THE GOOD FRIDAY PROMISE FROM THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST

3.30.18 Good Friday

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Luke 23:39-43

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

Over the past six weeks during the midweek series, we’ve heard a lot about the high priests of the Old Testament.  And the book of Hebrews does such a great job of connecting the dots of how Jesus is the Great High Priest, not just for Jews, not just for good people, but for all people of all time.

And that is exactly how we arrive here, at Good Friday.  Good Friday is all about Jesus serving as our Great High Priest.    A sacrifice was necessary, but it could never be made by sinners.  Instead, it had to be made for sinners.

And make no mistake, that is what we are.  As I got ready for church today, that is what I saw in the mirror.  As I look around at all of you, that is what I see.  No, maybe I don’t know exactly what you said.  No, I don’t know what you thought.  No, I don’t know what you did this past Monday and Tuesday or 8 years ago.  But I do know who was speaking, thinking, and doing.  It was you, a person tainted like me, tainted from being born of two sinful parents, tainted from the sinful nature that is selfish and conceited, tainted from thoughts, words, and actions that are not always in line with God’s holy law.  We are, in fact, tainted so thoroughly that only a perfect sacrifice from God himself would offer us what is necessary for heaven.

That had to be running through the mind of the criminal hanging on one of those crosses next to Jesus.  “How can I get in to heaven?” He knows his sin.  As his life flashes before his eyes this Friday afternoon, he’s not proud of what he sees. He knows the nails through his hands were pounded with a hammer of justice. He knows the burn in his collapsing lungs was ignited by the fairness of the law. “We are getting what we deserve,” he chided the other criminal.  But that doesn’t help him at all with getting into heaven.  Nothing he could have, would have, should have done could help him now. This criminal is all out of options.

“How do I get into heaven?” is a question we contemplate, too.  And there are so many answers that people have come up with.  But if those answers aren’t looking at the man hanging on the center cross, like the one criminal, then there is no heaven.  With that kind of child-like faith the criminal pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We don’t know how much time elapsed between the desperate request and the divine response. As this was apparently only the second word Jesus spoke from the cross, perhaps his breaths weren’t so shallow yet. But no matter whether it was minutes or seconds, God’s Great High Priest was making this sacrifice on the cross for him.  So, imagine the relief when he heard these words, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Every piece of that sentence lifted the criminal’s soul from the pit of death and despair.  The same is true for this criminal in front of you right now.  “Today,” Jesus said. Today you will be with me. For someone who sat on death row for who knows how long, for someone who had just begun one of the slowest forms of execution—one that could extend three or four days—how comforting that must have been for this criminal. Before the sun would rise again, this man is assured his suffering would be done.

The promises you and I make to one another come with conditions. If this happens, then that will happen. Perhaps we’ll visit there. Someday I’m going to do that. Jesus’ promise of relief to this repentant sinner was not in the form of an if/then clause. Nor was it preceded by a “perhaps” or a “someday.” It wasn’t a next month, a next week, or even a tomorrow, but a today. Through faith, this criminal could be assured his suffering would be over today.

When we’re lying on our own deathbeds, our Great High Priest, who made the full sacrifice for our sins, says the same. For the one who looks to Calvary’s center cross in faith, death is not just the cessation of breath. It’s the cessation of all suffering. No more hunger. No more pain. No more tears. No more guilt. No more anger. No more envy. No more sin . . . today.

Jesus’ promise is not just a promise of time. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Imagine what that meant for this criminal. More than likely, a life of crime did not land him in the nicest company of people. Now, in the waning hours of his life, he saw people at their worst. As the passersby spit on him and shook their heads in disgust, scorning him with their words and their glares, imagine how emotionally deserted this criminal must have felt. That was part of the punishment of crucifixion. Not only was it physically tormenting, it was embarrassing and shaming as you were hung naked just outside of a busy entrance to the city so that others could heap their insults on you.

But as much as this criminal wanted to escape the people around him, there was something that drew him to the man pinned on the middle cross. There was something different about this thorn-crowned criminal. Something that made him different than the soldiers and the scorners. There was something about him that made him different than the other criminals. Instead of cursing as the nails were driven through his hands, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Instead of the charges that convicted him to death being hung over his head, a statement of conviction, power, and fulfillment hung over Jesus’ head: “jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.” The differences between Jesus and everyone else on that hill were not comparable. It was the difference between sin and perfection. And the Holy Spirit used Jesus as the living Word of God to work on this criminal’s heart so that instead of wanting to run away from God in fear of punishment, he was drawn by God’s own grace.

And Jesus assures the criminal that the sin that separated him from a perfect God was not unbridgeable. Jesus promises, “You will be with me.” Not behind me. Not a stone’s throw away from me. But with me. Jesus’ forgiveness is so complete that it allows us to be in the very presence of perfection.

The high priests could only enter into the Most Holy Place of the Temple, the place of God’s presence among his people, once a year. And he had to follow the command of God and bring the blood of an animal sacrifice with him.  Our Great High Priest offered his holy precious blood for us.  We are cleansed by his sacrifice and are free to enter into God’s presence through Word and sacrament whenever we want.  And at death, we will be with the Lord forever.

The promise Jesus makes to the criminal also gives a place where he will be with Jesus.  “Today you will be with me in paradise. Let’s not make this beautiful promise about the types of vistas and vegetation that heaven’s paradise will hold.  It’s not about what you want heaven to look or feel like.  But it’s about the One walking with you on the paths of paradise that makes this promise so beautiful.

Think about it this way: when you’re at the airport to greet your son or spouse as he returns home from a two-year tour in Afghanistan, does it matter if the airport walls are gray or blue as you throw your arms around him? Does it matter if the room temperature is 72 or 82 degrees? Does it matter what smells are coming from the food stands? No, what matters is that you’re with the one you love. In heaven—in paradise—you’re with the Son of God. You’ll be with Jesus who loved you enough to leave heaven and be with you on earth. You’ll be with Jesus who loved you enough to live under the law that he was above. You’ll be with Jesus, our Great High Priest, who loved you enough to make the sacrifice for you, even when it meant his death on the cross. If Jesus thought having you in heaven with him was worth all that, you can be guaranteed it’s a spectacular place.

But how do you know this is what’s in store for you? Don’t forget those first words: “I tell you the truth.” Those are the English words. Do you know what one Greek word that comes from? AMEN. Isn’t that awesome! Jesus’ promise leaves no room for doubt.

In its history, the word amen was used to express the basic concept of support. For example, architects would use it to describe a supporting pillar of a building. It was also used to describe a parent standing with strong arms, supporting a helpless infant. That picture of certainty or strength behind the word made it a favorite word of Jesus. Whenever he wanted to really drive home an important point, when he really wanted everyone’s attention and to say, “This is something you can lean on,” he would start out by saying, “Amen.”

If there’s any time we need something to lean on, it’s at the time of our death. Today, Jesus makes it clear that when that moment comes, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past, if we are criminals in the eyes of the world or in the sight of a holy God.  We have a the one who sacrificed for all those sins.  They are gone.  He has given us something to lean on.  We have Jesus’ amen.  The Great High Priest, Jesus, promises, “Amen. Today you will be with me in paradise.”  There is only one thing to say to that, “Amen.”

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Doing Away with the Distractions

3.18.18 Lent 5B

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John 12:20-33

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

 
I didn’t look where I was going and it cost me.   I was in a parking lot a few weeks ago.  I didn’t see any cars in the area, and so I got into my car thinking that there was nothing behind me to worry about as I backed out.  I got in, turned the car on, put her in reverse, and tapped the gas.  About less than one second later I experienced the kind of thing you don’t want to experience as you are backing up: a sudden thud.  I had backed into a light pole.  I didn’t look where I was going.  I was not paying attention as well as I should have.  And I can’t blame anyone but myself.

This kind of thing happens a lot in our country.  America leads the way in distracted driving.  So often, these days the culprit is the cellphone.  Some estimates say around 70% of drivers admit to looking at their phone at one time or another while behind the wheel.  Now, that’s just the distraction from the cellphone, and we know that there are other disruptions.  They can come in the form of kids in the car, food, the radio, vehicle controls, an outside event like a vehicle pulled over, drowsiness, or simply just being lost in thoughts.

So many things can get in the way and cause a driver to lose focus on what they are driving for in the first place.  Normally, there is a destination.  Sure, teens might get in the car to “joy ride” after they get their license, parents might drive around to get a baby to sleep (I’m glad I’ve never had to do that), some might drive to clear their head, but for the most part there is a place, a destination, where a driver wants to arrive… and safely.  Getting there means minimizing and avoiding the distractions.

Life is similar, isn’t it?  There can be a lot of things to look at, pulling your attention away from the final destination Jesus provides.  There are things you can look at that make you happy: your spouse, your children, your snow piles melting, a perfectly seasoned 12oz. medium rare steak, all the projects on your list with a little check mark next to them, and on and on and on.  There are things you can look at that make you sad: a lot of things on your list that still need a check mark, that steak falling on the floor, an April blizzard, your kids screaming and fighting, and on and on and on.  There are things you can look at that you don’t have yet: graduation, your dream job, or retirement, depending on where you are at in life, a clean checkup after surgery or treatment or avoiding the doctor’s office all together, money and financial stability, a relationship that takes the next level, a family, and on and on.  If we wanted to, we could make a list for the next 3 hours for each one of us of all the different things that you like seeing, things that you don’t like seeing, things that you hope you will see soon or someday down the road, things you pray that you never have to see. The world lays all these distractions out there in front of us, luring us to look.

That’s what commercials are for.  “You need this kind of detergent, this kind of insurance, this kind of school, this kind of beverage, this kind of realtor, this kind of bank, this kind of this, that, and everything.”  And do you know what?  Often times these commercials work.  I do kind of want pizza after watching a commercial show me how delicious it is and how there is such an incredible deal going on right now.  Am I the only one?

There is so much to look at, so much that you need in life.  If you don’t watch much TV, this world can still find a way to make you look at so much stuff.  There are adds and articles online, in your social media feeds, in your mailbox, in the newspaper, billboards all around town as you drive around.  So much, so, so much.  And that’s just the advertisements.

There are friends and family telling you what you need to be looking for.  There are bosses and coworkers telling you what they like to look at.  There are famous people telling you what they like to look at.  There are news stories showing you good and bad options.  We look for so many things to bring happiness, relief, contentment, success, fulfillment, comfort, peace.  We have so many different things to look at.

Do you get the point?  It’s all a bunch of distracted driving.  And do you know where distracted driving gets you?  My insurance wrote a claim check for over 3500 dollars to replace the bumper, the tail light, the rear quarter panel, and the tailgate.  I will be taking my pickup in to get fixed.   All in all, that’s not too bad, but the results of not looking where you are going are often worse than one car backing into a light pole.  The latest numbers I could find for a year were from 2015, and they say that 391,000 people were injured from drivers distracted by their cellphone, not to mention the other distracting factors.  That’s pretty serious.

Distractions in life cause a much worse outcome.  Jesus says today, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it…”  Jesus is saying that there are a ton of distractions from the final destination of heaven.  Some of the things we might call good.  A spouse and family are good things.  Fulfilling work and financial stability are not things you need to be ashamed of.  Charity work and helping those in need are things that we can do to help a work lost in darkness.  There are so so many good things that we have.  But so so so many of these good things can distract us from what is most important.  Jesus says that if you love all these great things in life, if you put everything you have into making your life in this world, then you’re distracted.  Your distractions are leading to a serious loss.  We’re not talking about an increased deductible.  We’re not talking about a hospitalization.  Jesus is talking about being shut out of heaven.  Are all these distractions, as great and as fulfilling and as important as they seem, worth it?

So, how can you get rid of the distractions?  My insurance company, Geico, has these tips: Limit the cellphone use to emergencies; pull over if you are drowsy; limit the activity in the vehicle; don’t eat while driving; no multitasking behind the wheel.  In other words, this so amazingly insightful list says not to allow the distractions.  That means you are going to have to work at it.  There is no other option for you, nothing that the car companies, insurance companies, or anyone else can give you to fight off the distractions. You are going to have to make the change yourself.

At first glance it might seem like Jesus might be saying something similar.  “Anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Here Jesus is not saying you have to hate your wife and kids, your job and all other blessings.  That would be contrary to so much that God says.  It’s just that Jesus has to be first.  And comparing Jesus to anything else, well, cannot compare.  All of these good things and blessings have their proper place behind Jesus, where they cannot be distractions.

If we just had this verse, then it would be like the list from Geico on how to avoid distractions.  It would be your constant work to avoid the distractions.  You would have to make the choices to turn to away from all the worldly loves and distractions and to Jesus.  And you would never be at peace.  You’d always be working hard to avoid distractions, wondering if it was enough.

But this is not the only verse we have.  Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   Do you notice how Jesus does away with the distractions for us, and in a very unique way.  He is lifted up from the earth.

Brothers and sisters, it is at the cross where Jesus was lifted high above all the distractions this world can hold out to you.  He takes our attention, because none of those worldly loves can do what Jesus did at the cross.  There, he took the torment of hell.  There, he took the justice our sins deserve.  There, he removed sin from us.  There, he proclaimed the job of our redemption finished.  There, he provided the salvation from a life of chasing after all these temporary fixes and frills.

This is so much better than God offering us some tips to avoid distractions or ideas about which ones are better than others. In that case, forgiveness and heaven would be up to us.  Instead, God gives us something better to look at, something that this world cannot duplicate.  He gives us his love on full display, love that was willing to sentence his Son as the one guilty of living a distracted life so that we would go free.

It’s this kind of love that was willing to draw all people in.  Jesus made this sacrifice for all without regard for nationality, ethnic affiliation, social status, or gender.  He wasn’t just a Jewish savior.  There were Greeks at the festival, too.  Jesus doesn’t differentiate where you are from.  He doesn’t discriminate if you are struggling to find who you are.  He was lifted up so that we can see who he is and what he has done for us.  All the distractions fade when you see your Savior lifted up on the cross to take your place under the curse of sin, drawing you in to his forgiveness and peace.

Those Greeks had it right: “we would like to see Jesus.”  Do you know where you can find him?  He was lifted up on the cross, and then they took his lifeless body down and put it in a tomb.  But you won’t find him there, will you?  No, he conquered that place of loss.  He rose and ascended back to his throne in heaven.  That’s where we will see him face to face for eternity.  Until then, you have the living and active Jesus among you in his Word.  “There I am with you,” Jesus says to those who gather in his name.  You will find him living and breathing into you in the Word.  You find him in these passages of hope and joy and peace, giving more than anything you can find in this world.  You will find him when his word is connected to water in Baptism.  There he washes you, purifies you, and makes you his own child by faith.  You will find him when his word is connected to bread and wine.  There you see the body and blood he gave when he was lifted up.  There he strengthens you with forgiveness and renewal.  He nourishes the faith he planted.  He fortifies the bonds you have with God and one another.  In Word and Sacrament, Jesus does away with distractions, because he shows us how much he loves us.  He shows us the final destination that he purchased for us. Yes, we would like to see Jesus, because he is our only way home.  Amen.

 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS PROTECT AND PROMOTE GOD’S WAY

3.4.18 Lent 3B

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Exodus 20

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

 

“A guardrail would be nice.”  That’s the thought that went through my head.  I was 18 years-old in the country of Peru.  While I was a senior at Luther Prep I applied and was selected for this mission trip where we visited the different churches throughout Peru. There were 6 of us.  We led the songs in worship, read passages that we had learned in Spanish, and did our best to encourage them in Spanish during fellowship meals.  It was uplifting for us to see what the gospel does in very different and often very remote places.  And you could tell that they were just as excited to meet a bunch of Lutheran high schoolers from the US, who shared the same faith.  Like I said, some of the places were remote and I’ve got plenty of memories from that whole experience.   But one thing fits very well with the section of God’s Word in front of us today.

On these mission trips for the Prep students they make sure to set some time aside for fun trips.  Our group had a very breath-taking trip to Machu Picchu.  It is the ancient and iconic Incan city built high in the Peruvian Andes mountains.  To get up to this mountain top town, you need to take a bus up a steep switch-backed road.  I had been on mountain roads before, but not like this.  There were about 40-50 people in a bus on this narrow and dirt road where guardrails were not to be found.  That was fine I guess, but did I mention there are multiple buses on this very narrow dirt road zigzagging up a mountain.  When I started to get a little freaked out was when our bus was backing up because another bus was coming down the road.  I was sitting in the back of the bus that overhangs the back wheels, the part that was hanging out over the switchback.  That’s when I thought a guardrail would be nice.

Guardrails are good things.  Their job is to protect you from the possibility of going off the road down a mountain side or into a river.  That’s good.  The guardrail also promotes the right way to go.  It says, “Stay away from that.  Here is the right way.  Keep your eyes on the road.”  And it doesn’t matter if you think the guardrail could be closer to the edge of the cliff or it should be in tighter to the road, it has already been placed and our job is not to move it.  Our job is to abide by it.

That’s where Exodus 20 comes in.  These are God’s Commandments for all people.  God records them for us here, in Deuteronomy 5, and many are repeated for us by Jesus and other New Testament writers.  This is how God wants people to live.  He wants to stay on his course.  His commandments are like guardrails to keep this world safe from harm and danger.  They also serve Christians as a guide to promote the right way, the way God wants his people to go staying away from a sinful world.

A lot of people have their own ideas on how to be good moral people.  Diet Coke commercials are telling us to “just do you.”  If it makes you happy, then do that.  And people kind of like that idea.  It means they set up their own guardrails to protect them from what they have decided is bad.  Sometimes it changes with culture, and sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s up for you to decide.  You get to be your own moral judge.

God disagrees.   “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.”  This is the first of God’s Commandments.  There are no other gods.  When it comes to priorities everything else must come after our relationship to God.  If that does not happen, then you have yourself an idol.

An idol can be anything that you love and can’t imagine your life without it.  But I’ll tell you why none of them are worth the high priority we often give them.  Your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your job, your boat, your camper, your hobbies, your sports, your favorite singers, movies, shows – none of these things can save you from sin or death or hell.  So, God has set up the guardrail to protect you from loving those things too much.  He promotes the good course for us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things, because he does save us from sin, death and hell.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  There are plenty of titles God uses about himself in the Bible, and all of them need to be used properly.  Anything else is going to hurt you.  It is not allowed to use God’s name to show how excited or frustrated or serious you are.  Using God’s name to wish evil on someone or something doesn’t help you more than them.  Putting any stock in things like a horoscope or a physic would also fall into this category of misusing God’s name, because you have decided his name is not good enough or powerful enough for whatever you have going on.  God set up this guardrail to protect us from dragging his name and reputation through mud.  He promotes the good course for us to use his name regularly for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The Sabbath was a day of rest.  That’s what the Hebrew word means.  Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”  The problem is that we often look for rest in other places.  People get nice beds, comfy couches, massagers and spas, or they look for relief in bottles or hobbies.  We surround ourselves with all these conveniences, but they cannot remove weariness, much less deal with the burdens we carry physically, psychologically, or spiritually.  So God sets up a guardrail to protect us from all the different things this world presents to give rest.  There is only one thing that give our souls rest, God’s Word.  God promotes the good course for us to love and use his Word and to love and use his house.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  This commandment specifically deals with the authorities God has set up in the home, but there are also plenty of places where God describes the authorities he has established at work, in government, and in the church.

I guess the simple question to ask yourself is, how well do you handle having others in a position over you?  I don’t know if it’s always as good as we should.  God says, “in humility value others above yourselves.”  If you don’t like hearing that, if you struggle with authorities, if all this political stuff gets you riled up, then that is exactly why God put up this guardrail.  It protects the authorities he has established to serve us.  If we are forced to do something God forbids, then we must obey God rather than people.  But if it’s just something that doesn’t always jive with my ideas, then we need this guardrail in place to protect the authorities that care for us.  God promotes this good course for us to honor, serve, and obey our parents and those in authority, because we need them for good order in the home, at work, in society, and in the church.

“You shall not murder.”  If you have been a believer for a long time or a short time or if you are completely confused by the Bible and God and faith, this commandment still makes sense.  All human lives matter to God.  Taking a life is not up to you and never will be.  That means murder, abortion, suicide – it’s all wrong.  If God has given you a life in this world he created, then only he should decide when it is over. But this commandment also covers the way we think about human life and not just what we do with it.  If you think your life would be easier and more enjoyable without that bully in your grade, or that jerk in your office, or anyone else – it doesn’t even matter if you know them or not, maybe it’s just a really terrible person on the news – then that is just like murder, except that you did it with you mind and heart and not a gun.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect his gift of life.  God promotes the good course for us to help others with our words and actions.

“You shall not commit adultery.” In the Bible God is so very very clear about marriage and sex.  Marriage is a lifelong union of one man and one woman based on the consent and commitment of love. This is the part where tons of people would want me to add stuff or take out other stuff. Because marriage should be for everyone. Sex is a basic right that you should be able to enjoy with anyone at any time.  And if you can’t have that, then just look up some porn.  Children are so great that if you want them then go ahead.  If your marriage isn’t what you thought it would be then you can get out of it and try again.  Better yet don’t get married at all; it’s just a sheet of paper.  And the cycle continues.  I can’t say those things, because God doesn’t.  He puts up this guardrail to protect us from the devil’s easy traps of immorality and lust.  He promotes the good course and right way to use his gifts of sex and marriage so that we are pure and decent.

“You shall not steal.” It helps when we remember to whom everything belongs.  God is the owner; we are merely managers and caretakers of everything he gives us.  He gives these things to us through the work we do, through gifts we receive, through returns on investments.  God can and does provide everything we need for body and life.  When we forget that he is the giver, when we forget that we are caretakers, when we forget that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, that’s when we collide with this guardrail, where God protects our possessions and the possessions of others.  God doesn’t want us to be selfish, dishonest, or tightwads.  He also doesn’t want us to be wasteful and careless.  God promotes the good course where we use our own possessions properly and look to help others with theirs.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Do you ever wonder why God has a commandment to protect the name and reputation of people?  It’s because sin makes it so easy for us to destroy others.  Maybe you won’t use a gun.  Maybe you won’t take their property or possessions.  Maybe you won’t usurp them if they are in a position of authority.  But just a couple juicy tidbits can do the deed all the same.  That’s why God is so serious about his name and the names of others.  We need God to protect us from gossiping and lying.  So God promotes the good course where our mouths are not used for spreading anything but his praise and proclaiming his gospel.  We will defend others and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  I’m thinking coveting is not a word you throw around every day.  Basically, God is saying that if he has not blessed you with something that you want or something that other people have, then you don’t need to worry about it.  The possessions you have and the possession others have shouldn’t consume you anyways.  The Bible says that kind of materialistic heart has pierced people with many griefs and even robbed some of faith.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect us from being to earthly.  God promotes the good course where we are content and thankful for what we have and keep our attention where it needs to be, on our Savior, Jesus.

Maybe you have noticed something as we walked through God’s Ten Commandments.  Maybe you realized for the millionth or for the first time that you have broken them all.  The law is like a mirror that exposes every glaring weakness.  And when I say weakness, I don’t mean that you can make up for them with all your strengths.  I mean you and I have broken God’s law to pieces and the punishment for that is not enjoyable.  The punishment is death and hell. Period.

And that’s why it’s good to see Jesus the way he is in the Gospel for today.  He takes God’s law seriously, because in order to be our Savior from sin, he had to be perfect.  Every thought, every attitude, every action, every word had to be pure and selfless and helpful.  He had to be complete zealous for the God and his name and his Word.

His perfection is all that matters.  Jesus’ road to redemption was perfect so that my pitiful excuse of a godly life and the punishment I deserve is removed. On the cross God exchanged my sin for Jesus’ holiness.  On the cross Jesus wiped my slate clean and replaced it with his perfection.  That’s the only way I can avoid the punishment for sin. Jesus had to take it for me.  And he did.

God still has the guardrails set up for us.  This is a life and world where sin still veers us off course. The perfection we have through Christ will be fully recognized in heaven.  For now, we need the guardrails to keep us on course.  By God’s grace these commandments are not just a mirror to expose all our offenses against God and others.   They are also guardrails to protect us from going off his road and to promote the right way for a child of God.  So let’s stay on course.  God grant it.  Amen.

 

 

(There is so much to talk about in each one of these commandments.  That’s why we take more than 10 lessons to cover them in Catechism class and 3 lessons in Bible Basics.  This was just a brief snapshot to see what God is protecting and promoting.  If you want to get the fuller picture, come to the Bible Basics on Monday night or go back in dig around in your Small Catechism, which organizes so much of what God says in the Bible into nice sections for each commandment.)