Summary: Jesus challenges us to raise the level of our respect for others beyond merely avoiding murder.
A Real Respect For Life
“What does God expect of me?”
“How do I, as a follower of Jesus, live in a way that reflects His Lordship in my daily decisions?”
Those are the questions that shape the Sermon on the Mount, which we read in Matthew. I am leading you through this amazing part of the Gospel, with the prayerful desire that the truth will transform, that we will be challenged, even made desperate, so that we will humbly allow the Spirit to change us from the inside out. The life Jesus describes in these verses is an impossibility - if attempted from the outside in - as a philosophy. It is a spiritual life!
In the opening words of the passage, Jesus talks about the values of the disciple. He describes the things that bring us to the greatest joy; which are not the things sought by most people. He does not point to acquiring wealth, having freedom, or creating comfort. Instead, Jesus calls “blessed” those who are spiritually impoverished, those whose lives are broken by sin, those who work for peace, those who are pure – for those things create opening for God to pour Himself into us.
He taught us about influencing our world with His truth - but not with sword or power trips! Instead, He said, “be salt and light!”
Last week, we looked at His words that call us beyond the merely outward appearance of holiness to a life devoted to God, an ongoing life in the Spirit, where we live as God’s own people in this world.
Our text for this morning is 5: 21-26. In the Pew Bible it is on page 1502
This text is powerful one that is about how we relate to others in a way that shows a real respect for life!
Ever murdered anyone? I am not joking and I know it is a provocative question.
For some it is a painful one and I am sorry for that. The question perhaps takes you to another time - killing during your service the military, or an abortion you choose to have in a time of desperation. Those are real issues, worthy of reflection.
But, for most of the obvious response to my question about murder is something like this:
"Pastor Jerry, of course we are not murderers. If we were we would be sitting in Trenton State Prison!." If that is the way you’re thinking, you are taking the same mind-set as those who heard these words for the first time.
Jesus asks us to think about valuing human beings in a new way that goes beyond refraining from murder!
Ever wished that someone were dead?
Ever been angry enough with someone that you have spoken words designed to inflict maximum emotional pain?
Ever stolen a person’s reputation with cruel gossip or innuendo?
Ah, those questions frame the discussion differently, don’t they?
I dare say that all of us have issues like that hidden in our yesterdays.
Now listen to Jesus’ words..... READ
Jesus challenges us to raise the level of our respect for others beyond merely avoiding murder. He says,
“Deal with the attitudes of contempt that show up in the way you talk and then you’re on course to showing real value for the dignity of others!”
In a series of escalating illustrations Jesus talks about the way we relate to one another.
∙ First, He urges us to deal with anger issues! When we get angry with others we risk doing things that will bring the judgement of God on us.
∙ Secondly, He observes that "If you call someone a nit-wit (raca - literally meant - “empty headed, brainless”) you may be liable for slander charges in court.” Human courts concern themselves with slander and if you label someone a worthless person, you might find yourself answering a lawsuit.
∙ Thirdly, He warns that allowing ourselves to speak contemptuously of another calling them a ‘moron,’ puts us at risk of going to Hell!
The central issue of this passage is the anger that too often is tolerated in our relationships.
We live in a very angry world, don’t we? People are quick to be defensive, their guard always up, watching for someone to trespass into their territory.
Sociologists suggest that some of this is due to our lack of community, that we are so transient, so disconnected from each other that we feel insecure, and live as though we are in immediate danger - all of the time!
Another reason we are so defensive, and even angry, is that we live with an exaggerated sense of vulnerability. Ask many people about crime and they will tell you of a much greater risk than actually exists. Why? Because our media brings crime from a wide region right into our living room, and makes the world we live in feel much dangerous to us than it actually is.