Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) + March 10, 2019
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, he explained the First Commandment this way:
What is to have a god? What is God?
2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
3 If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.
So when the First Commandment says, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” it’s true. When we give our fear, love, and trust to the Triune God, the God who revealed Himself in the Bible, we keep this Commandment. However, whatever we give our fear, love, and trust to other than God is an idol, the work of human hands and a sinful heart.
Of course, it would be nice to think we’ve avoided this if we don’t have a little golden statue, and we haven’t set up an altar dedicated to our 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Perhaps we’d like to excuse ourselves by using the Reformed numbering of the Commandments, which spells out the command about idols: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” (Exodus 20:4 KJV)
But God sees through our veneers, right to our heart. He sees the honest truth better than we know ourselves. Our fear has not been in Him alone, but rather in what other people would think if we didn’t go along with them. Our love has been to make “sacrifices” to so that we could fulfill our own passions, rather than being devoted to our Heavenly Bridegroom. Our trust has not been in Him alone, but in the daily bread which His hand gives at times or takes away at others. We’ve felt safe when the account balance is high, but freaked out when we saw a downward trend.
Whatever those things are that we fear, love, and trust in—and they are many and varied—those are our idols. And God jealously desires to topple every single one of them, so that He alone is your God. He is the only God you need, and the only one who will never fail you.
Yet, the Commandments don’t end with the First. There are nine others which more accurately strike at our hearts and—when reconciled—lead us in a God-pleasing life. Each of the Commandments stems from this First, because when our fellowship with God is broken, it ripples to all the rest of our life. This is the point the Small Catechism makes by beginning each by saying, “We should fear and love God so that…” Now, Luther wrote that whatever you put your trust in is truly your God, but it works the other way too: how to we live in regard to the other commandments shows what sort of god we have.
Let me give a few examples:
The Fourth Commandment says to “Honor your father and your mother” This, we know applies not only to parents, but also other authorities: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13)—in the government, in school, and in the Church. But say you have a beef with one of those authorities. Should a child trample his mother’s flowerbed because she didn’t let him watch a movie? The Lord commands us to pray for and honor government authorities, but can’t there be an exception for Kate Brown or Donald Trump? The Lord says we should obey our pastors and submit to them as to the Lord, but can’t we vote with our offering dollars or our feet if we think he’s a flake?
In this case, you are picking and choosing who is a gift from God for your good, and who you can just live without. You raise yourself up and make yourself wiser than God. If this is how you treat the commandments, then your god is liable to make mistakes. Maybe he will also forget to care for you some day.
One of the most popular uses of the Law is to point fingers at others. Take the Sixth Commandment for instance. “You shall not commit adultery” is more often turned into “They shall not commit adultery” rather than examine and discipline our own sexually purity and how we love and honor our spouse. If you’re quick to point out how other people are fornicating or perverted in their desires, maybe the reason behind it is personal. Have you examined your own impure desires that you hide from others. Have you considered that you’re actually more concerned about a loved one, but strangers are an easy target?
If you’re quick to find fault with other people’s walk with the Lord, you have a god who is vengeful before he is ever merciful. But conveniently enough for you, this god only condemns other people. Be careful with such a god, because with the True God, there is no partiality.
Lastly, consider the
temptations which we see unfold in the wilderness for our Lord: “Command these stones to become loaves of
bread…throw yourself down…All these [kingdoms] I will give you if you worship
me.” Here, the desire is to take
advantage of one’s status before God and use it as license for disobedience. “If
you are the son of God” surely it wouldn’t be too bad for you to indulge in
a little anger, a little keeping money for yourself, a little gossip. God won’t be too harsh with me, because after
all, I’m His beloved child! Push the
envelope and see if God do something to stop you.
When we presume on kindness and forbearance, our god is no more than a capricious rule-giver who wants to squelch our fun. We are found to lack a fear of God’s righteous wrath and anger. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:22)
Your God—the true One, who gave you these Commandments—calls you to repent, and live a life of repentance for all your sins…all your idolatrous caricatures of the true God. He alone has the power to kill and make you alive. Your sin justly deserves what Jesus endured—punishment and death, forsaken by God. Jesus, who is the Son of God, never wavered in His fear, love, or trust in God. And you, with all your idols, have been crucified with Christ. Your sins are washed from you. Your idols are thrown down.
Now rise with Christ to live a new life. In this new life, the Commandments become your treasured instruction, more precious than gold (Psalm 19). “We should fear and love God so that we do not…but” instead do what is pleasing to our heavenly Father: call on His Name in prayer and praise, hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, love and cherish our parents and other authorities, help and support our neighbor’s health and life, lead a chaste life and love our spouse, help others to improve their possessions and income, stand up for the reputation of others and put the best construction on their actions, and support and build up our neighbors’ property and household.
Through Jesus Christ,
your God has done good to you, saving you from justly deserved wrath and
lavished upon you the blessing of a thousand generations to those who fear
Him. Now, we pray for a heart that
gladly does what He commands (we sing the Offertory). Amen.
 Large Catechism, I, 1-3 (Tappert edition)
 James 2:1-13