“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:20
In 1910, a newspaper editorial asked the question: “What is wrong with the world today?” The British author G. K. Chesterton reportedly replied, “Dear sir, I am. Yours faithfully, G.K. Chesterton.”
Mr. Chesterton was on to something. When it comes down to it, there was one main reason Jesus left the comfort of heaven to come to earth: We had screwed up everything. Our world was broken, and we were to blame. Our marriages were broken. Our families were broken. Our friendships and our governments were broken. And all of this brokenness existed because our relationship with God was broken. So, it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that when Jesus came onto the scene, our religion was also broken. We thought we knew what God’s requirements were. NOPE! We thought we had figured out how to please God, but we were wrong.
In Jesus’ day, the prominent religious leaders were the Pharisees. And at first glance, the Pharisees looked pretty impressive. In the centuries leading up to Jesus’ birth, the Jewish leaders had added hundreds of extra laws to the original 613 Laws of Moses. The Pharisees believed that obeying these very detailed, nitpicky rules made them extra righteous in God’s eyes. But guess what? They were wrong. The Jewish leaders’ standards appear high because they are very detailed. But they’re actually low because they’re shallow—only skin deep. In contrast, God’s standards are high because they involve both the external and the internal. They involve our bodies, minds and our hearts.
tackles the misunderstanding that a true follower of God should like a
Pharisee. He tells his followers in Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you that unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you
will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus makes it clear that
Phariseeism—shallow, flashy, hypocritical religion—will never get us into the
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives six examples of the way God’s standards are much higher and deeper than those of the Jewish leaders. And he starts off with the 6th Commandment: “Thou shalt not murder.” Now, this was a great way to draw his listeners’ attention, because most people get a little cocky and self-righteous when it comes to this command. We say, “At times I’ve dishonored my father and mother. Sometimes I’ve lied or even stolen a few, small things. But hey! At least I’ve never murdered anybody! The 6th commandment? NAILED IT!” But Jesus says, “Not so fast!”
He goes on: “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” (vs. 21-22a). Jesus does what he does so well: He doesn’t just focus on outward sin. He identifies the source—the root of that sin. The Greek word that Jesus uses here for “angry” refers to a long-lasting, bitter, vengeful anger that many people—including many Christians—refuse to get rid of. Jesus says in no uncertain terms: “If you’ve got an ex-husband, a former boss or anyone else in your life that you refuse to stop being angry at, you refuse to stop resenting, you refuse to forgive, then, in God’s eyes … you are a murderer.”
Jesus reveals that the 6th commandment was never about just PHYSICAL murder. The 6th commandment doesn’t give me permission to hate my next door neighbor as long as I don’t murder him. Ladies, it doesn’t give you permission to dream up 100 different ways you could kill your ex-husband as long as you don’t actually do it. God has never given us a green light to make our enemies’ lives a living hell … as long as we don’t actually murder them. Jesus says, “No! All murder begins in the heart, not in the hands. Therefore, in God’s eyes, anger that festers in the heart IS murder.”
Jesus raised the moral bar higher than we would have ever imagined. In fact, he raised it so high that we have all fallen short. By Jesus’ definition of murder, I’m guilty and you’re guilty too. At some point in our lives, every one of us has harbored anger, bitterness and unforgiveness against someone else. And it won’t land you in jail here on earth. But in God’s eyes it is “heart murder” that leaves us guilty before our holy God. We need to admit it. And humbly ask Jesus Christ for forgiveness.
Obeying the 6th Commandment requires that we deal with the root of murder: the anger and bitterness in our hearts. So, I need to ask you a serious question: Are you murdering anyone today? Is there anyone in your life that you’re still harboring anger against, refusing to forgive, wishing he or she were dead? If so, you need to go humbly to Christ today and deal with it. There’s no place in a Christian’s life for that kind of anger.
Jesus reveals the sad reality that we have failed to live up to God’s standards. We have screwed up more than we realized. But remember: God’s grace is greater than our disgrace. We are all murderers in God’s eyes—and adulterers, and thieves, and idolators. But He washed me clean. And He can wash you clean too, if you’ll let Him. He so much wants to help us to follow Him well as He deals with the root of our sin and helps us to live a life that is right … from the inside out.
Dane Davis is the Pastor
of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service
tomorrow at 9 a.m. at