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Identity Theft

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recognized that humans have a problem with identity theft. When we demean someone we strip away their personal identity and wrongly make them into something they are not. And that is Identity theft.

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“Identity Theft”
INTRO: Welcome
ILLUS: You’re probably not familiar with the name Frank Abagnale Jr. But you may be familiar with his story. In 2002, there was a movie made depicting the life of Frank Abagnale and it's pretty remarkable. It was called “Catch Me If You Can”. The movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. The movie is about the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., who was, perhaps the greatest con artist in American history.
It is said that before his 19th birthday, Frank had conned hundreds of people out of millions of dollars, before he was even 19 years old. And what he would do is write fraudulent checks and forge them and pocket the money. This was before they could authenticate checks and make sure they weren't fake. Not only did he forge checks but:
Frank was so successful as a con artist and identity thief, that he passed as a pilot. He flew hundreds of commercial flights for PAN-AM AIRLINES, some of you may remember them. He flew hundreds of commercial flights for PAN-AM with passengers on them without a legitimate pilots license!
He was so successful as an identity thief that he passed as a doctor and actually performed surgery on someone, without a medical license.
He was so successful as an identity thief that he even became a lawyer.
He had stolen millions of dollars from people and he had stolen people's identities too. He had no less than eight aliases.
In fact, he was so successive as a con artist and identity thief, that he was able to pose as an airplane pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and even a college professor* (the truth of his story is questionable.)
It’s just a remarkable story.
Frank was perhaps the greatest con artist and identity thief in American history. Odds are, none of us; in here today are likely to be the perpetrators of identity theft like Frank Abagnale right?
INTRO: However, in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus looked out and saw the crowd. He recognized that there were many identity thieves in the crowd. And Jesus recognized that this isn’t just a one off deal, but people have a huge problem with identity theft. It’s been a problem since the very beginning. It’s been a problem for every generation, for every ethnicity, for every government, and on every continent.
It’s just a huge problem. In fact, Jesus is gonna teach us that not only is identity theft wrong, but it's dangerous, and not only dangerous but It has deadly consequences.
And Jesus has a powerful message for us today addressing identity theft and how we can get rid of it in our lives today, and I'd like to share that with you today.
So if you’re here today and you are a follower of Jesus, Jesus is gonna teach us there is absolutely no room in our lives for identity theft. There’s no room for it. If we’re going to be disciples of Christ then we must rid our lives of all identity theft. He’s even gonna say, if you’re responsible for identity theft, then there is liability for you even being here at worship today.
Let’s read, this is the word of God.
Read: Matthew 5:21-26
So what do we want to learn from this passage this morning?
The first thing we want to learn today is that:
Anger is to be avoided at all costs.
While most of us can't relate to stealing someone's identity like Frank Abagnale, I think all of us can relate to the feeling of anger when someone has wronged us like a Frank Abagnale.
Jesus roots this prohibition in the sixth commandment, do not murder.
The reason anger is to be avoided at all cost is because anger leads to murder.
In fact, the very first sin outside of the garden of Eden in Genesis 4 was an act of murder. Cain and Abel. Cain was angry at his brother and then he murdered him. And after that event occurred in just a few verses later, things only got worse,
Lamech is going to brag about killing a man: And things are gonna just keep getting worse.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Ge 4:23–24.
In Genesis 6, two chapters later it says:
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
Ge 6:5-6.
Do you know how bad things must have been that the LORD regretted that He made humans? And oh, oh how there is nothing new under the sun. It’s not hard to see that we have the same problems today.
Anger is everywhere, spouses are angry at each other, employees are angry at their bosses, teens are angry at parents and vice versa, citizens are angry at their government, in politics, red is angry at blue, and blue is angry at red. Some of us are even angry with ourselves. We’re angry at the dude driving 40 in a 40, go to the airport and cancel someone’s flight and you will see anger in action, turn on the news and a mother is sitting there weeping because her son has been gunned down in an angry violence, and everybody is angry at something!
Jesus says, anger is to be avoided at all costs. The reason anger is to be avoided at all costs is because anger leads to murder. Not only that, but this command is rooted in the fact that men and women have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27; 9:6), that’s what lies behind this prohibition.
It’s that each one of you has God’s image stamped upon you. You are an image bearer, you have been fearfully and wonderfully made in the likeness of the Creator of the universe!
You are created in the image of God, His fingerprints all over you, down to your bones and your DNA, the likeness of God resides within you. That's why anger is to be avoided at all costs.
It has been said that Frank Abagnale had no less than 8 aliases and posed as at least 4-5 different professions, as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a college professor, a security guard.
Now, while most of us can't relate to stealing someone's identity like Frank Abagnale, I think all of us can relate to the feeling of being angry at someone. If you are over the age of 5, you have been angry with another human being at some point in your life.
Now I know we have some angels in here today that don’t get angry very often; like Katie, I can’t imagine her being angry, but we have all been angry at some point in our lives.
I want everyone to hear me when I say this, if you have ever been angry with someone before, Jesus says, you’re just like Frank Abagnale, you’re guilty of identity theft.
Because what happens is that when we are inappropriately angry with people, we attempt to take their identity and value away from them as God’s creature, the ultimate form of which is the physical act of murder.
Murder is the ultimate form of taking someones identity away. Anger is murder of the heart. We take their identity away.
That’s why anger is to be avoided at all costs, it’s because it is identity theft! Remember, everyone of us is created in the image of God, so
When we say “Raca” or “you fool” we are taking someone's identity away, it’s identity theft.
Raca - is an Aramaic term implying “empty-headed.” It means, Lack of intelligence, it’s like saying you numskull, you airhead, dummy, or stupid.
Fool - The word for fool here is the greek word μωρός it’s where we get our word moron from. It’s to say you fool, stupid, idiot, moron.
This sort of name-calling is highly insulting, and it’s wrong because a person’s identity is stripped away from them and their identity is substituted for an offensive word. And in Jesus’ day, the offense is even greater because their names had meaning.
The significance attached to someone’s real name is removed from that person and substituted for a lesser meaning.
So I’m substituting someone's identity as an image bearer for something less than what they truly are.
If I were to call someone Raca or a moron that is taking away their true identity, as an image bearer, as a husband, a wife, a mother, or father, or brother, or sister, as a student, or an athlete, or politician.
Now you might say, fool doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, well it does when you look at Psalms 14:1. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Ps 14:1. The epitome of the slanderous name fool is the idea that you are godless and damned. The equivalence in this context would be like telling someone to go to hell and mean it, because they are godless. Obviously the word fool can be used in other contexts but that’s how it is used here and that is a big deal.
When we get angry and name call we strip away that person's identity and wrongfully make them into something they are not, it’s identity theft.
That’s the reason anger is to be avoided at all costs. There’s no other reason why anger is wrong, it’s wrong because it’s rooted in the very fact that every human being is created in the image of God and when we get angry at people we strip away their identity as image bearers.
Now, let me put a little disclaimer out there. All anger is not bad anger. I do not believe simply being angry is a sin. I do not believe that all anger is bad anger. Notice that Jesus does not say in this passage “don’t get angry”. He doesn't say that. Anger is not a sin. In fact, Jesus was angry at times. So this passage requires us to think carefully about what Jesus is not saying. It is possible to be angry and not to sin (Eph. 4:26).
Paul said it this way:
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
Eph 4:26
Jesus demonstrated this in the cleansing of the temple (21:12–17), right? They turn His Fathers house into a den of thieves, Jesus gets angry and starts flipping tables. Jesus did not sin. and in His parables God displays anger and wrath (18:34; 22:7).
So clearly there is a distinction made between anger and sin. Anger is not a sin. Otherwise Jesus would have sinned when He got angry at the money exchangers and flipped the tables in the temple, but we know that Jesus did not sin.
Anger is a natural emotion. In fact, sometimes we don’t even have to do anything to get angry, right? When I hear about a woman who has been taken advantage of by a man, I get angry, or when someone is killed by a drunk driver I get angry, or when a school of innocent little children gets shot up I get angry.
I think all of us do, we don’t even have to be there, if we hear about it that makes us angry. Sometimes anger can be good. This is good anger, this is not the kind of anger Jesus is talking about today. This type of anger is good and I believe God gave it to us. Anger's fundamental purpose is to motivate us to take positive loving action that will leave things better than we found them.
However, remaining angry is a sin.
The anger we’re talking about today is the unjustified, inappropriate anger that leads to taking someone’s identity away.The emphasis is on the dignity of the human being created in the image of God. Not being angry about matters of justice or righteousness. We are talking about dignity.
Not only are we not to take the physical life of another human, but we are not to do anything that demeans that person’s dignity.
To demean someone is to strip away their personal identity and wrongly make them into something he or she is not. And that is Identity theft.
So, anger is to be avoided at all costs, and secondly:
Unchecked anger leads to loss
Jesus cleary connects anger to murder. Because it dehumanizes. When you take away someone's identity, in effect what you’re doing is dehumanizing them. It makes it easy to be angry with them and easier to murder. It’s a lot easier to take the life of something that’s not human. For instance:
ILLUS. There is a holocaust museum in Israel called Vashem. It means the Name, the Name of God. And I'm told as you begin the tour they take you through a hallway that’s filled with propaganda. It’s all the propaganda that preceded the gas chambers, the gas chambers came later.
The propaganda used images, arguments, and slogans that slowly dehumanized Jewish people. It was words first! Ideas and concepts about Jewish people with exaggerated noses and giant pockets with money coming out of their pockets of how they’re robbing everybody. Once the Germans were able to dehumanize them, then it was easier to kill them. Because they are no longer people. Anger dehumanizes people and eventually leads to loss.
The same thing happened with the slaves right? They were only ⅗ human, pictures of exaggerated lips, darkened skin, elongated limbs. Unchecked anger leads to loss!
To give you a practical example today, how many times have you either been at a game or watched a game on TV where people just trash the ref’s?
A ref makes a bad call and we feel as if we now have the right to call him all kinds of names. Why is that? Because we first dehumanize him.
He’s not a father,
he’s not a husband,
he’s not a man who had a job all day and came after work,
he’s not a man who’s trying to pay bills and make ends meet,
he’s not a flawed man who occasionally misses things and makes a mistake
he’s not an image bearer,
he’s not limited,
he’s supposed to be omniscient,
he’s supposed to be omnipresent,
he’s supposed to be omni-objective,
but guess what, he’s human, he’s flawed.
But we, oh yea, this is a part of the sport, we can throw stuff at him, we can yell at him, we can call him all kinds of names! We can say whatever we want for missing that call.
It’s not just in sports, it’s in politics, it’s on twitter, on facebook, it’s in our music, at rallies. We’re celebrating in ways that God never intended for us to celebrate, and we’re denigrating in ways that makes satan extremely happy. The political party that’s winning is the party from hell.
We cannot be the party of the donkey, or the party of the elephant, we need to be the party of the Lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. - Ron Edwards
Now don't misunderstand me, we need to stand up for rights, we need to stand up for justice. If a referee makes a bad we call we can pull them over to the side and say hey. But what I'm saying is that there's a way to do all that. We need to act like we know Jesus, amen?
To say Anger is not a big deal is false
I think we have to stop treating anger like it’s a trivial matter. Like it’s not a big deal. It’s a big deal because Jesus said it’s a big deal. We have to stop treating anger like it’s just a trivial matter. Because anger escalates quickly. I want you to know that anger escalates very very quickly.
You think it’s a minor thing to show disrespect or break the rules or push the envelope or color out of the lines, it's not a minor thing because you are establishing the pattern for who you are going to become.
You’ve heard of the saying that goes,
We must watch our thoughts because our thoughts become our actions,
We must watch our actions because our actions become our habits,
We must watch our habits because our habits become our character,
We must watch our character because our character becomes our destiny.
It’s true! The person who has this anger in his heart in Matthew 5, Jesus says their destiny is hell. It’s not in the kingdom with Him.
Anger is a big deal. Look how anger escalates in this passage.
Look at this progression. First:
Whoever murders or is angry with a brother or sister is liable to judgment or the judge,
And if you say Raca then you’re liable to the sanhedrin or supreme court,
And if you say you fool then you’re liable to hell, it just keeps getting worse.
The escalation continues, in Matthew 5:25
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.
there is an escalation of judgment that moves from the court to the judge to the officer to prison. To say anger is not a big deal is false! It is a big deal because of how quickly anger escalates.
You might say, yea I’m a Christian and I go to church, but you don’t understand what they did to me.
That’s why Paul says:
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Eph 4:26–27.
This is a big deal because before we ever get to a foothold:
“A toehold becomes a foothold, a foothold becomes a stronghold, and a stronghold becomes a stranglehold.” - Ron Edwards
Look at the progression. Anger is a big deal because of how quickly it escalates and what it eventually leads to, murder. We should not overlook our anger and act like it’s not a big deal.
How many relationships have been torn apart because of anger? How many marriages have been destroyed by anger? How many lives have been lost because of anger? How many families disconnected because of anger? How many Christians have meandered in sin because of anger?
How many Christians have had their identities stolen by anger? The righteousness expected of Christians is not only in avoiding murder but in eliminating anger from our relationships.
This passage is about what our identity should be in Christ. When we don’t do these things we essentially have our identities stolen.
We steal people’s identity when we’re angry at others and we have our identities stolen when we are unjustifiably angry by anger.
So what do we do about our anger?
Jesus says:
Reconciliation is the cost
So Jesus says,
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Mt 5:23–24.
In other words, reconciliation with a brother or sister took priority over one of the most sacred practices ever, a sacrifice. Jesus says, if you got issues with your brother or sister, reconciliation takes priority over what you’re doing right now.
I like what Cameron said last week. “How many of us right now should not be worshiping, but should be apologizing to a brother or sister?”
I want you to hear what Jesus is saying. The expression “offering your gift at the altar” assumes a sacrifice being given at the temple in Jerusalem. Keep in mind Jesus often had an audience from Galilee. To leave immediately indicates the importance of reconciliation, there’s an urgency that Jesus stresses here.
Because Jesus’ audience was from Galilee and the effort to attend the temple sacrifice was significant.
The trip from Sogane in Lower Galilee to Jerusalem was a distance of about 120 miles on foot, which would take about three to four days. Jesus says there is urgency for reconciliation to your brother or sister.
Fulfilling the law’s command “Do not murder” is not accomplished simply by avoiding legal homicide. Unreconciled anger is the inner equivalency of murder, which is impossible to repay. To leave problems unreconciled is to allow the sin that has been created to continue to destroy relationships between people. Anything we do that strips away the personal distinctiveness of a brother or sister is sin, and it is our responsibility to become reconciled.
Let me say two things about reconciliation and then we will close.
Reconciliation is not natural
Reconciliation is not natural. What Jesus says here is not natural. That’s why it’s so hard. That’s why it’s awkward and uncomfortable and seems unpleasant, it’s because it’s not natural. Reconciliation is not natural, it's supernatural!
If you want to be like Jesus, then go reconcile with your brother or sister. That’s one of the most Christlike things you can ever do because that’s exactly what Jesus did for us.
He traversed through eternity, became a man and died on the cross for the sins of the world.
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Ro 5:8–11
On your worst day, Jesus decided to reconcile Himself to you, when you were His enemy He reconciled Himself to you, when you were most rebellious and sinning, Jesus still reconciled Himself to you.
Reconciliation is not natural, it's supernatural! It’s one of the most Christlike things you can ever do.
Reconciliation is an urgent matter
Paul said:
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Eph 4:26–27.
Because, a toehold becomes a foothold, a foothold becomes a stronghold, and a stronghold becomes a stranglehold. - Ron Edwards
If you leave anger unchecked without reconciliation, it will only grow.
Reconcile unity
ILLUS. In time movie story
In the 2011 movie “In Time” people are genetically engineered to stop aging at the age of 25, when a one-year countdown on their forearm begins. When the time reaches zero, the person "times out" and dies instantly. Time has thus become the universal currency, transferred directly between people or stores, in this movie quite literally time is money. Essentially you could live forever as long as you had time.
In a scene from the movie Will who is played by Justin Timberlake plans to have dinner one evening with his mother. The mother gets on a bus to meet Will for dinner, however, she gets on the bus only to discover that the bus fare has gone up in price from one hour to two hours. She has to pay for it in time not money.
So, she is distraught by this news because she only has an hour and a half remaining before she times out. She has no car or cell phone and it would be about a two hour walk from where she currently is.
So she begs the bus driver to let her ride and tells him that her son will pay the difference when they arrive. But to no avail, the bus driver refuses. She looks around the bus at the other passengers on the bus for any sympathy, perhaps someone will give her some time before she times out but they too show no compassion. So she gets off the bus in dismay and immediately begins to run to her son hoping to reach him at the next bus stop before she times out. This is late at night so not a lot of people are out.
The scene shifts to Will. As Will waits for his mother at the bus stop, the bus pulls up, excited to see his mother for dinner as he’s there to greet her with flowers. Everyone gets off the bus except for his mother. He notices that his mother is not on the bus, so he instantly knows that something is wrong. As the reality of the situation hits him he drops the flowers on the ground and starts to run hoping to meet his mother before she times out.
They both run as fast and as hard as they can. The mother constantly checking her time in a panic. In the movie, the scene goes back and forth to Will running, then his mother, back to WIll, back to his mother! Finally they see each other and they are still running as fast and hard as they can. They run with all their might and outstretched arms seeking to be reconciled. So will can transfer time.
We see this powerful image of urgency and reconciliation just needing to be joined together with both WIll and his mother with outstretched arms and urgency on their faces. Will needs to get to his mother so he can give her more time and she needs to get to Will so she can receive more time. Just a powerful cinematic scene of urgency and reconciliation.
Church, this image of urgency and reconciliation, is what Jesus calls us too.
Please don't let the sun go down on you today without being reconciled to your brother or sister. Give them a phone call, send a text, write an email, write a reconciliation post on Facebook, swing by their house. I don’t care, just do something. Jesus says it’s an urgent matter. How you respond today, will determine what witness you have for the church. And what your future is.
And if you are not a Christian this morning, I beg you not to leave this building without being reconciled to God.
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