The Third Sunday After Pentecost June 1, 2008
Genesis 1:26-28, 2:7, 9:6
1 John 3:10-18; 4:19-5:2
19, 291, 400, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, 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. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.
In the name of the Lord our God who is the giver and keeper of life, dear fellow-redeemed:
We have become rather accustomed to murder in our country. We might even say that we’ve become rather comfortable with it—but maybe that would be a little bit of an overstatement. We hear about murders on a regular basis in the newspaper and on the television and radio news. Not only that, but murder has become the plot in a great amount of today’s “entertainment.” Yes, murder is the plot for entertainment in movies and TV, but even more so in video games in which the purpose is to—in a very graphic way—murder the digital image.
How comfortable are we with murder? How shocking is it in our day and age? I would believe and pray that among us every murder remains shocking. Although we too have become accustomed enough to murder that we are perhaps no longer stunned by the gruesome news, but are left shaking our heads as we wonder where the world is going.
God’s command against murder presents for us an unique challenge. Sins against the fifth commandment are so open and obvious—the murders, the assaults, the abortions—we hear about all of these in daily news, and we know that they are sins. The challenge is, indeed, the danger is that we become so accustomed to these open sins that we say, “Oh, look at all those sinners—they’re murdering, they’re aborting unborn children, but God, I thank you that I’m not a murderer.”
Because there is such a widespread exposure to murder in its most obvious forms, we face the danger of assuming that those sins are all that are involved with the fifth commandment. But that is not true. Every one of us—myself included—is a murderer in God’s eyes. “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). I am confident that there is not a one of us who has never had a feeling of hatred or jealousy, and God condemns that sin as murder under the fifth commandment.
As we consider God’s intent in the fifth commandment: “You shall not murder,” we seek to learn that I. God establishes the value of human life, II, God determines the quality of life, and III. God demonstrates the love that protects life.
Simply put, the fifth commandment is God’s command to protect human life. When we understand what the value of that life is and why God is protecting it, then we will understand more clearly why God is so certainly commanding us to protect it and to do whatever we can to help our neighbor protect and keep his life.
Our understanding begins with the uniqueness of God’s creation of human life. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). God made the dirt man on the ground and then breathed into that clay the breath of life. The breath from God made that “dust man” into a living breathing Adam. We also know that God later took a chunk out of Adam’s side and from that formed his wife, Eve (cf. Genesis 2:21-22). These were two different ways of creating man and woman, but both were uniquely different from the rest of creation. God made everything and for all of the rest of creation He simply said, “Let there be” and there was (cf. Genesis 1:3ff). But for mankind—for man and woman—God took special steps and created them in an unique way. But there’s more…
Before God created mankind He said, “‘Let Us make man…let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ … Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26-27). When God created Adam and Eve He placed them and all of their descendants above everything else that He created because He created everything else for us as human beings. Man and woman are the crown of God’s creation. He gave them the authority to rule and have dominion over all things.
But there is still more for before God created Adam and Eve He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God is a spirit. He doesn’t have a bodily form so we’re not talking about looking in the mirror and seeing what God looks like. Rather, when Adam and Eve were created in God’s image God created them holy and perfect, completely righteous, knowing His will, and having a relationship of perfection between themselves and God—their creator (cf. Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10). What a remarkable gift to be created in that image, to have that righteousness and holiness and an unique relationship with God that nothing else in the earth would have—not a plant, not an animal, nothing!
The image of God was sadly lost when sin came into the world. We are able to see this loss immediately after sin because when God was walking through the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, Adam and Eve hid themselves. They were afraid. While possessing the image of God they would not have feared Him. They would not have been afraid because they had that wonderfully perfect relationship, but once sin came into the world the perfect relationship was lost. Sin now intervened and stood in the way between God and His creation.
But again we see the value that God places on human life because in the midst of a fallen world He promised to send a Savior. God sent His Son to be the Savior of all people. He sent Jesus to live a perfect life and to die so that through Christ the image of God would be restored. Through Jesus the lost relationship would be regained and sinners would be redeemed to live with God forever in heaven.
Peter speaks of the cost of redemption and therefore of the value of a human soul: “…[know] that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
How valuable is each human life? It is valuable because of the uniqueness with which God created it and it’s value is measured in the precious blood of the Son of God. The Son of God left His throne and humbled Himself to be your Savior. He came and lived in this sinful sorrowful life for you and then laid down His life for you, pouring out His blood so that your sins could be washed away—that’s how valuable your life is. That is how valuable every single soul on the earth is and that’s why God protects it. Human life is so valuable and God is so serious about His command that He says: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6).
When we talk about human life we can speak about a “time of grace.” Each of our lifetimes is a time of grace. Our life—whether it be long or short—is the time here on the earth when we have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, be brought to faith in Christ, and receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It is also the time period during which we who have been brought to faith have the opportunity to share the Gospel with others for their salvation. God protects each person’s time of grace because of life’s value and because of the opportunity to bring the Gospel of salvation to lost souls which accomplishes His purpose. Murder cuts a time of grace short. It has the potential to cut the time of grace short before someone is brought to faith or before others can be brought to faith through his witness.
God establishes the value of life and He builds a wall around it to protect it by Hs command not to murder. God’s command is “You shall not murder.” It is not “You shall not kill.” There is killing that is not murder and which does not break the fifth commandment.
Animal life has been given to mankind to be used for food ever since the Flood. Killing animals for this purpose is not murder and does not contradict God’s will.
The government has the authority to execute those who take a life. God says, “Whoever sheds man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed,” and “[the government] is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 16:4). A rightful authority exercising the responsibility given by God to punish the evil-doer is not murdering even though it does involve killing.
God is the one who determines the quality of life within of our time of grace. Our life is given value by our Creator and our Redeemer. That life is God’s. It is not ours, it never has been and never will be. The Psalmist says, “I trust in You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.” (Psalm 31:14b-15a).
This fact that our life—our time of grace—is in God’s hands brings with it tremendous comfort. Can you imagine the weight of responsibility if we were the ones to decide how long we would live? Can you imagine how life would be if there was a committee of the government that would decide “this child has enough quality to live,” but then say to another set of parents: “I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, your baby doesn’t make the grade. We’re going to need to kill it.”? Can you imagine sinful human beings determining what a person’s time of grace would be based on what they perceive a quality of life would be? It would be disaster! It would be sorrowful. It would be sinful. God determines the quality of life. What a tremendous comfort to know that if I wake up in the morning—even if I am weak and frail and dying—that I can be confident that my times are in God’s hand and that for whatever reason—whether obvious to me or not—He is giving me another day to serve Him.
One of my grandmothers in her later years of life was virtually blind, couldn’t walk very well without assistance, and for the most part spent her wakeful hours of the day sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home. On one visit to her, she commented from a heart of faith—not being discontent, just questioning: “I don’t understand why God would let me still live. There is nothing I can do.” I told her, “Grandma, you don’t have any idea what God is still accomplishing through you” because I knew that she was still praying regularly for her children, her grandchildren, her great grandchildren, and others; and the visits that her family made were a blessing to those of us who were there. A family friend, also a devout Christian, is in that same state right now, wondering why he is living. The answer is because God will determine the quality and quantity of life for each of us in order to accomplish His purposes, and when that time of grace is at His appointed end, He will call the souls of His faithful children home to heaven.
When we apprise our life—whether young, healthy, and strong, or frail, weak, and dying—our times are in God’s hands. It is not ours to determine whether someone has a high enough quality, is young enough, to survive. God uses even physical frailties to accomplish His will. The apostle Paul was a relatively young man and was actively proclaiming the Gospel. Yet he had some kind of physical ailment that hindered him at times. He prayed asking God to take away the physical limitation so that he could serve God even more. God said, “No.” Every time Paul asked, God still said, “No, because “My strength, Paul, is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
If God calls upon us to have a life of sorrow and physical trouble, or if it’s just the golden years of our lives that begin to show those frailties, we can be confident that our lives are in God’s hands. He is the one who is governing and guiding everything that determines our particular quality of life at any particular time. Our comfort is that God will use that quality of life for His purposes. When we have completed the work He has given us to do, He will call his faithful stewards home and give them eternal life. That determination is in God’s hands, not ours.
We, finally, learn from God how to keep this commandment by loving one another. Certainly outright murder, harming one’s body, abortion, taking one’s own life, assisted suicide—all of these are clearly sins against the fifth commandment. But the sins of the heart also break God’s command. When I hate someone, when jealousy and bitterness rise up, when I begrudge a blessing that God has given to someone and not to me, all of these things are breaking the 5th commandment.
We break the fifth commandment when we don’t love fully. Maybe I don’t “hate” someone, but I haven’t shown them the kind of love I could and should show them. That also is failing to keep the fifth commandment perfectly.
God tells us that love fulfills the law (cf. Romans 13:10). If we loved perfectly we would never sin. We love when we love others as God has first loved us. Today’s New Testament Scripture reading teaches us that if we see someone in need and don’t help that person, we have not shown love (cf. 1 John 3:17). James repeats much the same thing when he says that if we see someone hungry or thirsty and don’t help that person even though we have the means to help, then we are not showing them love (cf. James 2:15-16).
Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to a man who had asked Him, “Who is my neighbor?” Through the parable Jesus demonstrated what love is and that we should show love to all with whom we come into conduct, even as the Samaritan did for the man who fell among thieves. The first two men who passed by the dying man didn’t show love—they walked right by, they didn’t care. But the Samaritan came by and addressed the man’s needs and showed him the neighborly love that God demands from all of us.
Keeping in mind the value of life as determined by the creation and the sacrifice of Christ, every one we meet is a neighbor to whom we can show love. Sometimes that will be in a very small way and sometimes we may have opportunity to show it in a very large way. Every time we fail to do this, we break the fifth commandment.
God says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:20). It’s easy to love our friends and our family. God commands us to love with a purposeful love even those who don’t love us, even being kind to them when they are harsh with us. This kindness may prick their consciences thereby heaping coals of fire on their head. This may lead them to ask us or others, “How can I be saved?” and then we are able to provide the Gospel to them—the Means of Grace and the way to life.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 5:32). God demonstrates perfect love when He loves us—unlovable though we are. God demonstrated that perfect love when His Son, Jesus, sacrificed Himself for us. There was nothing that would benefit Him from a human standpoint. He did it for us out of His deep love and the desire to have us live with Him eternally in heaven.
We love our neighbor and keep the fifth commandment when we seek to put into our lives and our actions a similar love that looks out for the soul of everyone whom we meet, that seeks to help whenever we have opportunity, and that seeks to sacrifices for the other person’s benefit.
So we find that an important part of the fifth commandment doesn’t make the news headlines. And we find that when we look at ourselves in light of the fifth commandment, we are left standing humbly before the Lord, declaring with a penitential sigh, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
What joy to know that He has been merciful. He has loved us with an everlasting love. By that love revealed to us in Christ Jesus, all of our sins, including those against the 5th commandment, are washed completely away. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.