The Sixth Commandment: Pro-Life!

 

Psalm 8:1-9 (text); Genesis 9:1-7; Matthew 5:21-22; Heidelberg Catechism LD 40
September 2, 2012 • Download PDF sermon

Recently, a Norwegian court found Anders Breivik, who methodically murdered 77 people last year, guilty of premeditated murder and terrorism. His sentence? A maximum of 21 years in prison. If he served his full sentence, he would be released from prison when he is only 54 years old. At that age, he is still very capable of committing the same heinous violence, as he himself said, “I wish to apologize to all militant nationalists that I wasn’t able to execute more.” Many are wondering why the sentence is so light. Was justice served? In many other countries, for example the United States, he would have been sentenced to at least life in prison without parole, or even death penalty.

The sixth commandment—“You shall not kill” in the older translations, and “You shall not murder” in the newer versions—is a statement about the sanctity of human life. So is the death penalty a violation of this command? This is one of the questions we will try to answer from our Scripture text and readings today.

Psalm 8 is the first psalm of praise of our glorious God who is the Creator of all things. It reminds us of the creation account in Genesis 1-2. The heavens with its moon and stars also remind us of Psalm 19:1, where David again praises God, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Besides the glorious heavens, God also made all living creatures, including mankind, the crowning glory of his creation. Because of this, David the psalmist bookends the psalm by praising God, “O Lord (YHWH), our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (verse 1 and 9).

Cain and Abel by Titian, 1542-444 (click to enlarge)

Cain and Abel by Titian, 1542-444 (click to enlarge)

Created in God’s image, we are the crowning glory of God’s creation. Man was given rule and dominion over “all things” in creation: every living thing and the earth that was entrusted to him. But when sin entered the world through Satan “the enemy and the avenger,” the image of God in man and man’s dominion over creation were both corrupted. Soon, Cain killed his brother Abel, the first murder. As man started multiplying, violence and wickedness on earth became so great that God destroyed it by flood, saving only Noah and his family.

But after the great flood, God covenanted with Noah and all mankind, repeating his covenant of creation with Adam. But because of sin, God added, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). So God repeats this command and punishment against shedding man’s blood in his covenant with Israel at Sinai and forty years later before entering Canaan, “You shall not murder.”

In Psalm 8, David continues on this theme of man as God’s image, marvelling at how this glorious YHWH who created the seemingly infinite universe is interested in a small creature like him. Equally astonishing for David is God’s care for man in giving him dominion and responsibility over the earth.

Since man is God’s crowning glory in creation, the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 40 focuses on the sanctity and importance of human life. There is dignity inherent in all human beings, so we are to care for one another. God is not only mindful of all mankind in general, but is particularly interested in each person that he has created, so we are to care of ourselves. And because he loves his creation so much, he already had a plan from eternity how he would redeem mankind from the curse of sin and death that came into the world because of sin.

Today, we dwell on the theme “The Sixth Commandment: Pro-Life!” in four headings: (1) God Crowned Human Life with Glory and Honor; (2) God Cares for Human Life, so We Care for One Another; (3) God Cares for Each Living Human, so We Care for Ourselves; and (4) In Caring for Human Life, God Sent One Who Gives Eternal Life.

God Crowned Human Life with Glory and Honor
Psalm 8, attributed to David by both the Old and New Testaments, is a covenantal psalm sung by Israelites in their worship services. But it also speaks to “man” and the “son of man” as referring to all mankind. Israel is a type of all the people with whom God has a special relationship.

The Psalm is bookended by the praise of YHWH, “How majestic is your name in all the earth!” in the first and last verses (Psa 8:1, 9). This YHWH is the Sovereign Lord (Adonai) of the universe that he has created. His name YHWH is majestic and mighty not only for his people, but in all the earth, because “the heavens declare the glory of God… and proclaims his handiwork” (Psa 19:1). Obviously, not everyone acknowledges this fact, and even suppresses this truth, but there is no excuse. Instead of praising God like David did, unbelievers “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:18-21).

Why are babies and infants mentioned as those who praise God and are given strength by God? Because in the Old Testament, babies and little children are mentioned mostly as victims of oppression, war and death, as in Psalm 137:9, where the psalmist prays that the enemy of Babylon seizes their babies “dashes them against the rock!” So verse 2 contrasts two things: weak and helpless babies will be strengthened against their powerful enemies, a picture of weak and tiny Israel, but with God fighting for them against their powerful enemies. Jesus even defended the praise he received from little children when he entered Jerusalem (Matt 21:16) by quoting this verse.

So in the next two stanzas (verses 3-8), David praises God because he is mindful and caring of mere man, even when man is infinitely nothing compared with the vastness of the universe with the moon and the stars, the constellations, and the galaxies. This only means that God is not a deity who is remote and uncaring of his creation, like Bette Midler’s god who is “watching us, from a distance.” But the true God is involved in every minutest detail in the life of man he has created.

We know that the Lord does not only care for us, but he has “crowned [us] with glory and honor,” so that he created us only “a little lower than the angels” (verse 5). Here, “angels” is a translation of the Hebrew elohim, which is usually the word used for “God.” Literally, it is the plural “gods,” so in this case, it can also be translated as “angels” or “gods,” those who are usually called the heavenly host or army. The Septuagint translates it as “angels.” So although man is a little lower than God himself, we are not to ever think for a moment that we are “little gods,” as Mormons and televangelists teach. Only God is divine, and man is forever a human being. We see this also in comparing words used in verses 1 and 5. The words used for God’s “majesty” and “glory” are different from those used for man’s “glory” and “honor” in order to distinguish the Creator from his creatures.

This man was crowned with glory and honor, making him the representative of the King of Creation over the King’s creation. The psalmist marvels that God has given this infinitely small creature kingship over all “the works of [God's] hands” (verses 5-6). The psalmist vividly recalls the creation account when God gave Adam kingship over all animals, birds and fish, and all trees.

If God so cares for mankind, we are therefore commanded to care for one another.

God Cares for Human Life, So We Care for One Another
In creating all things, God created man distinct from the rest of creation: he was created in the image and likeness of God, with perfect holiness, righteousness and knowledge of God (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). He was formed not only with fleshly body, but also with a soul in order that he may have communion with the Creator.

So even before the law was given to Moses, man already knew the sanctity of life. As early as when Cain murdered Abel, God condemned him, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” And even though God did not sentence him to die, Cain became a fugitive and a wanderer, losing his rule over God’s creation. He would not be able to cultivate the ground to produce food from the field (Gen 4:10-12).

Beginning with Noah after the Flood, God’s penalty for shedding man’s blood unjustly is death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Why such a severe punishment? Because “God made man in his own image,” his vice-regent over his own creation (Gen 1:26-28, 9:6). Murdering a person is also an attack upon God who created that person.

Then in the Decalogue, the Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not murder.“ The Hebrew verb used here includes both the unlawful or unjust killing of another human being, which in the English language is called “murder.” Another unlawful kind of killing is when a person unintentionally causes the death of another through careless or negligent behavior. One Biblical example of this non-capital crime is if “someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies.” This person may be allowed to live in exile in one of the cities of refuge (Deu 19:4–6; cf. Num 35:22–25). What if a drunk driver hits another person because he is drunk? It is not murder, but is called manslaughter, where the penalty is much lighter than murder.

Other kinds of killing are beyond the scope of this sermon, so I will mention just a couple. Soldiers killing in war is not murder; the Hebrew verb in this commandment is never used in the Old Testament when someone kills another in a war. Killing in self-defense is also not unlawful.

But this principle regarding killing or murder still reverberates today in two other issues.

The first one is about the heinous crime of murder in abortion. Why must abortion be considered premeditated or first-degree murder? Because from the moment of conception, human life is created by God, and therefore planning and premeditating on killing this one-celled living human being is murder punishable by death according to the Bible. It is laudable that the Philippine Reproductive Health (RH) Bill acknowledges that abortion is illegal. But what is not good—and contradictory to this—is that it promotes contraceptive methods that actually abort a baby, e.g., intra-uterine devices and abortive drugs. In addition (and this is not related to the Sixth Commandment, but to the seventh Commandment), it promotes sex education in the schools from fourth grade to high school, even earlier than many schools in the States!

The second issue is about the death penalty. Many Christians are very much against death penalty, saying that the Old Testament law has been abrogated by the law of love given by Christ, who himself said, “Love your enemies.” They also argue that the death penalty is not a deterrent against murder.

Dr. Ron Gleason, pastor of Yorba Linda Presbyterian Church (PCA), argues for the death penalty in his book Death Penalty on Trial, and I agree with his arguments there. Gleason says that God commands all societies to preserve justice and to purge all evil from their midst. This command is found in nine Old Testament passages, e.g., in Deuteronomy 13:5, “So you shall purge the evil person from your midst.”

If societies do not preserve justice, then God would pour his wrath on them, and would not bless the land with justice and peace. In Deuteronomy 16:20, God says to Israel, “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that theLord your God is giving you.” Although this verse is specifically addressed to Israel, the principle applies to all societies. If heinous crimes like murder is not punished swiftly, evil people in the society will perceive that the government is weak, and lawlessness will spread. This is true everywhere, in the States, Europe, Africa, and as we can easily see, here in the Philippines. Just a cursory look at the news on TV and newspapers is enough evidence of this uncontrolled lawlessness in the land.

Moral decay and lawlessness prevail in societies that have abandoned the death penalty and other severe punishment for murder. Because of so much violence, people have grown callous and apathetic about violent crimes. This is self-evident to anyone old enough to remember a much better Philippines—before rap music, extremely bloody and violent video games and movies, sexual immorality among teens and even adults, and rampant drug use, robberies, and murders.

God is certainly angered when many people he has created in his own image are attacked and murdered, and murderers go unpunished or punished lightly. Moreover, Gleason says, “Earthly punishment is also a reminder of eternal punishment, and a statement that sin has consequences” (page 48). What is really ironic is that those who are vehemently against capital punishment because human life is precious are also those who advocate and practice abortion of unborn human lives!

The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes both the Sixth Commandment and Jesus’ explanation of it in the Sermon on the Mount: “That I do not revile, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor either in thought, word, or gesture, much less in deed, whether by myself or by another, but lay aside all desire of revenge.” We may not be murderers in deed, but we are all guilty of murder in thought and word when we hate or curse, or are angry towards others. All of these are “hidden murder.”

Let us be mindful of and care for one another, because God is mindful of his image-bearers. But we are also to care for ourselves, as each one of us is created in God’s image.

God Cares for Each Living Human, So We Care for Ourselves
Since every person is created in God’s image, the Heidelberg Catechism adds that we are not only to honor and respect all other human beings, but also ourselves: “moreover, that I do not harm myself, nor willfully run into any danger.”

We live in the dangerous, evil last days that Paul talks about. This calls for careful, not reckless, living. Reckless living leads to injury or even death in this life, and in the next life, worse: eternal hell. That is not where we as image-bearers of God should be! Paul gave some examples of dangerous living: orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and debauchery. The Bible is full of stories of God’s wrath against sexual immorality, drunkenness and violence. Jesus said, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52). If you live in violence, you will die by violence. Your harmful and dangerous way of life will kill you in this life, and even in the life to come if you do not repent of your reckless life.

In the 1980s, when our family lived in Alaska, I had a recreational hobby that can be considered endangering my own life. I loved to climb mountains, not just hiking, but climbing on dangerous glaciers and ice walls with ropes, carabiners, chucks, ice axe, crampons and other technical equipment. In 1924, the great British mountaineer George Mallory disappeared high on Mount Everest. It is said that when he was asked, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” his reply was, “Because it’s there.” I was like that, although the greater motivation for me was that I wanted to gaze in admiration and amazement at God’s majestic creation.

Other hobbies and sports such as car racing and unprotected tightrope walking can also be deemed as “willfully running into danger.” What about food? No food is sinful in itself, but a person who has diabetes or high blood pressure must not eat food that obviously will put his health in jeopardy: lechon, chicharon, bulalo, steak, salty food. Eating these is not harmful in itself, but as in drinking, everything has to be done in moderation.

You are not to unjustly take another person’s life. You are not to unjustly be angry, curse or slander another person. You are not to endanger the life of others and our own life. This is because God cares so much for man whom he has created that he sent One to redeem him from sin and death and to give him eternal life.

In Caring for Human Life, God Sent One Who Gives Eternal Life
We read in John 3:16 that because of God’s love for his creation, especially his people, he gave his only-begotten Son to give them eternal life. His people needed One who would redeem them from the death penalty because of their transgressions against God’s law.

Although Psalm 8 is about mankind in general, the writer of Hebrews uses these verses to refer to Christ as superior to all creation, both man and angels. Psalm 8 mentions the term “son of man” which Jesus also uses as his own title (Matt 8:20; John 1:51), and which hints at a Messiah as the highest representative of mankind (see Psa 2:9; Dan. 7:13). Hebrews 2:6-8 then shows us that Psalm 8:4-6 is fulfilled perfectly by Jesus the Christ.

In saying that the “son of man” was made a little lower than God or the angels, the Hebrews writer is saying that in his earthly suffering, Jesus’ glorious divine nature was temporarily overshadowed by his human nature (Phil 2:6–8). But he never left or lost his divine nature, as he only assumed human nature.

Therefore, God has put all things under his authority, but not yet completely (Heb 2:8). When the “world to come” appears, all things will be subjected to Jesus, which the writer uses to argue that he is superior to angels in his authority to rule the world (Heb 2:5). This also means that he rules the heavenly angels themselves.

However, at present we do not see the entire world subject either to human beings or to Christ. So the question remains: Is Christ still the King of Kings? Of course, he is, because “nothing happens outside his control,” and no king or event in this world is not under his authority.

Man was crowned with glory and honor, being made a little lower than the angels. Like man, after first being made lower than the angels, Jesus was later crowned with honor and glory at his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven at God’s right hand. While Jesus’ suffering was his humiliation and subjection, his suffering was also the reason for his being crowned with glory and honor. Jesus tasted death as a work of God’s grace done on behalf “all who follow him” (Heb. 9:15, 28; 10:39). Jesus, the Son of David who writes that the “son of man” is given all authority on earth, is crowned with glory and honor after his suffering for the sin of lawbreakers who are under the curse of death.

Though the human race generally did not fulfill God’s plan to put everything on earth under man’s feet (verses 6–8), there is one Man who is fulfilling God’s great plan for human beings, and that is Jesus the Messiah.

We do not have the death penalty for “hidden murder” in your minds and lips, but only for physical heinous crimes of premeditated murder. We do not even have any punishment for the crime of murder in abortion. But Jesus commanded the exact opposite of murder, whether premeditated or hidden, in Matthew 22:39 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself“ (see Lev 19:18), and in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.“ This is the command that is never abolished. This is what must be in your hearts.

Jesus is the preeminent human being who was crowned with glory and honor because of his work on the cross for you. Through his Spirit, he enables you to obey the Sixth Commandment, and even to love your neighbor and your enemies. And you know that you love Christ when you love your brothers and sisters in Christ and make sacrifices for them, because Jesus himself laid down his life for you who were created in the image of his Father (1 John 3:14, 16).

 

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