February 26th 2023: Alan Davison

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Matthew 5: 21-26

I’ve been working my way through a book called “I wish Jesus hadn’t said that … but I’m glad that He did.” It looks at a particular side of Jesus. Very often there are certain things that we don’t really consider. This study is the penultimate one drawn from that book.

As Christians, we can find issues inconvenient. The Bible has numerous inconvenient truths, most notably some of the declarations made by Jesus.  There are certain parts of Scripture we find ourselves not spending much time on because they are inconvenient, so challenging to human nature. Today, we are going to look at how we manage anger. We all get angry at times. Some people are better at concealing their anger than others. Anger is something everyone is going to experience in their lives and we need to consider how we will approach it.

Matthew 5:21 begins a section looking at anger, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’A lot of sentences Jesus says begin with ‘It is written,’ drawing us back to the scriptures. However, this sentence beings, ‘You have heard of.’ Here we see the things of men.

A worldly view of anger:

Anger to the world is a natural reaction we can all identify with. Scientists speak of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. When we feel anger, that can reveal what is most dear to us. What would make us feel angry? Injustice would be one example. When we think we are the ones being mis-treated can also stir up anger as an initial response. ‘I should have had that promotion, I deserved it. I won’t help the promoted person in their new role.’ Anger rises when we are denied that something we really want.

The world’s response to anger can take two main paths:

  • To let it out, to release the pressure in a controlled way, to vent it in a way which doesn’t hurt others e.g. kick boxing. This can lead to worse actions, which the coping mechanism resources aren’t available in a situation which causes anger.

  • Suppressing your anger, bottling it up. This requires extraordinary self-discipline. Some count to 10, others need to count to 100. It can be impractical.

The world tries to deal with anger as symptoms, not the root cause of it. More often than not, it will be personal and selfish. The world has redefined anger as ‘I am offended.’ This is the excuse for all kinds of bad behaviour. The world views anger as something to be vented, covered up or nurtured.

The Biblical view of anger:
The general rule is anger is a bad thing and should be avoided. There is such a thing as righteous anger – but the criteria are so high we can rarely reach it. Righteous anger can become self-righteous anger. We need to look at Jesus’ example.

We all know about Jesus driving out the money lenders in the temple. It looked like anger but John 2:17 says, “His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Jesus’ anger was zealous rather than rage.

There is another example where Jesus appears to be angry, “Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” (Mark 3:1-6).

Jesus’ anger led Him to continue to do the right thing, despite the reaction of the Pharisees. Jesus, while angry, responds in a positive way, helping the victim. The Pharisees anger led directly to thought of murder, “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11). This led to the thoughts of murder, and ultimately the murder of Jesus.

Jesus is comparing this anger that rises in our hearts to actual murder. The Pharisees and Scribes were angry with Jesus. They nurtured their anger and plotted against Jesus. They saw Jesus as a target to be attacked. Their own anger was their only justification they needed.

The Bible speaks to the human condition. Anger, we need to recognise, is something that builds up within us. Anger should not be a characteristic of a Christian. If we’re angry, we’re not displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which are characteristics to aspire to. They are incompatible with anger. The works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) will bar us from heaven and negatively impact our relationship with others. This is the way of the world. The fruit of the Spirit is displayed in those whom God has made fit for heaven and, therefore, will be a blessing to others around them. Jesus made this clear in His teachings and He lived it out in His own life. He expects no less from us.

God’s anger, God’s wrath, is at sin. It is entirely righteous and, therefore, just. God’s wrath against sin means that anyone who is a sinner, by right ought to end up in hell. Sin is our natural state. On the final day of judgement, humanity will stand before God’s judgement throne and be declared guilty. Humanly speaking, there is no escaping the fate of hell, eternal death. But, praise God, His throne is a throne of grace. Those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus and not in themselves for salvation, will be ushered into heaven for eternal life. The underpinning reason why we won’t have to face the wrath of God is that because it’s already been poured out on the cross upon Jesus Christ at Calvary.

We trust in Jesus because He has paid the penalty for our sins. He didn’t just stand in our place, He hung there to, nailed to a cross, to pay the price for our sins. Doctors tell us about the physical pain that Jesus went through, the truly excruciating experience He endured on that cross. Even beyond that, what about the emotional and spiritual suffering He went though? Think of the descriptions they gave to Jesus on the cross – the innocent One, the spotless Lamb, the perfect sacrifice, the only One who lived without committing sin. Yet, here He is, dying for the sake of the sins of the world.

Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do? How did that make you feel? Jesus went to the cross willingly. He knew the charges against Him were false, but He did it anyway. The disciples didn’t understand why it happened, but Jesus had been telling them for some time exactly what would happen. Jesus was in the right place at the right time.

The world is full of anger. The level of anger in conflicts happening around the world is boiling over. In the matter of our sin, God is the offended party. He is right to be angry at our sin. He created a perfect world for us to live in and then created us to live in it, giving us dominion over it. It’s ours in trust. But have ruined the world. Adam sinned, just as any of us would have done in his place. God have every right to be angry with us. Our sin declares us guilty. The punishment upon us is clear; the wages of sin is death. We deserve it. Yet, the offended One came to Earth, lived a fully human life and laid it down upon the cross of Calvary so that He would come under the wrath of the Father upon sin, instead of us. The penalty had to be dealt with. Jesus said, ‘I’ll pay it.’

God’s response to His own, just anger was to take it upon Himself. He put us first rather than Himself. When I’m angry I so often glare at the sins of others. So often, God will gently turn my attention from them to the sinfulness of my own life. Sometimes, am I angry at others so I can deflect attention away from my own faults? But when I look at myself, when God turns my attention there, I see again my need for Christ. In so doing, my anger should dissipate because, generally speaking, it’s outward and of no practical value to me unless it leads to a true desire to help others. But how often is that really the case?

In Jesus, I have all I need. Most of the time I become angry when I lack something or when something is being denied to me or taken away. But if I truly have Christ and am walking with Him, that anger becomes redundant. I need to repent of my angry desires. So often, repentance comes down to laying aside an idol and not being angry at this loss.

Jesus suffered the Father’s anger in my place. What must He think when I’m angry at someone else instead of sharing God’s love with them? Anger leads us to the precipice of something worse – hatred, violence, even murder.

We will get angry; it’s part of being human. How will we respond to that? Will we nurture it, become enraged and lash out at those around us or will we remember God’s response to His own anger? That was to take it upon Himself.

King David had so much to be angry about yet his response to anger was to write a psalm of praise to God. The underlying principle is, as David considered what had happened to him and all the difficulties that he was facing, he looked at it in the light of God’s ongoing care for him. This allowed him to offer up his anger to God and to leave the matter with Him.

When we find ourselves angry, may we have the Lord Jesus Christ in our minds as we respond. May we have the heart of David, who knew His God cared so deeply for him that whatever negativity he was experiencing from everyone else around him, he knew his God was with him. May it be so for each of us.