Two Witness to our Real Problem
Though the courthouse deals with motive and intent in order to judge the severity of a crime, it doesn't deal with the 9th and 10th Commandments. Sinful desires and coveting, are laughed at and off in our society. If you don't actually do the deed, no harm no foul. Not so before the judgment seat of God. Our Formula of Concord says that when we don't recognize coveting for the damnable sin it is "the greatest evil is that we endure God's eternal wrath and death and not even realize what we are suffering" (SD, I, 62).
The last two Commandments are for the best people. The obviously sinful people are exposed early on and easily. The person who misuses the name of the Lord is easy to spot. People who don't go to church are too. The brat who disobeys; the thug who hurts people; the fornicator, thief, and liar are all easily exposed. Not so the coveter. Our Large Catechism says that the last Commandments are not given for the outwardly wicked but for the most upright; the people who want to be thought of as virtuous because they haven't offended against the proceeding 8 Commandments ( I, 300).
The 9th and 10th Commandments are for the clever sinners. Those who "scheme to get" their neighbors things or get them "in a way which only appears right." These Commandments are for those who would "entice" away a neighbor's wife, workers, or animals. The original is more nuanced than that. It is "alienate" our neighbor's wife, "entice away" his servants, "let loose his cattle" (Teaching Luther's Catechism, 114). You know; not "hit" on his wife but say things that make you look good and him look bad. Not steal someone's lawn man but get him to want to work for you. Not rustle cattle just cut the fence.
We don't hear these Commandments as all that serious because of the word "covet." That word isn't used much in conversation, and when it is it's usually positive. When a person says they "covet" a person's ability to cook, fish, woodwork, etc. that means to us they really admire it. However, if we translate covet' the way Paul does with lust' we get the picture. That is as long as we don't understand lust' as referring only to sinful sexual desires. No go the other way. As sinful as you know your sexual lusts are that's how fallen, debased, and to be repented of are all your sinful desires for anything more, better, or different than what your Lord has given you.
But we want to go no further than the world. The real problem is only our outward actions. Luther says that the Devil wishes to blunt the law and make it apply to only actual sins (Bente, 168). Here he deceives us greatly to our own eternal demise. A man in Rhodesia was wearing leather legging to protect against snake bites. He was bitten by a black mamba. Its fangs pierced the leather and even discharged the venom, but they didn't pierce his skin. Just like we think our lusting is no harm no foul, so did he. Twenty years later, the man put those leggings back on. He had an open scratch on his leg. The poison on the leather killed him. We think because our outward actions are intact; the Devil hasn't obviously broken us down so we're okay. But the poison of lust remains and will damn us if left untreated.
The trouble is world helps us to think we're winning the outward war against sinful actions. Disciplining ourselves, drugs that control kleptomania, pedophilia, and alcoholism, and imprisoning do work outwardly. They're like the leather leggings. But the venom is still there, not injected from the outside but born with us on the inside.
Lusting is beyond anyone's reach. Bruce Springsteen said lusts are like a knife, edgy and dull that nevertheless cuts deep. They say, "I gotta have; I need to have; I must have; I will have at all costs." When lustfulness is aroused it leaves a person no rest and makes him incapable of listening to God's Word. It takes full possession of a man, so that he is possessed' in the real sense of the word (Teaching Luther's Catechism, I, 119). This is what having two Commandments about lust teaches us. The root shows itself in the lusting after just one thing: your neighbor's house. But when you give into that, lust cascades to lusting after anything and everything that belongs to your neighbor. It's the boy in the grocery store who just wants to grab one orange and he starts an avalanche that he can't deal with.
Here's how Martin Chemnitz put it. The 9th Commandment is about "hankering after something" as Luther translated. The 10th is about a person causing himself to lust eagerly. So the 9th is the first step in lust and the 10th are the rest of the steps where the person is really helping his lust along (Locci, II, 67). The preacher in the novel Winesburg, Ohio shows this pattern. He sees from a church window a woman undressing in the next building. He can't help but see, but then he purposely goes there to see more and more. This lust becomes all consuming, all controlling. He knows it's wrong. He knows it must stop, but the black mamba poisoning has found and opening and it is surging through his blood to his heart.
You can't be ready to turn the corner yet, but turn we must. We have to stop looking at ourselves. Once you've been brought to the place the preacher in the novel was where you see how debased, unholy, and powerless you are against your lusts stop looking at yourself. All you will see there is guilt, shame, and loathing, and these work to enslave you all the more to your lusts in this way. "What a wretch you already are? What's the use in fighting your lusts? You will give in sooner or later; you may as well embrace your lusting and be consumed by it rather than by guilt, shame, and self-loathing."
Did you hear in the text the two times it was mentioned that something happened so that the Scripture must be fulfilled? What's the big deal with the soldiers deciding to gamble for Jesus' cloak or Jesus being thirsty? You must understand Jesus didn't think back in His mind and say, "O yeah I'm suppose to say, "I thirst." You know the soldiers certainly didn't say, "Look here; it says we're supposed to gamble for the cloak." The point the Spirit is making is that centuries before these events the prophets saw Jesus on the cross as clearly as you see it in a painting. These events were before God eyes' before the world was even created.
Scripture must be fulfilled; these indignities, these brutalities, these humiliations must happen to God the Son. The lusts that poison your body and soul must be beaten that you might be healed; Jesus must turn crimson with the blood that flows from His sacred veins so that you might be cleansed of your black lusts and become white as snow. The holy Jesus must be rejected by God, ridiculed by man, and rejected by the church because in Jesus our lusts are exposed for what they are. See how ugly, how shameful, how disgusting they are. No wonder the sun refuses to shine on Jesus; no wonder the Father forsakes Him. That should happen to us.
But it hasn't, has it? And here's a problem. Like the pastor in Winesburg, we can think because nobody knows about our secret trips to lustville, God doesn't. And because God does not do to us what He did to His only Son - drag us before men, expose us before all, and punish us for our lusting - that once more it's no harm no foul. This is the Devil yet again selling us the bill of goods that as long as we keep our lusts in our heart we're okay. Yes, as long as the mamba's fangs didn't break the skin the man was okay.
The truth of the matter is what happened to Jesus has happened to us, and that's how the corner is turned. Our Baptism joins us to the death of Christ. Yes, we were there when they crucified the Lord. St. Paul says, "Our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." Your Baptism in time joins you to this point in time.
Yes you were there when they crucified your Lord. You were there when the temple curtain was ripped the Father thereby saying, "Come on home to Me My Son or Daughter; there is no sin, no lust between us anymore." You were there when Jesus died and your old adam, your sinful nature breathed its last. Dead men don't sin; dead men don't lust. You were there when Jesus rose from the dead; you're old adam wasn't, but a new person, a new creation was. You died with Christ in Baptism not so you could stay dead, but so you could rise with Him without that dirty old man, that lustful old woman that plagues you now. Paul says, "Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too might walk about in a new life."
Into what life was Jesus raised? A life where the burden of sin hung over Him? How could that be since He declared He was finished paying for all sins? A life where the Devil could lead Him about by the nose in temptation? No, Scripture says He triumphed over him by the cross. A life where He was afraid of dying? How could that be; He just went through the whole death thing and by His innocent dying He swallowed up Death. Jesus' life is now your life. That's what Paul says in Galatians 2: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
In Winesburg, Ohio what "cures" the preacher of his lust is seeing the object of his lust fall down on her knees in prayer one evening. You can see how that could touch the heart of the preacher, but I can't see it bringing about the radical change Scripture talks about. There was no death and resurrection. There was no change like came over Zacchaeus, the Gadarenian demoniac, St. Paul, the Philippian jailer, or Martin Luther.
The preacher's change was on the order of a man learning to swim in water; the Scripture speaks of as great a change as a water breather becoming an air breather. That's the change that happens at birth; at rebirth, at Baptism, we air breathers become water breathers again. Breathing baptismal water can effect this great change because it ties us to what happened to Jesus on the cross. Change comes about not by seeing someone else fall to their knees in prayer, or even you falling to your knees in confession, but by Jesus falling under the weight of our lusts to pay for them and rising to absolve us of them. Baptism delivers this to us; breathe deep. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek VI (20120328); 9 & 10 Commandments, Passion Reading VI