A New Insight into the First of Jesus’ Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount

I recently preached a message at Cornerstone in Anacortes on Matthew 5:21–26:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” 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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 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. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Thanks to a gracious wife and in-laws willing to watch kids, I had truly sufficient time to prepare this message and didn’t feel as pressed as I commonly do. As a result, it was a true joy to study and preach this text. I gained further appreciation for what “real” pastors do every week; I’ve never preached regularly to Christian adults (I’ve taught plenty, just not preached).

What’s more, I think I finally found an answer to an interpretive difficulty that I’d always only half-noticed. There are some obvious difficulties in this text: how can Jesus speak so categorically against anger and against calling people “fools” when he gets angry and calls people fools in this same Gospel? I attempt some help there. But there’s another difficulty I think we often read right past, one that comes at the hinge point of the passage. It was a delight to be able to dig into it and come out with something edifying for my and, I hope, others’ souls.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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