The Finger of God Pierces Our Hearts
The 1st Commandment is the most important. Jesus says so. He says it's the chief Commandment. Martin Luther said so too. He said the rest of the Commandments are an exposition of the first. He also said that the entire Book of Psalms is thoughts and exercises about the First Commandment. When the finger of God was inscribing Moses' stone tablets, God elected to place this first. But it's not first to us. Of all the Commandments, this makes us least guilty. Even though the perennial problem of the people of God in both Old and New Testaments is idolatry, we don't think we have any problem with it at all. Since we don't have little statues that we bow before and we do believe that God is Triune, we see no problem here. We need to study the other commandments more than this one.
Not so fast. If we're going to get off to the right start in our study of the Commandments, we must be pieced to the heart by this Commandment. This Commandment deals with God at His most basic level. It deals with God as all men, even the headhunter running around in a loin cloth, could know Him. Paul says in Romans 1, "What can be known about God is plain to all men because God has shown it them." Then Paul names two things that all people know about God. "His eternal power and divine nature." "These," Paul goes on to say, "Have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world.So all people are without excuse."
You're still not pricked by the finger of God because you think you do believe in God's eternal power and divine nature. Do you? Don't you in fact limit God's eternal power and think He has a nature like ours? God can only do what you think He can. Contra Isaiah 55 you think God's thoughts are your thoughts. You don't think His thoughts are as high above your thoughts as the heavens are from earth. You believe and worship God to the extent He does what is reasonable, fair, and loving.to you. In other words you believe and worship a god made in your image, and that's idolatry.
We are like savages on a remote island. Neither they nor we can claim we didn't have a chance to know the true God. Paul says of all people, "Although they knew God," they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him." No, they made statues of man, or of birds, animals, and reptiles. Your statue is a of a god who makes sense to you, does what's loving in your eyes and is answerable to you for every action or inaction.
The finger of God in the 1St Commandment pierces to the heart and shows that our problem is not one false god but many. Whatever you fear, love, or trust in above all else, that's your god. So when you're fretting about this, tangled up in a knot of fear about that, you have a God. You are worshiping at the altar of worry bowing down before it saying, "What am I going to do?"
Likewise, the person who loves someone or something else above the true God. What pagans we are at heart shows up in our careless use of the word love. We not only love our spouse, our kids, our parents. We "love" football. I love hunting. I love chocolate. I love. fill in the blank and there's a potential god. Jesus isn't the joy of our desiring; we don't hunger and thirst after His righteousness. Our heart breaks for people, things, activities. When have we ever been heartbroken over God?
Of course, the heinous nature of our idolatry shows up most not in our lack of fearing and loving God above all things but in our not trusting Him above all else. I trust seatbelts and airbags more than I do God. I believe they will never fail to protect me, but I don't have that same confidence in God. From men, people, and even things, I expect good things, but from God who is only and always good, I don't except only and always good. I expect God to bring bad things. The good in my life I chalk up to luck, chance, fate, or hard work. The bad things come from God.
There is no doubt about it. I trust more in sinful, evil men that I can see, than I do in the holy perfect God I can't see. I trust more in what I do, think, and say than in God. I trust more in the mercy and grace coming from men than I do God's. That's idolatry, but I even carry it further. I think I can root idolatry out of my heart. I think I can put God first. I think I am able to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That's how lost I am. I'm so lost I don't think I am. A person who doesn't know they're lost is most lost of all.
The 1st Commandment will not let you out of its sharp, pointy fingers, until you cry uncle. If you go from here thinking you'll do better this week, you'll conquer idolatry in your heart, then you leave very much in the grip of the Law. The only answer to the fact that the finger of God pierces us through the heart with its sharp, impossible demands is the greater fact that our God has fingers!
Now you know when we attribute physical characteristics to God who is Spirit, we're using anthropomorphisms. God in His essence has no fingers, no right hand, no mouth, ears, no body at all. When the Old Testament spoke this way, it was prophesying, pointing ahead to the time when God would have a right hand, a mouth, ears, and entire body right down to fingers and fingernails.
This goes back to where God first promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the serpent. He is called the Seed of the Woman because He would have no human father. He would come into the world by a virgin conceiving and bearing Him. From the very beginning, from Adam and Eve on, the whole Church, expected God to take on fingers, to become a Man. Don't believe me? Read Genesis 4: when Eve bears Cain she thinks he is their God and Savior. Genesis 4: in the Beck translation reads, "The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and had a child by the name of Cain and she said, "I have gotten a man, the Lord."
Even though Eve can be excused because she in a childlike way expected God to keep His promise right away, this was the first case of idolatry. Eve regarded a man as God. How horribly disappointed both Adam and Eve must have been when the one they regarded as their God and Savior killed his brother. So it is with all our gods too. They will let us down. The God with fingers will not. Dwell on this. Be like new parents who stare and marvel over their baby's fingers. You see this same look on the faces of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds in paintings of the Nativity.
Our God has fingers! That's the answer to the sin that dwells within you that you can't master. That's the answer to the 1st Commandment. Hebrews 10 says as much, "When Christ came into the world, He said, Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired but a body you have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure.'" The sacrifices and sin offerings offered all throughout the Old Testament were not the answer to people's sins. God preparing a Body in the womb of the virgin was. God taking on flesh and blood, God having fingers was.
This is what to dwell on during Advent. My God has fingers, and He has a hand which He raised when God the Father came looking for who would satisfy all the requirements of the Law. Who would keep the 1st Commandment never fearing, loving or trusting anything or one above God? Who would always and only expect good things from God? Up shot Jesus hand, and He said, "I will."
But there's more. It isn't just that we can't keep the Commandments perfectly. We have broken them into pieces. So when God asked who's responsible for the sins of the world? Who's going to pay for the fact that we're afraid of something more than God? Who's going to pay for our loving our families more than God? Who's going to satisfy God's white, hot wrath against us for worrying? Up shot Jesus hand, and He said, "I am."
The Law was given to men not angels. So it had to be Someone with fingers to keep it in our place. Yet in order to satisfy the wrath of God, this Someone with fingers had to be true God too. I mean the death of an ordinary human rarely satisfies even human wrath. Wrathful men have dug up bodies and torn them into pieces because their wrath wasn't satisfied. So don't think the true God's wrath could be satisfied by our dying. Hell, the Second Death, is eternal because no one can satisfy God's wrath by dying.
It's different for the God with fingers. He went to the cross, spread out His hands with those perfect, beautiful fingers, and allowed them to be nailed to the cross. And right there at that point in space and time, God poured out His just wrath against all men, women and children. Jesus took the cup of God's wrath in His fingers and finished it. There's not a drop left for you to drink. Your suffering, your worrying, your fearing feels like it has the wrath of God behind it. It can't. Jesus satisfied that wrath. God showed He has put away His anger, has accepted the innocent suffering and death of Jesus in your place by raising Him from the dead fingers and all.
What wrathful, evil, mean thing did Jesus ever do with His fingers? He placed His fingers on people and healed them. He placed His fingers into ears, on eyes, and in mouths too. He fed thousands with bread and fish from His fingers. He didn't use His fingers to snuff a flickering wick, but used them to fan faith into flames with promises of forgiveness, life and salvation. Right now the finger of God is beckoning you to come closer, come to His side. Come out from under the 1st Commandment which can only convict you of all manner of idolatry. Come to the God with fingers and see that the God who pierces your heart convicting you of sin also gives you a new heart. Your new heart seeks comfort and hope in God alone. Your new heart finds rest for its body and soul in the hands of the God with fingers because a God with fingers also has a lap for you to sit on. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers (20071128); First Commandment