Exodus 20:13 - Murder

August 10, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 20:13–20:13

[Exodus 20:13 – “Murder”]

I can’t really say I’m “loving my neighbor as myself” if my hands are wrapped around his throat. So, how is it that Jesus leads us to say no to death and yes to life – even for those who hurt us?

[Pray - O God, you have spoken to us your divine and saving words. Illumine the souls of us sinners
To comprehend what has been read,
That we do not become simply
Hearers of your spiritual words, but doers of good deeds,
true pursuers of faith, having a blameless life,
And a conduct without reproach in Christ, our Lord,
With whom you are blessed and glorified,
Together with your all holy and good and life-giving Spirit,
Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.]

[Read Exodus 20:1-13 for context]

People cross our paths every day, some more regularly than others. My wife is a regular, of course - we've committed to walking the same path together and for that I'm thankful. There are two other little folks I cross paths with every day - my boys. (Though my wife is the first person I see, they're usually the first people I hear.) I cross paths with neighbors as I head out each day - some I know well, some I don't. I cross paths with the other regulars at Stick Boy and the folks who work there. In the car, I cross paths with fellow travelers hoping our paths don't cross the same point at exactly the same time. And although it doesn't happen as often as I like, I love when my path crosses yours - the moments when we walk the day's path for a mile or two together.

We cross paths with people every day. And every week has a rhythm of familiar faces punctuated by first meetings or "chance" encounters with old friends. We cross paths with grumpy grocery clerks and casual acquaintances and complete strangers we'll never meet again. Here at church, out in town, back at home - people are always crossing our path.

But what happens when the people in our path become - somebody in our way? What happens when a person becomes a road block to what I want? When a stranger cuts me off? When someone - especially a familiar face - hurts me? What happens when the person in my path is just somebody I want out my way? Well, we have a word for that - murder. Murder is what happens when someone in our path becomes someone in our way. And we can do it as easily with a word as with a gun.

God forbids murder - the unjust taking of life - in the sixth commandment. And most cultures have laws against murder. But where many have interpreted murder as merely the taking of physical life, Jesus himself shows us the breadth of God's concern for life in part of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22)

This is a God who cares deeply for life, who sets a high value on humanity. He forbids us to take life unjustly. And the reason is deeper than social contracts or stable civilizations. The God of the Bible cares deeply for human life because every human being who crosses our path is made in his image.

After God made everything else, "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:26-27)

God made human beings to image him - his kingly dominion, his loving rule, his perfect relationship within the Trinity imaged by us in love toward God and fellow-human and creation itself. And even after the Fall, when the image of God in us was shattered by our sin - even when humanity became a fractured image of what we were in the beginning - God valued his image in us. Even now we are glorious ruins for whom God still cares. After the Great Flood that cleansed the face of a violent earth (Genesis 6:5,11), God said to Noah, "And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.'"

The image of God in us is the foundation for God's care for human life. And the image of God in us should cause us to care about the image of God in someone else who crosses our path. But that isn't always how it works.

In Israel's day, in the ancient Near East, human life was not held so highly. Then - as now - plain, old-fashioned, bloody, murder was a common thing. And while laws existed against it, the fact was that you could ultimately take any life you wanted - if you were powerful and rich enough. One commentator notes - "In the earlier Laws of Hammurabi, a murderer was required to make only financial compensation to the victim’s family. This contrasts sharply with the biblical insistence of a life for a life. On the other hand, the non-biblical laws apply the death penalty to breaking and entering, looting at a fire, and theft. These examples reveal that in other cultures financial loss was sometimes treated more seriously than loss of life. The biblical laws consistently emphasize that human life is of greater value than material possessions." [1]

That's why the law for Israel was different. Because the law for Israel was based on the values of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. And he sees humans as immensely valuable. After all, we bear his image. So, he didn’t command the death of a murderer because their life means nothing to him. Death is the sentence for murder because human life is so very valuable. The people in our paths are made in his image. That alone is worth my life.

So the image of God in us is the starting point for the commandment. But then there's the issue of purpose, too. Why did God make human beings at all? We are beings made in his image. But we exist to praise and worship the One who made us. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism (#1) so eloquently answers its first question - "What is the chief end (purpose) of man?" - "Man's chief end (purpose) is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." Human beings exist to worship and enjoy this God. We exist for his purposes, for his pleasure in which we find our highest pleasure. That has to impact the way we think about the people in front of us. It means we can't claim for ourselves what belongs to God. The purpose of the human being in front of me is not my worship, but God's worship. And the person in my path with not find their highest pleasure in serving me, but in serving the God who made them in his image.

In the Law at Sinai, God is calling Israel as his people, those who love what he loves and values what he values and hates what he hates. He loves and values human beings. He made us in his image and created us for a glorious, pleasure-full purpose. So, he's calling his people to love and value one another, helping one another fulfill the purpose for which they were made.

And that, Christians, is what we are called to as well. Because by faith in Jesus we are brought to this God as our God and Father. We are called still to love what he loves and values what he values. And that includes the person he puts in our path.

So, if we're going to hold the lives of those who cross our paths as highly as God does, then what does that look like? What does it look like to respect the image of God in another human being? What does it look like to honor the purpose for which that person was made - whether or not they're actively fulfilling that purpose right now! What would it look like to keep the commandment "You shall not murder" in our homes, in the church, and in the world?

Another writer put it perfectly. First, we say no to death. And, second, "(s)aying no to death means saying yes to life. And this yes is just as radical as our no." [2]

We're going to be brief here, touching on a few points of what it means to say no to death and yes to life. Obviously, there's room for a lot more application when we consider how this touches abortion and euthanasia and self-defense and war. Another time we can talk about the role of the civil government to bear the sword – a job given to it by God himself. Christians have given these things a lot of thought. But for now, first - in our everyday lives - how can we say no to death whenever a person crosses our path?

Well, think about the people who cross your path. If you're angry, don't kill them. Okay. Deep breath. That was easy.

But then, don’t neglect them. Because what about when it's within my power to help an abused child, to report to the proper authorities an abuser? When I see someone in my path who needs help but go around them, have I actually said “no” to death? Or did I just ignore the question?

And as we hear Jesus drilling the command down to the thoughts and intentions of our heart, we have to go further, too. So, if I am angry - with my wife, my kids, a co-worker, a cashier - I should ask myself, "Why?" Am I angry with good cause? Is this righteous anger because this person has violated their calling to image God? Is this anger right in some way because they're failing to fulfill their purpose of glorifying God and enjoying him? (If the answer is yes, then what should our response be? Still not murder.) Or maybe I'm angry because they haven't served me, haven't done what I wanted? Am I angry because they've gotten in my way? Conflict with the people God puts in our path is unavoidable - after all, he put you in that person's path and we are sinners all! But if anger is rising and I ask the question, "Why am I angry?" then I might stop just short of killing them in my heart.

Okay, so saying no to death is hard. It doesn't come easily. But what about saying yes to life? How do we say a "radical" yes to life whenever a person crosses our path? This is getting to the heart of the commandment since it falls under God's call to "love your neighbor as yourself." Another writer said, "The tone of the entire Sermon on the Mount is not that we spare our neighbor the worst, but that we give him the best." How would Jesus have us give our best to those he puts in our path?

Well, thankfully, he tells us. Listen again to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

It looks like turning the cheek to the one who crossed your path just to slap you. It looks like giving more to the one who robs you along the way. It looks like "going the extra mile" with a tyrant. It looks like giving to beggars who'll probably ask the next person in their path, too. It means loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute, wanting God for them. (Matthew 5:38-48, passim) Jesus says only perfect love - even of our enemies - is the fulfillment of God's command. "You therefore must be perfect," Jesus says, "as your heavenly Father is perfect."(v.48)

Our hearts can pick apart these commands. We want them to die the death of a thousand qualifications. And the Scriptures elsewhere do help us understand the freedom an abused wife has and what it means to best help the poor. The Scriptures give voice to our laments and cries for justice to be done. And God hears those and will do justice both now and in the age to come. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

But vengeance is not ours. We need to sit under the weight of the words of Christ for a moment and ask ourselves something. As I hear the depth of the command - the height of love, the standard for doing good, what it means to say yes to life as it is valued by the God who made us - as I hear the command, do I even want to keep it? Have I kept it?

And if the answer to either is no, then what am I? Because my hands are red with blood that is not my own. And I know the word for one like me who sees a person in my path and gets them out of my way – murderer.

Why do our hearts see others as "in our way"? When a co-worker becomes a promotion rival, when children don't meet expectations, when an employee isn't making the grade, when my wife simply has different wants - why do we so often see people as obstacles in our path?

It comes back to the question of worship. It comes back to the question of whose image we are made in and the purpose for which we exist. We're willing to murder people in our hearts because we see what belongs to God and want to assume ownership for ourselves. We assert our rights over what belongs to him, "elevat(ing) (ourselves) to be as God, putting (ourselves) over (our) neighbor's life or wife or property." If man's chief end is to "glorify God and enjoy him forever," then murder robs God whether we end a life physically or emotionally or spiritually. Because murder take what belongs to God - a human being made to worship and enjoy God - and murder rips them from their purpose to serve our needs, our pleasure, our wants, our desires. If we have taken a human being in our path and viewed them as somebody in our way, then we have set ourselves in the place of God. And we would climb on to the throne of life drenched in the blood of our fellow image bearers.

That is the deep selfishness in murder, whether physical or spiritual or emotional. It is there whether we ever lift a gun in anger or not. To see a fellow human being and have no care for the image of God in them or their purpose for existing is to murder them whether they be friend or family or immigrant or enemy. Some of the immigrants - even the children - of this current crisis come running away from murder and death in their home countries. How quickly will they find it here, too?

But the God who exposes our murderous hearts displays himself the same love to which we are called. Jesus said, "Love your enemies...." And then he did.

Paul writes, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:8-11).

The love of the Father showed itself through the Savior who came for murderers like you and me. And by his blood, he cleanses the bloodied hands of we who have shattered his image in ourselves and others. By confession and repentance and by faith in Jesus the Son who died, Paul speaks to us of justification before God. He speaks of standing in the presence of God unafraid because our murder and all our sin has been declared forgiven because the Savior paid the debt. And he speaks of old enemies - us - reconciled to God, welcomed back not as convicted murderers but as saved sons.

This is the only reason why you and I can begin to step back into relationships with one another - in our homes, in this church, in our town - with the hope that we can begin to see each other less as somebody in the way and more as a person God has put in our path. It is this Good News of Jesus who loved us when we were enemies - we who murdered him with our words and deeds and hands - it is this Gospel that tells us we can lay down our own rights and even our very lives for the sake of others. Because they have been put in our path by God himself and he owns them and has the right to their life and worship. Our part is to foster his worship in them. That is loving them truly.

So, we can more and more shout no to death and yes to life, beginning by expressing through actions the dignity of the glorious ruin in front of us - a ruin which looks a lot like us; beautifully made yet broken by the Fall. We say yes to life when we deal gently with one another's shortcomings and weaknesses, remembering that we, too are weak. We say yes to life when we are stabbed by someone close to us and cover over our wounds with the love of Christ working in us. That doesn’t mean we have to keep getting stabbed. There can be health in boundaries and you have to hear that. But saying yes to life will lead me to lay down my own weapons and not to strike back.

We say yes to life in the human being in front of us as we love the immigrant and the helpless and the sinner so broken they can't even see themselves clearly. We say yes to life when we work on behalf of those who have no voice, no power of their own – the unborn, the poor, the oppressed, the ignorant.

But we also say yes to life when we confront broken images of God with the image of God that remains in them, calling them to remember and live out the purpose for which they were made. You were created to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And we say yes to life when we - in word and deed - point someone to that purpose, telling them of the way God has provided for glorious ruins like us to be restored to a better glory in Christ.

Ann is a friend of mine I see at Stick Boy from time to time. She's a sister in the Lord and a foster mom for Wake County. At 2:30AM the other night, she got a call from a case-worker - a close friend who didn't bother to look at Ann's file that said her house was closed because it was already full. "Can we bring you someone?" she asked. "Come on." said Ann.

A 13 year old young man got out of the police car half an hour later. Long, curly hair, baggy shirt - Paulo was clean but scared. He'd seen pictures of a skate-park in Holly Springs online and thought he go check it out for himself. So, he got on an airplane and left his home in Venezuela, South America to come to Holly Springs, NC - without telling his parents.

Did you know we live beside a human trafficking highway? I-95 is a highway for flesh. Human beings - mostly women and children - are moved by masters up and down this coast; there are slave-souls just miles from here lost into lives of suffering because someone stands to profit from their body. The vulnerable, the trusting, the helpless - these may become prey for men and women who cross their path and see not a person, not a human being made in the image of God - but an opportunity to profit. It's a sobering thought to imagine whose path Paulo could have fallen across.

But in God's providence, Paulo crossed paths with Wake County's finest and our sister, Ann. She was with Paulo when I saw her this week. And as I watched her talk to this young man, I saw Ann rejoicing that she got a call at 2:30AM, rejoicing that she had an opportunity to walk beside him for a day before his family came to get him. She was rejoicing that God put him in her path and for a single day she was able to love him well, giving him shelter and telling him of a better shelter under the blood of Christ.

We are the people of Jesus, the Good Samaritan, who saw us beaten and dead on the side of the road. He left glory to join his path with ours and bound up our wounds and is nursing us back to life at great cost to himself. By his wounds we are healed. Should we keep murder in our hearts toward anyone? Rather let us repent and believe again in Christ our life.

I'm not asking you to take the next Paulo into your home. Maybe you will. But what I'm asking is this: who has The Lord put in your path to love? And how is your heart oriented toward them? Are they in our way, stopping us from having what we want? Or are they in our path, set there by God himself, belonging to God himself but ours to love and serve?

[Pray – Father, we are twice yours. First, because you made us in your image. And second, because you redeemed us for yourself through the blood of Christ. What love you have lavished on us, Father! What grace toward enemies that you would send the Son and the Spirit to win and draw us back to yourself as reconciled children. Warm our hearts toward you, O God, that we would walk with you in love all our days. And warm our hearts toward those you put in our path – in our families, in this church, in this town – to love not just our friends but even our enemies. Help us remember whose image they bear. And help us to work in word and deed to point them toward their purpose – to glorify you and enjoy you forever. Father, we only glorify you and enjoy you in Christ Jesus our Lord, so may our words and our hearts and our hands be full of his Gospel. May it carry us from this place in love and power – full of your Spirit at work in us. For the sake of Christ – for the praise of his name – we pray. Amen.]

[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.


[1] The New Bible Commentary, D.A. Carson (ed.), 110.

[2] J. Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life, 231.

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