We will begin this sermon by turning to Isaiah 59:1-3.
There is no commandment that shows the effect of sin any more immediately than the breaking of the Six Commandment. In other sins one may have a delay between the act and the result, but breaking the sixth commandment to separation in loss of life makes a division and produces fruit of sin which is very apparent.
Romans 3:23 makes it exceedingly clear that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 6:23 adds an exclamation point to that by strongly declaring that "the wages of sin is death." Death is the ultimate in separation. Sin leaves no alternative in its wake even though the penalty is not always exacted immediately following the act.
This is one of two sins that allows us an opportunity to compile some statistics that give us some measure of an understanding of how often sins are committed. You might be interested to know that the United States of America went to war in Iraq sometime in 2003. I believe it was somewhere in the March/April period. During that time, from then to now, just over 4,000 men and women have been killed during combat operations in a variety of ways. Compare this with the number of murders between 2003 and 2006 in the United States of America alone: 4,000 compared to 66,460. Who is in the most dangerous place? That is a question to consider. In 2005 alone there were 16,692; 2005 was the last year for which complete statistics are available.
The taking of human life is a worldwide problem not confined to the United States. I have no idea of what the figure is worldwide. Mankind has a problem, does it not?
In comparison to what I just gave you is exaggerated, because we are comparing some 300 million Americans free to commit murder against the relatively small number of troops actually being used to fight in Iraq.
Abortion is murder too, and it is surely the foulest of all murders; taking, as it does, the lives of the most innocent and helpless of human beings—— unborn. The statistics on this form of murder are overwhelming to the emotions. According to the Alan Gutmaker Institute, approximately 1,370,000 babies are murdered each year in the United States of America. Compare that to the number of murders outside the womb. Each and every year now a population the size of Mecklenburg County never lives to see the light of day. The same source tells us that worldwide, approximately 126 thousand abortions take place every day—a total of approximately 46 million per year. That is one abortion-murder every one and one-half seconds worldwide. Worldwide, each year this legalized murder is wiping out a population roughly the same size as the actual city population (not metropolitan-area populations) of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Saint Louis, and Atlanta combined. And we are not done yet.
What about suicides, which is self-murder? According to the United States Department of Justice, in 2005 (the last year statistics are available) 32,637 people killed themselves in the United States of America. That is 89.4 each and every day, at the rate of one every 15 minutes.
You might remember the earlier murder total for 2005 was 16,692. Twice as many successfully committed suicides managed to murder themselves as were murdered by another person.
Even more incredible is that same source—the U. S. Department of Justice—reported that in the year 2005 that 815,925 others attempted to take their own life. That is one every 39 seconds, and for whatever reason they did not succeed. Are we a hopeless people? Are people taking their own lives because they are hopeless, discouraged, completely frustrated, thinking that nobody loves them and that nobody cares? Most of those who succeeded in taking their own lives were white males. Suicide is the 11th most common cause of deaths in the United States of America, and we have not even touched on war yet. But war is by far the most effective and most rapid means of killing yet devised. There is a web site devoted to this grisly subject, and according to this site, the total killed in the 20 most-devastating wars has killed 500 million people. The Second World War alone killed between ten and fifteen percent of that figure. Do you know that civilians were by far and away the largest number of people killed? There is hardly a comparison between the two.
Like all sins, murder is generated in the inner being of a person. I think it is interesting that the first thing Jesus mentioned as coming from the heart is evil thoughts, followed by murder as the evil thoughts germinate in the mind. It grows and begets a process that generates murder.
Judging from the statistics, one can easily conclude that many human beings perceive that life cannot possibly be of great value. But biblically, it is just the opposite. The Bible perceives life as being among the most valuable of most possessions because it is the basis of human existence and because man is made in the image of God. I want you to turn in the Bible to see where it says this.
The Hebrew of this sixth commandment is about as terse as one will ever see. It consists of two words that are the equivalent in English of "no killing," or a little bit more specifically, "no murder." However, there are enough scriptures to let us know that what the commandment means is that no violent and pre-meditated killing of one perceived as an enemy is permitted.
The statement in these three verses clearly separates a pre-meditated murder from an accidental killing. You can also discern from verse 14, that under this circumstance, a constituted biblical authority is permitted by God to use the death penalty. You can see right in the commandment in these verses that the commandment more literally says "no murder." There are some cases in which killing is justified, and this is one of them.
Verses 12 and 13 show that no amount of money or property settlement can atone for the destruction of the image of God in the murdered person. If the death was truly accidental, the person who did the killing still had to flee to a city of refuge. There was no sanctuary whatever—not even the altar of God—under any circumstance for a murderer to flee to.
Let us go to Numbers 35, and we are going to read a considerable portion of this chapter.
The cities of refuge were sanctuaries to which those who had accidentally killed another could flee. There were six cities of refuge throughout Israel—three on each side of the Jordan River. Now, even if the killer made it to the city of refuge, he still had to undergo a trial. If found guilty, he had to remain in the city until the death of the high priest; thus the city served as his jail. However, he was otherwise free to move about the city, find employment, have his family move with him there and support them. But if he for any reason left the city under any circumstance whatsoever, the avenger of blood could lawfully take his life.
The avenger of blood (verses 12 and 19) was usually a blood-relative of the person accidentally killed. His assignment from the family was to protect the family right, to avenge the family's loss. Now the vengeance was not always to take the killer's life. Sometimes that occurred, but there is an interesting tie here to something else. If the avenger actually did take the killer's life before the killer managed to reach the city of refuge, then he truly was an avenger of blood. However, the Hebrew term translated "avenger" is, phonetically gawel. This word has an interesting ramification when appearing in a different context. It is often also translated "redeemed" or "redeemer." In the book of Ruth it is translated seven times as "redeemed." Boaz was Ruth's redeemer. Boaz was Ruth's gawel. Boaz was Ruth's avenger. The redeemer—Boaz—was the one who stood for one's family in order to protect his right. This is why there was this by-play between Boaz and the other man who actually had a higher right to be avenger. Boaz defended Ruth's husband Elimelech.
Regardless of which way one turns (anywhere in the book of the law) like we have been doing here in these verses, there are legal safeguards designed to protect life, and even though the death penalty existed, it was not easily obtained. Carefulness was the order of the day in the court.
Now a special note of the warnings against perjury, which we just read in Deuteronomy 19. It was the responsibility of the witnesses to be the first in executing the death penalty.
Do you know what that series of verses is telling you? It is telling you that Israel had a Supreme Court. That Supreme Court was the high priest, and those counseling him. Apparently this kind of case was carried out right in front of the door of the Tabernacle—right in God's presence, as it were—right before God. Remember the sermons on Eden at the last Feast of Tabernacles.
In this first illustration, a dispute between two men resulted in one being injured to the extent that he was bed-ridden. Then he recovered enough to be able to walk about out-of-doors with the help of crutches or a cane. In this case, the one causing the injury must pay the injured person for his care and loss of income; a damage award; a liability charge against him.
This case involves a master (an employer) striking and injuring a slave (or an employee). Since the slave did not die immediately, the use of the rod is not considered as lethal. Since the slave's life lingered, the master is given the benefit of the doubt that the striking was disciplinary rather than homicidal. This may seem strict to you, but compared to other nations regarding the treatment of slaves or employees, this law is very liberal. Because in other nations, doing whatever the master felt was necessary was his absolute right, because the slave was considered totally his property. This was not so in Israel, as we will see in just a few moments.
In this case verse 22 is quite clear. A damage award was given in this case. However, verses 23 through 25 present a different matter altogether. In this case, the lex talionis (the law of retaliation)—the "eye-for-an eye" principle—worked in this manner. Punishment must match, but not exceed the damage done. In other words, you do not have one-thousand dollars in damages and win one million dollars because of it.
Now if the injury brought about the death of either the child or the mother, the judges would determine whether it was accidental or premeditated, but sometimes the woman might have gotten into something she should not have gotten into and actually brought the problem on herself. In her desire to protect her husband she intervened where she should not have done, and so a judge has to decide. If that occurred and was not considered accidental, then the one causing the death must give his life, and still pay damages as set by the judges. This is further discussed in Numbers 35 and 31 which we did not read. If no death resulted, then damages must be paid by the injuring party according to the "eye-for-an-eye" principle.
This shows us that any slave who suffered permanent injury as a result of his owner's or employer's negligence or discipline beyond the bounds of correctness, the slave was immediately free. This law was given to make slave owners think twice before using abusive tactics lest he lose his financial investment in the slave. This set Israel's slavery laws above every other nation. The slave had rights. He was born in the image of God too.
The principle here covers injury not only when it might be determined as a "chance-occurrence" death, but also involved what may be termed "death by accompanying negligence." In other words, it reveals a different judgment when the temper of the killing animal or the defective equipment was known. Verse 28 covers an "out-of-the-blue" occurrence—truly an accident. In such a case, the animal was put to death, but the owner is free and clear. What is interesting here is that this clearly shows than an animal receives the death penalty following the same overall principle found in Genesis 9:6. However, if the animal was known to be dangerous, both the animal and his owner were put to death.
You should be able to see that these instructions are quite complete, containing principles and illustrations by which accurate judgments can be attained; however, in the New Testament you see very clear indications of a change in the approach to crime. Recall again what Jesus said in Matthew 15:19—that sin comes forth from the heart.
Jesus' remedy for combating crime shifts from retaliation by civil authorities to stopping it at its source. It shifts from the fear of being caught by police and punished by the courts to each person being responsible for dealing with it internally so it never becomes an external act. The central thought expressed here is that these evil thoughts are tantamount to murder in God's eyes, and if a person never had an evil thought, no murder would ever happen. In I John 3:15, John says this:
That could not be made any clearer. The thought itself is where murder has to be stopped. That is the remedy. The hostility expressed in the mind already contains the thought to get rid of someone one feels is standing in one's way. He is directly connected to the act because, as God sees it, they are one unbroken process.
Let us add to this what Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-39.
Jesus is not ruling out a life-threatening self-defense here, as His illustration shows. The illustration is in the sense of a rather minor affair: getting hit on the cheek, getting hit on the jaw. Somebody is not coming at you with a gun. He is just ready to punch your lights out. The general thought, here, though, is we must not set ourselves against the person doing the evil against us. The essential thought is to remove the bitterness in one's own heart by doing good rather than retaliating and doing evil. Doing this involves a great deal of humility and patience, but it works to change one's mind. Jesus' advice is not idiotic.
Let me give you a simple illustration. Have you ever felt like not working, but because you had to do it, you set your will, and you threw yourself into accomplishing the work, and before you knew it, you very likely were enjoying the accomplishment. What happened? The doing the right thing had changed your mind. That is what Jesus is talking about here. That is a simple illustration, but the process is the same in what Jesus is instructing here.
I am reading this only because I want you to have an example of Jesus following His own teaching. He did not retaliate. This is the same man who earlier said to Peter, "Don't you know that I could call out to My Father and He would send twelve legions of angels?" Jesus was not defenseless. Retaliation was not on His mind. Fulfilling His Father's work, on behalf of His Father and mankind, overrode His personal feelings in this dilemma He was facing.
Let us go from here to Romans 12:17-20. Paul gives us instruction that is based on these principles.
In these two places Paul counsels an entire congregation with advice that is clearly in line with what Jesus taught. He insists that we must never allow vindictiveness—the desire to get even with someone for a suffered wrong acted against us. Peter was right in line with this teaching.
We must not repay evil with evil, insult with insult, but rather bless the one who persecutes us. Now why? Because those things that Peter named are the spirit of murder. Do you understand? When we retaliate in kind, we are doing at least as bad as what was done to us, and maybe worse. We are not to take vengeance, because God has assigned Himself that responsibility within His family. Now is that not the way we should be?
Do you realize that Paul, in Romans 12, addressed this issue of revenge four times in this one chapter that begins with him appealing to us to be a living sacrifice? That is heavy stuff. Do you understand why, brethren? Because what Jesus did shows that if there is ever going to be peace, somebody has to sacrifice himself. That is what Jesus did. He set the example.
This non-retaliatory remedy of Jesus Christ is ultimately for everybody, but until He returns the standards that He set can be met only by those who, like Jesus, have the spirit of God, are living by faith, and are enabled to keep them. The followers of Jesus are to be different from both the nominal church and the secular world—different both on the religious and the irreligious.
In the 1960s and the 1970s we saw the rise of the Hippie and the Beatnik counter-culture, as it is called in America. But the true biblical Christianity is in reality a counter-culture unlike anything that has existed on Earth. In other words, these lofty commands are for Jesus' brothers and sisters who are in the church and are part of the Kingdom of God.
I do not know whether you are aware, but these very high standards have created quite a disagreement among many in the theological world in regard to war and its vast and vicious killing. Now why? Because everybody, except for those who are truly of the faith of Jesus Christ, knows that these standards cannot be kept. History proves it. They therefore reason around them in order to give themselves and the so-called Christian nation justification for going to war. Christian nations feel that they should involve themselves only in a just war. Brethren, is there any such thing?
Finding the correct answer as to what constitutes a just war is to them a very complex issue leading to highly variable standards from one advocate of what constitutes a just war to another who advocates something with different standards. If they finally agree a war is necessary, do you know what they do? They attempt to fight that war with what they consider to be their rules. Is there any such thing, brethren, that you have rules by which you murder the other person?
That seems weird right on the face of it, but to these people, the issue is very complex. I agree with them to a limited extent, because ultimately, the answer to this riddle comes down to one issue. It is the issue that confronted man from the very beginning, from Adam and Eve to this very day, and understanding the complexity begins with the commandment itself, because it says, "You shall do no murder." The command is against homicide, but brethren, that is what war is. It is license-approved murder, just like abortion is now.
It is clear from the verses that the State is given general permission to execute for capital crime, but if the Christian permitted himself to participate in mass homicide (which is war) in behalf of the State, the answer comes down to whether one believes God. It comes down to the commandment itself: "You shall do no murder." Does God really mean it?
Let us turn to Hebrews 10 and let us see some standards here.
Did Adam and Eve live by faith? They chose death. They did not believe God. In one sense they committed suicide. It comes down, in one sense, to the simple issue: Who is going to believe and trust God?
Let us add to this principle—"The just shall live by faith." Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:16-20.
It is these two principles—"the just shall live by faith," and the very fact that we are commanded by God "to choose," that are at the foundation of this issue. To get the right answer one must believe God, and one must choose to live by every word of God. Be aware of this though, and this is exceedingly important, that these words which we just read are not written to the world in general. They are directed at those who have made a covenant with God and are directed at God's own children. That the Bible is written to the world is a critically wrong assumption, and answers why the world cannot keep these lofty standards given by Jesus.
Let us show in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 to whom those words in Deuteronomy 30 are directed.
The Old Testament was at first directed only to Israel; no Canaanites, no Babylonians, no Persians, nobody in the whole world except Israel, and so what He commands applies to them.
We are seeing statements comparable to what we just saw in Deuteronomy 7, only instead of applying to the nation of Israel, it now applies to the family of God.
Let us get the apostle Paul into this act.
Brethren, God has personally, individually chosen you to understand, therefore His words apply to you—Old Testament and New Testament. It is only these people who can grasp and can do it. He is working in and through only a small group He is preparing for the day when He has a nucleus of a family that will then carry forth His projects to all of mankind. The vast majority of mankind is not going to be introduced to God's purpose until Christ returns. So regarding the issue of war, it is very helpful to understand that even in His calling and choosing of ancient Israel, He was not working with them in terms of conversion. Their purpose was entirely different, but there is a major difference between Israel under the Old Covenant, and the Israel of God under the New Covenant.
We are going to go back again to the book of Deuteronomy. What a book Deuteronomy is! Notice this statement beginning in verse 1.
Israel lived it and did not understand it! Notice that the heart from which our actions originate is something God must give. It is not present in man by nature. You can search until you are blue in the face, and you will find no promise from God for His Holy Spirit to be given to those under the Old Covenant. Now God did give it to some, like Moses, Joshua, Caleb, David, the judges, the prophets, a high priest, but you will find it was not generally offered to the Israelite citizenry. God offered them no access to Him, and even the promise of forgiveness of sin was not generally given. When God did give His spirit to some, it was for external purposes only to do a work. It was not given to change their heart.
The Israelites' inheritance was a portion of this earth, but not eternal life. In contrast to the church, they were an unconverted people that were a nation of this world, and thus they entered into the world's politics and the world's wars. Not so with the church. It is not of the world. It is called out of the world. Its members are forgiven and justified. They are sanctified and given His Holy Spirit which enables them to have a heart that He never gave to Israel. They had access to Him, and the promise of eternal life and inheritance of the Earth as co-heirs with Christ eternally, everlastingly.
You can look in Acts 1, verses 7 and 8 and see that no promise, like He gives to His disciples there just before He arose, was ever given to ancient Israel.
We want to turn though to Romans 8.8-11. These are very important scriptures in regard to our standing before God.
You can add to this II Peter 1, verse 4, where it says that we have been partakers of the divine nature.
We have been made partakers of the divine nature, and this opens the mind to spiritual knowledge. That is a tremendous gift from God.
We have the spirit in varying degrees, but brethren, it is there, and because it is there we can keep those lofty standards Jesus gave about murder and its spirit. This has important legal ramifications as well.
We have been translated [or transferred] into the Kingdom of God. That kingdom is both a family and a nation at one and the same time, growing as God adds to it.
This is speaking to the church.
We are beginning to see a legal basis for something here.
That word "conversation" in verse 20 is derived from the Greek word politeuma—the Greek word for politics. In modern Bibles that word is translated "citizenship," which is a correct translation.
The Kingdom of God possesses its own citizenship which is conferred upon those who are part of the Church of God, which is "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). There are two Israels. Only one belongs to God. That is the church. That is what the word "of" shows. It is the Church of God. To those people who live by faith, this citizenship is very real—every bit as real as the citizenship conferred by other nations, and as such, it brings on one both privileges and responsibility.
As we begin to draw this to a close, let us look at a key verse in the book of John. Jesus is on trial here:
Let me put this in an order that I think will help you. In verse 37, Jesus' response should read: "You say rightly that I am a king." He is the King of the Kingdom of God, and thus that is where His citizenship is too. Now with His response in verse 36, He clearly states that His fellow citizens do not fight. In other words, they will not go to war even in His defense at this time. Now why? There is a legal reason why.
Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are ambassadors of that kingdom; that citizenship is foreign to this world in which we live. This citizenship will not permit a citizen of the Kingdom of God to interfere in the operation of this world's governments, including this world's war operation. The time will come when we will fight in Jesus' behalf and for the Kingdom of God, but not yet.
Let us close on I Peter 2, because here are our marching orders.
For now we are to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Master. He did not go to war with any human beings whatever under any circumstance. He committed His safety to God and His judgments to God as well. Because God is on His throne, and we believe Him, there is no reason for us to go to war, because He will fight our battle for us.
That is all for today. I hope you have a good remainder of this day.