Text: Exodus 20: 1-21
For our Wednesdays in Lent, the option in Evening Prayer is Sermon or Catechetical Instruction. We will have catechetical instruction on the chief parts of Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catetchisms. We begin where Luther began: the 10 Commandments.
There are laws of nature and there is the moral law of God. It is difficult to disobey, say, the law of gravity. We can escape gravity only with a whole lot of help, as with the help of a jet or a helicopter. We have to go out of the way to disobey the laws of nature. Note: there really can not be disobedience of the laws of nature. This would mean there are repercussions to such disobedience, that is, punishment and it is deserved. It would imply there is right and wrong gravity, but there is not. In contrast to the Laws of Nature, it is quite easy to disobey the Law of God. We tend to do that quite a bit. For the Law of God is about right and wrong in this fallen world. There are repercussions, such as punishment, deserved, both temporal and eternal. His Law is the only law that keeps society and culture from veering off a cliff. His Law alone shows us our sin. His Law alone shows us the good we can do.
We live in an era that violently believes that man is the measure of all things and so believes in relativism. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity in his first section on the Law of God:
“Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”
Well, until now. Putting our self first is a cottage industry in our day and time. In fact, putting the self first is praised. “I did it my way”. Having any woman, or man that you liked? See TV, see movies. In our days, in our zeitgeist, literally “the spirit of an age”, we are taught there is no absolute moral law as the basis of right and wrong. Right and wrong are mere human constructs brought together by human agreement. It’s all relative. But is it right ever to rape a woman? If there is no absolute moral law, then the difficulty of parenting becomes impossible, but it is not as there is right and wrong. A child needs limits, his behavior in word and deed circumscribed and so do adults! The Law of God is summed up by God’s only begotten Son: You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and mind and the second is liken unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. We were made for God and each other, in relation to the Lord and in each other. This is clear as the nose on your face. We all do have the moral compass of the Law of God. God’s law is even more concrete than a compass: it was initially written on two stone tablets, hard as rock.
Lewis’ Mere Christianity were originally radio talks on BBC during World War II, when the Nazis were trying to bomb Britain out of existence:
“What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the color of their hair.
“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong— in other words, if there is no “Law of God”—what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one?
Now the first Table of the Law can not be legislated into civil laws of nations, when it has been, the result has been tyranny of the worse type: see Sharia Law; see ISIS. The first table of the law is, though, the beating heart of the Law. God’s first commandment is not that He is the Lord, but that you shall have no other gods before Him. The first three commandments are all about worship and what or who we worship. Every atheist has a god he or she believes in: reason, talent, fame, self, money. So do Christians have those other gods, and those gods are at the whimsy of fallen flesh. The Lord our God is not. He is the only true God because He alone teaches honor and love, as embodied in the 10 commandments. The second table of the Law flows from the first, and some of Second Table is the basis of civil law, such as not stealing, no murder. The last commandment is about coveting, the inordinate loves of things, people and devils above the Lord. No earthly government can legislate the mind nor the heart nor the soul. It has been tried and the result is tyranny of the worse sort.
With the last commandment we are back at the first. As it is written, covetousness is idolatry. The Law shows us that sin is one vicious circle. We cannot get out of that vicious circle on our own by any stretch. This is reason Luther begins the Catechisms with the Law: so we know the absolute Law of God which we can not fulfill in a thousand life times. “It was a false, misleading dream that God his Law had given that sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven. The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature” It was for this world Christ died. Into this vicious circle, came the Christ. In this zeitgeist, we tend to be soft in the head with hardness of heart.
Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23: 29) It breaks the stony ground of the heart. His Hammer is the Law. Into this hardhearted world came Jesus Christ. Here is the beating heart of the Law, perfect love. The only One who has perfectly kept the Law fulfilled the Law. Harder than even the rock of the law is the rock of our salvation: Jesus Christ. When the Law shows you your sin, don’t look to the Law for help, it offers none. When the Law shows you your sin, look to Jesus Christ, the beating heart of God and every word and deed of Christ, finally and fully Good Friday, who did for all the world atone. He is our mediator.
“Outside Jerusalem, there is a hill of yellow, naked stone, ugly and hard as a dead man’s skull. Long ago men bored a socket in this rocky hill and planted a cross there, and on that cross they hanged the only one of our race who was righteous and had perfectly fulfilled the law. God permitted this to happen because, although he had tolerated sin in former ages, he wanted once and for all to show that he was righteous and that sin is followed by condemnation and punishment, and that he will not countenance any tampering with his standards of holiness. But so wonderful is God that he let all the curse and penalty of sin fall upon the Innocent One, who freely gave of himself in death for us. He was made a curse for our sakes. Thus he redeemed us from the condemnation of the law. He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and by his stripes we are healed.”(The Hammer of God, novel by Bp. Bo Giertz)
We have heard what is the Lord’s will and next week, we look again at the second chief part of the Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, by which we confess the faith in the Lord so that we may gladly hear His Word and do it, as He has done all for us in creating, redeeming and sanctifying us.