Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | February 13, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 5:21-26

Downloadable version

“You Shall Not Murder” — what does this mean?

Lessons: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, 1 Corinthians 2:6-13, Matthew 5:21-37

Hymns (from Christian Worship): 283, 253, 583, 505:1, 3-5

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Last week Jesus told Christians that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Because Jesus knows that you will wonder what that really means – as the expert in the law wondered who his neighbor really was – because Jesus knows this, He describes saltiness and light.

The gospel lesson this morning covers four areas of saltiness and light:  murder, adultery, divorce, and the taking of oaths.  This morning, attention is given to the first topic, the prohibition against murder.  Jesus says, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ You have heard. Jesus reports no rumor.  He quotes God’s holy Word, the words of Moses in Exodus and Deuteronomy, God’s crystal clear prohibition of criminally taking the life of another person.  Even before Sinai, God revealed His will on this matter, saying to Noah, For your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, which Jesus paraphrases as Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.

Simple enough.  In addition, you say, confidently, “I can handle that.  I haven’t yet murdered someone.  I don’t plan to.”  Which is when Jesus throws you for a loop: But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  But I tell you. Jesus seems to add something here.  Jesus does not appeal to the rabbis and teachers of the law and their commentaries upon this verse.  He doesn’t appeal to the fathers of the faith – Moses, Abraham, David, the prophets.  He doesn’t say, “God says.”  He says, “I say.”  This is an epiphany moment.  Right here, right now, Jesus claims the divine authority to explain the Spirit’s words authoritatively.  Right here, right now, Jesus lets His divine nature shine forth.  And those who ignore this do so at their peril.  For at His Baptism, the Father said, With Him I am well pleased. At His transfiguration, the Father says, Listen to Him. All the way back in Deuteronomy 18, Christ was foretold as the Prophet with a capital “P” about whom the LORD says, I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.

Now that Prophet, Christ, legislates thought crimes.  This is repugnant to American sensibility.  Americans can think what they want about someone without it being a crime.  Christ says, “No, you can’t.”  He says, “Thoughts equal deeds.”  Thus His disciple John says, Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. Not someone whose hatred is reflected in word or deed, or who incites others to hatred, but someone who hates in his heart.  He murders.  And John says, You know that no murderer has eternal life.

Jesus reaches into your mind and convicts you.  He indicts the thoughts that lead to the words that so easily escape your mouth in anger, the words you can never get back, the words that poison relationships.  Jesus says that they deserve the same treatment that the taking of a life deserves – death.  For your good, because look where thoughts led Old Testament sinners.  Joseph’s brothers hated him, and it led to a murder plot, only at the last second revised into selling Joseph into slavery.  Saul’s jealousy and hatred of David led to repeated attempts to kill David.  King Ahab’s desire to own Naboth’s vineyard led to Naboth’s judicial murder.  David’s lust for Bathsheba led to the arranged death of Uriah.  Haman’s anger at the slight he received from the Mordacai led to a plot to wipe out every Jew in the Persian Empire.  Jealousy and hatred of Daniel led to a decree forbidding prayers to anyone but King Darius, and would have killed Daniel had not God closed the mouths of the lions.  Thoughts easily lead to murder, more easily than you would ever dream.  Would you ever imagine that 50,000,000 murders could be hung on a thought?  They can, when that thought is, “It’s my body and my choice,” and that leads to an abortion.

Your thoughts are not your own.  They belong to God, the God who calls you to love Him above all other things, which means that you love your brother.  And Jesus tells you today that not loving your brother means you’re not loving God.  Again, His disciple John: Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness….  If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

And worse yet, it’s not merely the thoughts that lead to murder that Christ condemns.  It’s the thoughts themselves, because those thoughts are the equivalent of saying to or about your brother, “I could care less if you were dead.”  Luther boldly makes this point in the Large Catechism:  God also rightly calls all people murderers who do not provide counsel and help in distress and danger of body and life. He will pass a most terrible sentence upon them in the Last Day, as Christ Himself has announced that He will say, “I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” This means: You would have allowed Me and Mine to die of hunger, thirst, and cold. You would have allowed the wild beasts to tear us to pieces, or left us to rot in prison or perish in distress. What else is that but to rebuke them as murderers and bloodhounds? For although you have not actually done all this to someone, you have still, so far as you were concerned, let him wither and perish in misfortune. Luther has you remember Matthew 25, a chapter where Jesus says that what you do or don’t do, you do or don’t do not just to your neighbor, but to Him.  Luther, and Christ, would have you contemplate the murder of Christ!

The punishment for this crime Jesus also announces:  the fire of hell. To think about, talk about, and treat your brother in these ways – to hate in your heart, to hate with your words, to hate with your actions, this leads only to hell.  Yet how quickly such thoughts and words dwell in your hearts and escape from your lips.

“What do I do?” you cry out!  Jesus says, Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. If heaven and hell are at stake, then there can be no doubt that reconciliation is of the highest urgency.  Christ says it comes before that which is most important in your week:  your religious duties.  When you have wronged your neighbor – note that, the focus is on your wronging him, not how the world has wronged you – you have nothing more important than to find him and fix it between you, even before you kneel at the altar of the Lord to receive His body and blood.  For how can you eat in peace when you are not at peace with the brother next to you?  You can’t be, or you’re lying.  How can you hear Paul’s words, Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf, how can you hear those words and confess that when you want to throw some part of that loaf into the garbage?  You cannot be absolved and receive the forgiveness of God while you are still in the midst of actively breaking the fifth commandment, while you are ignoring the spiritual welfare of your brother whom you’ve harmed, whom you perhaps, by your abusive, arrogant, and rude behavior, have driven away from God’s altar.  Go, confess, restore peace.  Even if it’s not a Christian brother, Christ calls you to do this:  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. Even Solomon advised his son, …if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids.

Christ warns, “You will reap what you sow,” just as Moses exhorted Israel:  I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient…you will certainly be destroyed. If your life is a constant breaking of the fifth commandment, then you will not live long and prosper.  It will not go well with you.  And this will only be paralleled in eternity – the great chasm fixed between heaven and hell which cannot be crossed.

With these examples, Jesus makes it clear:  this attitude permeates your whole life, whether you’re dealing with brothers in Christ or the secular world, whether you’re dealing with friends or adversaries.  The principle is love always, all the time, everyone.

Oh the heights of the bar Christ sets for you.  All a Christian can do is pray like the tax collector, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Then, it’s the gospel, the miracle of miracles.  The king, to whom you owe an unpayable debt, whom you’ve murdered in your heart, took pity upon you.  He loved you first.  While you were still His enemy, Christ died for you.  He didn’t wait for you, who wronged Him, to come to Him.  You wouldn’t.  He came to you.  He forgave those who crucified Him, though they didn’t ask for it.  And He forgot.  This is the new covenant, I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.

Now, He who loved you first, gives you the ability to love.  He gives you the ability to confess and allows your brother to absolve.  He provides Word, water, and meal, by which you are convicted of sin then acquitted by grace, washed clean, nourished.  Is this not the greatest gift that Christ could give you?  Amen.

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