These studies look at the overwhelming goodness of the Triune God. Depicted by Andrei Rublev's icon of The Holy Trinity.
 

Matthew 5:21-26

21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and here 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 offer your gift. 25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."

In the study on the last passage, we saw that Jesus has a special relationship with God's law, or His will and purposes. Jesus didn't come to abolish God's Torah or will on earth but to fulfill it. Jesus fulfils all righteousness. In Him, we see what righteousness actually is. In Him, we see what true humanity looks like without the deforming effects of sin. This righteousness of Jesus is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. His righteousness involves not just what He does, but who He is. That is why He is the fulfillment or completion of the law. That is why we see in Jesus a perfect communion with His heavenly Father. Jesus' righteousness is the only kind worth having because it is the true relationship with God and creation. And as we saw in the beatitudes, we need to receive what God has for us, not to hang onto the false idea that we can give ourselves life.

Now, Jesus in the next several passages will challenge what were the traditional, “current” ideas of righteousness. Is righteousness merely a legal reality? Is it all about either following or not following certain rules? Or about keeping merits and demerits even? No, absolutely not! Jesus pushes His listeners to see that righteousness goes far deeper than certain behaviors. The problem with the legal view is that it tempts one to think of his/her relationship with God as if it were a contract. I do my part of the bargain and God should then do His. It tempts you to think of your life only in terms of the minimum you need to do to keep things right, or even to see what you can get away with and still not be violating the contract so that God is obliged to keep His part.

In this section, Jesus deals with the commandment “Do not kill” which is one of the ten commandments given to Moses. Jesus reminds His listeners that “whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” They are familiar with the law, they already know that this is the case. This is the law. But now Jesus begins to reveal more of His special relationship to the law as the One who fulfils it. “But I say to you...” Jesus is telling them the deeper meaning of God's Torah. God's intention was not just that people do not actually murder each other. You have not necessarily fulfilled this commandment when you have managed to not physically kill another person. Jesus makes three statements, which, according to The IVP Bible Background Commentary, are roughly parallel to each other. To be angry with another person, to demean them by insults, is liable to the same judgment as to murder that person. “Judgment” refers to the day of God's judgment. “The council” is the heavenly supreme court.

Why does Jesus say basically the same thing three times? He must be trying to undo something in their thinking. They were tempted to think that righteousness was defined by the absence of actual murder. But Jesus is asking them to consider the truth that the seeds of murder begin far earlier than the final act. Doesn't murder begin, Jesus is asking, way back in the angry word or the thoughtless insult? And isn't there a real death that occurs whenever we speak unkindly or out of rash anger to others? There is discord, dissolution and pain in the relationship that wasn¹t there before and that we cannot take away. It has been brought into reality by our speaking. The words can be worked around and apologized for, but they cannot be unsaid. Damage to the relationship has been done.

Jesus is leading His listeners to see that true righteousness is far more than legal or external obedience. Righteousness is not about just getting your part done. It is not looking to see how much you can get away with and still be considered “righteous.” Righteousness is right relationships, relationships that spring out of a right heart, mind, and soul that always bring about blessing and life. God's righteousness is connected with His shalom, which is well-being and harmony. This is the righteousness, the Torah of God, that Jesus came to fulfill. Jesus has completed the Torah of God. He is completely in right, peaceful, life-giving relationship with God, us, and all of creation.

In the beatitudes, Jesus spoke of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness as being blessed. This is part of being poor in spirit. The blessed realize their complete inability to make themselves right on their own and they long for it, both in their own lives and in the world around them. In this present passage Jesus leads His listeners to see that true righteousness requires for them to receive a new nature from God. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. It goes beyond just doing what is right, to being right. That is why it is blessed to be poor in spirit. To recognize our need for another to make us right is to recognize the truth about our condition. Jesus is encouraging His listeners to see what righteousness is and to long for it.

After Jesus’ three statements, He gives two commands. He encourages making efforts to reconcile and heal relationships quickly in two different settings. In the first instance, Jesus is speaking of when you are offering a gift at the altar. The context is worship. You are own your way to offer God worship. But then you remember that there is someone who “has something against you.” You want to worship God but there is a relationship in your life that is not right. Notice that here and in the following statement, you are in the position of having wronged someone else, not in being wronged. I wonder if Jesus chooses to emphasize those situations because they can often be the more difficult for us to seek reconciliation and healing from. It can be very uncomfortable to have to admit wrongdoing on our part and to seek forgiveness.

Jesus tells His listeners not to proceed in worship until they have sought reconciliation. They are to see a connection between the state of their relationships with others and their worship of their heavenly Father. God¹s will is for reconciliation, and so to honor and glorify Him is to seek that for ourselves. When we do work for right relationships with others, this is an act of worship. And worship is stunted when we attempt to do it without wanting to have all our relationships set right.

The second command is set in a legal context. This time Jesus has us compare ourselves to someone being taken to court by an accuser. Jesus encourages us to “make friends quickly” with our accuser before we ever even enter the court. See what you can do to settle this personally rather than legally. I think Jesus’ point is that it is always best to seek right relationships with others in a way that legal means can never accomplish. It may be that pride or stubbornness get in our way. Here Jesus paints the picture of paying a very high price for refusing to work towards healing and instead settling for a legal righteousness, “truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” It seems Jesus is being ironic. If you want to go in the legal direction, go ahead. You will pay the full legal price--but then what do you have--right relationship? No. You may only have equalized the pain, changed nobody and left the relationship broken and twisted. Most likely the relationship will be in worse condition after the legal price has been exacted. For it you don¹t pursue reconciliation with the righteousness of Christ, things continually go from bad to worse even if legal remedy is sought.

God, on the other hand intends for all persons and relationships to be healed and actually reconciled. His aim is for all things to be made fully right, perfect. He won¹t be satisfied with less. He will make us complete. But the legal route can never get us there. We must long for and receive a far greater righteousness that transforms us and heals our relationships. Better for us, and more joyful, to participate in God¹s work in us than resisting it by wanting to settle for a legal “getting even.” Jesus shows us that was the true aim of God¹s Torah all along. A merely legal way of understanding God¹s Torah is a complete distortion. It leaves out the heart, mind, aim and goodness of the God who gave us His Torah.

This passage, as with all of the Sermon on the Mount we have studied offers wonderful hope. Jesus is right. There is no real point in priding myself on the fact that I have never actually killed someone. My angry, thoughtless words bring about their own small deaths in my relationships. I see that to live for only a legal righteousness would be a small thing. Jesus is not speaking these words merely to raise the bar. He isn't telling His listeners that the real problem with the Pharisees is simply that they haven¹t tried hard enough. In that case, Jesus would be saying that righteousness is primarily legal, they just didn't see all the requirements and now we do. Jesus didn't say He came to make sure we fulfilled the Torah. He said He came to do that. He brings about true righteousness, something that turns out to be far deeper and more wonderful than merely conforming to rules or balancing merits and demerits. He came to make us new from the inside out. Do you long to be made right? Do you see your own poverty of spirit? Do you mourn over the pain and hurt in the world, including that which you have caused? Well, good news--God is at work in your life and you are responding to His Spirit. I want a new nature, a new life. I want to be made right, not just given more rules to try even harder at obeying. Thank God this is exactly His intention in Jesus Christ, for all that He has, He offers to us as His gift. What we need is not our own righteousness, but Christ's in us.

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