Exodus 20: 1; 13
20Then God spoke all these words:
13 You shall not murder.
Last Fall I started a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments.
We had just finished the commandment to honor our parents when the series was interrupted.
A stewardship campaign, a special service on All Saints Sunday, John Welsch, Consecration Sunday, Advent.
So it seems like this series has been split into two parts.
Kind of like two seasons of a TV series.
Let me remind you of what happened last season.
We are commanded to worship only the one true God and worship nothing else.
That’s the first two.
We are not to diminish God by invoking God’s name for trivial things.
That is number three.
We are to mimic the rhythm of God, who rested after creating, and to care for humanity by allowing us to have sabbath.
That is number four.
We are commanded to care for our parents, the ones who cared for us.
That is number five.
As we move on to the 6th Commandment we should begin to see the structure to the list.
The commands move from our relationship to God and then moves on to family and now starting with number 6, to others.
And what is the first commandment about how we deal with others?
Don’t kill them.
It might seem to be the easiest one to avoid.
My feeling is that there are few, if any, in this room right now who confess to violating this commandment.
While most of us will never take another life, we often think about it.
It is something we seem to fantasize about from time to time.
From road rage to office anger to family blow-ups to political fury, it crosses our minds every now and then.
Here is an old joke:
Three weeks after her wedding day, Joanna called her minister in hysterics. “Pastor,” she cried, “John and I had our first fight together! It was awful. What am I going to do?”
“Calm down, Joanna,” her pastor answered, leaning back in his chair and shaking his head. “This isn’t nearly as bad as you think. Every marriage has to have its first fight. It’s natural.”
“I know, I know,” Joanna said impatiently. “But what am I going to do with the body?“
And then there is the relationship we have with our kids.
How many times have we, as parents, thought … or said … “When Billy gets home, I’m going to kill him!”
How many times have we, as kids, thought … or said … “My mom is going to kill me!”
As human beings we often have the urge to kill.
Is ending the life of another person the only violation of the 6th Commandment?
Hebrew scholars say this about the 6th Commandment.
… [I]n the command, “Thou shalt not kill,” not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, … but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness … , or wantonness …, or from hatred, anger and revenge … .
And before we say, “accidents just happen”, we need to consider why accidents happen.
Author John Schoenheita says this:
“[A] quick review of the history of mankind will clearly show that a lot of “accidental deaths” could have been prevented if people had cared more about their own lives and the lives of others. Accidental deaths often occur in an environment that could have been made safe if proper attention had been paid to safety. We will never be able to assure perfect safety for people, but things could be a lot safer than they are if human life were more highly valued.”
That concept is demonstrated in our strong desire to teach people to be careful and not to do anything that endangers other human beings.
It is behind all laws that require our workplaces, buildings, roads, foods, and manufactured goods, to safe.
To put it simply, the 6th Commandment says that human life is to be highly valued.
And it is to be protected.
But then we might ask, what about that death penalty called for in the Old Testament?
Like the one that says we are to stone to death unruly children?
What about all those wars in the Old Testament where commands that entire cultures be eradicated?
While we might not understand why God thought such things were justified, and could spend hours trying to do so, we need to remember that we live in New Testament times.
So we need to hear what Jesus has to say about this commandment.
Jesus addresses that specifically in the Sermon on the Mount.
Listen to Matthew 5:
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell* of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court* with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
And so Jesus says, not only is murder prohibited, but so are all the things inside us that lead to it.
All of us.
What does Jesus tell us to do?
Whatever must be done to reconcile and temper our conflicts and so avoid potential harm to others.
Hans-Dieter Betz wrote a book on the Sermon on the Mount and said this:
Simply stated, the source of murder is a broken relationship. … What is the intent of the [6th Commandment]? According to the [Sermon on the Mount], its intent … to [come to] grips with the root cause of murder. … Once the root cause is identified as anger, the ethical demand follows: one must control anger. One achieves this goal by avoiding situations that lead to anger, or, if the situations already exist, by defusing them through reconciliation and the restoration of the peaceful … relationship.
If we want to refrain from killing, we need to exercise some self-control.
We need to control the urge to retribution and revenge.
We need to control the anger that boils up inside us when we think we are wronged.
We need to control the urge to kill.
We need to control the monster within.
The 6th Commandment tells us to control it by becoming peacemakers, so that we do not even encourage murder.
But there is even more.
John Calvin himself interpreted the 6th Commandment this way:
We are to aid our neighbor’s life by every means in our power.
Listen to what he said.
…[N]atural common sense demands more than that we should abstain from wrongdoing. … God not only forbids us to be murderers, but also prescribes that everyone should … defend the life of [our] neighbor, and …to declare that it is dear to [us]; … that our neighbors are to be loved. It is unquestionable, then, that of those whom God … commands to be loved, [God] … commends the lives to our care.
The Heidelberg Catechism found in our own Book of Confessions says the same:
But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?
No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves;
to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him,
prevent his hurt as much as in us lies;
and that we do good, even to our enemies.
Because that is what God did for us!
God has every right to be angry at our continuous rebellion and disobedience.
But instead of killing us, God reconciled with us at great expense.
That is what we remember today at this table.
Instead of wrath, God grants mercy.
If we do the same, we satisfy the 6th Amendment.
Think about that when you come to this table.