[Reason #7 of “10 Reasons Why I Need Jesus”
Exodus 20:15 You shall not steal.
Intro: [Ever leave a restaurant and notice people smiling at you? At first you may think you are looking good and people are pleased to see you. Then you look at a mirror. You didn't just eat your lunch. You're wearing part of it. It's embarrassing. The mirror tells the truth about the spaghetti sauce, mustard, or catsup now a part of your wardrobe.] A major purpose of God’s Law is to serve as a moral or ethical mirror. We look at the demands of divine law and see how our ethical behavior has been compared to what God requires. It isn’t pretty, is it? God demands perfection; we offer imperfection. God requires love for him and our neighbor—always. We offer a lot less in attitude and behavior. We focus on the 7th Commandment today and see another reason why we need Jesus, why I need Jesus. And I’ll phrase it this way:
Another Reason Why I Need Jesus:
I See Jack Roland Murphy in my Mirror
1. I see loveless dishonesty in my life.
2. I want love and integrity in my life.
Part 1: I see loveless dishonesty in my life (like Jack Murphy)
1. Jack Murphy, born in CA (1938) and grew up in PA, was a top student with an aptitude for music and sports. He had a passion for surfing, and won a National Championship (nickname: “Murph the Surf”). By the age of 17, he had been invited to play violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In addition to being a surfer and concert violinist, Murphy was a tennis pro, movie stunt man and high-tower circus diver. But Murphy also had a dark side: he eventually become known as a jewel thief and convicted murderer. In 1964, thieves stole more than 20 gems, including the Star of India, a 563-carat star sapphire, from the Museum of Natural History in NYC. “Murphy loved the getaway scenarios that felt like something straight out of an action film. There was the thrill of escaping the law by boat or car, and this was part of a glamorous package that included an affluent lifestyle made up of swanky parties, fancy apartments and yachts around the Caribbean.”
2. By 1970 (age 32) he had been convicted of theft and murder and sentenced to two life sentences in prison, plus 20 years. His God-given gifts and skills were misused and earned him punishment.
3. What hits me the hardest about Jack Murphy are these 2 main truths: (1) He was greatly blessed with talent, intellect, social and educational opportunities, athletic and musical abilities – how fully the Creator blessed him! (2) He used what he had lovelessly, dishonestly, putting sinful desires and selfish ambition first, way ahead of wants and needs of others around him. He stole much from others, sometimes silently and cleverly and sometimes violently. If you think I am now going to draw parallels between him and me – and you – you are correct. Are we not richly blessed with abilities and opportunities that the majority in the world can only dream about? But don’t we abuse, or fail to use, so much? It’s not for lack of gifts and possessions; it’s the evil nature that is never satisfied and never thankful for what’s received.
4. And the complexity of ways to steal! It’s not just stealing a farm animal or moving a boundary stone anymore. One of the employees at a bank in Kansas was putting money in the ATM machine and accidently put $20 bills in the $10 slot, and $10 bills in the $20 slot. So when people pushed $10, they got $20, and when people pushed $20, they only got $10. You can finish this story yourself. All the people who were short-changed $10 came complaining and demanding that the bank pay them back. But guess what? Not one customer who got too much money back came into the bank to return the money. They just drove away. That’s called “stealing.”
5. And our difficulty to confess it. Norman Rockwell painting (Oct 1936): In the picture, both the woman and the butcher have pleased looks on their faces…as if each knew a secret joke. Look closely at their hands. The butcher is pushing DOWN on the scales with his thumb and the woman is pushing UP on the other side with a dainty forefinger. They think they are taking advantage of the other…. STEALING without the other knowing. It serves to illustrate our attitude toward the 7th commandment. Both the butcher and the lady would resent being called thieves. Stealing often masquerades as “smart business, clever advertising, just looking out for oneself, a victimless crime (when insurance companies and government are involved), or necessary because “everyone else is doing it.” It’s still stealing. Movies & TV often romanticize dishonesty and make it legitimate if “good or clever” people rob “bad guys.” But it’s still stealing and sinful.
6. That’s why I – we – need Jesus! It’s more than a lack of love for my neighbor or too much love for myself. It’s a lack of trust and love for God and sometimes more than that. I disagree with how much he chose to give me; I am not content with the kind of gifts he sent me and I am not content to let him distribute or redistribute things as he wills. If we trust God to provide everything we need and the things we should have, we’re not going to steal. I need that kind of trust and love to stand before God on Judgment Day – and can get this only from Jesus, who has it and shares it freely.
Transition: Let’s return to the saga of Jack Roland Murphy, “Murph the Surf.” He was sentenced to a double life sentence plus 20 years. But the rest of his story needs to be told.
Part 2: I want love and integrity in my life (like Jack Murphy)
1. After some famous Christian athletes visited his prison and shared the good news of Jesus, Murphy was on the receiving end of a miracle of God. He was given new life in Christ. He began participating in the prison chaplaincy program, leading Bible studies, and mentoring other men in prison. His parole date was moved up progressively because of good behavior. After 19 years in prison he was released with a lifetime parole. Once free from prison, Murphy began visiting prisons and jails all over the U.S. as a part of prison ministry. The Parole Board terminated his "lifetime parole" in 2000. To this day he continues to serve Jesus and souls.
2. I can understand it if people see “injustice” in this. Many would say he should have to pay for his crimes in full and it isn’t fair for his sentences to be reduced and his parole lifted. I get that. But I chose to talk about Jack Murphy today because of the parallel between him and us because of Jesus Christ. Murphy received two blessings: (1) the opportunity to begin a new life with new goals, new patterns of giving rather than taking, new level of integrity and honesty. (2) a new heart, new way of thinking, new set of desires and intentions in his heart, mind, and will. This allowed him to take advantage of the new opportunities and freedoms by cultivating a different lifestyle. It’s not just a matter of “education” or getting new information – a new heart is needed. (Teddy Roosevelt: man without education may steal from a freight car; a university graduate may steal the whole railroad.)
3. That’s why I – we – need Jesus! Jesus gives more than pardon or forgiveness. His love gives birth to love in us. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation!” (2 Cor 5:17). I am not saying that is more important than the forgiveness of sins and I am not saying that living a new life results in forgiveness of sins. No, that is all 100% by grace, freely given and fully paid for by Jesus Christ. But I am saying that it’s a wonderful package deal: new life and a growing faith-life accompanies heavenly citizenship. And new promises! Recall today’s Readings: 2 Co 9:6-11 [call to generosity on the foundation of gracious giving of God guaranteed!] and Mt 6:19-24 [encouragement to seek heavenly treasures rather than lesser and less secure earthly ones]. God’s love and faithfulness are the key. As in Philippians 4:19—“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” With that confidence, and with thankful love for what he did for us, we express new attitudes about money and possessions – our own and our neighbor’s.
Conclusion: Dr. Madison Sarratt taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University (in Nashville). Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class something like this: "Today I am giving two examinations--one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can't pass trig, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the exam of honesty." Well expressed. If we are identifying priorities, character is higher than math skills – or literature knowledge, spelling skill, or penmanship. That’s why we all need Jesus – to remove our guilt for loveless dishonesty and to supply a new heart that can express love and integrity here on earth and forever in heaven! Amen.