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Life is a Gift from God
Scripture: Exodus 20:13
Track 6 of 10 in the Ten Commandments series
Running time: 29 minutes, 50 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, August 7, 2005
6th sermon in a 10-part series.
"Life is a Gift from God"
"Ten Words to Guide our Lives"
(Exodus 20:13)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

1968 Dick Holler brought out a song that you may recognize. It's been sung by a variety of people. The lyrics go, "Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham? Can you tell me where he's gone? He's freed a lot of people. But it seems the good, they die young." Three verses, one about Abraham, one about John and one about Martin. Three assassinated leaders in our culture. And this particular song writer was trying to help us get a handle on what happens when we kill people.

MURDER. . . . .it's the stuff of movies and music and mysteries. We're not surprised at all when we read in the paper about them. (There should be a slide coming up here with lots of them on there.) You can take and pick your choice which one is the worst or the least or the most surprising. They've been around for a long time. You'll find Cain up there, at least some artist's conception of him and a couple other Biblical characters. Maybe you'll be surprised by the presence, for example, of David. That should shock you just a little. A man after God's own heart, guilty of murder.

There are some others up there whose heinous crimes will mark them down as among the worst ever in history. There are some folks that are not up there. Probably just as well. Murderers!

It won't surprise you, I suppose, to discover that God is against it.

Exodus 20:13 Command Number 6, at least if you follow the list the way that we're following it. It's Number 6. Let me read that for you. It's pretty simple. "You shall not murder." Let's set it in it's context. You know where we've been. We've been walking through the Ten Commandments. Command No. 1 - I will not have any rivals. I am God and there isn't anybody else. Command No. 2 - Don't make graven images. Don't try to boil God down into someone you can control. Command No. 3 - Don't take the Lord's name in vain. Take Me seriously. Treat Me with dignity and respect. Command No. 4 - About the Sabbath. Trust Me, I will take care of you. Command No. 5 - The one we worked with last week. Honor your father and your mother. Learn how to submit to those over you, particularly to God.

There was a Sunday school teacher who had done her best that particular morning to teach Command number 5. Honor your parents. Obey your mom and your dad. Then she asked this question, "Is there a Commandment about how to treat your brother and sister?" And immediately one little child said, "Thou shall not murder." There is some connection here I suspect between Commandment No. 5 and Commandment No. 6. Don't MURDER!

Now, I want you to hear that clearly. Out of the thirteen English translations that I looked at, ten of them translated murder, not kill. Three of the older translations, maybe the one that you grew up on, translated. . .Thou shalt not kill. Unfortunately there are a number of words for kill in the Old Testament. This is not one of them. This is the word that is specifically relegated to one specific kind of killing and that is murder. It fits in to one rather large category. Don't kill people. But it excludes a variety of things.

This particular word is never used to talk about war. As important a topic as that might happen to be, particularly in light of yesterday. Some of you probably didn't pay any attention to that. It just passed by you. Others of you may have enough memory of this event that you were struck by it once again. For some of you it probably was a news item that arrested you. Yesterday was the anniversary, sixty years ago, that we dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. It was commemorated yesterday all over the world by those who thought it was the right thing to do and by those who thought it was the wrong.

There is a gentleman here in Quincy who has close connections to that particular event. He was interviewed on the evening news at least once during this last week.

But this word is not about that. That's an important topic, probably one we should entertain at some point. That's just not this word. Nor, is this word about capital punishment. That's not what's in here. There is a word for that in the Old Testament. It is used in a variety of places. It's not used here.

In fact, one of the Scholar's who writes about this particular word says in definition: Murder is the willful, premeditated taking of life. The law did, however, sanction killing as a defensive or punitive act and prescribed the death penalty for a variety of sins.

There are some things that this does include. When you say murder, the Old Testament was very clear that you not only had a responsibility not to take life intentionally, but, there were provisions made in case of things, that we have come to call in our legal system, manslaughter, accidental death. There was provision in the Old Testament for your personal responsibility for your property or your animals. For example, when you build a house, the instructions were very clear because they were all flat roofed structures, you were to build a parapet (a wall around the top of your roof) so that nothing could fall off and thereby injure someone on the ground.

If you owned a bowl for example, that's the illustration used in the text, and that bowl is responsible for killing someone, you, personally bear the responsibility for that death. And there were consequences to be entertained.

So when Moses presented this law to the people, Thou shalt not murder, there was a fairly wide range of things here. Manslaughter, taking responsibility for your property. There was provision in the Old Testament for a variety of what were called cities of refuge so that, if per chance, you were involved in a death, so that somebody just didn't come along and immediately seek revenge, you could flee to the city of refuge and in that city of refuge you could be guaranteed a trial. That way nobody could just avenge an "eye for an eye" or a "tooth for a tooth", a "life for a life" without there being some legal recourse.

Don't kill people. That's basically what this text says, intentionally or otherwise. I suppose we could move on with the rest of the service now because it's pretty simple. Don't go around murdering folks. That's what this text says.

The question is, why not? And it seems to me that in the answering of the question, why God so strongly prohibits murder is wrapped up in the things we've already said. We've sung it. We've read it and we've listened to it.

So let's go back to it. Genesis 1 You need to understand if you're going to understand this command and its implications for your life. You need to have some sense of how significant, how important life was. In fact, if you read your Bible, Genesis 1, 2 & 3 you'll become very quickly aware, life was intended to never end. Death was not part of the picture; any kind of death. There was a tree from which they could eat that was supposed to give them life forever. Unfortunately, as you know, that didn't work out very well.

But in Genesis 1:26 after having created all of humanity, or all of the animal and plant kingdom, He says in Genesis 1:26 "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. . . . .and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply". . . . . . Do you notice that the very first command given to man was to create life. God created us in His image and the very first thing He told us to do was reproduce who you are. Life had value! Had immeasurable importance and significance. Go over to Genesis 2:8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Right there in the very essence of creation is this statement "I want you to live". Life is important. Life has value.

Come over to Genesis 9 You don't have to wait until Genesis 9 before you discover that man has fouled things up but we'll go ahead and go to Genesis 9 because there's such a strong statement here about life. This is after the flood. All of humanity except for Noah and his family has been destroyed. He starts over with Noah.

Genesis 9:1 God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. Sounds a lot like that early command in Genesis doesn't it? The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. 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 man, too, I will demand an accounting for life of his fellow man."

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; (WHY?) for in the image of God has God made man.

Why does God value life so significantly? Because we were created in God's image. We have value just because we're human. Just because we are what God has made. Look at Psalm 139. We read just a piece of it earlier. Let's come back to the 139th Psalm and just read a bit more of that.

Psalm 139, you'll recognize it, I'm quite confident.

Psalm 139 O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You notice how closely He pays attention to you.

You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

You can't ever be out of God's presence. That's His message. He cares so much about you that you can never go someplace and discover, "oh wait a minute, God's not here" 'cause He's everywhere you are and He's there before you get there.

He goes on to say, If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made: your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. God knew you before you were you.

I don't know if you've been around the back of our building lately. But there are babies everywhere. It's a wonderful thing. It's marvelous! And God knows them all, every one of them. And He knew them before you knew that you had them. Because He knit them together. He values life.

I have mentioned this particular person to you before. His name is L. C. Sutton. He came out of the projects in Joliet. He was a young African-American that came to Lincoln to school whom I traveled with into the inner city of Hartford on a number of different occasions. I always wanted to take L. C. with me because the world that I grew up in was middle-class or sub-middle-class but white. I didn't understand.

And I have to confess to you that while I grew up on the poor side of the tracks, I am fully, completely immersed in middle-class culture. I know how to fix things. Do it my way and everything will turn out the way it's supposed to. Go get a job. Clean up the place. Do what your supposed to do. Quit misbehaving and life will be like it's supposed to be. You all know those rules.

Then I would get into the north end of Hartford; and, I would walk down Albany Avenue; and, I would walk past anywhere from 50 to 500 unemployed African-American men standing on the street. And I would go to the community center at either Charter Oaks or one of the other places and I would play with little black children. Demetrius was one of my favorites. A five year old who could walk us through the subdivision, literally walked us through the subdivision, and point out which houses you don't go in, which cars you do not pay attention to, which people you avoid. Five years old! I will never forget the statement that Beau made to me when one of our college students asked him what he wanted when he grew up. His answer was, "I just want to live to be seventeen." That's not an answer that I would have ever given.

I remember going to the maximum security prison, north of Hartford in Connecticut and I remember as L. C. and I were carrying on these conversations and I'm asking him to help me understand culture. I would ask this question, "How do we get people out of here?"

One particular day we were commenting on an event that happened in Cabrini Green in Chicago. Maybe you will remember the day that a ten year old boy threw an eight year old boy off the eighth floor of an apartment building because he wanted his coat. And I remember asking L. C., "How do we address this issue?" And his response has stayed with me forever. "Teach people that they are made in the image of God and have value."

I don't know how to say more significantly the importance of this 6th Commandment than to say, "Treat people as if they were made in the image of God because they have inherent value."

Gail and I just re-watched for probably the second or third time the movie Amestad about those slaves from West Africa who became a part of a supreme court decision in the early part of our country; and, here was the argument, were they or were they not property? Of course they weren't property! They were people!

Thou shalt not murder.

Well, that ought to be simple enough. Don't do it. Of course, none of you are thinking you will.

There was an attorney meeting with a widow. The fella had not left a will and so he was saying, " You know it's really important that we know the last thing that your husband said to you because that's the only way we're going to be able to process this case." And the wife said, "I really don't want to tell you." He said, "Well, we really have to know the last thing that he said." And she said, "It was between he and me and I really don't want to share it with you." And he said, "There is no way we can dispose of this case if you don't tell me." And she said, "Oh alright. The last thing he said to me was, 'You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with that gun.'"

It's fairly obvious that we shouldn't shoot one another, right? Thou shalt not murder.

But is that the end of the issue? Well, ya know. . . Maybe one of the implications is that we take responsibility for things, like the way we drive.

If an Old Testament person had to put a parapet around his house to keep things from falling off maybe we ought to be responsible for the way that we handle those things that could injure other people.

Quite honestly, ah, I'm not taking a political stand here. I just happened to grow up during the days when atomic energy was hitting the scenes. I remember as an early teenager going to Arco, Idaho where the nuclear plant was and they were telling us about how this whole thing worked and how they were taking all of this nuclear waste and they were burying it out in the desert someplace because they were just really pretty sure that if you put it down in a salt pit that it would not cause any damage. And I remember thinking. . . . "pretty sure!" I think I'd like more assurance than "pretty sure". I mean it's not like it's going to last for a day or two and then, you know, it'll be gone. This stuff goes on for like, ever!

Could it be that maybe this text about valuing life says something about "Valuing life". Could it be that this is an issue that comes on the heels of the 5th Commandment for a very clear reason? Honor your father and your mother. Thou shalt not murder. And maybe we need to rethink the whole Oregon law about mercy killing. You know the word, it's euthanasia. Do you know the word? It's actually two words; "eu" and "thanatas". Eu means good. Sorry! It's a Greek word. Thanatas means death. The word euthanasia means good death. That's easy for you to say. If you're doing it to me. But you might want to ask me how I feel about it. Whether I think it's good. Maybe this command has something to say about that on some occasion.

Maybe this has something to say about the American perspective on (and you knew it was coming), abortion. In 1989, sixteen years ago, (I'm sure these statistics have changed. . . . .not drastically) your chances of being killed by a terrorist overseas somewhere were 1 in 650,000. Maybe it's worse than that now; maybe it's 1 in 100,000. I don't know. Your chances of being killed by a murderer in Baltimore were about 1 in 4,000. They tell me that's gotten better. It's not quite as violent there. But your chances of being killed in the womb were 1 in 3.

In American culture, we murder 1.3 to 5 million children a year. We haven't, in all the wars we've been in, lost that many of our soldiers. And we do it to ourselves every year.

'Course. . . . .okay . . . . .take a breath. That was heavy. We're not murderers, right? That first slide, that was murderers! Those mean, nasty people, like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dalmer. I have another slide of another murderer I would like you to meet. He should be up there by now. And I have another one. It should be a mirror and I'm asking you to look in it.

Because the issue is not just have we physically taken someone's life. If that were all the issues that we had to face, that would be really rather simple, don't you think? Not a difficult thing at all.

But here's where the New Testament begins to come into play. Look over at Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the 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."

It's probably a good thing that I was an only child. I don't have to worry about being angry with my brother. My fear is that God is going to include cousins in that.

Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, or [an Aramaic term of contempt]. . .is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Now Jesus is getting just a little too close to home, if you ask me.

Look at Romans 13. Paul recounts this particular command. Romans 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Look particularly at Verse 10. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Love does no harm. . . . . .

Look at the little book of 1John clear at the other end of your New Testament. 1John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

For the New Testament the issue is the valuing of people. It's not the external act alone. The majority of us, probably 100% of us, having never been guilty of that, and will never be guilty of that, but the heart.

Some years ago, 1985, there were 96 Vietnamese boat people floating in the bay, not far from Korea, hoping to make land before a typhoon. They had been passed by 50 different ships who had just ignored them in the sea. The 51st ship was a Korean fishing vessel with a load of tuna and crew headed back to North Korea. It first went by the boat people ignoring their cries for help and then, the Captain, who's name I can't begin to pronounce, decided with his crew members, that they would take the risk of picking up those 96 boat people. So they turned their ship around and they did, they rescued them. A year ago tomorrow, August 8, 2004, 500 Vietnamese and North Korean relatives of those boat people gathered to say thank you to this particular Captain. Here was his comment. The man is now 62 years old. He, by the way, was fired for what he did. "I am human. And in that moment, the only thing I cared about was 96 lives."

Do you hear it? The man understood something about the basic value of humanity.

Why does God say, Thou shalt not kill? Because we matter. Because we're made in God's image and so we begin to value people.

As long ago as the middle-1600's, the church put together a catechism in the city of Heidelberg. That catechism in part reads like this.

Q: What does God require in the sixth commandment?

Answer: That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, myself or another: (a) but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: (b) also, that I hurt not myself nor willfully expose myself to any danger. (c) Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder.

Q: But this commandment seems only to speak of murder?

Answer: In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, (a) hatred, (b) anger, (c) and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder.

Q: But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?

Answer: No; for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; (a) to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him, (b) and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; (c) and that we do good, even to our enemies.

Because we value people, we treat each other with respect. See, even those that we have learned to love even though we don't like, He says you treat them with dignity and you treat them with respect. You value them for who they are and you respond to them appropriately.

So the next time you're in the grocery store and somebody cuts in front of you with their cart, or the next time you get in the line that says "twelve items or less" and they have 37 different things in their cart, quote to yourself the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not murder.

It often determines how we make decisions. Whether we are going to choose death or life. And I have, with the most absolute regard, sat with children who tried to figure out what to do with aging parents, appreciated the dilemma, but valued them for their choice of life.

And I've talked to the young couples, who, when a doctor says, "this child will not be normal", still chooses to give life. It helps us to establish our priorities.

See, when you value life and value people everything else falls into place. How you treat your children over a cup of spilled milk. And one of the things we will wrestle with over the next several weeks as we prepare for our September 11th celebration is that this piece of stuff that we built out here out of steel and brick and "stuff" is just that........."stuff" and we will never value it more than we value people who might use it.

The bottom line. . . . . How we think determines how we act!

Back in 1948 Richard Weaver wrote a book called Ideas Have Consequences. The way you think determines how you act. If you don't believe that, read a history book about Adolph Hitler; or read some old news clippings about Jack Kevorkian; if you don't believe that read the literature of Planned parenthood; or better yet, take a look at Mother Teresa. Because how you think, determines how you act. And when you believe that people have value; when you believe that people are made in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth, it will govern every choice you make in the treatment of people.

So, we come again, like we always do, to this question. How in the world did Jesus fulfill this command? Well, just read the Gospels and watch Him touch lepers. You knew the rule for leper, right? Complete ostracizing by everyone. If anybody came within a certain distance, you had to holler "Unclean" "Unclean" And Jesus walked up and touched them.

You know how Jesus handled this. When a woman caught in adultery was thrust at His feet and the cries of the self-righteous were, "The law says stone her." And Jesus said, "If you're without sin, you cast the first stone."

You know how Jesus handled this. In a culture where widows and children were absolutely powerless. He said, "Treat them with kindness. Bring them to me. I'll love them when no one else will."

How did Jesus handle this? This issue of life. He went to the grave side of His friend Lazarus and the shortest text in Scripture says, "He wept." He cried because He understood the value of people and how it hurt these people to lose a friend. Jesus understood the value of life.

So if that isn't a contradiction for you then let me try to help make it clear.

I'm standing in front of a table that represents death. So you walk all the way back to Genesis and "God made man in His image, male and female He created them. And He put a tree in the garden, a tree they called life." And man chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead. And so what did God do? He clothed them with the (do you know what it was?) It was the hide of an animal. And before we get out of the creation account, God has already started giving up life in order to create life of a different kind.

And when I come to this table, I come to a table that reminds me that God himself valued my life so highly, that He gave up the life of His own Son, so that I could be here. And when you come to this table and you hold in your hands, a cup and a wafer, understand God loves you so much that He violates His own command. He takes a life so that you can have life.

Father, we could not be more grateful than we are for what you have done. We don't know how to say thanks in any other way than to try to faithfully be your children and to value life. And so we come to a table that reminds us of a death that produced life and we celebrate here, the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection of our own lives. We commit ourselves to treat life with dignity because it belongs to you. May we always remember that, as we gather at this place and think about your Son. In whose name we pray, and in whose name we celebrate this meal.