A Better Way to Live: Sermon on the Mount, Part 3 (Matthew 5:21-32)

Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | February 16, 2014


Matthew 5:21-32


21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[a] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[b]his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[c] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.[d]


27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.


31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


  • This past week, the Beatles celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first performance on the Ed Sullivan show.
  • Many people testified to how their band and its music changed the world, or at least, changed their lives.
  • I loved their music, still do.
  • I’ve always been impressed with the quantity and variety of the songs they wrote.
  • However, I can’t say they changed my life because I don’t understand even 10% of the meaning of their songs.
  • For example, the meaning of Norwegian Wood, Hey Jude, and Strawberry Fields Forever, remain a mystery to me.
  • I didn’t write them, and I don’t know the authors personally.
  • I think the only one I have a handle on is “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
  • However, if you asked the authors of those songs, they could tell you exactly what the words meant to them at the time, what they intended to convey.
  • They could explain the context of the song and the true meaning of the words in contrast to what others may have concluded they meant.
  • That’s something like what Jesus is doing here.
  • In previous verses Jesus claims to be the authoritative interpreter of the OT Scriptures because, he says, they all point to him.
  • And since they’re all about him, he knows perfectly what they mean.
  • In many cases, in contrast to what the Pharisees and scribes have been teaching the people.
  • The religious leaders of that day had become overly focused on the external performance of the law as they understood it.
  • They had lost the heart of the matter.
  • But God’s original intent concerning his law is found in the teaching and life of Jesus.
  • At this point in redemptive history, Jesus has come as the Messiah, to inaugurate his kingdom and to explain the true intent of God’s law which pointed to its fulfillment in him.
  • How believers in Jesus Christ should live in a sinful world.
  • Verses 21–48, of which these are the first part, are often called the six antitheses.
  • All six mini-sections begin with some variation of “you have heard it said” followed by, “but I say.”
  • Jesus is not criticizing the Old Testament here.
  • Rather, he is criticising the understanding of the Old Testament many of his hearers had adopted.
  • And clarifying for his followers, the true intent of God’s law – in this case regarding murder and adultery.
  • He says that in the kingdom of heaven, God’s intention for our lives includes:
    • reconciliation with those with whom we are angry and those who are angry with us, and
    • purity when we are faced with the temptation to lust or considering divorce.

First, in the KOH, an attitude of reconciliation resolves feelings of anger and contempt toward others. (vv 21-26)

  • Most people don’t murder at random.
  • They either hate one person, a particular race, or all mankind.
  • Jesus says that one who feels hatred for another is guilty before God even if doesn’t lead to murder.
  • There is a righteous anger, like Jesus demonstrated, anger for the sake of others, but ours is usually not that kind.
  • We become angry about personal offenses, angry for the sake of ourselves.
  • Sometimes, we participate in casual insults and contempt of others.
  • Jesus forbids these also.
  • “Raca” is an insult meaning “idiot,” and “fool” means “good for nothing.”
  • The first refers to the mind, the second to the body.
  • In Jesus’ kingdom, we should reject all forms of condescension as though others are weak in mind or body, as if they have no value.
  • If we don’t, we are liable to judgment in the court of God.
  • Anger, insults and contempt are forms of murder and deserve murder’s punishment.
  • “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 jn 3.15).
  • So we must guard our attitudes and our speech that results from those attitudes.
  • Sometimes parents say evil things to their children like, “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • Sometimes in anger or contempt we make condescending remarks about people around us in the workplace, in school, in church, in the neighborhood, or about certain races or classes of people.
  • In doing so we are judging them as worthless.
  • It’s the same as murder.
  • But also notice that in Jesus’ two illustrations he turns the focus from our anger to those who are angry with us.
  • Your responsibility as a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is to prevent murderous attitudes in yourself, and in others if possible.
  • You are to love family members and brothers and sisters in Christ enough not only to refrain from anger and contempt toward them but also to remove their angry attitudes toward you.
  • For example, you should interrupt your worship to be reconciled.
  • You should lay down your bulletin and hymnal and walk out the door to be reconciled with your neighbor or family member.
  • You should approach a fellow member of your church during the week or before the service begins.
  • Worship is a sham if we don’t.
  • We’re just going through the motions.
  • If tension exists between us, even if we consider ourselves innocent, or if we consider the problem to be trivial, we should stop and seek reconciliation.
  • Not only that, we should even make peace with our enemies to prevent murder in their heart.
  • That debt collector who is after you on the phone…
  • That boss who has it in for you…
  • Make peace if you can.
  • “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (rom 12.18) We must at least try.
  • We must learn how to take responsibility for our mistakes.
  • We must take responsibility for our part.
  • Our confession may free them to confess their faults.
  • Even if they refuse your offer of peace, you can still ask forgiveness and make amends for your part.
  • Practically speaking, peacemaking works best face to face.
  • Written correspondence is easily misunderstood.
  • Jesus’ message here is this: as members of his kingdom we must give up rage and contempt.
  • Be peaceful and make peace, with our brothers and our enemies, with those we offend and those who wrongly take offense.
  • That attitude is characteristic of the kingdom of heaven.
  • That motive is characteristic of Christ in you. You will fail, but when you repent, he forgives, and enables you to press on.
  • So first, in the kingdom of heaven, an attitude of reconciliation resolves feelings of anger and contempt (vv 21-26) toward others, and

Second, an attitude of purity refuses lust and irresponsible divorce in Jesus’ kingdom. (vv 27-30; 31-32).

  • Adultery was an important concern of Jesus for two reasons.
  • It is the most grievous sexual sin because it betrays the promise of lifelong exclusive loyalty, and almost all Jews were married before age 20.
  • So the leading temptation was adultery, extramarital affairs, sex outside of marriage, not fornication.
  • Today the temptation is fornication. Sex before marriage.
  • Jesus forbids lust that leads to adultery.
  • The phrase “lustful intent” in v28 is a small riddle.
  • In it Jesus forbids lustful thoughts in ourselves, as well as seductive, “come hither” looks intended to stir up lustful thoughts in others.
  • That intention, that attitude, is equivalent to the act of adultery and is a sin against God.
  • God’s design is exclusive loyalty, life-long loyalty, bodily loyalty.
  • It’s harmless to notice the beauty of a woman or the handsome figure of a man.
  • But we are not to turn it over to our imaginations to entertain immoral fantasies.
  • Likewise, it’s harmless to dress attractively, but it’s not harmless to dress seductively.
  • Adultery begins in the heart and the eye. The eye sees it, the heart imagines it, and an attitude of adultery is the result.
  • Job says “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” If my heart has gone after my eyes…If my heart has been enticed toward a woman…that would be a heinous crime…a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon.” (Job 31.1,7,9,11)
  • It’s not sinful to be tempted. Jesus was tempted, “yet w/o sin” (Heb 4.15).
  • He refused to envision or plan or experience sin, even with his mind.
  • Likewise, we must turn our minds elsewhere.
  • Luther said, “We can’t stop birds flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building nests in our hair.”
  • Sexuality is good, but it must be used the right way, in the right place and time.
  • The right place is within the commitment and safety of marriage.
  • Imagination is good, a gift from God.
  • But we are not to use sexuality or imagination to take what doesn’t belong to us.
  • The point of Jesus’ graphic image of gouging out your eye or cutting off and throwing away your hand is to show us how horrible and serious such sin is to God.
  • In other words, it’s better to suffer physical pain in the present than to suffer spiritual pain for eternity.
  • If your eye causes you to sin, strive to act as is you have no eye, refuse to look.
  • If your hand tempts you to sin, refuse to touch.
  • Pornography incites lust, more-so in men, but also in women.
  • It’s unfair to spouses who can’t compete with the models and actors portrayed in the images.
  • Refuse to look, refuse to touch.
  • Install monitoring and filtering software like Covenant Eyes on your computers and internet devices to protect yourself and your children.
  • Use the parental controls already installed.
  • Early exposure can last a lifetime.
  • Jesus’ reference to hell doesn’t mean all who commit sexual sins go to hell. All sin forgivable.
  • But if we reject God’s ways, deliberate rebellion leads to death.
  • However, God will renew and restore if we repent.
  • Contentment is the antidote to lust.
  • Be content with your singleness.
  • Be content with spouse you have.
  • It’s not a sin to notice the flaws of your spouse, but it’s a sin to become discontent with your spouse because of their flaws.
  • God has given them to you.
  • Discontent is prideful. It says you think you deserve better.
  • Discontent is distrust in God’s providence.
  • It accuses God of providing the wrong spouse.
  • Contentment breeds faithfulness. It’s a heart issue.
  • Marital problems begin with the heart.
  • The great problem with marriage among the Jews in J’s day was the ease with which so many men divorced their wives.
  • The Pharisees were preoccupied with the grounds for divorce; Jesus was preoccupied with the institution of marriage.
  • The Pharisees called Moses’ provision for divorce a command.
  • But Jesus called it a concession to the hardness of human hearts.
  • The Pharisees regarded divorce lightly.
  • Jesus took it so seriously that with only one exception he called all remarriage after divorce adultery. (STOTT)
  • Billy Graham’s wife must have been familiar with this passage.
  • Because when asked if she had ever considered divorce she said, “Divorce no, murder yes!”
  • She knew full well that Jesus provides a better way but was admitting her own weakness.
  • We should admit our weakness as well and call out to God for his help.
  • The cause of lust is not attractive women or men, but our improper response to them.
  • The cause of marital discontent is not flaws but our improper response to the flaws.
  • All of us are flawed from top to bottom.
  • Those who are unmarried seek a compatible partner, but every potential partner is a sinner and no two people are perfectly compatible.
  • It’s been said that the two biggest causes of strife in marriage are the husband and wife. (PAUSE FOR EFFECT).
  • And the greatest source of healing for the single person or the married person is the grace of God.
  • God is patient with us and faithful to us.
  • God graciously forgives our sins and understands our weaknesses.
  • And he enables us in Christ to become all he has called us to be.
  • In each of these scenarios Jesus is calling for an entirely new way of viewing and responding to human relationships.
  • He gives us a vision of a restored humanity.
  • But Jesus’ words exceed our capacity to do them.
  • The good news is that he who commands such a radical way of life also blesses the poor in spirit, who know they can’t obey.
  • Jesus gives his very life as a ransom for disciples who can’t obey him.
  • Jesus gives empowering grace.
  • Jesus sends his Spirit to give us the capacity to begin to obey.
  • Our obedience will always be imperfect, but we can make progress.
  • Our progress may be slow, but Jesus is faithful to work into our hearts all he has called us to be and to do.
  • Thanks be to God the gift of a new humanity, a new community, a new quality of life in the kingdom of heaven because of the life, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.


  • We live in an angry, contemptuous world…we are an angry and contemptuous people.
  • Thank you for reconciling us to God, for averting the anger of God toward us that we might be enabled to pursue RECONCILIATION with others.
  • We live in a world filled with many enticements….we are enticed by our own desires.
  • Thank you for purifying us from the power and penalty of sin that we might be enabled to seek a life sexual PURITY, to live faithfully toward you and others as you lived among us.
  • Renew us, restore us, empower us afresh and anew to live as your disciples in your kingdom for your glory alone. Amen.

Categories: 2014, Epiphany, Matthew, Sermons, The Life and Ministry of Jesus

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