Summary: Killing sprees shock us with their cruelty to human life. Yet, how often do we engage in our own killing sprees, mentally murdering those with whom we are angry. Jesus calls us to stop it, and to bend over backwards to make things right with others.
Stop the Killing Spree!
William Boyette, suspected of killing four women in two states, died Tuesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a police standoff at a Georgia motel. Police arrested Mary Rice, his accomplice. As appalling as their little Bonnie and Clyde killing spree was, we all engage in killing sprees from time to time with our mouths and hearts. And Jesus says, “Stop it!”
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses six areas of life, contrasting what the rabbis had taught—basically the letter of the law—with what we would call the spirit of the law, God’s original intent. God is not after some legalistic obedience. He doesn’t want a look-good-on-the-outside Christian; he wants an inner transformation. God wants nothing less than our hearts. He wants us to be holy as he is holy.
And the first of Jesus’ six areas of life is anger. You’ve probably heard someone say, “I’m not a bad person; after all, I’ve never killed anyone.” But Jesus says anger can turn into mental murder so quickly that we have effectively killed with our emotions and words. Ambrose Bierce once said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” Or consider the wisdom of Will Rogers: “People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.”
But with God’s help, we can stop the killing spree! Catch your anger before it hurts others, and when you discover others are angry because of you, do your best to make it right. So, whether you’re the angry one or you’re the cause of the anger, stop it! Try to make it right, especially among fellow Christians, as a watching world takes note.
Let’s look at Jesus’ words. Beginning in verse 21, he says, 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
When Jesus quotes the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:13, he uses a Greek word that means “premeditated murder,” just like the original Hebrew. The penalty was death. It was a capital offense. But Jesus goes a step further and says our anger directed towards a fellow Christian, a “brother or sister” in the faith, also makes us liable for judgment. Apparently, unresolved anger is very serious!
So let’s lighten the tension and learn some cuss words in another language. (Isn’t that always fun?) “Raca” is Aramaic for “empty-headed.” It sounds pretty vicious, doesn’t it? And the word for “fool”is moros in Greek, from which we get the word “moron.” Jewish people appreciated the power of words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will...break my heart!” That’s the truth!
Jesus says if you use some of these words in anger, your soul is in danger of hell. The word he uses for hell is “Gehenna,” which was an actual place. It was a ravine on the west side of Jerusalem, just outside the city gates, where a couple of evil Israelite kings had allowed human sacrifices back in the day (2 Chr. 28:3; 33). Later King Josiah desecrated the area (2Ki 23:10; see Jer. 7:31–32; 19:6). By Jesus’ time, the Jews had turned it into a garbage dump where fires continually burned. It became symbolic of the eternal fires of hell.
So, what’s the bottom line? Jesus traces anger back to its source: the condition of our hearts. Murder first begins with a murderous attitude, desiring to harm another. Jesus considers the intent as dangerous as the act.
Then he illustrates with a couple of stories how seriously we need to resolve anger in our relationships. You know, we do all kinds of things to deal with our anger. We count to 10, or count backwards from 100. We practice breathing techniques. I heard about one couple discussing anger in their marriage. The husband said to his wife, “When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?” She replied, “I clean the toilet bowl.” He said, “How does that help?” To which she replied, “I use your toothbrush.”
Jesus deals not so much with our own anger but with when we make others angry. His first illustration begins with verse 23: 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”