October 6, 2019

Exodus 20:13: You Shall Not Murder

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Ten Commandments Scripture: Exodus 20:13

Exodus 20:13: You Shall Not Murder

This morning, we’re going to continue our sermon series on the Ten Commandments and focus our attention on the sixth commandment, found in Exodus 20:13, which states quite simply, “You shall not murder.” And it’s hard to read or hear those words without thinking of the very disturbing pattern of mass shootings that has developed in our country over the past several years. Just a few weeks ago, on August 31, a shooting in Odessa, Texas, left 7 people dead. Then prior to that, a shooting on August 4 in Dayton, Ohio, left 9 people dead. Then just a day prior that that shooting, another shooting in El Paso killed 22 people. Then before that a May 31 shooting in Virginia Beach took the lives of 12 people. And of course, who can forget the shooting that happened almost a year ago right here in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue which took the lives of 11 people and has been documented as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack ever in U.S. history. And on and on we could go. I mean, it’s almost unbearable to think about the number of lives that have been lost and the amount of tears that have been shed. Yet the shootings continue with no end in sight—a reminder of what a broken place this world is.

And it’s interesting to observe how our society has responded to these shootings. On the one hand, we understand there there’s something deeply wrong and disturbing about the fact that these shootings are taking place. Yet on the other hand, it seems as though virtually no one—in secular society at least—has a clue about how to respond to these shootings in any adequate way. The main “solution” that you hear is gun control. And let me make it clear right at the outset here that I have no interest whatsoever in either encouraging or discouraging tighter gun control measures. I’ll leave those discussions to people who are much more informed about the issue than me. My interests this morning aren’t political in any way. In fact, I’d like to suggest that the mentality that sees any kind of legislation—coming from either the political left or right—as the ultimate answer to this alarming issue is, in my estimation, totally misguided.  I would hope that if most people really gave serious thought to how deep and disturbing and profound of a problem these mass shootings are, they would see that gun control or any other kind of legislative measure is such a superficial response. The problem we’re facing has its origin deep in the human heart, and so it would seem that an adequate solution would likewise have to deal with the heart in some way. 

And I suspect that a lot of people—even those who are more secularly minded—sense that. I suspect that they sense a deeper answer is needed. Yet, their secular worldview gives them none. Their worldview that excludes God and that excludes the revelation God’s provided in the Bible gives them no objective basis for saying that anything, in fact, is morally right or wrong. At the end of the day, the only thing they have to appeal to is people’s opinions about what’s right and wrong. Moral relativism is unavoidable for them. After all, whose opinions should guide us? On what objective basis can we say that one person’s opinion about what’s right and wrong are better than anyone else’s opinion? I’ll even go so far as to ask what logical basis there could be for disregarding the opinions of the perpetrators of these horrific crimes—like...why are their opinions less valid than others, if we assume a secular worldview? So I think the reason we don’t hear more substantive solutions for gun violence being proposed by the secularly-minded people of our society is, sadly enough, because they have none. External legislative measures are the best they’ve got. They can’t even come close to addressing the real problem that’s surfacing here—a problem rooted in the human heart. The secular worldview is utterly inadequate for addressing that problem. 

However, the Bible does address it in the sixth commandment. In just four words, the Bible gives us a more substantive solution for the problem of gun violence than all the secular solutions put together. “You shall not murder,” it says. And of course, this addresses not just gun violence but all of the acts of violence and harm that plague our world. And I believe it does so in three ways—three ways in which the sixth commandment is helpful for addressing these disturbing behaviors. Number one, the commandment is helpful as a muzzle. Number two, it’s helpful as a mirror. And number three, it’s helpful as a map. By the way, these three metaphors of muzzle, mirror, and map can actually be applied to any command in the Bible. Today, though, we’re simply choosing to apply them to the sixth commandment.

As a Muzzle

So first, the sixth commandment prohibiting murder is helpful as a muzzle. As you probably know, a muzzle is a device that’s often used on a dog in order to keep its mouth shut and prevent it from inflicting harm by biting people. Obviously, the muzzle doesn’t do anything to change the dog’s nature or desires. It simply keeps the dog from acting on those desires. We might say it has a restraining effect on the dog. In a similar way, the sixth commandment has a restraining effect on people. For someone who desires to commit murder or inflict harm, the sixth commandment doesn’t take away that desire, but it does make them think twice before acting on that desire. When someone who’s familiar with God’s command not to murder has a murderous thought come into their mind, hopefully a healthy fear of God and God’s justice and God’s retribution will help to deter them from following through with the murder. Now, of course, we’re still not really getting down to the heart here, but viewing the sixth commandment as a muzzle is at least a step in the right direction. It’s certainly better than anything the secular worldview has to offer. Instead of just telling the person tempted to commit murder, “It’s my opinion or the opinion of society that you shouldn’t do this,” we can now say, “God commands you not to do this and will hold you accountable for all eternity if you disobey.”

As a Mirror

However, I do believe we need to dig deeper into the sixth commandment in order to see how it addresses the murderous tendencies of the human heart in a truly satisfactory way. So having looked at this commandment first as a muzzle, let’s now look at it as a mirror

You know, when we read these news stories about someone shooting up a nightclub or a Walmart or a synagogue, we have a tendency to put the person who committed that atrocity in a separate category from ourselves, don’t we? Almost without even thinking about it, we just assume that that person is fundamentally different from us in some way. Maybe they’re mentally ill or uniquely depraved or…something. Whatever it is, they’re in a different category than we are. We’re in the category of relatively “good people” who don’t do things like that, while they’re in the category of “bad people” who do those kinds of things. And on one level, there’s truth in that assumption. I have a high degree of confidence that no one in this room will ever be on the news for a mass murder or hopefully any murder. So on one level, there is something unique about people who actually commit a homicide. However, on another level, the sixth commandment, when properly and thoroughly understood, reminds us that “we” aren’t as different from “them” as we often like to think we are.

You see, God gave us the sixth commandment not just so we can identify the sins of others and point the finger at them but also so that we could see the sin in our own lives and in our own hearts. That’s the sense in which the sixth commandment is a mirror. In fact, you may remember that at the beginning of this sermon series on the Ten Commandments, I said that not just the sixth commandment but all of the commandments function as a mirror, showing us the truth about ourselves. And as you know, that truth isn’t always pretty. Sometimes, you look into a mirror and see that your hair’s all messed up or that you’ve got something stuck in your teeth. So you don’t always like what you see in a mirror—yet the mirror never lies. And in the same way, God’s commandments function as a mirror that shows us the truth about ourselves and the ways in which we’re not what God wants us to be. The commandments are designed to humble us and tear down our self-righteousness and crush our self-sufficiency and lead us to the brink of despair…so that we’ll reach out for the grace and rescue God offers us in the gospel. 

So if we’re going to approach the sixth commandment the way God intends for us to approach it, we have to ask the hard questions. In what ways are we more like the people we see in the news than we’d like to admit? In what ways is that same murderous impulse present in us? As J. I. Packer rightly observes, “We have in us capacities for fury, fear, envy, greed, conceit, callousness, and hate which, given the right provocation, could make killers out of us all.” 

What’s more, if we look to the New Testament and at how Jesus elaborates on the sixth commandment, we see that even if we never act on our murderous desires, we’re still guilty of breaking the sixth commandment on some level. In Matthew 5:21-23, Jesus teaches, 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Now, understand that by saying this, Jesus isn’t adding to the sixth commandment. Rather, he’s bringing out what’s already there. And according to Jesus, being sinfully angry and harboring malice toward another person is actually a form of the murder prohibited in the sixth commandment. I once heard a preacher say it like this: “The sin of murder begins in the seed of malice.” Malice is the desire to inflict harm or injury. And that desire is essentially murder in seed form. So from that, we can see that the sixth commandment addresses not only what we do with our hands but also what’s going on in our hearts. 

So ask yourself—and be honest here—who you would like to see suffer, even just a little bit. Whose misfortune do you desire? Who is it that, if you heard they were experiencing some kind of difficulty, a part of you would be kind of happy to hear that? Now, perhaps you legitimately can’t think of anyone. That’s fine. But I suspect that a significant majority of us can think of someone—or at least would have been able to at some point in our past. If so, we’re guilty of violating the sixth commandment. Even if we’ve never pulled a trigger, we still have a form of murder in our hearts. 

And so, what we really need is a heart change. We don’t just need to start thinking more positive thoughts or to try to exercise greater self-control. We need a radical transformation on the heart level. And there’s only one way that transformation can happen—one Person who’s capable of changing us in that way—and that’s Jesus. You see, Jesus saw our wretched condition and how we were enslaved to our sinful desires. And he loved us so much that he decided to rescue us even though he knew it would involve him dying on the cross. You heard me right. In order to change us and rescue us, Jesus had to die. In fact, he had to be murdered. In order to rescue us murderers from our sin, Jesus had to become a victim of murder himself. 

Listen to what Isaiah 53:5-9 says about Jesus: 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 

So Jesus was innocent. “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” And yet he was crucified as a criminal on a Roman cross. Why was that necessary? For us—to bear our sin and suffer the judgment for sin that we deserved. And the result of his death and of his subsequent resurrection is that we can be forgiven for our sins and experience an inward transformation and heart change as we put our trust in him. Have you done that? Have you ever put your trust in Jesus and experienced that inward transformation? You can, even this morning. That’s the only way we can ever be truly rescued from malice and anger and hatred and all the other violations of the sixth commandment that lurk in our hearts.

And going back to what we talked about at the beginning, this is the core of how the sixth commandment addresses one of the most perplexing and disturbing issues that’s currently facing our country. The secular world hears about mass shootings and doesn’t have anything to offer as a solution except gun control and other shallow legislative measures. But the sixth commandment points us to Jesus, who alone is able to change people in the most profound way and remove their heart of hatred and replace it with a heart of love. And yes, that even includes people who would otherwise be perpetrators of violent crimes. Imagine what it would be like if some of the people who committed these horrific mass shootings had their hearts changed by Jesus prior to carrying out their crimes. Or even if they themselves didn’t have their hearts changed, imagine what it would be like if people who did have their hearts changed and were living for Jesus had built meaningful friendships with these people and were telling them about Jesus and were able to have at least a measure of redemptive influence in their life. I dare say that, in many cases, things would have turned out a lot differently. Many of these tragic events would have never taken place if there were a greater presence of devoted Christians in our country being the salt and light that Jesus tells us we should be. That’s what our country needs more than anything. It needs a movement of people who have had their hearts changed by Jesus telling and showing others how they also can experience a similar transformation. But in order for that movement to happen, we first have to use the sixth commandment as a mirror for ourselves, exposing the sin in our hearts and leading us to faith in Jesus. 

As a Map

Then, after Jesus has changed our hearts, there’s a third way in which the sixth commandment is helpful—and that is as a map. As I’m sure we’re all aware, a map tells you where to go. It guides your journey. And that’s what the sixth commandment does as well. After we’ve had our hearts changed by Jesus, it shows us what form our obedience should take. And I’d like to use the remainder of our time this morning to explore that. What exactly is involved in obeying the sixth commandment as Christians? 

And before we get into what the sixth commandment prohibits, let me first tell you what I don’t believe it prohibits. First of all, it doesn’t prohibit capital punishment. We know that because Romans 13 is pretty clear that civil government is an entity that’s been instituted by God and that has the authority from God to carry out capital punishment. Romans 13:5 says that it “does not bear the sword in vain.” Along that same line of reasoning, the government is also able to declare war on another government, provided that the war is what’s typically called a “just war,” meaning that the goals and methods of the war are just and righteous. So the sixth commandment doesn’t prohibit a just war either. Furthermore, it also doesn’t prohibit killing someone in self-defense. Exodus 22 describes how, if a man kills someone who breaks into his house because he doesn’t have any other option but to kill him, he’s not guilty of any crime. He’s allowed to defend himself and the well-being of his family. And then, finally, the sixth commandment doesn’t prohibit hunting. In Acts 13:13, God specifically tells Peter that it’s perfectly okay for him to kill and eat animals. So the sixth commandment doesn’t prohibit any of these things. 

That’s why I appreciate the ESV translation which says “you shall not murder” rather than the translation of the King James which says “you shall not kill.” Murder seems to be a much more appropriate word to translate what the sixth commandment is actually prohibiting. It’s prohibiting the unlawful taking of a human life. That’s what murder is—taking human life contrary to God’s law. 

And we understand that human life is precious because Genesis 1:27 teaches that we’ve been created “in the image of God.” Think about that. Every single human being on the face of this planet bears God’s image. That includes babies as well as the elderly. It includes those who are like you culturally and linguistically as well as those who are vastly different than you culturally and linguistically. It includes those who have vast intellectual abilities as well as those whose abilities are severely limited. Every human being bears God’s image. Therefore, every human life is precious in God’s sight. That’s the theological foundation for the sixth commandment. 

And that’s why abortion, for example, is wrong. Now I understand this is a very sensitive subject—because, for some in this room, abortion is a party of your story. So before I say anything else about abortion, I just want to remind you that there’s forgiveness and healing in Jesus for all of our past decisions. Psalm 103:12 says that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does [God] remove our [sins] from us.” So you don’t have to be weighed down by the fact that you’ve had or encouraged an abortion in the past. Jesus offers you freedom from that burden. However, this freedom comes by acknowledging and confessing abortion as sin. It may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right. The Bible is very clear that life begins at conception. In Jeremiah 1:5, God tells the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart.” This means that, without question, abortion is a form of murder. The only exception would be in cases where a mother’s life is at significant risk. But in all other cases, it is indeed murder. 

Also, another sensitive subject addressed by the sixth commandment is suicide. I’m well aware that many people in this room have been affected in some way by a suicide. And God’s grace is certainly available to get us through that. However, the sixth commandment requires us to be very clear that suicide is wrong. It is another form of murder. You see, as human beings, our lives aren’t ours to take. We belong to God. He created us. He has a purpose for us. And it’s wrong for us to take away the life God’s given us. 

In addition, euthanasia—also called assisted suicide—is also prohibited under the sixth commandment. Again, we don’t have the right to take the life God has given to someone no matter what kind of condition they’re in. Now please note that there is a difference between taking life and allowing life to end. In our modern society, it’s now possible to prolong life in ways that would have been impossible in previous generations. However, that doesn’t obligate us to use or continue those measures—often called “heroic measures.” It’s okay to allow someone’s life to end. We’re just prohibited from actively taking their life. 

Then, finally, as we’ve already discussed, one other thing that the sixth commandment prohibits is unrighteous anger or hatred or malice toward someone else. And this is where the rubber really meets the road for most of us in our day-to-day lives. I’m sure that many people here today have been wronged in an incredibly painful way by someone else. For some of you, it may even be accurate to say that you’ve been scarred by someone else—that their sin against you has had some kind of effect on you that will probably stay with you to one degree or another for the rest of your life. However, through the gospel, God gives us the ability to do what would otherwise be impossible for us to do. For you, that means forgiving the person who wronged you. Allow God’s forgiveness toward you for your sins to inspire and enable you to extend that same forgiveness toward that other person. I mean, that person’s sin against you has already had enough of an effect on your life, hasn’t it? Why let that person continue to control you by harboring bitterness and malice toward them? Let Jesus liberate you both from their sinful action and your own sinful response—if you’ve harbored malice.

other sermons in this series

Nov 24


Exodus 20:17: You Shall Not Covet

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:17 Series: The Ten Commandments

Nov 3


Oct 20


Exodus 20:15: You Shall Not Steal

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:15 Series: The Ten Commandments