Posts Tagged ‘Ten Commandments’

Everything Is a First Commandment Issue

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 25th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. [Matthew 22:37, 38]

We know Jesus said this.  And since He declares it to be the great commandment, we must take it very seriously; we should approach it as the most important thing of all and be prepared to give an account for its demands when the day of judgment comes.  Jesus also said, if you “Do this, you will live.” [Luke 10:27]

Martin Luther said that this commandment alone clarified all of the other ones.  He taught this truth this way: We should fear and love God so that: We have no other gods; We do not misuse the name of God; We remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; (We must fear and love God so that) We honor our Father and Mother; We do not murder; We do not commit adultery; We do not steal; We do not lie; We do not covet our neighbors house or possessions; We do not covet our neighbors spouse.  So you see…

Everything in life really is a First Commandment issue.

We must love the Lord our God not just to the best of our ability, but perfectly, with every atom that forms, and holds together brain, blood, bone and sinew, with our whole undivided self, with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

But we also know how difficult, in fact how impossible this is for us on our own.  I mean, if we loved God above all, we wouldn’t have such a hard time confessing our faith before other people.  We wouldn’t find ourselves thinking of the commandments as an insurmountable burden.  We would never fear God’s wrath, since perfect love cast out all fear. [1 John 4:18]  We would never be uncertain when there is a choice between God and the ways of the world.

And yet we know that this happens to us.  If we take God’s Word seriously, we know how grim a matter it is to not keep the First Commandment.  We understand the troubled question, which the apostles asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” [Mark 10:37]

It’s important to remember that even the commandment of love belongs to the law which Christ alone has fulfilled.  The demand of this chief commandment reveals to us more clearly than any other place that we are and continue to be sinners who cannot answer before God in any way.

But because we’re interested in what makes the First commandment supreme, we must also consider a second commandment that is like it in supremeness.  This is why Jesus mentioned a second commandment, specifically the one declared in Leviticus 19, in the eighteenth verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In quality it is “like” the one regarding God. Here again we have “love,” and here again we have the full extent of this love, which includes every contact we have with our neighbor and indeed all of humanity.

The truth is, we would all be lost and shut out from God unless God Himself acted to save us; unless God out of His love for fallen and sinful people like us acted first.  And He did!  He acted first when He gave His own Son who shed His life blood for us upon the cross.  So you see, it is not our love that saves us but God’s love towards us.  Love is not to be found in that we have loved God, but in that He first loved us and sent His Son to redeem and save us from our sins.  The true and complete nature of love, which does not seek its own ends, has come into the world, into your very life, in the person of Jesus Christ.

In our gospel lesson, [Matthew 22:34-46] Jesus after successfully demonstrating the two most important commandments now sets His face towards the cross; the instrument of death that the very men He was speaking with would ensure He would walk to and die upon in just two short days. He does this so that these men and indeed all of mankind would understand just Who it is that gives His life and why He gives it.  He does this with a simple question…

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?”  The Pharisees quickly parroted the answer that had been passed on through many generations after David’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah’s bloodline: “The son of David” they answered.  But Jesus will not allow that answer to be sufficient; He cannot, because there is infinitely so much more, and if we do not grasp this truth and accept it by faith we cannot be saved from our sins.  You see…

Jesus cannot simply be a complete man who reveals how a good man can love.  If that were the case, we would be lost in our sins and mandated to suffer God’s judgment and punishment for our sinfulness, because let’s be honest, even after our best efforts we still do not love God as we must.  No, Christ must be more than “the son of David,” that is, He must be more than a mere man with unusual qualities and of unusual importance.  You see, He must also be David’s Lord, and far beyond any of the greatest figures of history.  This is why Jesus follows up with another question.  “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?”   If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

In this question, Jesus is passionately trying to demonstrate exactly Who it is that they will condemn in two short days, and who it is who will suffer and die as the only true innocent man upon the cross of a criminal.  He wants them also to understand that in just three days after the death of this innocent man, who it is exactly who will rise from the dead and both proclaim and give victory over mankind’s true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil!

Who do you say Jesus is?  Do you agree that He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the very Son of God who comes to us as the perfect, mysterious son of Mary, who has come to die for you?  If you answer yes by faith, then you have both learned and received the divine gift of agape love. [1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:9]

Jesus is God’s solution to our sinful natures’ inability to love both Him and our neighbor as we should.  As both Creator and creature, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and son of Mary came into this world as one of us.  He lived the perfect life of love for God and neighbor that we can not, but most importantly He did it for sinners; He did it for you!

And if you do the one most important thing that God has equipped and encouraged you to do, that is if you receive Jesus as your Divine King and live under and within God’s love by faith, it will become a power in your very lives.  He who believes “is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7]  It will be as when a man finds a treasure in a field, or a merchant discovers a pearl of great price that he has searched for long and patiently.  Your heart will become dominated by the power of this great treasure. [Matthew 13:44-46]

When our hearts are opened to the love of God, we can’t help but be overwhelmed and captured by it.  Not so fully that we cease to be sinners, because we still live and struggle with our sinful flesh, but so that we can honestly say along with St. Peter, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” [John 21:17]

Who you say Jesus is will then determine how you will live the rest of your life.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave the Great Commission, one last commandment of love to His church before He ascended back to the right hand of God the Father.  Listen: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Why do we preach and teach the Word of God and then form and support the various congregations throughout this world?  Because we fear and love God; because we love our neighbor who is still trapped, dead in their sins.  Why do we meet each Sunday, careful not to neglect the meeting of the saints?  Because we love our brothers and sisters born of Holy Baptism just as we were.  Because together we equally need the gifts that God so freely lavishes upon us in Word and Sacrament every day so that we can continue to grow in love towards God and one another.  And then together, with one heart, the heart of Jesus, we are enabled by God to go out each and everyday, prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ. And the answer we give, will always be centered in God’s gift of mercy and love that fulfills both the great and second great commandment to love.

May God the Father Who created us, may God the Son Who redeemed us and saved us from our sins, may God the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies us and fills us with divine love and wisdom, keep both us and Christ Church until the resurrection of the dead.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

“Can You Do It?”

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, July 11, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning, God’s Word confronts us like a bolt of lightning and the crash of thunder. “Do this and you will have eternal life!” [Lk. 10:28b]  “Go and do likewise!” [v. 37b] These aren’t Words of encouragement that Jesus gives they are the absolute demand of perfection, which God’s Holy Law insists on!  Follow the Law perfectly and you will be assured of peace with God and eternal life!  Can you do it?  The lawyer in our gospel reading thought that he could; he thought that he could not only follow God’s rules and statutes found in the 10 Commandments in a way that would please the Lord his God, but he also thought that he could teach others to do the same!  And if we are honest with ourselves, we fool ourselves into thinking that we can do it also!  We think that we should get a passing grade from God for our honest effort at being good.  But as the lawyer discovered, God doesn’t grade on a curve.  He doesn’t look at our best effort and say, “OK.  Good attempt.  I’ll take it from there!”  No friends, God demands perfection!  Are you worried about this?  Good!  Because this truth must never leave your heart and mind or it will cheapen the gift of grace that God’s has given to you and demands that you live by.  And what is this gift of grace?  It was the same message that Jesus commissioned the 70 disciples to proclaim in last week’s gospel reading: “The kingdom of God has come to you!  God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy are yours if you will not reject them.”

The lawyer, the expert in God’s law undoubtedly was aware of this message that they were sent out with.  He heard Jesus instruct them not to rejoice because demons fled at the mention of Jesus’ name.  Instead, Jesus told them to rejoice because they had received salvation themselves through Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the good news!  And to this, the lawyer was irritated and moved to confront Jesus.  “What about the Law?!  Are you setting a side God’s Holy Law!?  How then can I receive eternal life?  What must I do to be saved?”

I. And to this question, Jesus asks each of us who would find comfort in rules, God’s Holy Law, this one question in return: “What is written in the Law?  How do you interpret it?” [v. 26] And along with the lawyer, many of us “good Christians” can answer: I must love the Lord, my God, out of my whole heart, and in my whole soul, and in my whole strength, and in my whole mind; and I must love my neighbor as myself!”  And to this, Jesus replies, “Very good!”  Now go and do this perfectly and you will live!”  Perfectly?  Wait a minute Lord… no one can do it perfectly but God!  Come on now; isn’t that impossible?  Yes, but you are the one that wants to be doing something; so go ahead and do, do, do!  Do until there is no more time to do and then look back at what you have done and see if it was perfectly done!

And so the lawyer’s dilemma becomes our dilemma.  The very rules we sought refuge and protection in have become the very trap that springs its jaws of death upon us;  sinking its vicious teeth within our flesh and refusing to let go or offer any way out of a sure and certain death!  What can be done to help?

Like the lawyer, we must read the law the way that it was meant to be read.  We must understand the very heart and mind of God Himself.  We must learn that the heart of God is love, not anger; mercy not punishment; grace and not payment!  When we say that we must love the LORD our GOD we are calling upon His covenant names.  His name Lord or Kurios in the Greek is the very name He gave to Moses within the 10 Commandments.  And that name is Yaweh in Hebrew, which in English means “I am that I am.” The unchanging covenant Lord.  And the word God, which in Greek is THEOS and in Hebrew is ELOHEKA, means the God of power and might who puts all of His power on behalf of those who love Him and have faith in Him.  So the Lord that we love and trust is the God that does all of the work to save us!  Both of these names of God together make up one complete name.  A name that declares that our creator is both the One furnishing the means of our salvation and the ability to accomplish it!  He alone gives us both the desire to fulfill the Law and the ability to trust in His grace and love so that we can be assured that we have received both of them!

II. The lawyer and perhaps even we, ask the wrong question.  The question is not what must I do to inherit eternal life, but rather what must I have to receive eternal life!  And the answer is, you must have a new heart!  If we must love God out of our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, but when we look at these things and we find them sinful and incapable of that which God demands, then we can only conclude that it is impossible for us to please God with them.  In which case we are either completely lost without hope, or we must look for a new source of strength and hope.  And that is the very place Jesus wanted to lead the lawyer and even you and me this morning. 

In our Epistle lesson this morning [Col. 1:1-14], St. Paul gives us a picture of a congregation that is demonstrating the kind of love that God’s law demands.  In vs. 4 he says that he had heard of the Colossians faith in Jesus Christ!  How did they know about Jesus?  Through the Word of God!  They heard about Him through Paul’s teachings about a covenant God who came to them in the human flesh of Jesus Christ, to do what they could not.  He lived a perfect life on their behalf.  But that was not all that they heard about; they also heard that this Jesus, the very Son of God died the death that their sinful flesh deserved, and He died that death also on their behalf.  Why?  To prove that the Lord their God, is first the covenant God of the Jews, and second to show that He is the God and Savior of the entire world.  “For God so love the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]  This is the very life that the lawyer was searching for but missed!

But what about the other half of the demand that the Law presses down upon us; you know, the part that says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves?  How can I love someone who only means we harm… someone who seems to hate me?  Well Paul tells the Colassians that they are fulfilling that demand as well, when he says that he also heard of the love that they had for all of the saints.  How did they receive this ability to love?  By receiving a new heart; the heart of Jesus!  Ok… then how did they get this new heart?  Again through the Word of God; that Word that we call the Word of truth, the gospel, which came not just to the Colossians but even to you!  It is this Word of truth that is bearing fruit within you and it is growing even now!  What is it growing?  The love of God… the very heart of Jesus Christ!  When did this happen?  The day you first heard it within the waters of your Holy Baptism.  The day you understood the grace of God… the love and mercy of God that was in it!  And it is happening even now!” [Col. 1:1-8]  And it is that same Word and your dependence upon the Lord your God that fills you with the knowledge of God’s perfect will and all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Why?  So you CAN walk in a manner worthy of the sacrifice, love, mercy and grace of your Lord Jesus Christ!  And now, because of your faith in Jesus alone, God’s Word is creating within you a way to walk that pleases Him.  Through His Holy Word and Sacraments He is forever strengthening you with His power, according to His glorious might so that you can endure all things, even your own sinfulness and failures with patience and joy!  This is entirely the work of God dear friends, which has transferred you out of the kingdom of darkness and into His kingdom of grace and eternal life… the kingdom of His beloved Son Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!

III. Friends, it is your Lord Jesus Christ who is your Good Samaritan!  It is your Jesus who has taken you out of the world of sin, death, and the devil.  He has defeated this motley crew of bandits that has beaten you and left you for dead.  He has smashed them and sent them scurrying like a pack of dirty vicious dogs through His divine power.  It is your dear Jesus who is healing your wounds, wounds caused by the vicious lash of the Law, and He does this through the balm of His gospel Word.  He tells you that your covenant God is a God of love and mercy, not a God of hatred and revenge.  It is your Holy Jesus who puts you upon His own cross, which He bears upon His shoulders, and He carries you into His church, where you are forever cared for with the sweet taste of forgiveness and peace with God.  Even now He is nourishing you unto eternal life with His own Word and Sacrament… His means of grace, so that you would know that you have a God of peace and love. 

And what does He ask in return?  “God and do likewise.” [Lk. 10:37b]  But now, this command is not a demand that can’t be fulfilled.  No friends, God does not want you to leave here feeling helpless and confused like the lawyer.  Instead, He wants you to remember that you have been given a new heart; His heart.  He wants you to remember that it is He who is living within you and through you; you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!  In Jesus Christ, you are more than a conqueror; for neither life nor death, powers nor principalities can separate you from God’s love which is your through Christ Jesus!

 Can you do it?  Si sepuede… yes you can, through Christ who is within you and strengthens you! 

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who is your “Good Samaritan”!  AMEN!