Anger and the Kingdom of God

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Series: The Sermon on the Mount

Speaker: Pastor Justin Wheeler

Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26

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Matt 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

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 will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell 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.

Of all the sins that Jesus could have chosen to start with to make his point, He chose murder. He could have started with something simpler and less offensive, but He comes out of the gate with one of the most grievous sins known to man. But if you think about it, it makes sense for Him to start with murder since man’s first crime was murder.

In Genesis 4 we read about the very first sin committed outside the Garden of Eden. Cain and his brother Abel prepared their offerings to the Lord. The Lord received Abel’s offering but not Cain’s and,

“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell…8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Now, Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with this story about the first act of murder and the other stories of murder that follow. They would have remembered the story of Lamech who boasted about his two wives and that he had killed a young man. Perhaps Jesus’ audience would have been familiar with the first prohibition against murder from Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Don’t miss the fact that we are 9 chapters into the Bible and we have already seen murder become so prevalent on the earth that God gave Moses this divine law in order to forbid it. Murder is a serious crime in the eyes of God and it demands a serious punishment. Murder is an assault upon the image of God in man. Human life is not cheap, it is precious to God and when it is taken, God demands justice.

The act of murder is a grievous sin and its effects can be seen throughout the Bible and throughout the history of humanity. Murder is a terrible crime, a terrible transgression of God’s law, which demands swift and balancing justice, but murder has a root that goes deeper than the act itself.

The Scribes and Pharisees trusted in themselves that they were righteous. They trusted that since they hadn’t committed the act of murder that they had kept God’s law, but Jesus shows here that God’s law requires much more than we might think. God’s commandment teaches us that envy, anger, and even insults are forbidden.


Anger is one of those respectable sins and when we get angry we don’t think it’s a big deal, at least it doesn’t seem like big deal to us. We get angry all the time with people who don’t drive the way we want them to. We get angry with our children when they run around the house making noise instead of going to bed like we asked them to. We get angry with our spouse when they forget something, or do something that annoys us, or when they fail to do something the way we wanted them to. We get angry when our favorite team doesn’t win. We get angry when someone posts something we don’t agree with online…We get angry all the time and for a lot of reasons

I think it is safe to say that we have an anger problem and Jesus wants us to know that this is a VERY BIG DEAL. We just read what Jesus said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus is talking to us this morning and He wants us to avoid the error of the Pharisees. He wants us to understand that our sins have roots that go way deeper than just the physical acts.

Sermon Focus…

I. Murder is terrible, but it is not the root of the problem (v. 21-22)

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 will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Now, it has been 3 weeks since we have looked at the Sermon on the Mount together and if you are anything like me then you could probably use a reminder of what we learned a few weeks ago. In verses 17-20 we learned about Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament in general and to the law of God in particular. We learned that Jesus has not come to do away with the Old Testament law, nor has He come to establish a new law. Ultimately, He has come to fulfill the demands of law and to accomplish salvation for His people. But He has also come to faithfully teach on the law so that it would accomplish its purpose in the hearts of God’s people.

The people needed both of these things and so do we. They definitely needed a Savior who would take away their sin but they also needed a faithful teacher of the law because the Scribes and Pharisees had made a real mess of the Old Testament. They had confused and manipulated the law by adding their own interpretations of it and the result is that the people had been taught to look at their relationship with God as little more than a system of superficial rules. They had been taught that salvation could be earned by keeping all the rules.

(Illus…Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests that the condition of the Jews in Jesus’ day was much like the people of the world just prior to the Protestant Reformation. They had popes and priests teaching them that salvation could be earned through a system of religious practices. The people were ignorant about what God’s Word actually taught and as a result they had been completely led astray by their teachers. But the reformation placed the Word of God in the hands of the people and they began to see for themselves that salvation was a gift of God’s grace, not the result of man’s work.

In a similar way, Jesus has come as a reformer to make the Word of God clear. He has come to make clear what God’s Word says and to show what God’s Word reveals about the real condition of man’s heart. Jesus is concerned with the letter of the law (v. 18) but He is also concerned with the spirit of the law because the Kingdom of Christ is first and foremost internal not external, it is spiritual and moral, not physical and political.

The gospel of Jesus and this sermon are not about external conformity to a pattern of dead religion. Jesus wants nothing to do with that. He doesn’t want blind obedience; He wants our lives of faith to be fueled by love for God that flows from hearts that have been spiritually changed and drenched in God’s grace. The kind of righteous life that Jesus outlines for us in this sermon is first a matter of the heart. His words are aimed at our hearts.

That’s why here in verse 21, Jesus doesn’t stop with the letter of the law but He probes deeper to help us understand what the law reveals about the root of sin that lies in our hearts. The letter of the law promises judgment for the sin of murder but the spirit of the law shifts our focus from the outward act to the inward state.

Now why might this be an important point for Jesus to make? How many of us have read the 10 commandments and thought, “Well at least I haven’t committed murder?” The Pharisees did the same thing. They looked at the pursuit of righteousness simply in terms of what they had and had not done, but Jesus says our behavior is only part of the equation. The key to understanding the deeper purpose of God’s law is to understand what it reveals about our hearts and in our hearts, we commit murder all the time.

It is easy to see that anger is what leads to the act of murder, especially if we look at the story of Cain and Abel. But here Jesus wants us to know that the anger in our hearts is just as dangerous and deserving of condemnation as the act itself.

Jesus wants us to know that God cares when we commit sinful acts, but He also cares about the sinful condition of our hearts. The acts themselves are produced in the heart and the attitudes and emotions of the heart are enough to defile us.

Matthew 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person.

Can you remember the last time you were really angry? Angry enough to raise your voice? Or angry enough that you would need to repent of what was actually on your mind? Angry enough to mumble under your breath an insult or angry enough to shout that insult in the direction of another person? In the direction of your brother?

In the eyes of God this anger is enough to defile us. It is not enough that you have kept yourself free from the sin of murder; the unrighteous anger in your heart cries out against you. It may not lead us to murder but it shows itself in our angry thoughts and even the insults that we speak to others. Jesus tells us that this unrighteous anger makes us liable to judgment, which means that anger itself is a transgression of the law.

But wait a minute, is all anger sinful? Some say so, but I think the Bible gives us a category of righteous anger that God displays and He calls us to share. Righteous anger is anger that is directed toward sin, and I’ll share some examples from Scripture. In Exodus 4 we read that the Lord’s anger was kindled against Moses for his insecurity and lack of faith. This phrase is a common one in the OT and it shows that there is a type of anger against sin that is holy.

Later in Exodus 32, Moses himself gets angry when he sees the sin of the people and he throws the 10 commandments to the ground. This type of human anger against sin is connected to the anger that God feels toward sin, but God warns us against giving ourselves over to it completely.

In Psalm 4:4 we read, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on you beds and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.” Paul quotes this Psalm in Ephesians 4:26 when he says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” From these and other passages, I believe that it is possible to be angry and it not be sinful; but only when our anger is directed toward sin.

Jesus showed this type of anger toward the corruption of His Father’s House and His anger was directed toward the sins of men. But I suspect that much of the anger that we feel is not directed toward sin. We get angry because things aren’t going our way. We get angry when we aren’t getting what we want. We get angry when people let us down or when they disrespect us or when our kids annoy us or disobey us for the 10th time; and this anger reveals the sin that still resides within our hearts. This is what Jesus wants to confront us about.

James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

James, the brother of Jesus, wants to follow His Lord’s example and probe to the root of our sin. He points out that the fighting and disunity that breaks out and ruins our relationships is really about the sinful desires of our hearts. We want control and when people don’t let us get our way we get angry. We want peace and when people make too much noise we get angry. We want people to recognize us and our accomplishments, but when they recognize others instead we get angry

This type of anger is selfish, prideful, jealous and idolatrous. This type of anger wreaks havoc in the church. It turns our family holidays into uncomfortable meals that lead to harsh words, hurt feelings and broken families. This type of anger causes bitterness between a husband and his wife and leads to greater sins.

You may have been a believer for years but this type of anger is still lurking in your heart. So, what do we do about? But what do we do about our anger? In the next few verses, Jesus gives us a couple of examples on what to do about our anger.

II. Don’t mask the sin in your heart with external religion (v. 23-24)

Matt 5:23 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.

Now this is something that I think most of us are guilty of. What Jesus is warning us against here is attempting to cover up our sin by going to church and participating in religious ceremony. We may be standing in the church building singing in worship, and the whole time we know that we have sinned against someone who is standing on the other side of the room. Perhaps, You are standing next to your spouse whom you sinned against on the way to church and Jesus is saying, “Put your hands down. Put your checkbook away. Humble yourself and go to your brother or sister and ask for their forgiveness.”

Jesus wants us to know that everything is not fine just because we came to church. In fact, this seems like an echo of what God told Israel through the prophet Isaiah.

I have had enough of your burnt offerings…I do not want the blood of bulls, lambs and goats…I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. (Isaiah 1:11-13)

When we overlook our sin against a brother and we think that it will all be fine if we just go and pledge our love to the Lord at church, Jesus tells us that we got the order all wrong. He tells us to stop attempting to worship Him, to leave our gift at the altar and go to seek reconciliation with our brother and then come back to worship.

Jesus wants us to realize that unity and love between Christians is more important to God to God than our tithes and our singing.

Remember that this is a sermon about Jesus’ Kingdom and His Kingdom is different than every other Kingdom. He commands His people to love one another and when anger or hate, which is the opposite of love, gets in the way; He calls us to stop everything and pursue the restoration of love.

Now, some of you men are uncomfortable with this because this isn’t hypothetical for you. You might be at odds with someone right now. Some of you men are thinking, “That’s just not how men handle these sorts of things.” But this is how all of us should handle these sorts of things as members of the Kingdom of God.

We should be quick to confess our sin. We should be quick to seek the forgiveness of those we’ve wronged, quick to reestablish our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And once we’ve done that, then we should give thanks to God in worship.

1 Sam 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…

Don’t use religious ceremony as a mask for your sin, that’s what the Pharisees would do and our righteousness must exceed theirs. Our righteousness must come from the heart.

But what about our relationship to those outside the church? Do we have a responsibility to them as well? In verse 25, Jesus gives us an illustration of what would happen when a person had an unpaid debt. At least that seems to be the scenario that Jesus is using.

In Jesus’ day if a person had borrowed money and then refused to pay it back at the agreed upon deadline, the person who loaned the money could take up the matter in court. If the borrower is proven guilty then they would be thrown in jail. Here is what Jesus says we should do.

V. 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.

This verse is connected to the previous one in that in both cases there is something standing between us and another person. In the first case, we did something against our brother and in this second case we have failed to pay our debts. The point of this is that when something stands between us and another person we should be urgently seeking to make things right.

Whether we owe them money or an apology we should take immediate action to be reconciled to our brother and even to our debtor. We are to be people of integrity in all walks of life because we are concerned with serving God from the heart. We do what’s right, not to be seen by others, but because it honors God. So, if we owe a debt, we should work hard to pay that debt off as soon as possible but if for some reason we are unable to meet the terms, we should be honest, go to that person and seek to make things right. We are to make every effort we can to mend relationships with others.


1. Murder is terrible, but it is not the root of our problem. The root of the problem is the sinful desires of our hearts which are in themselves enough to condemn us. But empty religious rituals aren’t enough to solve our problem.

2. Don’t try to mask the sins of your heart with external religion.  This was the lifestyle of the Pharisees and Scribes; it failed for them and it will fail for us.

God wants us to humble ourselves and seek reconciliation. He wants us to value integrity more than comfort. He wants us to let go our pride and then pursue peace, unity and love. He wants us to do what’s right not just to be seen by others but because He sees our hearts.

Let every one of us examine our hearts right now. Is there someone that we need to seek out today? Is there someone in this room that we need to seek forgiveness from? Maybe that person is standing next to you. Don’t hold on to your pride, turn to them and confess your sin. Go to them and seek to make it right. If there is something that you can or should do to seek peace with your brother or sister then do it at once.

Then come back to God who stands over His children ready to pour out new grace.

James 4:6 God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 

He will forgive. In fact, that is why He sent His Son into the world. Jesus paid the price to make us free. He cancelled the debt of sin that we owed…and He didn’t wait until we asked Him. He came deliberately and while we were still enemies of God. He humbled Himself, made Himself the object of man’s scorn, He let His enemies gloat over Him but He fulfilled His mission.

He came to save His people, to give us new hearts, to lead us into His new Kingdom and He calls us to follow Him.




Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.