Third Sunday in Lent
The Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
Sermon Text.:. Exodus 20:1-17
I am the LORD, your God. (Exodus 20:1)
God has words for His people. Ten words, in case you are counting. What we call the ten commandments in their original context are literally called “the ten words,” the first of which is not a commandment. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The first word from God is a claim on His people. “I am Yahweh, your God.” God names and claims a people for Himself. He takes the initiative. This is a word of freedom, identity, ownership. God had brought His people out of Egypt to freedom, made them His own, led them through their baptism in Red Sea. Yahweh is their God; they are His people.
The words which follow this first word are words that both prescribe and describe. They prescribe God’s holy will for His holy people. This is what He wants His people to do and not to do. They also describe what God’s people look like when they believe that He is their God and that they are His people.
When God is our God, there is no room for other gods. “I am the LORD, your God. You will have no other gods in my presence.” Who would want any other god but the God who saves you? In Moses’ day, and also in our own, there was the tendency to make idols, gods in one’s own image and likeness. Portable, domesticated, housebroken gods. Little images that promised fertility, prosperity, success, happiness. God’s that fit in your pocket, nice gods to have around. You controlled them; they fulfilled your needs. We have them too, though ours tend to be flat and flexible. They usually wrap conveniently around a money clip or fit into a billfold. We cling tightly to our household gods. We don’t easily part with them.
God is a jealous God. In His jealousy is His love. He tolerates no competition. He wants His people all to Himself. He went to the ultimate length to be our God. He brought us out of the Egypt of sin and freed us from the shackles of death. He gave His Son as our Passover Lamb. Through His blood we walk in freedom. He brought us through the Red Sea of Baptism, our exodus to eternal life. He payed dearly to be our God. We were bought with a price, the blood of His Son. He is jealous for His precious possession. “You will not have other gods.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will not misuse my name.” To have God is to have His Name. There is freedom and life in God’s Name. God puts His Name on His people. They belong to Him. God’s Name has power. In His Name He forgives His people, He heals them, He blesses them, He makes His face shine upon them. Where God causes His Name to dwell, there salvation is given out. In the temple of the OT, in the body of Jesus in the NT, as we heard in the Gospel.
God gives His name for blessing. Therefore, God’s people do not use His name to damn others. They do not drag His name into lies, but keep their oaths and vows. They do not conjure with His Name. They do not treat God like a heavenly vending machine into which we pump their quarters and nickels of prayer and praise, calling on His Name until the desired blessing pops from His hand. God’s people do not teach false things in His name, and when they have spoken a careless word, they are quick to repent and correct it. God’s people use His Name when they are in trouble, and when others are in need. They pray, praise, and give thanks in God’s Name. God has revealed His Name in His Son. Jesus has glorified God’s Name by dying and rising. We receive His Name in our Baptism. It is our identity, our mark of ownership. We belong to God. “You will not misuse the Name of the Lord, your God.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will keep the Sabbath day holy.” God’s people know that they cannot live by mere bread alone. What fills the belly cannot feed the soul. Man lives not by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The Word of God must be our daily food or the life that is born in Baptism will wither and die of starvation.
To do our work creatively and energetically, we need rest. God has provided a rest for us. God’s rest does not consist in putting up your feet and clicking on the television. That is unrest. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus’ Word and the Meal of His Body and Blood are the true rest of God. Where Jesus is for us, there is rest. Rest in His death and resurrection, rest from the Law, rest from guilt, shame, sin. Rest from ourselves. In Jesus we have rest in God
This Word leaves no room for the silly nonsense about worshipping God on top of the mountain or at the beach, at the butt end of a golf club or a fishing pole, or at some hour of power blaring from the television. We are free from observing a Sabbath day, but we are not free from the Word or the gathered church. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ, and whoever cuts himself off from the preaching of this saving Word cuts Himself off from Christ and His salvation. The person who claims to believe in Christ and boasts that he has no need for Christ’s body, the church, is strong only in his unbelief. The one who is absent from the Word and the Supper, preaches by his absence the real absence of Christ. He has a different Jesus and believes another Gospel. Jesus is present in His Word and His Supper to give us rest, Sabbath, new creation. Jesus is God’s Sabbath. God’s people have their rest in Him. “You will keep the Sabbath day holy.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will honor father and mother.” God’s Word sets things in order – husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, governors and the governed, people and pastors. Order means a matrix of authority. Everyone has his or her place and responsibility to the other.
The operative word is “honor,” a word that is ordinarily reserved for God Himself. To honor God is to honor His authorities; to honor God’s authorities is to honor God. God’s people recognize that parents and other authorities are the masks behind which God hides and through which He blesses. Parents, teachers, employers, presidents, governors, pastors, teachers – these are God’s vicars, His agents, His instruments. We are to honor them with our respect, not only when they behave honorably (though they should!), but because God is hidden behind them. Honor is not something earned. Honor is given on account of God’s Word. If God told us to honor a piece of wood or a chunk of rock, we would honor that wood or rock for no other reason than God said so.
Honor is the backbone of community. Where children do not honor father and mother and their deputies, the home collapses. Where people do not honor their government, society collapses. Where Christians do not honor their pastors, the congregation collapses. We have ample examples all around us. Anarchy abounds in our homes, in our streets, in our churches. And there is precious little honor. In anarchy, true freedom is lost. When the shooting starts, all freedom ends. All you can do is run and hide; or shoot back, but you had better have a bigger gun.
In Jesus Christ, God reveals Himself to be our true Father. We are His true children. He baptizes us into His family; we have a place. He restores order to the chaos; He calls us to be ordered under Him and His representatives. “You will honor your father and your mother.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will not murder.” Human life is sacred, a holy gift from God. God alone gives life, and He alone takes life away. “He kills, and He makes alive.” Human life is above all other forms of life. Male and female are the crown of God’s creation, a special creation. God’s free people have been rescued from the curse of wanting to be God in place of God. They do not murder. They do not abort their unborn babies. They do not neglect their infants or their frail and elderly. They do not set out to destroy their enemies. They care for the poor and homeless and orphaned and widowed.
God’s people do not view death as an alternative to suffering. Death is our enemy, not our friend. Death is anti-life. The pagan concept of euthanasia, which is Greek for “good death,” is a foreign word on the lips of God’s people. They understand death in terms of God’s justice. Death is the just wages of our sin. Euthanasia is what is done to animals when they are no longer useful. With human beings, it is a politically acceptable word for murder.
Only a died-in-the-wool Darwinist would attempt to make “quality of life” the issue. God’s people do not debate the “quality of life.” That is materialistic atheism, and if you want to see the goal of that, study Nazi Germany and communist Russia or China. Those cultures were concerned about the “quality of life.” The results speak for themselves. God’s people speak of the sanctity, the holiness of human life. God has delivered a decisive “No” to death in the death of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Jesus died so that in Him you might have life. Jesus is the Life. “You will not murder.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will not commit adultery.” Marriage and family are God’s gift. Sex too is God’s gift. It is the bonding activity between a husband and a wife. Adultery takes God’s gift of sex outside the context of marriage and uses it against God and others in service of self. Adultery is self-centered, not God-centered. The adulterer sins against his or her body. The costs are enormous, of which the rising divorce, medical, and suicide statistics are only the tip of the iceberg.
God’s people keep marriage holy. They recognize that their bodies were bought with a price – the body of Jesus hung on a cross. They daily recall this fact by tracing the mark of the cross. You have been tagged with the mark of the Good Shepherd, branded with the seal of His sacrifice in Holy Baptism. You proclaim Jesus’ death by receiving into their bodies His own Body and Blood. God’s redeemed people are free, free to say “no” to their lusts and “yes” to God. They are free yield their bodies to God as instruments of righteousness for service of others. They glorify God with their bodies. “You will not commit adultery.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will not steal.” Like murder and adultery, stealing is the attempt to be God in place of God. The thief takes issue with God’s distribution of wealth and seeks to reorder things along more favorable lines. The issue here is God’s ownership and our stewardship. “God has His monogram on my possessions; I am to use them for others” (Martin Marty, The Hidden Discipline , 26). God’s people recognize the hand of God as the Giver of gifts. They do honest work, strive for excellence, build with care. They serve the Lord instead of the paycheck. They serve as they have been served by Christ, who came to be the Servant of all. Though rich, He became poor, so that through His poverty, we might be rich. “You will not steal.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will not give false testimony against their neighbor.” At stake is your neighbor’s name and reputation. With a word you can destroy it. God’s people know the value of a good reputation, for God has given them a good reputation, by putting away their sins as far as the east is from the west. If God speaks well of us, how can we not speak well of others? To speak well of others is to see others as God sees them, through the lens of the cross. Your neighbor is one for whom Jesus shed His blood. “You will not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
“I am the LORD, your God. You will not covet.” The last word of the ten words from God is a startling and surprising word. It involves no action, no word, no work, no movement, nothing. Coveting is secret and invisible. This word almost seems un-American, bad for the economy, stifling, intrusive. Coveting is, after all, a “victimless crime.” Who is hurt by our coveting?
God’s tenth word points inward to the heart. The heart that is unbuckled from God latches onto things like loose Velcro. This is the word that caught St. Paul and caused him to say, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.” This Word alerted him to the fact that he was double minded – a sinner and a saint at the same time. Just when he thought things were going well, this word came along and killed him.
We are reminded of how deep into our humanity the cancer of sin runs, how deep our need for Christ is. It is not just our actions, that the Law judges, but our attitudes. Not just our hands, but also our heart. Not just our words and works, but our thoughts, desires, imaginations, and motivations. Outward actions we can control to a great extent. We can choose to kill or not to kill; to commit adultery or not, to steal or not, to tell lies or not. We can discipline our lips to bless, our ears to hear God’s Word. We can choose to honor and respect parents and other authorities. But there is no decision, no self-imposed discipline, no resolution, that can train our hearts not to stray from God.
For the heart there is only daily confession and absolution, daily repentance and the forgiveness of sins, daily dying and rising in the death and life of Jesus.
This tenth word from God teaches us that God’s Law always accuses; it cannot save. The Law always kills; it cannot make alive. The Law can train us outwardly, but it cannot change our hearts. The Law can make us good, but it can’t make us holy. The Law can tell us what God expects, but it cannot make us love God and our neighbor. We have come to a dead end, the dead end of the Law. We cannot earn God’s favor by our commandment keeping. The good and upright person, yes, even the religious religious, is never good, upright, and religious enough to meet the Law’s demands. God’s justice doesn’t deal in fractions and loopholes. All it takes is one transgression of a single point of the Law, and we are held liable for the whole Law.
God must do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. Jesus did not relax the Law’s demands. He squared men up to the Law’s full demands. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” And then He did the Law perfectly, right down to its last little letter. “He became obedient even to death on a cross.” God took His obedient Son, this perfect Jew, and He nailed Him to a tree for you. God made Jesus our sin. He was made the idolater, the blasphemer, the despiser of God’ Word, the disobedient child, the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the liar, the coveter. And you, baptized into Him, believing in His Name, are made what Jesus is – God’s perfect child.
Jesus kept the Law perfectly and died for you, so that you could be the object of His Father’s love, a love that He shows to the thousands who love Him and keep His commandments.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.