Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sermon - Matthew 5:21-26 - Lent Midweek 4

Matthew 5:21-26
Lent Midweek 4
March 30th, 2011

So far we've touched on the deadly sins of Pride, Covetousness, and Lust. And we've seen how these sins of thought are, indeed, deadly. And how the only treatment for such heart disease is the antidote of the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, our loving Savior, gave his life for us. He forgives and takes away deadly sin, and gives us his righteousness and life.

Today, our sin is Anger. And the Bible has much to say about anger. For starters, it is one of those sins of thought that bear just as much guilt as sins of deed. Jesus says as much in our reading from Matthew 5. Anger, he teaches, is a kind of murder committed in the heart. And like other thought-sins, it often leads to word-and-deed sins. Anger is a motivation for all kinds of cruelty, violence, and vengeance.

A survey of the many scriptural passages about anger will lead us to some other noteworthy conclusions about this deadly sin. But perhaps first a caveat: not all anger is sin.

Ecclesiastes tells us there's a time to love and a time to hate. Proverbs 15 commends the man who is slow to anger. James 1 tells us to be slow to anger. And Ephesians 4 teaches us to be “angry and do not sin”. There is such thing as righteous anger. A reaction of outrage or indignation at sin or evil. Even Jesus Christ became angry with the moneychangers in the temple.

But be careful. This can all too easily become an excuse for our sinful anger. It's tempting for us to want to justify all our anger. And even if we are rightly angry over some injustice, that doesn't free us to act on our anger. Proverbs 29 says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Ephesians 4 warns us to “give no opportunity to the Devil”.

Nevertheless, more often than not our anger is NOT righteous. Almost always, in fact. It is tainted by sin, steeped in sin, forged in the sinful heart.
In this sense, we don't have an “anger management problem”, we have a sin problem. And God's Holy Word calls us to repent!

For who are you, after all, to be angry? Think about it. Most of our anger comes when someone offends us in some way. They say something or do something that causes us to react. An unkind word. A thoughtless inconsideration. Who do they think they are? Don't they know who I am? What nerve that person has! We feel threatened, we feel attacked, and anger whispers, even shouts in our heart, “FIGHT BACK! Don't stand there and take this!”

Jesus says, turn the other check. Anger says, hit back and hit harder! Jesus says pray for your enemies. Anger says, get them, they deserve it! Jesus says anyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, but anger doesn't care about that. It's too busy being angry at the brother.

When our anger builds within us, and erupts in explosion, we often regret it. When it smolders and festers, it often grows into bitterness. When we carry those grudges, they only weigh us down with hot hatred, amplified by time and the twisted things we tell ourselves.

And so it goes, for us sinners. We don't get our way, someone does something we don't like, and our old nature throws its tantrum. Are we totally beyond help? Are we liable to the judgment fires that burn hotter than our rage and fury?

God could be, and should be righteously angry over our sin. God hates sin, and directs his holy anger at sin – and yes – sinners. In the end, it's not people's sins that will be thrown into hell, but the sinners themselves. And God is totally justified in doing so. In fact, he's the only one whose anger is ever entirely righteous. He has a right to be angry, and yes, even angry with you, and me.

But he is not.

God's anger has been put away, in Christ. God's cup of wrath that would hang over our head like a sword of Damocles, has instead been poured out on Christ. That's what the cross was all about. God punishing sin.

Christ became sin, and God hated him there. Despised him. Turned his back on him. “Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried in anguish. But he knew why. Because of your sin, and mine. Because of your hating, angry, spiteful, quarrelsome nature and thoughts and words. Because that person crossed you and you just can't let it go. Because someone pushes your buttons and you snap. Jesus died for all that angry sin – and more.

That's the cup that Jesus drank, that he wanted to pass from him, but “not my will but yours, Father”.

And now, the sun has gone down on his anger. Jesus is raised from the dead by the approving Heavenly Father. And the frown of Friday is turned upside down in Easter joy. But not just for Jesus – for you, too.

On that list of 7 sins remember each sin had a corresponding virtue. And the opposite of Anger is Kindness. That's how God is disposed to us, now, in Christ. The Hebrew word, “Hesed” is often translated, “loving-kindness”. It gets at that same thing. God's not just neutral to you now. He's not just “ok” with you. He loves you. He shows you kindness. The Lord makes his face to shine upon you – in Christ.

He sees you through Christ. He says of you what he says of Christ, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased”. There's not a whiff of anger left, only unfathomable, indescribable, eternal love.

Matthew 5 even teaches us to be concerned with those who are angry at us – who have something against us! Go and be reconciled with your brother. Do what is right. Ask for forgiveness. Give them no reason to be angry with you. And do it soon! Leave your gift at the altar! This Christian concern is even more important than our outward religious duties. It is yet another way for us to love our neighbor.

The next time you struggle with anger, perhaps it will help to check yourself. Remember the scriptural warnings. Speak a kind word instead. And repent. For God's anger, that you and I richly deserve, is put away in Christ. In his loving-kindess, we love one another – even those who wrong us. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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