One of the best sermons I’ve heard was preached by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones years ago based on two words from Ephesians 2: “But God.” I remember marveling that someone could get so much from two words.
I don’t expect my sermon to be quite that good this morning, but it is going to have something in common: it’s also based on two simple words from the Bible. The two words are from the Ten Commandments. The are four words in the Bible I have: “You shall not murder.” But in Hebrews the command is simply “No murder.”
You may think that you’re in for a very short sermon this morning. After all, it’s a long weekend. But if it is a short sermon – and I’m not making any promises – it won’t be because there isn’t a lot in this passage.
From these two simple words, I want to explore three things: first, what this passage teaches us about God; second, what this passage teaches us about us; and finally, where this passage drives us.
So first, let’s look at what this passage teaches us about God.
What we sometimes forget as we look at these commands is that each of these commands tells us something about God. They are not arbitrary rules. They are, in fact, reflections of the very character of God. Each of these commandments reflects something of the character of God, which is one reason why they are timeless. So we have to ask ourselves an important question as we look at each commandment: What does this commandment teach us about God?
This commandment tells us something important about God: that God is concerned with life. That may sound blindingly obvious at first, so let’s think about this a bit. God loves life. God takes immense pleasure and delight in his creation, and to destroy life is to rebel against the heart of God’s joy.
Let’s look at it a different way. In order to understand why God hates murder, we need to understand why God loves life.
On our vacation one day, we got talking about why God created this world. It’s important to realize that God never created this world out of boredom: God is not bored. He didn’t create this world because he was lonely: God, who exists in three persons, has always had perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect harmony. Jonathan Edwards reflected on this and says that before creation, God is infinitely happy. He exists as a community of persons pouring glorifying, joyful love into one another. Think about this in your own experience. Maybe you’ve had a time when you’ve admired someone else, and you would do anything for him or her. Then you discover that they feel the same way about you, and you enter into this relationship of marriage of harmony and self-giving in which both of you find joy in seeking the joy of the other. Some of us have only had small tastes of this, so imagine what it is like for God.
So why would God create this world, then? Historian George Marsden summarizes what Jonathan Edwards taught in his treatise The End for Which God Created the World. Listen to what he says:
The ultimate reason that God creates, said Edwards, is not to remedy some lack in God, but to extend that perfect internal communication of the triune God’s goodness and love. It is an extension of the glory of a perfectly good and loving being to communicate that love to other intelligent beings. God’s joy and happiness and delight in divine perfections is expressed externally by communicating that happiness and delight to created beings. (Jonathan Edwards: A Life)
To put it differently, the universe is an explosion of God’s glory, joy, and self-giving love. God has created us so that he could share his divine happiness with his creatures. God is infinitely happy in his self-giving, other-loving nature, and we have been created in his image to live the same way: in self-giving, other-centered joy.
Dallas Willard puts it this way:
We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe…All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.
…We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish in it and never tire of looking at their brilliant iridescence and marvelous forms and movements. But God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys.
…Human beings can lose themselves in card games or electric trains and think they are fortunate. But to God there is available, in the language of one reporter, “Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cart wheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space.” These things are all before him, along with numberless unfolding rosebuds, souls, and songs, and immeasurably more of which we know nothing. (The Divine Conspiracy)
Creating and sustaining life gives God joy. And this is why destroying and diminishing life in any way diminishes God’s joy and diminishes God’s glory. Because we are created in God’s image, it also ultimately diminishes our own joy. We’re called to love what God loves, to love life.
So to really understand this command, we have to understand something about God: that God loves life. He is the Lord of life. He’s made the waters and the earth to “swarm with swarms of living creatures” (Genesis 1:20). He gave all these creatures the breath of life. God takes pleasure in the life that we see around us. We exist as a result of God’s love of life. This whole universe is an explosion of his glory and his love of life. That’s what this passage teaches us about God: God loves and delights in life.
But secondly, let’s look at what this command teaches us about us.
This command is based on something that is true of us: that we are made in God’s image. We were designed to live not just physically but spiritually, especially because we are made in the image of God. God alone has the authority over life and death. That’s why God tells us in Genesis 9:
Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
Whoever sheds human blood,
by human beings shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made humankind.
As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it. (Genesis 9:3-7)
This is actually quite amazing. This passage tells us that God is going to demand an accounting from every animal or person that takes a human life. This passage teaches us that although God loves life, God permits the taking of animal life for food, but even then, the animal’s blood remains sacred and can’t be consumed so that we remember that all life is from God. But human life is different. To murder another human being is to murder what is most like God, and is therefore an attack on God himself. Therefore the command: no murder.
So what does this passage tell us about how we should live? Well, on the negative side, it’s pretty clear: don’t kill others for personal reasons. Notice that I didn’t say don’t kill. There is a verb that wasn’t used that is talks about killing in general, but that’s not the one that God gave in this commandment. God does give authorization for some types of killing: for example, sometimes in the case of war or capital punishment. In this commandment, the word God used refers to illicit killing: accidental or premeditated taking of the life of another human being; killing out of hatred, desire, anger or greed. We have no authority to take human life for personal reasons. We are to protect life and love it just as God does.
It’s interesting that in other legal codes in that time, the legal penalty for killing was monetary. The amount of money you would owe would depend on your standing in society, and the standing of the person that you killed. So if you were a lord and killed a servant, there would be a relatively minor financial penalty, but if you were a servant who killed a lord, you may be killed yourself. But not so in God’s law. According to God, all human life is valuable. Human life is beyond monetary value. It’s priceless. So negatively, don’t kill for personal reasons.
But there are positive implications as well. Positively, we’re called to preserve and protect human life. This covers a lot of ground: personally, that we eat and sleep properly. As far as others are concerned, it means that we take precautions against what could harm or kill others. John Calvin said it means that we defend the safety of others, both in body and in soul. Martin Luther said that it means that we do good to others, clothing the naked so they don’t freeze, feeding the hungry so they don’t starve, and doing good works to others.
But Jesus took this even further in Matthew 5, where he said:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)
Here Jesus takes the command – no murdering – and traces the roots of murder right back to the heart. He teaches us that the command not to murder doesn’t just cover the physical act. It also covers sinful anger, verbal abuse. Jesus says that it’s such as serious issue that being reconciled takes precedence over worship. It requires immediate action. In Jesus’ day, you may have been going to offer a sacrifice. You’ve got the sacrifice. You’ve passed through the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of Women, the Court of Men. Before you lies the Court of Priests. As you’re about to offer your gift, you remember that you’ve wronged someone. Jesus says to drop the gift, turn around and be reconciled. Your unreconciled relationship is not just an offense against that person; it’s also an offense against God and must be dealt with immediately.
So you can see how serious this is. You may have thought this morning that, again, this command won’t have much to do with you. You don’t kill. You’re off the hook. But this command goes much deeper than that. It calls us to treat our own bodies properly with proper rest, exercise, and nutrition. It calls us to do what we can to protect and preserve the lives of others. Even more, it deals with our hearts, calling us to love others. The Westminster Confession describes the type of heart it requires:
quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit…charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
Well, we’ve seen what this command teaches us about God, and what it teaches us about human life and our obligations toward others.
We’re left with just one more thing to consider this morning: where this passage drives us.
I mentioned earlier that God loves life. He is the Lord of life. The problem is that we don’t live in a world of life. Death is everywhere around us. This world isn’t the world of life that God created. The reason, according to the Bible, is death. God said in Genesis 2:17: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.” As a result of sin, death – both physical and spiritual – entered the world. After the fall, the first son of Eve killed the second. Ever since then, death has pervaded human history. We’re included in this. Death is very much a part of our lives.
We’ve also seen that we are, to some extent, guilty of murder. We may not have murdered with our hands, but we disrespect and diminish lives in how we treat and think of others.
All of this drives us to ask where we can find life, as opposed to the death we see around us.
The Bible says that the only way to deal with death is death. Remember what God said? “Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed.” God sent his Son to endure death in the place of his spiritually dead people. According to Romans 6, when Jesus died, his people died with him to sin. When he rose, his people rose with him to newness of life. Jesus shed his lifeblood to give eternal life to us through his death.
That’s why Paul writes:
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)
Jesus burst out of the grave and shattered the gates of death so that we could live. This world is an explosion of God’s glory and his self-giving love, and Jesus’ death and resurrection has set things in motion so that those who turn to him in faith will really live, will find joy in his joy, and will one day really live in a world in which even the trees sing and make music to praise the returning King. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
John said of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people” (John 1:4).
Father, may we see that you love life, that this whole world is an explosion of your glory and your love of life. May we see what this command requires of us. Most of all, may we see where you provide life in this world of death. May we find life in Jesus. In his name we pray, Amen.