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. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sandhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5: 21-22
I committed murder this morning.
I called a man a “fool.” In my defense, he had told his wife “the marriage is over” and is living with his new girlfriend. If that isn’t the biblical definition of a fool, what is?
Still, I took it upon myself to do God’s job. I judged someone who is a sinner – just like me. And I had to repent, pray, and receive God’s forgiveness.
Some people have opined that it’s easier to be a Christian than an Orthodox Jew, since the Old Testament has hundreds of laws to follow and instructions on how to atone for oneself when having broken one of those laws. The New Testament, recognizing that the Old Testament law was impossible for anyone to follow, offers us grace. We no longer have to offer endless sacrifices to atone for all of our blunders; Jesus gave His life so that we could be forgiven on the basis of His sacrifice.
But there is a way in which Jesus made it harder on those who would like to think themselves holier than everyone else. These “religious” people knew the Law and kept it – outwardly. The Law said, “Thou shalt not murder,” and as far as they knew, they hadn’t. The Law said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and as far as they knew, they had kept themselves sexually clean.
But then Jesus came along and raised the bar. In His Sermon on the Mount, He redefines “sin” in terms of not just behavior but the heart. Jesus said that someone who is angry with his brother is murdering him in his heart (Matthew 5:21-22), and that “anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
Suddenly, everyone is guilty. Jesus did not present this perspective of the Law to make us more righteous, but to show us that none of us can obey God’s Law. He wanted us to know that we need a Savior. Those who say Jesus was a great teacher who taught us how to live, and at the same time do not believe that He is the Savior of the world, are missing the whole point of Jesus’ life and teachings.
Please don’t misunderstand, having a relationship with Jesus will help us live better lives. If we truly know Him, we will love Him, and if we love Him, we won’t say, “Man, I’m glad my sins are paid for,” and go out and do whatever the devil, our sin nature, and the world tell us to do. If we love Him – if we’re in love with Him – we would rather die than hurt Him. But living a good life is not what saves us.
I have known Jesus for more than half a century, and I can’t begin to tell you how much He has blessed my life. (This blog is an attempt at a start, anyway.) And I still sin. The difference is, I don’t believe I sin nearly as much as I would without knowing Him, and when I do sin, He lets me know. Like the other time I was aware of being a murderer.
I had the radio on while I was fixing dinner, and a story came on about some people who had swindled a trusting elderly lady and had taken her entire life’s savings. My instant reaction was to became judge and jury, declaring out loud, “Those people oughta be shot!”
Immediately, I recognized that in that split second I had become a murderer in my heart. I’m hopeless, I thought. But I also knew immediately that I would be hopeless without Jesus, but I wasn’t without Jesus. I stopped what I was doing, repented, and thanked Him for His grace.
Psalm 103:8-14 is a passage that has been my lifeline whenever I would realize how much I fall short of God’s standards.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or reward us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
It is such a comfort to me to know that God understands that we are incapable of living the righteous life on our own, and He is here to help us. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. All of them. For anyone who will repent, this forgiveness is His free gift.
Even for a murderer like me.
Prayer: LORD, alone we are helpless to do good. Thank You for spelling it out so clearly that keeping Your Law by sheer willpower is impossible, and that You understand. Thank You for providing a way for us to be cleansed of our sins committed through word, action, thought, attitude, and even our myriad sins of omission. Lead us in a life that reflects Your grace, and never let us make the mistake of thinking that we do good things on our own. It’s all YOU. In Jesus’ name, Amen.