now, if that's what God thinks about you? Don't you want to know today when there's still time, when today is the day of salvation?
Christ’s Application of the Law
Listen then to the law and what Jesus says in the rest of this chapter — verses 21 through 26. He's going to strip away self-righteousness by giving you a true look at your own heart. Jesus is going to take you through some case studies, murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, enemies, these kinds of things. As we look through these case studies, we're going to see four themes coming out again and again. The first is Jesus Christ's authority, the right he has to speak to our hearts. It is Jesus who has the right to tell you what your heart is like, because he knows your heart. Jesus knows what's in your heart, just like he knows what's in mine.
Secondly, we see the authority of Jesus Christ. Time and again, he's going to say, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago but I say to you." Isn't that a statement of authority? "You have heard that it was said, but I say this." This is a fulfillment of what Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets. I did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I am going to fulfill the work of the law and prophets in my ministry." Then he issues this incredible statement, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. You have to do better than them.” Jesus is issuing authoritative statements because he has the right to do it., and this point was not lost. If you look at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount,verse 28 of Chapter 7, the Bible says when Jesus had finished saying all these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching. Why? Because he taught them as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law. Jesus had authority and he spoke to them as King, the King of the Kingdom of Heaven. And at the end of the entire gospel of Matthew Jesus gave the Great Commission, saying “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." And then what? "Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." That is authority. He has all authority in heaven and on earth, and therefore he has the right to speak to us today.
Christ vs. Pharisaical false teaching
The second theme is the struggle between Christ's teaching and that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. "You have heard that it was said" really could be translated “of or by the people long ago.” In other words, Jesus was speaking of these false teachers when he spoke saying “You have heard that it was said by the authorities who came beforehand me, but I say to you such and such.” Jesus is going to sweep away the false understanding that the Pharisees and Sadducees had planted in the minds of the people. What had they done with the law of God? They pulled it down to make it attainable to comply with , if you just worked at it hard enough. And what would that do to self-righteousness? Pump it right up through the heavens. It made the opposite reaction to what God had intended when he gave the law. How did they do this? Every week, they got up in the synagogue, these authority figures, these Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they read the Hebrew Scriptures. Now that was a problem for the people because they didn't own the Scriptures; they could never have afforded the scroll. They didn't have Xerox machines or Kinko's or anything like that. They just had the one scroll which was copied by hand. The cost of that was prohibitive so only the teachers had the Scriptures. You ought to praise God every day you can reach down from a shelf and get that Bible and read it for yourself. Many people who have really loved Jesus and love God with all their heart have not had that privilege. But we have it, don't we? But anyway, the Scriptures were in Hebrew, and many of them didn't speak Hebrew. They spoke Aramaic. Slightly different, but it's like about the difference between Spanish and English. It was significant enough to prevent understanding. Therefore, the Scriptures had to be translated for them. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t just translate it straight. They'd mix in some of their own opinions so that the people were not getting the true word of God. Jesus is teaching the Scripture and saying of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots." He's going to pull out all these false understandings about the law.
The third major theme in the second half of the Sermon on the Mount is heart righteousness. A righteousness that comes from within, a righteousness that stands up to Judgment Day, a righteousness which only God can give. It's a righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It is not an external righteousness, where the law is arranged and made to be workable by men so they can feel good about themselves. When you read through the second half of Matthew 5, you should not feel good about yourself. You should feel convicted and become a spiritual beggar. You should be broken, you should come to Christ, you should grieve over sin and allow him to heal you and work with you. Jesus wants heart righteousness, and so he's going to zero in at the heart. "You have heard that it was said, 'do not commit murder,' but I say to you 'don't get angry.' You've heard that it was said, 'do not commit adultery,' I go beyond that, and I say, 'don't even lust.' " Jesus goes right to the heart. And why? Because he's going to look at the heart on Judgment Day.
Do you know who your judge is going to be on Judgment Day? Jesus Christ. In John Chapter 5, Jesus says that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father who sent him. Jesus will judge you and he's telling you here in Matthew 5: 48 what the standards of judgment will be. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” You must be what? Perfect. How perfect? 50% perfect? 75%? No, you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. And if you're not that perfect in righteousness, you won't go to heaven. That should bring you back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." That should break you. It should make you say, "O God, I need a savior. O God, keep working in my life." You must be perfect as your heavenly Father… Are you that perfect yet? There's more work to be done, isn't there? I am not taking away that you are justified by faith. Only those who are justified by faith can actually see sanctification — changes going on in their hearts. The rest of it is just moral rearrangement, like cleaning the attic and a week later, it needs cleaning again. Jesus can give you a righteousness that is as righteous as God Himself, but he's the only one that can do it.
Proper View of the Law
The fourth theme is the false teaching of the Sadducees about the law. "You have heard that it was said but I say to you,” What is the law given for?" It's to break you down and to show you God's pattern for righteousness. When you are broken down, you get brought back to Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and then he brings you back to the law and shows you what kind of a life you can really have. A life free from anger. Wouldn't you like to live the rest of your life and never be angry again, except for those things about which God gets angry. I want to be angry about the things that anger God, but I no longer want that unrighteous anger that has characterized my life. Wouldn't you like to live the rest of your life without lust? Wouldn't you like to live in a marriage relationship that is just the way God intended when He set up marriage? Wouldn't you like to let your yes be yes and your no, no? Wouldn't you like to be the kind of person that people know your word is your bond? Wouldn't you like the power in your heart to turn the other cheek when someone smashes you? Wouldn't you like to be like Jesus? That's what he's bringing you through. First, you get broken down and then he brings you back to the law and shows you a new kind of life that you've never seen before, and he intends for you to live that kind of life. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and ignores them, is like a foolish man who builds his house on the sand. But the people who hear these words of mine and put them into practice, they have a house built on a solid foundation and they are going to stand." Do you know what that storm is that challenges the standing of the house? It is Judgment Day, and it's going to test everything. It's coming for each one of us, and Jesus is showing us how to be ready for it. These are the four themes.
Case Study # 1: Anger
Now, let's look at the first case study: Anger. "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 or sister will be subject to judgment." Again, "Anyone who says to his brother or sister ’Raca,' is answerable to the court [Sanhedrin]. And anyone who says "You fool," is in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you're offering your gift to the altar and they remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge and the judge may hand you over to the officer and you may be thrown in prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."
Jesus’ authoritative teaching
What does Jesus have to say about murder? "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not murder and anyone who murders is subject to judgment.'" Well, doesn't the Scripture say that? Well, not exactly that, it just says "You shall not murder." The writers of the law added, "and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." Is it true that anyone who murders will be subject to judgment? Yes. But what the writers of the law were doing is taking people’s mind off the eternal judgment of God and leading them to think about earthly consequences. "If you murder, you'll get into trouble. You'll have problems, you'll be brought before the Sanhedrin, you'll have difficulties."
Jesus says "No, there's another judgment, a deeper one, and the standard there isn't just murder." How many of you can pass the "did you ever murder?” test? Probably most of us. How many of you can pass the "did you ever get angry?” test? None of us. You see? Jesus takes it and brings it right down to the heart of the matter, and why? Because we're focused on earth, aren't we? We're focused on earthly things. And he wants us to be ready. He wants us to be ready for judgment because judgment is coming. And he wants you to know what the standards will be. So now we're talking about anger, not just murder.
3 Stages of Anger
Jesus is taking you through some of the stages of anger. There's that first anger that comes in your heart at a brother or a sister. And then after that, come expressions of contempt out of your mouth. These are of different categories, it's not just a matter of "raca" or "you fool." It includes slander, character assassination, lying, using your mouth to destroy that person. To our shame we all do it. But it starts with that anger, and that turns into expressions of contempt. We've taken another step toward murder. You say, "I've never murdered." but I say there's no sin I'm not capable of committing. God has shown me by the law that I am a sinner, and there's therefore no sin that I'm not capable of committing. I can't look at somebody and say, "I'd never do that." I could be manipulated into a set of circumstances where I do things I ordinarily wouldn't do. But it's me, it's in there. "And if I would get angry, then I would murder," so says Jesus. And so we've come to a stage that could ultimately lead to murder.
Danger of Anger: Eternal Judgment
Then there's the judgment. We've talked about the Sanhedrin. We've talked about the fact you might get in trouble, you might get arrested, but Jesus is pulling our mind off that, isn't he? He's pulling to a deeper concern which is Judgment Day and the possibility of Hell. Does that seem too harsh? This is the judge speaking to us with authority. He has the right to tell us this. Hebrews 4:13 says "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything's uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account." Now when Jesus is talking about hell, he uses the word Hinnom or Gehenna. This was a valley, a ravine which was just south of Jerusalem. There in past times certain kings had used that place to sacrifice their children in the fire to the god Molech. One good king came along and put an end to that practice. Then Molech became a place filled with garbage which the people used to burned like a dump, burning constantly. This is the word picture Jesus is using for hell, Gehenna.
Jesus taught much on hell. He taught more on hell than we do. Have you noticed that? He spoke more about hell than modern preachers do. Why is that? Well, it might have something to do with that tickling of the ears that is mentioned in 2 Timothy. It's not easy to preach about hell. But Jesus wanted it done; therefore he spoke it because it was the truth. I've taken a look through the teaching on hell and broken it down to three things. Hell is first and foremost, a place of separation from God. Jesus talks about outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The darkness implies total absence from God and, I think, a total absence of fellowship from anyone. I've shared the gospel with many people, and they say they're not afraid of hell because all their buddies are going to be there, and they can party together. There's no promise of that. You're in total isolation. That's what total darkness means. There's no buddies. It's just you- totally separated from God. Secondly, it's a place of torment. It's not just a place of separation, it's a place of torment and punishment. In Luke 16, Jesus talks about the rich man who was in hell, "Being in torment lifted his eyes and hoped that somebody would come and cool his tongue with water."
The third point is that hell is eternal. It is as everlasting as heaven is. In the story of the sheep and the goats, Jesus says in Matt. 25:41, “Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." In the same manner he said, "Come you who are blessed into eternal life, prepared for you who have loved me." Heaven and hell are equally eternal. We should be afraid. Jesus said, "Don't be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Be afraid of him." Jesus taught on hell and why? Three reasons: because it's true, we are in danger of it, and because he loves us. For any of you who believe in him, Jesus took your hell on himself on the cross. That's what the cross was: it was your punishment in hell that He suffered on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," he said. He was suffering your hell and if you believe in him, you receive this gift.
Jesus’ Application: Get Rid of Anger
What is Christ's application in reference to anger? It's simple. Get rid of it. Get rid of it immediately. Anger is dangerous. Verse 23, "If you're 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." "It takes priority over everything. It takes priority over worship. “If you're there to worship, and you are angry with your brother, I don't want it. If you're out of fellowship with somebody, if there's a broken relationship, don't bother. Make the relationship right, then come and offer your gifts," says Jesus. That's the priority. Jesus' application is simple. Get rid of anger. And he says, "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who has taken you to court. Do it while you're still with them on the way." The idea is, before you get sucked into the legal system and things get out of your control, before you get to that point, be reconciled with your brother or with your sister. Don't let it go. Deal with it now. For if you go to jail, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, you're not going to get out until you pay the last penny." The problem is you're in jail. You can't earn any money. You'll never get out. It's eternal. This is a serious warning, isn't it?
What's our own modern application? First, I want to speak to you who are Christians. Get rid of anger. Get rid of it by the power of the Holy Spirit. It says in Ephesians 4,:19, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." It says the same thing in Colossians 3:8 ,”But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: Anger, rage, malice and slander." Get rid of it. Is that possible? Does anger have a handle on it that you can just pick up and carry away? Is that something that you can do? If you're a Christian, you're able to get rid of it. James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth." That's what human anger is. It's so different from God. God gets angry because of righteousness. We get angry for a variety of other reasons.
Think of why you get angry. I'll tell you a time I got angry. I was driving through the streets of Boston, driving around looking for a parking place. It is harder to find a parking place in Boston than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. I looked and looked and I... Finally, we're driving around, and I saw a spot. I pulled over there. I put the blinker on, I started to pull in and the last second, somebody in a sporty car, sportier than mine, slipped in there right in front of me. My reaction was I prayed for them. I said, "Boy, there's a person who really needs the Lord." Was that my reaction? No, don't you believe it. Those who know me best know that that was not my reaction. I got angry, but it wasn't God's anger. What is it that makes me angry? I'll just open my soul to you. Pride makes me angry. Somebody criticizes me, I want to react. Do you know what the second sin in the Bible was? The first was Adam and Eve, and all that. Do you know what the second was? It was anger. Cain looked at his brother Abel's sacrifice. It was better than his. God didn't accept him, and what did Cain do? He got angry about it because of pride, because of jealousy. Pride is actually... If I look at the proverbial pie chart, it's probably the biggest chunk of why I get angry as it is for most of us. There's all kinds of reasons to get angry.
What I'm saying to you is you say, "How do I get rid of it?" Just do it. If you're Christian, you have the power to do it. You think you don't. Let me tell you how you do. You're in the middle of having one of those discussions, those family discussions. You're in the middle, you've reached a certain level or pitch, and the phone rings and you pick up the phone, and you say, "Hello. Oh, it's so wonderful to hear from you. Yes, we're all fine, we're doing great." What happened there? Self-control. You exerted self-control at a key moment. It didn't matter how hot you were, when that phone rang, self-control kicked in. Why? Because of your pride. You don't want to display your carnality to everyone, and so self-control kicks in there. But what that shows you is the secret. It shows that you're able to do it anytime. If you're being angry, you can stop anytime if you're a Christian. May I suggest to you if you're having one of those times of anger, don't wait for the phone to ring. Just say, "Whoa... Wait, wait. If Jesus were here, I wouldn't be doing this. Let's stop. Let's pray. Let's bring this before God. Is there anything here that should divide us? We're going to spend eternity together in heaven. Let's pray together. Let's put the anger aside." That's how you get rid of it. You just take it out.
This is very practical. But If I can tell you something, Christianity is not morality. There are many religions that could tell you, "Don't be angry," etcetera. Instead I want you to look back to your heart as we complete today. As we look at it, I want you to take the thing back to your heart and ask, "What is it about me that makes me angry?" Grieve over your heart, test your heart, be sure that you're a Christian. Jesus said, "If you're more characterized by anger than you are getting rid of anger, you may not be a Christian. Don't be surprised on Judgment Day." Come back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount as a spiritually broken person and give yourself to Christ. Say, "O Lord, wretched man, wretched woman that I am, I need you, as a savior." I've given you strong warnings today. A warning about hell. The warnings are written here. The Scripture has been here testifying to the church for 2000 years. It's still true. Be afraid of it. Come to faith in Christ. For those of you who are already free from that condemnation, come to Christ for your sanctification. Look to him to help you get control over anger. Let not anger characterize your home life, your heart life, any part of your life. Let Jesus work his peace in you, as only he can.