Pastor Schroeder

Text: Genesis 4:2b-10

Watch service video

Even in today’s culture, where right and wrong are thought to be up for debate and ultimately up to the individual, I think it’s safe to say that everyone agrees that murder is still wrong.  In just about every nation on earth, the harshest penalties of the law are reserved for those who take innocent lives, especially if such murderous violence is carried out with premeditated thought.  And with all the moral and political activism from conservatives and liberals and everyone in between, one thing we haven’t seen is any particular group that wants to legalize or decriminalize the act of murder.   No, at first glance, we are all in agreement.  Murderers ought to be punished severely. 

And so, if we would take a random sampling of Americans to assemble a jury in order to put Cain on trial today, it would be an open-and-shut case.  Cain had motive—a burning jealousy that grew into hatred because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not his.  He had the opportunity—a planned walk out to the field.  God himself witnessed the event and testifies through Genesis chapter 4 that Cain murdered his brother Abel, and he ought to be punished for it.  He took his brother’s life; that’s something that could never be given back.  Once more, murderers ought to be punished severely.  If we look at Cain logically, there can be no other conclusion. 

But, if we look at Cain theologically—in other words, the way God sees things rather than the way we naturally see things—we run into a big problem.  The reason is because God defines the sin of murder differently from the way we do.   So we’ll talk more about God’s definition of murder especially from a few other passages, but the conclusion that we must draw from God’s Word—from looking at the fifth commandment theologically—is that if we convict Cain, we also convict ourselves. 

In his sermon on the mount, one of the main goals of Jesus is to explain what true righteousness is before God.  The people were used to thinking primarily about their outward actions as a means of justifying themselves before other people and before God.  People today are no different, and the fifth commandment is a great example.  It’s easy to think that if you or I have never murdered someone, if we have never intentionally taken the life of another human being, then we can consider ourselves undoubtedly better people than the murderers we see on TV: people like Dylan Roof, who shot all those people in the South Carolina church, or James Holmes, currently on trial in Colorado for the movie theater killing a few years ago, or all those gang members who are shooting each other and killing bystanders in the city of Milwaukee.  Of course God says that those kinds of murderous actions are serious sins.  God wants to protect human life, because it is our time of grace to know him and serve him before we face the judgment that seals our eternity.  But listen to what Jesus says in addition to that…

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 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.  When it comes to a truly righteous fulfillment of the law, God’s definition is very different from ours.  And because God’s definition of murder is the only one that really matters, we ought to pay attention, because God isn’t just talking to people like Cain when he commands us, “You shall not murder.”  He is talking to us. 

And he isn’t merely saying that things like abortion and suicide and euthanasia and assault are the only sins we need to worry about.  No, Jesus boldly attacks the common human misunderstanding that as long as we don’t hurt or harm someone else physically, we must be OK with God.  Cain was guilty of murder long before Abel’s blood spilled onto the ground.  Any one of us who has lost our temper or let anger or vengeance or hatred take over our hearts, even for a moment, whether we were provoked or not, whether those thoughts led to action or not, if we have spoken unloving words toward our spouse or our parents or even our enemies, we are guilty of murder according to the definition God gives in his Word. 

And before we even think of trying to defend ourselves or find a loophole or get ourselves out of it somehow, remember that God’s definition is the only one that matters.  His standards are the ones by which we will be judged; he is the one we will have to answer to when our time of grace runs out.  And he is perhaps most clear when he speaks through the Apostle John in the New Testament: Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

Up to this point, we end up near where we began.  Murderers ought to be punished severely.  God agrees.  The only difference is, now we are all included in that category of those who have stirred up God’s righteous anger over sin.  Whenever we take the fifth commandment to heart, we realize that there is no such thing as a sin that doesn’t hurt anyone, because every one of our sins hurt us in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Every one of our sins has the potential to separate us from him for all eternity. 

And so we repent.  We confess our evil deeds, our hurtful words, and our murderous thoughts.  We also ought to realize that often our sin against the fifth commandment consists of our failures to love one another as we should. 

But let’s never forget that when we open ourselves up and lay our sins before God, he has the only solution, and it is found in Jesus Christ alone.  Our Lord Jesus alone lived a life of perfect love, not only in outward action, but with a heart of holiness that never permitted even one sinful thought. 

Even though he could have put his enemies to death with a single word, he submitted to His Father’s Word and suffered our death in our place.  There on the cross, we are told that he who had no sin became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  In other words, Jesus became murder to divert God’s punishment away from us and upon himself, so that we could be cleansed of every sin once for all.

When we trust in Jesus Christ we can be absolutely certain that despite our countless sins, God will welcome us to eternal life once our time of grace comes to an end as those who wear the righteousness of His beloved Son.  You were a murderer; now you are forgiven fully in Jesus’ blood.

How do we respond to such grace, such undeserved, forgiving, unconditional love in Christ?  Let’s listen again to the Apostle John.  This is 1 John chapter 3: This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous…16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth…

How do we keep the fifth commandment?  It can be answered in one simple word.  Love.  If we appreciate God’s grace and love him, we will want to love one another.  When we show love to one another, we also show love to the God who loved us first, who loved us enough to sacrifice his Son for us.  May God give us the power to resist temptation and love one another the way that he loves us, in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.