The Finger of God Packages Authority
In the Large Catechism Luther says this of the 4th Commandment, "These are plain simple words, and everyone thinks he or she already knows them well. So they pass over them lightly" Yes, the 4th commandment is a hard commandment to treat on Ash Wednesday. It doesn't seem big enough, serious enough, guilt-worthy enough for ashes. The 5th and 6th sure and maybe the 1st, but the 4th? Yes, the 4th. While the Large Catechism devotes 3 pages to the 5th, 3 pages to the 6th, and 6 pages to the 1st commandment, there are 10 pages for the 4th.
Romans 13 says, "All authority is from GodTherefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." If all authority is from God, failing to honor parents and others in authority is failing to honor God. When you disobey parents and other authorities, you disobey God. When you make fun of them, you make fun of God. When you fail to love and cherish them, you fail to do so to Almighty God. Now your mom or dad, that teacher, or even cop may be too soft-hearted to bring the due penalty for disobeying this Commandment down upon your head, but don't be so foolish as to think God is.
God is so serious about this Commandment that He promises to punish even children who disobey with their eyes. By the time a child is a teen, he or she has more than likely learned to control their mouth, so they will show their distain, their dishonor, their disobedience to parents and other authorities with their eyes. You know the roll, the "duh," and the "what planet are you from" look. They usually do this while their back is turned or while turning away. They think they get away with it. God says otherwise.
What if the next time they did that a crow came smashing through the window, plucked their eye out, and flew away gulping it down in a bite? That's what God says will happen. Proverbs 30:17 "The eye that mocks his father and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it." Because we don't see crows spearing the eyeballs of teens everyday, we think it don't, won't, and can't happen. Nobody in Noah's day thought the whole world would drown; no one in Lot's day thought their city would be destroyed by brimstone.
But this isn't one-sided. In the "Table of Duties" which we bind ourselves to as much as to the Small Catechism, Luther directs fathers to Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." And he directs that all 6 chief parts of the Catechism be taught to children not by pastors but by fathers. "As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household." Children earn the wrath of God on the wings of ravens by dishonoring their parents, but parents earn hell by failing to parent. The Large Catechism says, "Think what deadly harm you do when you are negligent in this respect and fail to bring up your children to usefulness and purity. You bring upon yourself sin and wrath, thus earning hell by the way you've raised your own children."
Not only do adults earn hell if they raise their children wrongly, they earn judgment if they don't care for their aging parents. I Timothy 5 directs us to care for our parents, and says, "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Still don't think the 4th Commandment calls for the ashes of repentance?
Well, we're not done yet; the 4th Commandment goes beyond the family. God establishes authority on earth in the family, but from the family it flows to others. Read the book of Judges. See the bizarre things that go on then. Why? Because Judges tells us there was a breakdown in authority and everyone did as he pleased. How many times I have heard mostly men and some teens say, "No one tells me what to do." You may, indeed, listen to no one on this earth, but you will listen when you find yourself standing before the Judge of all and He says, "Go to hell."
Disobeying, disrespecting, or even dishonoring authority is a big deal. When God wrote the 4th Commandment with His very own finger, He packaged authority for our benefit. He placed His authority in home, church, and state commanding us to honor father and mother, to listen to pastors as to Him, and to obey the governing authorities.
In America this sort of talk sounds prosaic, nice for the 50's but naive for the 21st century. Our sitcoms and movies teach us that parents, fathers particularly, are laughable, ignorant, and selfish. Our society teaches us that religious freedom means religion is a matter of opinion, so no one has a right to be authoritative. Our political system teaches us that freedom of speech means I can say anything I want about a government official. You will not find a hint of any of this in your Bible.
Hold on there. Look how bankrupt these institutions have become. Don't you know about child abuse? Haven't you heard about those mothers giving crack to their children? What about the father who dumped his 4 small children off a bridge? It's no better in the church, is it? From pedophile priests, to philandering pastors, to ministers misusing offerings, what sort of honor, respect, or obedience can be called forth by that? And who could miss the bankruptcy of our current government? From pork barrel projects, to wiretapping, to politicians catering to lobbyists, how can you say they are using their God-given authority in a godly way?
I have to admit; authority today isn't very respectable, honorable, helpful. It's like in basic training; the drill sergeant in authority would place his boot on your back when you did push-ups telling you he was helping you. In Survival, Escape, and Resistance School the mock enemy locked you in a box the size of footlocker and kick it all over the place telling you they were saving you from an artillery attack. This authority didn't seem for my benefit.
Okay, I admit the present day packages of God's authority are bankrupt, but was there ever a better example of authority breaking down than in our Bible reading tonight? The Chief Priests and teachers of the Law are the leaders of the church. They plot against Jesus to arrest and murder Him. A member of Jesus' own family, Judas, all on his own goes to the church and agrees to betray Jesus for money. Since the church specifically says they want to kill Jesus that means they intend to get the State involved since they had no authority to kill anyone. The authority God packaged and tied with a nice bow using His own finger is colluding to destroy His only beloved Son. church, home, and state have totally broken down in the case of Jesus.
What is the outcome of this reprehensible breakdown of authority? What comes from this misuse and abuse of God's packaging of authority? Jesus Himself tells us: "When Judas was gone, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him." This is more than lemonade from lemons or a silk purse from a sow's ear. This is the glory of God from the absolute evil of men. This is the glory of God from the work of Satan.
God's glory isn't to bring good from good, beauty from beauty, life from life, saints from saints. God's glory is to bring good from evil, beauty from ugliness, life from death, and saints from sinners. Satan believes he has found a way to use God's gift of authority against Him. He rubs his hands with glee thinking, "I'll use God's good gifts of church, state, and home to crush the One He has promised for thousands of years would crush me.
And crush Him he does. Jesus is crushed by His friend's betrayal. He is crushed when His own church won't believe He is God the Son. He is crushed when the government that He instituted to protect life cruelly, brutally, and painfully takes His. Some things have to be crushed to be used, don't they? Pecans have to be cracked; medicines have to be ground; roses have to be crushed.
We couldn't pay for our disobeying, disrespecting, dishonoring authority by losing both eyeballs or even by going to hell. A sinner being punished for his or her sins can't satisfy God's wrath against sinners. That's why when people go to hell they stay there forever. Isaiah says that God was pleased by the crushing of His Son. He was pure, holy, blameless. He always honored, obeyed, respected His mother and father, His church, His government. But He was loaded with all our dishonor, disobedience and disrespect, and God poured out all of His wrath upon Him. His Body was crushed for your sins; His lifeblood squeezed out for you. God is satisfied.
Satan's plan to use home, church, and state to crush Jesus backfired. Jesus was crushed alright, but by being crushed He redeemed sinners: sinners in the home, church, and state. By being crushed His lifeblood flowed over our sins covering them. By being crushed He became a fragrant perfume covering the stench of our sins. By being crushed His Body and Blood became medicine for us, the medicine of immortality.
Look what Jesus does in this text. He gives us authority to use His Body and Blood. Who would dare eat and drink the Body Jesus gave on the cross and the Blood He shed there for our sins, if Jesus hadn't commanded, "Do this often?" And see how amazingly powerful this medicine is. It enables Jesus to tell the apostles who in just hours would abandon Him "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials." They no more did that than you and I have honored, respected, and obeyed authority. Yet in, with, and under His Body and Blood Jesus sees only holy, righteous, obedient people whom He is able to bless not only in eternity but here in time.
Ponder this. Treasurer this in your heart. Not your sins; not your many failings as child, parent, citizen, or church member, but this: If God Almighty can use the breakdown of church, home, and state to redeem you for all eternity; He will certainly use them to bless you in time. Even when His packages are covered in ashes, they remain His, and He still uses them to save you in eternity and serve you in time. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ash Wednesday (20080206); 4th Commandment, Passion Reading 1