How To Live A Legacy

How to Live a Legacy

Matthew 5:21-24

Dr. Jim Denison

By now you’ve heard about the most sensational archaeological find in decades: the burial box of James, the brother of Jesus Christ.

The ossuary, a limestone burial box, is inscribed in the Aramaic language with the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” It dates to A.D. 63. Naming the brother was very unusual and almost never occurred, unless that brother was someone of very great significance.

One scholar has called this discovery “the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology.” It is the earliest proof yet discovered for the historical life and importance of our Lord Jesus. And just one more way the greatest legacy of all time continues.

Beyond a tombstone, how will your legacy continue? We all want to leave one. In fact, if our survival and health are secure, legacy becomes our most important need.

According to recent surveys, the most important drives people feel today are to find a life purpose and mission, and to share this purpose and mission with others. In other words, we are looking for a life that matters, that leaves a legacy.

I am. My greatest fear is that I might stand before God one day and be told that I missed his purpose for my life. Do you share my fear? Do you want to outlive yourself, to know that your life will matter when it is done, to be sure that you don’t waste these years God has given to you?

Are you confident that people will remember you, be grateful for you, thank God for you? What will your legacy be? Will it be significant?

We’ll discover this morning that there’s only one way to leave a legacy, and that is to live a legacy. But such a legacy comes at a cost. Jesus will show us how to pay it, and why it’s the best investment we can make.

Refuse to hate or hurt (vs. 21-22)

Jesus continues his Sermon: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment'” (Matthew 5:21).

They “heard” this because the rabbis read the law to them in the synagogue each Sabbath, including this Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13).

A murderer was “subject to judgment,” the local tribunal composed of seven persons. These tribunals inflicted punishment with the sword for capital crimes.

Now we find Jesus’ commentary: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (v. 22a).

Jesus is not dealing here with the simple emotion of anger. This is an inevitable human reaction to hurt or harm. And it was an emotion Jesus felt himself. In Mark 3:5 Jesus “looked around at them in anger” for their unbelief; in John 2:15 he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “In your anger do not sin.” The emotion of anger is not a sin.

He is dealing with a different thing here. In the Greek language, thumos describes the spontaneous and unavoidable emotion of anger; it is not the word here. Orge is this word; it means anger which is long-lived, cherished in the heart, nursed and kept alive. The deliberate choice to continue holding onto your anger. Absolute unwillingness to pardon and move on.

Such cherished anger makes us “liable to judgment.” In other words, hating my brother is as wrong as the murder which hate spawns.

“Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin” (v. 22b).

“Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt which literally meant “empty-headed” or stupid. In ancient Judaism names were much more significant than they are for us. A name denoted a person’s character, and a word took on its own life and power.

So expressing your cherished anger by a term of contempt made you answerable not to the local tribunal but to the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. They typically required reparations in money for such an insult to a person’s reputation and status.

“But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (v. 22c).

“Fool” was the worst, most slanderous term you could use against a person in ancient Israel. It comes from the Greek word for “moron,” and meant a person who is morally deficient, corrupted, immoral, a person with no character or value whatsoever.

This level of anger deserves “the fire of hell.” The Greek says, “the gehenna of fire.” The Valley of Gehenna stood to the south of Jerusalem. During the reigns of wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh, children were sacrificed to idols there. King Josiah stamped out such heinous sin, and made the valley a trash dump. Fires were kept burning there constantly to consume the trash; worms lived there which lived off the refuse.

Jesus would later make Gehenna a metaphor for hell “where the fire never goes out … their worm does not die” (Matthew 9:43,48).

What is Jesus teaching us? Refuse to hate or hurt your brother. No matter what he may have done to you. In a moment Jesus will teach us how to reconcile with him. For now, how do we handle the anger our pain has caused?

Act on your anger immediately, before it takes root in your soul: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4.26-27). Deal with this infection before it spreads. Admit it, and give it to God.

Guard your tongue, especially while you are angry: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). What we say shows who we are.

Choose to pardon, for your sake and his. Tim Stafford: “I would rather be cheated a hundred times than develop a heart of stone.” A wise old saint added, “I will never allow another person to ruin my life by making me hate him.”