Go thy way: the first time Jesus used this phrase

by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Denomination: Southern Baptist

Text: Matthew 5:24

Introduction

The Sermon on the Mount. Many of us love this passage of Scripture! Jesus Himself preached it, and it was one of the longest of His messages. This was also the first actual sermon that He ever preached during His earthly ministry.

He started with the Beatitudes, a series of sayings which depict various types or stages of blessedness. After this, He spoke of many things, including the text for this message:

Mat 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

The context

Beginning in Matthew 5:21, Jesus introduced a new topic. He had already given the Beatitudes, then a comparison of believers to salt and light, and a reminder that even if anyone’s righteousness didn’t exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, there was no way anyone could enter the kingdom of Heaven. The scribes were copyists of the Law and the rest of the Old Testament, and the Pharisees were a distinctive group of religious leaders.

Their righteousness was mostly external, though, and Jesus would later expose both for their ways. We won’t go into detail here, but they were so righteous, and religious, I’m sure people must have wondered, “how religious can you get?” In fact, a preacher once gave a radio message, asking that very question.

Now Jesus opens a new topic, as mentioned. He begins this section of the Sermon on the Mount by saying, in Mat 5:21-24, 21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

So, Jesus is now expanding on what we could say is the doctrine of killing. We’re not going to debate side issues such as capital punishment, manslaughter, or accidental homicides. The Old Testament had many such cases, including premeditated murder. But look at how Jesus is moving the focus from the obvious act (i.e., the actual taking of someone else’s life) to the attitude or the motive of one person towards another. The Jewish people no doubt knew the Law of Moses, and also the prophets, so what else, they must have thought, could this Teacher possibly add to what they heard and were hearing?

The commandment

Jesus introduces this new learning by quoting one of the Ten Commandments, namely, “Thou shalt not kill”. The Old Testament had different levels of severity, from accidental death or involuntary manslaughter, all the way to premeditated murder. There were “cities of refuge” where those who accidentally took the life of another person could go to until the current high priest died, for example. Numbers 35 has more specific information, and Joshua 21 lists these various cities. But Jesus isn’t speaking of that when He is teaching His audience here.

What Jesus is describing is a conflict between two brothers. There is no distinction between blood brothers (family) or members of the same nation (a fellow Israelite or Hebrew) that we can see from the text. The underlying concept is that one brother is angry with another. This anger could escalate, from simply thinking an angry thought (this doesn’t seem to be addressed here), to being angry without a cause, to uttering a curse or epithet—“Raca” seems to be a serious insult, meaning “empty-head” and, perhaps, something even worse—to calling your brother a fool (moron, according to Strong’s Concordance). How could anyone ever get to that point?

The command

We don’t have an answer to that question. The only response is what Jesus said. Let’s take a closer look at this.

The first thing He said was “If you bring your gift to the altar”. The Old Testament system, under the Dispensation of Law, any Jewish person had responsibility for many offerings. The Book of Leviticus, for one, describes many of these: the grain offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, and others. There were also freewill offerings but one thing was common to all the offerings—the first stop was at the priest. God gave the Israelites specific instructions as to what the Israelite was supposed to do, the priest was supposed to do, and what was going to happen to the materials of the offering itself.

In my opinion, the gift that Jesus was speaking of was a voluntary offering, although it could have been another kind. The same Greek word, doron, is used for both types of offerings, according to Strong’s Concordance, and if so, the first stop was at the priest.

Then Jesus adds, “ . . .and there remember your brother has (anything) against you . .” This is something that I haven’t found addressed, specifically, in the Old Testament. But in reality, isn’t this the most important thing? Didn’t Jesus Himself say, later, that the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor? How, then, can we genuinely love our brother or our neighbor or anyone else if we have something against them?

The issue, though, is if we remember someone has something against us. In one aspect, or way of looking at this, if we don’t remember that our brother has something against us, then there is no prohibition. It’s clear and there is no restriction. We can offer the gift. But if we DO remember our brother has something against us, then it’s up to us to make that first step. Jesus spoke to this aspect in the next verse.

Jesus now tells us, first leave the gift, and then, “go thy way”, be reconciled to your brother, then and only then offer the gift. The word He used, “reconciled”, is beautiful. It means to have a mutual concession, after mutual hostility, according to Dr. A. T. Robertson in his “Word Pictures in the New Testament”. The word is only used in this one verse of the Greek New Testament, according to both Dr. Robertson and Strong’s Concordance.

Conclusion

The primary application for this verse was for Jews living under the Law of Moses, where various offerings were commanded. Jesus is emphasizing that it’s not so much the action or the deed itself as much as the motive. Time and again, the Old Testament prophets had encouraged the Israelites to get their hearts right with God and each other—but they didn’t, and wound up going off to captivity. There was no need for that, and the Israelites would have had God’s blessings if they had done the right thing.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

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