Summary: Jesus introduces six great examples of how the righteousness that He describes in verse twenty is the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.
“The Application of the Word”
Now Jesus introduces six great examples of how the righteousness that He describes in verse twenty is the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Law. Jesus introduces each of these great examples with some variation of the statement, “You have it heard it said but I say to you….” (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43)
Some commentators hold that in these state-ments Jesus is setting Himself against the Law of Moses, making His statements mean something akin to “You know what the Old Testament taught but I teach something different.” They believe the phrase, “You have heard” refers to the Old Testament teachings and the phrase “But I say” introduces a “new” teaching of the Lord which supersedes the old. Such is not the case. “You have heard” introduces the erroneous or incomplete teaching of Scribes (the Oral traditions), while “But I say” is followed by the teaching of the Lord but is also the true teaching of the Old Testament. So what Jesus is doing is not contradicting the Law or setting in place a new set of laws but correcting the people’s understanding of God’s original intent! The knowledge of God’s word by the people that Jesus spoke to was limited to only what the Scribe and Pharisees told them. They did not and could not read it for them-selves. We certainly do not have that excuse today.
As we examine each of the issues that Jesus raises we have to recognize that each of them could in and of itself be a sermon. But today I have chosen rather to deal with them together. Let me say at the outset that you may feel conviction because of your own failure in one of these areas. You may be guilty as charged. But you also need to understand that God is bigger than your sin. If you are willing to bring your sin to Jesus, He is willing to forgive you.
First, The Issue of Anger (5:21-26)
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' (22) But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.”
According to what the Scribes and Pharisees taught one could keep the sixth commandment as long as they did not actually commit Murder. But Jesus warns that holding bitter resentment in your heart towards another is also a sin. We have all heard the statement, “If looks could kill, they would be dead.” We mean that the burning anger is seen in someone’s face. Both long held resentment and explosive anger are sins. It would be ridiculous though to make the jump in logic then, that anger was just as bad as murder. The person who shouts in anger has sinned but not to the degree that someone who allows that anger to move them to kill someone.