3/10/04Times New RomanArial
It takes a lot to make people guilty of the 5th Commandment. The 6th is easy, so are the 4th, 7th, and 8th, but not the 5th. People just don't see their ways as all that murderous, and that's a big problem. Because everyone of us here is guilty of breaking this Commandment.
In the Passion reading tonight both Peter and Judas break the 5th Commandment. The 5th Commandment is about helping and supporting our neighbor in every physical need. Judas watched as Jesus was led off from Gethsemane bound. He didn't protest. He knew they were going to bring trumped up charges. He said nothing. Peter is no better. Though our world considers it enough to be in solidarity with those who suffer; it is down right evil to stand by and do nothing while someone suffers unjustly. There's no reason not to picture Peter sitting peacefully by the warm fire while the sound of slaps, slugs, and blows landing on the holy face and body of Jesus drift into his ears.
Actually, before we even start talking about whether Peter and Judas failed to help their neighbor, we ought to note that they denied Jesus was their neighbor at all. To Judas, Jesus was an enemy not a neighbor, so he wasn't acting as a traitor but a spy when he led the church leaders to Jesus' location. To Peter, Jesus was just someone he didn't know, so he wasn't denying but merely unknowing when he said didn't know Jesus. But Judas and Peter were suppose to be friends and followers of Jesus. He was more than a neighbor. Yet they hurt and harmed Him in His body, and they didn't help and support Him in any physical need.
Both Peter and James are guilty of murderous ways. Judas sinned with what the OT called "a high hand." He sinned boldly and willingly thinking he was right to give Jesus over to the leaders of the Church. Peter on the other hand sinned with a weak hand. Jesus had told him he would deny Him 3 times. When Peter ran from Gethsemane, he knew he hadn't made a very good start. So proud Peter was determined to do better. He'd show Jesus just how faithful he was. He'd follow Him all the way into the high priest's house. When Peter denied before the servant girl, he was all the more ready to stand firm next time. He might have denied once, but that's it. When the servant girl exposes him before others, he's caught off guard and denies again. Now he's determined, I mean really determined, to guard against the number 3 denial. But what happens? The third is the worst denial of all. Peter red faced and cussing, swears he doesn't know that fellow!
Friend, your ways have been murderous whether with a high hand or with a weak one. Don't think it's not possible that anyone here ever actually committed murder. Sure it is. Simeon, Levi, David and Paul were all murderers. Actual murderers, even those who do so with a high hand, don't necessarily look evil and wicked. They look like us. Of course, we are murderers if we have simply hurt or harmed our neighbor or just failed to help him. In fact even if we haven't done so with a high or weak hand, but only in our hearts we're still guilty of murder says the 5th Commandment.
If you are a murderer, though you be guilty of the most heinous of murders, I can help you. Whom I can't help are those of you who insist I'm not talking about you. You've never, ever murdered anyone or even harmed anyone, you say. And as far as those grudges you have against people who have wronged you so wickedly, well that's another matter. That's different. God can't expect you to be kind and helpful to those who've harmed you or are still hateful to you. He not only expects it, He commands it. To love those who love you is what all the world believes in; to love those who hate you is what Christ commands. If you want to feel the full weight of this Commandment as you ought to you, you must have before your eyes not the person who is kind to you, but the person who has harmed you, hurt you, did evil to you.
We're about to come to a parting of the ways, but not yet. Both Peter and Judas are penitent of their murderous ways. Peter weeps. And not just weeps, but weeps "bitterly." You can make yourself weep, but not weep bitterly. When your sins are shown to you for what they really are, when you see you are guilty of murder, of hurting or harming your neighbor, when you see that God condemns you for holding your grudge just as much as He does the person who harmed you, then you're weeping is bitter.
You probably don't doubt that Peter is penitent, but Judas? The NIV wants to make you think he is not by translating, "He was seized with remorse." There is a slightly different Greek word there, but other places the NIV translates it as "repent." They don't do so here because for many Protestants and Catholics the difference between Peter and Judas is that Peter really repented and Judas did not. Don't go down that road friend. It will lead you to looking into your sinful heart and trying to weigh, evaluate, or measure how repentant you are to determine if your repentance is good enough. No, the difference between Judas and Peter is not that Peter had repentance and Judas had remorse. Judas too repented. He plainly says, "I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood." If that's not repentance, then I've never repented of anything ever.
Both Peter and Judas repented of their murderous ways, but here the road divides. Peter is in heaven. Judas is in hell. Scripture calls Judas a son of perdition which means hell or damnation. Their murderous ways had taken them to the same spot: that moment of revelation where they see their sin for what it really is, but then their paths diverge. I want you to get to the point where you don't defend, excuse, or explain away your sins against the 5th Commandment no matter how big and heinous or small and acceptable they might be. But I want you to be very careful about the next step.
Both Peter and Judas are guilty of breaking the 5th Commandment. Both are penitent of their murderous ways, but only one is saved. However, both could have been. This is where Lutherans drive their stake in so they don't fall off the mountain of grace into the valley of despair.
Judas' sin was not bigger than Peter's. It was not an unforgivable sin. Nor are yours. No matter if you can't forgive yourself, or someone you harmed will not forgive you, God has. God poured out all of His wrath against your sins against the 5th Commandment on Jesus. Jesus was not worthy of the death penalty; you and I are. But Jesus went to the executioner, so God could set you free. Don't deny, don't despise, don't turn your back on this grace. Don't you dare say that the suffering, bleeding and dying of Jesus are not enough to pay for your sins. Though you may have killed a 1,000 people, held a grudge for 50 years, or harmed someone who is long dead and so can't forgive you now, know that Jesus paid for those sins; Jesus satisfied God's wrath against you because of those sins. You are now free.
But you can't really enjoy that yet, can you? This difference between Judas and Peter bugs you. You're afraid you might really be a Judas. Know this. Christ suffered and died to pay for Judas' sins too, but Judas went to false teachers confessing his sins. The temple was suppose to be the one place on earth where sins could be confessed and forgiven for the sake of the promised Messiah. So Judas went there, but they said, "What is that to us? That's your responsibility."
Novelist Graham Green has a similar scene in a novel. An exiled revolutionary is returning home where he will certainly be arrested and put to death. He's on a train with a priest. He wants to confess his sins to this priest. But the priest makes light of private confession. Treats it like some once highly regarded superstition that only a few weaker people still take comfort in. So, the man burdened by his sins goes to face certain death without forgiveness being applied to sins he knows he's certainly guilty of.
It does not be this way for any of you. You can be like Peter who listened to the Words of Jesus. Jesus had said in the upper room that He was giving His Body over to death for him that He was pouring out His blood for him. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had announced that He had come to give His life as a ransom for others. And once when Peter had realized his sins and begged Jesus to leave him because he was such a sinner, Jesus wouldn't go.
Some of you are still bugged. How do we know all this is going through Peter's mind as he rushes in tears from the high priest's courtyard? We don't. We do know this, on Easter Sunday Paul tells us Jesus made a special one-on-one appearance to Peter. Mark tells us that the angels in the empty tomb specifically tell the women to tell Peter Jesus will meet him in Galilee. Then we have John 21 where Peter despairs of the ministry and Jesus goes and gets him. Jesus asks Peter 3 times about his love for him. Peter confesses his love is inadequate and Jesus absolves him 3 times.
My point is this. Maybe it did take Peter time to rejoice in the absolution of his sins, but Jesus stuck with Him. And Jesus will stick with you. If there is any doubt in your mind that your sins against the 5th or any other Commandment might not be forgiven, you should come see me. I'm in the office Christ has put on earth to forgive sins, so sinners don't try to struggle with them by themselves. Don't go to those who tell you must deal with your sins yourself whether by explaining them, rationalizing them, or just putting them behind you. No, only the rich, thick blood that Jesus shed on the cross can cover real sins like murder. Judas saw that blood on his hands but not over his sins and so despaired. Peter saw that blood over his sins and so rejoiced. You are to see Jesus' blood there too. If you have trouble seeing that, see me, and I'll place Jesus' blood where it belongs, over your sins. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent Midweek III (3-10-04); Fifth Commandment