Sunday Morning Worship Service, 20 March 2022
Sermon Text: Exodus 20:13
Sermon Series: “The Ten Commandments” (#7)
Watch Sermon Video: (Link will be uploaded soon)
I. Old Testament definition and punishment of murder
II. New Testament interpretation of murder
III. The meaning of “murder” and “murderer”
IV. Conclusion: God’s invitation to Jesus
I believe what we’ve just read is the shortest reading for a sermon on the Lord’s Day. In this reading, we read total four English letters. But this verse is originally made up of only two Hebrew letters which would sound like this – “Lo tirzah” – “You shall not murder.” I think many of you know that often a shorter sentence carries a weightier message, and this sixth commandment does that.
Especially in a time we hear news of people being killed, its message becomes much heavier. Unfortunately, however, the message of the sixth commandment has always been weighty to all of humanity as killing fellow humans takes place all the time.
Still unfortunate is the fact that not many in the world seem to understand its weighty message. People would say, ‘Oh, I know how seriously sinful it is to murder anyone. But I haven’t killed anyone; so, I’m quite right with this command. God will not find me guilty of this!’ All who consider the sin of murder this way should pay a careful attention to today’s message because such a thought is both incorrect and dangerous.
This command, “You shall not murder,” is not a simple warning for people to be careful and avoid any prosecution, trial or imprisonment. Rather, this commandment is about the reality of man’s sinfulness expressed in the act of taking another’s life, thus, the need for all men/women to bow before God in search of His mercy and forgiveness of sin in order to live than die, in order to be free from sin now and eternity than to remain in bondage to death forever.
So, let us search God’s word and hear His gracious invitation to life.
I. OLD TESTAMENT DEFINITION AND PUNISHMENT OF MURDER
Let me begin with the OT description of murder. Gen. 9:6 clearly talks about murder and its consequence in these words: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Num. 35:16-31 adds more details to the definition of murder and accompanying punishment. According to Num. 35, if someone kills another person by striking him with a tool, that’s murder. If anyone pushes another out of hatred or throws something at him, lying in wait, so that he dies, or in enmity strikes him down with his hand, so that he dies, then, that’s murder. And all murderers must be put to death by the avenger of blood. Simply put, the punishment for murder is ‘life for life.’
There are two interesting laws in terms of penalty for murder. Firstly, no murderer could pay a ransom for his life to the sufferer in whatever situation. Paying such ransom is to defile the land, says Num. 35:33. So, no remission, no amnesty is available for a murderer.
Secondly, if killing someone is proved to be accidental, then, the one who killed another could avoid capital punishment if he flees to one of the six refuge cities God set aside in the midst of Israel. It was the OT system for a fair trial and more than one witness were required to prove the killing as accidental rather than intentional. If it was proved accidental, then, the offender must stay in the refuge city he has fled to as long as the high priest of the time is alive. When the high priest dies, then, the offender becomes free and all his rights will be reinstated.
Yet, in case the offender leaves the refuge city before the death of the high priest, and his blood avenger meets him outside of the city, then, the offender cannot have any legal protection. The avenger could kill him and that’s legal because the refugee has willingly rejected protection by leaving the refugee city.
However, if anyone kills another person and flees to a refuge city, and it is proved that that case is not manslaughter, then, the elders of the city in which the murderer used to live ought to send people to take him out of that refugee city, and hand him over to the avenger of blood. The OT principle for murderer is not to pity him but kill him and purge the guilt of innocent blood from the nation.
In summary, murder in the OT is prohibited, and capital punishment was the punishment for the sin of murder. This might sound cruel to the ears of the citizens of the 21st century, but the OT laws on murder share the same foundation with the NT teaching on killing another man.
II. NEW TESTAMENT INTERPRETATION OF MURDER
In fact, the NT doesn’t talk much about murder. However, the NT interpretation of the OT laws on murder is much deeper than the OT.
While the OT seems to view murder as physical and actual taking of another’s life, Jesus’ interpretation and teaching on murder may be a great shock to many of us as it may seem radical. Jesus internalised the OT laws on murder. According to the Lord, anyone says to another ‘you fool!’, he is equally liable to the hell of fire like any murderer! By the way, ‘you fool’ is, in Greek, ‘moros (μωρος)’ and its English equivalent is ‘moron.’ So, if anyone says to another ‘moron’ or fool or any word in that sense will be liable to God’s eternal judgment alongside any murderer! How shocking is this!
According to this teaching of Jesus, no one is guiltless. Can anyone here this morning claim innocence of this sin? Is there anyone in the world who has never been angry toward others? We know that none is guiltless of this. Everyone in the world is angry toward others; everyone in the world insults others; everyone in the world says ‘moron’ or ‘stupid’ or shake one’s head with contempt. So, when Jesus said to the Jews in Jn. 8:44 that they were of their father the devil who was a murderer from the beginning, the Lord was absolutely right.
In addition to our guilt of murder, 1 Jn. 4:20 reveals that we human beings are ‘liars.’ Why are we liars? Because we say we love God, but we do hate fellow human beings. The logic is this: “he who does not love [or hates] his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This is because one’s ‘hatred’ toward another is nothing but sin of murder. A murderer is liable only to hell of fire. One who murders another cannot love God who has created every human being. We’ll consider this point in detail in a moment.
I believe you can now see why Jesus said in Mt. 5:23-24 that before offering your gift to God, you must first reconcile with your brother who has something against you. Only then should you come back and offer to God your gift which is your thankful heart toward Him, your heavenly Father. One who loves his brother can love God. But because we cannot always love our brothers, we’re murderers and we do not love God. This is why we’re also liars.
This is a greater trouble for all in humanity because we often do not even remember with whom we’ve been angry, do we? You and I cannot find that person to whom we unconsciously say words like ‘moron’ or ‘stupid,’ can we? We quickly forget about our wrongdoings. But in God’s record, nothing slips away. We must correct every hatred we had in our mind toward others; we must apologise for every insult we’ve made in words and action. But, is it possible? No, not at all!
In the eyes of God, therefore, you and I and everyone in the world are liars as well as murderers! This is the Lord’s definition of sin of ‘murder’ in Mt. 5 and the rest of the NT.
III. THE MEANING OF MURDER AND MURDERER
By the way, Jesus’ equation of hatred with murder is based on the truth of God’s creation of mankind. You know more than well that God created all human beings in God’s image and after His likeness. When God gives life to every human being, His image is also imprinted. As He nurses and nurtures everyone in His creation, God exercises His creatorship which is a constant act of displaying His ownership of every life. No one comes to existence by himself/herself, but by God alone; no one lives and claims autonomy or sovereignty over one’s own life, because everyone lives in the God created body and mind and heart and under His world. Everyone belongs to God.
So, if anyone takes another’s life, that is to take something which ultimately belongs to God. Murder is, therefore, robbery of God. By stealing from God, the murderer claims that he is greater than God. The murderer declares that he is superior to God who is the Giver and Owner of all life. Friedrich Nietzsche of the 19th century publicised that God was dead; but compared to him, a murderer is worse in effect because Nietzsche was foolish with his irrational clamour, but any murderer claims his/her superiority to God which is more serious than foolishness – rather, it is sheer arrogance.
Moreover, this is why man’s hatred toward another is, in the eyes of God, the same as actual and physical taking of another’s life. Being angry with another is, in effect, being unhappy with the Creator of the person you’re angry with. Insulting anyone is to insult the One who created that person. Or calling another ‘moron,’ you insult God and, in effect, saying something like this to the Creator, ‘Why did You, God, make this person in such a stupid way?’ Do you see how serious offense it is against God?
It is true that almost everyone gets angry when his/her loved one is insulted. For example, if anyone shows disrespect to another’s mum or dad, that is to cross the line seriously. If anyone offends another’s child, then, that’s the end of tolerance. The same is for anyone calling another human being ‘moron’ because that person is beautifully made in the image of God. Murder destroys God’s creation and, in our hatred, we erase God’s image wrought in each other and defame our Creator. Both hating others and taking anyone’s life are, therefore, the same offense against God.
CONCLUSION: GOD’S INVITATION TO JESUS
So, the conclusion is that this sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” is gospel message to us. This command reminds us of our inability to keep it because we almost constantly ‘murder’ others by hating them and occasionally murder ourselves by self-hatred. We can never keep us free from this sin, thus, deserve the fire of hell.
Once this command reminds us of what we deserve, it leads us to look to Jesus and seek His forgiveness. God sent Him to die on our stead and free us from all sins, including this sin of murder! So, whoever believes in Him receives His forgiveness and eternal life. How good and joyful message this is!
This is the gospel of God and Jesus Christ! Praise the Lord who graciously invites us to Jesus our only Saviour by telling us, “You shall not murder”! Amen. ***