Dear Friends in Christ,

I have thought about making a family board game called “Is it a Sin?”  Over the years I have been asked countless times to be a judge when people wanted to know if something is a sin.  For instance, someone asks, “Would I be sinning if there were a car accident in the middle of the desert and someone was very badly injured and they asked me if I would baptize them?   Since there was no water around is it okay to use my spit?  Pastor, is that a sin?  Or a little child asks, “My little brother wanted a drink of water but Mom and Dad told me I was in bed and I was to never get out of it until morning.  But I know that if I didn’t get him a drink of water he might die.  Pastor, is that a sin to get him a drink of water?

            I don’t mean to blow off concerns, but certainly knowing the difference between what is right and wrong in such cases won’t change the fact that heaven is by grace alone. 

When we confess our sins, we confess we are by nature sinful and unclean.  We confess the sins we don’t even know.  We confess that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  We hear the apostle Paul says, “I am the chief of sinners,” but we need to say, “Hold everything, Paul! You never met me.”

We are studying the Sermon on the Mount.  This is the third week.  In the words preceding these verses Jesus tells his followers that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Even though we don’t do that perfectly, he continues and reminds us that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  Yes, he came to be the fulfillment of all those prophecies by the prophets.  He came to fulfill the Law, God’s commandments that we couldn’t do.   Today we look at a section where he enumerates the Commandments.  He picks the Fifth Commandment – You shall not murder. Let’s look at the “Fifth Commandment that Jesus Kept for Us; 1) He tells us what is required. 2) He tells us he met that requirement…for us.

There Jesus was on that mountainside in Galilee delivering the sermon of all sermons. He begins a section where he makes it clear that commandments still apply. 

As Christian people we always need to remember that we are a dichotomy.  We have an evil nature that doesn’t like to be told how to be or how to act.  Psalm 51: 5 spells out we were conceived in sin and born.  No one had to learn how to sin.  We also have that new man God created in us by God’s Spirit.  The new self considers it an honor to live for the Lord.  Each nature looks at the Commandments differently.  To the sinful nature the commandments act like a mirror.  We see ourselves as we really are.  When we look into a mirror, we see ourselves with all the imperfections – the gray hair, the balding head, the zit on your nose or the scar on the cheek.  The great British leader Oliver Cromwell was famously quoted saying that a mural of him would need to include “warts and all.”  The commandments are brutally honest.  The Commandments convict every last person of sin and guilt whether they believe it or not.  Frankly, that’s good.  Jesus would mean nothing to us without the commandments showing us how desperately we need him. They bring us to our needs.    

Jesus addresses and applies the 5th commandment.  “You have heard that it was said to people long ago, Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  And anyone who says to his brother 'Raca' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone says, ‘You fool will be in danger of the fires to hell.’”

We have a congregation that is small enough where I believe I know most people fairly well.  Yet I am not God who knows every nook and cranny of our hearts.  I am not aware of anyone ever killing anyone by squeezing the life out of him.  But Jesus makes it very clear that is not the only way a person can commit murder.      

But Jesus says, ““You have heard that it was said to people long ago, Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  God gives to man a conscience.  That conscience says that murder is a vile crime.  Only the most hardened commit murder and does not regret it.  The first murderer, Cain, tried to bury his brother Abel so that no one would see what he had done.  He knew he did wrong. 

I told the Bible class last Sunday that after the time of the prophets that ended with Malachi there were two schools that developed who trained Rabbis for the Jews during the time between the Testaments.  One was called Shammai and the other Hillel.  They seemed to be in the business of interpreting law.  I am sure they had all kinds of interpretation of what constituted murder.    

Let’s listen to Jesus.  If you get angry with your brother without cause and lose your loving heart, you deserve to be judged because it is sin.  Anyone who calls someone “Raca”, an Aramaic word that means empty- head, numbskull, brainless or idiot is worthy of Judgment even by the Sanhedrin, the Council of seventy.  Human courts judge people guilty of saying evil about people…at least sometimes.  But Jesus said that hating and reviling someone is a sin worthy of the eternal fires of hell. In other words the Lord doesn’t take kindly at all to insulting and hating our neighbor.  Murder begins in the heart. And that is worthy of God’s most severe judgment.

I was once called to do jury duty.  I made the first cut to serve on the jury for a case of attempted murder.  All those left in the jury pool were interviewed publicly by attorneys from each side about their feelings on points of law.  I was asked of my views of capital punishment. They knew I was a pastor.  One question that was asked of all of those in the pool was this:  Have you had a friend or relative who was murdered?  I was blown away by the number of people that answered “yes.” Better than a third of the 48 people in the pool said they had relatives or friends who were murdered.     

Yet if we all were in the courtroom of God, none of us would be in the jury pool.  We would be the accused.  The heavenly judge would say, “The Law says, ‘Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.’  All of us would have to say, “Your Honor, your Greatness, your Majesty, Holy Father - I am guilty. I have no excuses!  Have mercy on me!

Jesus once said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Did you hear that?  Did you hear why?  Out of the heart!  Out of the evil heart!  It is all the result of the madness and selfishness that took place in Eden and has passed to every generation since.  Every heart since then is affected the same way.  Yes, everyone is doing it!  But don’t use it as an excuse.    

Jesus goes on and says that the sinful heart that hates and despises pollutes our worship. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.”  Can we honestly worship God and offer God our praise and thanks when we are hanging onto bitterness in an unforgiving heart?  Can we thank our forgiving God when vengeance and a heart filled with animosity and hostility lurks? How odd and paradoxical it is to praise our forgiving God when we remain unforgiving. What does the passage mean that says, “Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you?”    

This passage is often quoted in regard to our preparation for the Lord’s Supper.  Why do we come to the Lord’s Supper?  We come to receive Christ’s body and Christ’s blood with the bread and wine as the personal guarantee of forgiveness of all my personal sin. The body and blood that Jesus so agonizingly offered didn’t exclude a single person or a single sin, not even of the jerk who offended us.  God cleared the matter between that person and him; we need to clear the matter between that person and us.      

There is something also interesting about this passage.  I have read this passage again and again and again.  I noticed something that stuck out there for me.  Notice what he says, “and there remember that your brother has something against you.”  If you know that your brother has something against you, don’t say that is his problem.  He needs to deal with it.  You need to be the bigger brother or sister in Christ and step forward.  Don’t let pride stand in the way.

Jesus adds something else. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still with him on the way or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge may hand you over to the officer and you may be thrown into prison.  I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”  We live in a society that loves to sue.  McDonald’s is being sued again by some one for making their coffee hot. With the economy the way it is, the devil is having a field day tempting people to get rich at other people’s expense. But remember this: God’s children should be seen in church, not in court. 

The apostle Paul devoted a section of his first epistle to the Corinthians to this very subject.  People in that church were suing one another.  He says, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?”  I know there are times when we might be driven to court.  Sometimes we might have to take on the litigious person who seems to want to make a living suing people. Maybe we have to so he doesn’t go after someone else.  But I say again, God’s children should be seen in church, not in court.    

I have talked a long time.  But now the most important point of all!  When we hear how Jesus performed miracle after miracle, isn’t that awesome? Raising the dead, healing those born blind, lame and deaf!  It is amazing! Yet it also amazes me that Jesus lived in this sinful world for thirty three years and not once did he ever sin. 

It wasn’t like he sat in some monastery avoiding the world and all the sinful people.  There were so many people around him that he could hardly breathe.  They weren’t nice people either.  Many only wanted to use him.  Many didn’t get the point of his ministry.  Many accused him.  Many plotted and planned against him.  They lied about him and spread false stories about him. Not once did he sin! Peter, the one who saw much of it first-hand, wrote, “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made not threats.  Instead he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.  He himself bore your sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live to righteousness.”   

“You shall not murder.” It means more than what meets the eye. How we fail to meet the requirements! But don’t fear!  Jesus met all the requirements for us to save us. 



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