Not What You think
This Church Year we are studying the Ten Commandments in Advent and Lent midweek services.A We'll work with the theme "Toward a Godly Life."A A This is taken from Luther's hymn on the Ten Commandments "That Man A Godly Life Might Live" which we will sing during Advent and Lent.A The first verse begins, "That man a godly life might live, God did these Ten Commandments give."A Tonight we look at the First Commandment, "You shall have no other gods," but it's not what you think.
You think this Commandment primarily commands us not to worship a god who is not Triune.A It's commanding us that it's not okay to pray with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others who deny God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.A You think the main purpose of this Commandment is to highlight the doctrine of the Trinity, but you would be wrong.
A A O don't get me wrong.A It most certainly is idolatry to worship, pray to, or believe in a god who is not Triune.A But the Triune nature of God isn't made known in the Commandments, but in the Creed, not in the Law but in the Gospel. Check your Large Catechism on this.A The Large Catechism, also written by Martin Luther, is a fuller explanation of the Small Catechism.A Not once in the Large Catechism under the First Commandment does Luther address the doctrine of the Trinity.
The First Commandment deals with something more fundamental than the Triune Nature of the one True God.A It deals with God as all men know Him.A Even the half-naked savage that might still exist on some remote island knows Him.A That's what St. Paul says in Romans 1.A "Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.A For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Anyone who does not know God is "without excuse," says Paul. The savage who has never seen a Bible, the street punk in the inner city who has never heard the Bible, the person who is born, lives and dies in communism has no excuse for not knowing God.A When he meets Him in judgment, he can't say, "No one told me." "Those Christians didn't send missionaries."A "It's not my fault that I didn't know God."A "O yes it is," says Paul.A If the island savage, the street punk, and the lifelong communist have no excuse for their sins against this Commandment, do you think we who've been raised in church, around the Bible, and have "In God We Trust" on our coins have any chance at all?
We stand absolutely condemned under this Commandment because although God has made known His eternal power and divine nature to us we persist and insist on denying them.A You don't think so, huh?A When you make God in your image, according to your understanding, you're sinning against this Commandment.A When you're God is too small to help you, avenge you, provide for you, you sin against this Commandment.A When you think you can speak accurately about God just by speaking about man in a louder voice; when God is just a really big, man to you, then you're denying His eternal power and divine nature which is clearer than a noonday sun.
Do you feel the weight of your sins under this Commandment yet?A No?A Good. Because I haven't gotten to the real heavy stuff yet.A Paul says people have no excuse for not worshiping, serving, or trusting in the eternally powerful and divine God, and neither do those who don't worship, serve or trust in God according to His invisible qualities.A The invisible qualities of God are that He is spirit, eternal, unchangeable, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, holy, faithful, just, good, merciful, and gracious.A There are too many invisible a qualities of God to go over here; besides our weighty sins show up under God's qualities ofA good, merciful and gracious.
In the Large Catechism Luther says our real sin under this Commandment isn't that we make idols or worship gods who aren't Triune.A No, our sin of sins is that we don't expect only good things from God.A Isn't that true?A We expect cancer, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and Alzheimers from Him.A We constantly worry that we or our loved one might get these.A Furthermore, Luther says we don't regard every good thing as coming from God.A Isn't that true?A The good things in my life come from hard work, discipline, luck, chance, or people. Luther says when we don't expect good things from God especially in distress and need we're sinning against this Commandment.A But what do I expect from God in distress and need?A That things are going to get worse; that God isn't really on my side.
Dear friends our idolatrous hearts show up primarily in that we seek help and consolation from people, from science, from medicine, from our efforts rather than from God alone.A It would be easier if our problem was that we made little statutes and bowed down to them because than we could just break those statues.A It would even be easier if our problem was that we worshiped or prayed to a god who is not Triune, because we could be educated better, but our problem is that we reject God at the most basic level.A He isn't big enough or powerful enough to handle my problems, and even worse, He isn't loving, gracious, and merciful enough to want to!A What a hopeless, miserable sinner am I deserving swift and sure damnation not only on judgement day but right here and now!
Right about here we ought to be fleeing from the bad news to the good news, fleeing from the Law and seeking refuge in the Gospel, but this is one of those times when I can't get to the Gospel without our sins showing up all the more. Why?A Because God went to incredible, miraculous links to make His eternal power, temporal, and His invisible qualities, visible.A He did this by joining His divine nature to human nature in the incarnation.A When God the Son was placed in the womb of the Virgin Mary, eternal power became temporal and the invisible qualities of God became visible.
Who dare deny God's eternal power now that it is seen in time healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead?A Who dare deny His invisible love, grace and mercy now that He has made them visible in loving the unlovable, being gracious to the ungracious, and showing mercy to the unmerciful?A We do; at least I do.A It's one thing to deny that God is love; it's far worse to deny that He is love after Love came down at Christmas.A It's one thing to deny the eternal power of God; it's far worse to say that the God who became Man won't always use His eternal power in time for the benefit of men!
But wait!A Something more is revealed in the incarnation, in Christmas then my miserable sinfulness.A God stepped into time.A The God of eternal power and divinity stepped into our time and space to redeem us.A He didn't come so He could show us how to keep the First Commandment.A He came to keep the First Commandment in our place.A While we at no time have ever feared, loved or trusted in God above all things, Jesus did all the time.A He doted on His heavenly Father.A He always and only expected good things from His heavenly Father.A He just knew that His Father would only give Him good things, so He prayed with all boldness and confidence that His Father would not make Him drink the cup of wrath which our sins deserve.
But His Father did make Him drink that cup and ten thousand more like it, and that's not all.A He humiliated His only beloved Son, stripped Him naked and had Him almost beaten to death.A Then He had Him nailed to a cross to suffer all the shame, all the horror, all the pain of an eternity of hell that your sins against the First Commandment deserve.A Look at the crucifix and know your sins against this Commandment have been paid in full.A Your failure to fear, love and trust in God above all things has been forgiven in full.
Wait; there's more, but Christmas specials put you in danger of missing this. Almost all Christmas specials deal with men being reconciled to each other; men learning again to love and trust each other. But the true message of Christmas is about peace on earth from God toward men; a fruit of this peace between God and men is peace between men, but it can only come as fruit, a byproduct of the peace God first makes with people through Jesus.
God wants to draw you to Himself by means of His Son, Jesus.A It's the story of the man who wanted to become a bird so that birds would follow him into the barn where shelter and food was.A They kept flying away from him as he tried to get them to come in.A And so we sinners run hellbent away from the true God, not expecting good things from Him, sure He is out to get us.A But then God became one of us; He stepped into our flesh and blood and everything was and is different.
God's eternal power is safe for human consumption in the Body and Blood of Jesus; why you can even eat it for your eternal benefit.A God's divine nature is approachable in the human nature of Jesus.A It's not like a raging flood but like the quiet waters you were baptized in.A Jesus is God's last Word to fallen sinners, and it's not thunderous but a still small voice that says, "I forgive you; I will take care of you; you can trust Me."A Friends, whatever good, gracious, or merciful thing from God that you need this Christmas, go ahead and trust, go ahead and expect that He will only give you good things, only give you help in and with Jesus.A You won't be disappointed.A Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek (12-3-03); First Commandment