Summary: Anger, the impulse to destroy, is the direct opposite of love, the force which gives life. This is why anger is equivalent to murder in the eyes of God, who looks on the heart.
Have you ever caught yourself looking at your reflection in a shop window? I have to confess that I sometimes do. Or maybe you're not that vain, or not as self-conscious. Maybe you're one of those blissfully secure people who (once you get your clothes on) never give your appearance another thought. But I'll wager there's not one person in this congregation who doesn't take at least one good look at him or herself in the mirror every day. Maybe it's your hair, or your buttons, or your nose, or your tie. Maybe you don't care much. But you look. You have some idea of what other people see when they look at you. And some people spend half their lives, it seems, and most of their discretionary income, polishing up their exteriors. From jewelry to jogging shorts, Americans spend enough on personal appearance to equip a small army. Maybe a large one.
Have you ever thought how pleasant it would be if people spent half as much time and effort polishing up their interiors?
What do you suppose life would be like if we, like God, cared more about being good than looking good?
What would happen, if instead of seeing your face when you glanced at a shop window, you saw your heart?
It's a moot point, anyway, because we don't have anything that can do that, do we. There isn't any such thing, is there, as a mirror that can reflect our inner selves back at us. Or is there?
We saw last week that one of the functions of the law is, as the Apostle Paul says, to make us “conscious of sin." [Rom 3:20] You may ask, “How does that
happen?” Let's suppose I say to you, as I just did, "You shall not murder." If
you're like me you'll say, "Sure, no problem. I've never killed anyone. God's
talking to someone else, not me." That law hasn't shown me anything about
myself. That law has not reflected my soul back at me, for me to confront, and
recognize as my own.
The ten commandments, narrowly interpreted, are mostly keep-able, at least as far as anyone else can tell. Nobody but God knows if you love him with all your heart. Nobody but God knows if you're really coveting. Some times you can even convince yourself that you've got 'em all nailed down. Most of us can say -and mean it - that we haven't committed adultery. Most of us can say - and mean it - that we haven't stolen. Most of us can say - and mean it - that we haven't sworn falsely. Most of us can say - and mean it - that we do not worship idols. Most of us can say - and mean it - that we have not committed murder. But not many of us could look Jesus in the eye and listen unmoved if he were to say to us,
"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." [Mt 5:21-22]
Just in case we're tempted to try to weasel out of the implications of this incredible expansion of the commandment, 1 Jn 3: 15 puts it even more strongly: "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer."
The last message from this series was about what Jesus meant when he said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." With these words about murder, and the following passage equating lust with adultery, Jesus gives us concrete examples of what he meant by the fulfillment of the law. The law is completed when God's character is stamped on a person's heart as well as on his or her behavior. The law will be fulfilled when our internal characters are so conformed to the image of Christ that the law is no longer necessary because there is no longer any temptation. But the law cannot be fulfilled under human power.
God chose to give Moses these ten commandments for a reason. They aren’t arbitrary or frivolous or unconnected to reality. Why didn't he command us not to jump off cliffs, or not to try to breathe underwater, or not to starve ourselves?
Because most of us are not tempted in these areas.
God only puts fences up on the dangerous curves.
Each of those rules is a sign saying, "This is where the danger is", like those old maps with the sea-monsters on the edges warning, “Here be dragons.” The ten commandments, in conjunction with Jesus’ commentary on them, tell us something very important about being human. They show us in no uncertain terms just what kind of critters we actually are, when left to our own devices. The two together give us a complete picture, telling us that we are all naturally murderers, adulterers, liars, idolaters, and thieves. Maybe not all at once, or all the time, but on the whole, that is what human beings are like. And Jesus showed us that even when you and I keep all the rules on the outside, we're still the same on the inside, no matter how well we've been trained. That is why you and I need the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can write the law on our hearts, the way God promised the prophet Jeremiah.