Third Sunday in Lent: Sixth Commandment I: Gen. 3:1-24, Rom. 5:1-21, Matt. 5:17-26

The prohibition of murder is fundamentally connected to our doctrines of life, death, sin, and salvation in Christ. The first Adam’s sin was in effect the first great murder, leading to millions more, but the second Adam was murdered for the salvation and resurrection of millions.

The First Murder
In the beginning God created the world good (Gen. 1:31). He created man in His image and placed him in the garden to tend and keep it, and gave Him every tree of the garden to freely eat (Gen. 2:15-16). But the tree of knowledge of good and evil God prohibited, and He set the death penalty for disobedience to His word (Gen. 2:17). Disobedience is death, turning away from the life-giving words of God who spoke us into life. Adam had shared this law with his wife by the time the serpent showed up in the garden (Gen. 3:3), and after the man and woman ate the fruit and disobeyed, they immediately experienced shame and sought to hide from God (Gen. 3:7-8). In the curses declared on the man and the woman, Adam is also promised death: from dust he was taken (Gen. 2:7) and to dust he will return (Gen. 3:19). And with this one sin comes death/murder into the world (Rom. 5:12). Because life was God’s promised gift to the human race, Adam and Eve effectively committed the first “suicide-murder” in the history of the world and passed this poison to their descendents (Gen. 4:8, 4:23). The generations that follow are interrupted in succession with the announcement of death (e.g. Gen. 5), and this is part of the broader context of the entire earth filling up with violence (Gen. 6:11). Following the flood, Noah is given the clearest, most basic definition of murder: God says that the life is in the blood, and for the lifeblood, God will demand an accounting both from man and beast (Gen. 9:4-5). Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed (Gen. 9:6). This is because man is made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6).

Eternal Death
The immediate reaction to sin is shame and guilt, and Adam and Eve hide from God and from each other. Sin drives a wedge between image bearers and the One whose image they bear; this is a kind of death. Jesus says that those who are enslaved to sin are full of murder and lies because they are sons of the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). They can’t help but murder and lie, evading, hiding, destroying the image of God. This means that the first step in keeping the sixth commandment is being freed from our enslavement. You need a new Father which means that you need to be born again (Jn. 3:3-6, 1 Pet. 1:17-25). And this doesn’t mean “an improved outlook on life” or being more “positive” or “optimistic” – this means being transformed by the Spirit of God. Murder arises from a heart of hatred; it is ultimately to seek the eternal, permanent end of God and His purposes (Mt. 5:22). And this is to seek eternal, permanent death, which conveniently, is the penalty for sin, returning to the ground from which man was made (Rom. 6:23). God declares the penalty for death, but the penalty is also the natural result of that decision. The Hebrew word for that reality is Sheol, the grave, the pit, and can refer to a preliminary hell for those who hate God (Num. 16:30-33, Dt. 32:22-24, Ps. 49:14). The Bible shows that there is a consciousness in this state (1 Sam. 28:11-15, Lk. 16:22-23), and that at the resurrection all men will be raised up, some to the resurrection of life (Ps. 16:10, 49:15, Jn. 5:29, Jn. 11:24-25) and others to the resurrection of eternal torment (Jn. 5:29, Rev. 20:15, 21:8), called by John the “unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12) and by Jesus “hell fire” (Mt. 5:22) and the “furnace of fire” where there is “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (e.g. Mt. 13:42, 50). Hell is God’s eternal justice for those who reject His goodness (Rev. 20:14-15). On the one hand, the love of God compels us to hold out hope for all men. The love of Christ compels us to love our enemies, and the enemies of the gospel. And at the same time, we rest in the ultimate justice of God. For God to send sinners to eternal torment is good news for the saints of God (Rev. 19:1-6). All attempts to soften hell are attempts to soften our sin and minimize the gospel.

Murdered in Our Place
The cross is the supreme picture of how wicked our sin is, in what bad shape we are in (Rom. 8:3). The cross of Jesus is the standing condemnation of rebellious humanity (Rom. 2:19), and the standing salvation of all who hope in it (Rom. 8:4). One of the ways you can tell if the Spirit is at work in you is if you are honest about your past, your failures, your sin, and at the same time not crushed by it. The fallen, sinful heart either minimizes and makes excuses or is depressed and falls into despair. Only the Holy Spirit can allow you to see clearly, confess heartily, and then rejoice in forgiveness. This is why Jesus says that prostitutes and sinners and tax collectors are the first citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. These are the people who make no pretense of righteousness. Their sin and brokenness is out in the open for everyone to see. But it was the church-going Pharisees who murdered Jesus. They couldn’t stand to have their sin exposed, and yet at the end of the day they had killed an innocent man. But that great breach of the sixth commandment was the salvation of the world. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities (Is. 53:3-7). We need to see our sin as far worse than we ever thought, and see the salvation of the cross as far greater than we ever imagined. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:8, 10). There has been a great accounting for the lifeblood. His blood cleanses us from sin (1 Jn. 1:7). The grave has been plundered (Ps. 16:10-11).

I have heard far too many people in and associated with our congregation say that being a Christian means “trying to be good” and “doing what God says.” Unless the Spirit of God revives a dead man, teaching him to trust in the death and resurrection of Christ, and finding peace with God, all that kind of “good” will do is spread hell and darkness around (Mt. 23:15, 33). If you’re trying to be good, you need to stop.

In this life there is real pain and suffering. Children are mangled by disease, wicked men kidnap young girls and rape them and sell them into prostitution and pornography, bombs are dropped on civilians, killing and maiming indiscriminately, and children are murdered in their mothers wombs. But the answer to pain and agony in this life is not to look away; the answer is not to minimize it or sentimentalize it, blurring it all over with resentment of evil and suffering. The answer is the defiant cry of Easter. The answer is to look straight into Hell and see your victorious and living Savior standing holding the keys of death and hades. When you see your triumphant God glorious in weakness, omnipotent in His brokenness, then you see your own sin and brokenness as an opportunity for God’s glory to shine. You’re far worse than you ever thought; and God’s grace is greater than you imagined.


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