In his letters, the apostle Paul often spoke about ‘putting to death’, in other words, destroying everything that is sinful in our lives. For example, in Colossians he writes, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5). In fact, he goes so far as to say that every part of us is sinful and that there needs to be a massive clean-up. He lists a lot of things (anger, slander, rage, bad language, the way we treat one another), that God is totally unhappy about. Our lives don’t match how he created his people to be.
It’s true that it’s hard for us to see ourselves as God sees us. We easily put on rose-colored glasses and look past the evil that lurks in our hearts and readily give excuses for our bad behaviour and lack of love.
Today’s reading from the Old Testament gives us a reality check. This word from God enables us to check ourselves against the way God created us to be as his people. Let’s hear the Ten Commandments again.
And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:1–17, ESV)
How might we use these commandments to see what needs to be put to death, to see how we have to deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus?
These are only going to help us when they show us our sin, we might read the commandment and the explanation in the catechism to help us see what needs to die in us.
“You shall have no other gods.”
What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
You might think; ‘yes, I fear love and trust God, I’m a believer after all’.
What if you were asked these questions:
- What do you fear most? Fear means to respect, honour, keep your will in line with God’s will.
- What do you love most?
- What do you trust most?
- Do I crave something or someone else more than God?
As you consider those questions, was it revealed to you that you do actually break this commandment? Should we expect that we break this commandment? Of course we should expect that we break this commandment, in fact whenever we break any commandment, it all comes back to this commandment; the first one.
Maybe it’s worth us going back to the beginning of Exodus 20 and hearing the first things God said to the people. Verse 2; ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’ This is a promise here from God to the Israelites that he has brought them out of slavery and they belong to him. It is his promise to be their God and continue to protect them.
This verse is the reminder about who they are, these words are similar to the words we hear in baptism; ‘receive the sign of the Holy Cross, as a sign that Christ the crucified has redeemed you.’ It is the promise of God to redeem us, to forgive our sins.
Let’s try another commandment.
“You shall not kill.”
What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbour’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.
These further questions are helpful in examining ourselves in light of this commandment;
- Have I hurt or harmed my neighbour in their body?
- Do I hate anyone, or am I angry with anyone?
- Have I lost my temper or injured my neighbour by thoughts, words, or deeds?
- Am I abusive in word or deed toward my spouse, children, or anyone else?
- Have I neglected to help and support my neighbour in every physical need?
You see it’s actually very easy, if we are willing to ask ourselves some simple questions; what needs to die, what do we need to deny in order to follow Jesus? It is very hard for us to see if we don’t have God’s word, in fact Paul tells us we can’t believe and we even think it’s foolish to believe in Jesus, without first hearing and believing the gospel.
You may find it helpful to go through the commandments in preparation for coming to worship, confessing your sins and receiving Holy Communion. This helps highlights how far we have wandered from God’s path and how gracious God is in giving us forgiveness for all wrongs. Acknowledging our sin with the use of the Ten Commandments gives us no wriggle room to try and justify our wrong actions and hurtful speech in any way. When we ask hard questions like these we see that we break most or even all of the commandments all the time with specific sins.
With the Spirit’s guidance we can look at ourselves and see a sinner but we can’t look to ourselves to find a Saviour. Instead we need to look somewhere else to find our Saviour. Jesus is our Saviour. When we look to the Cross we see him there; that having been crucified, he dealt with all our sins so that we can keep coming to him and freely receiving his forgiveness.
That is why we come back to church every week, because there is a whole list of sins, that we might not even know about, or don’t want to know about, that God wants to forgive. He wants to release you from those sins so that you are not dead in your sins.
There is another use for the commandments, once we have received God’s forgiveness and are free; we are free to serve others, and the commandments tell us how to do that.
If we use the fifth commandment as an example, we can ask; how do I serve our neighbour in that commandment?
We don’t kill them, sure that’s pretty simple, but what else should we do to serve our neighbour?
Here we have to look at the ‘but’ in Luther’s explanation; ‘but help and befriend him in every necessity of life. Help and support him in every physical need.’
When Jesus claims us as his own, and forgives our sins, he sets us free to serve others. We don’t need to look to ourselves in order to earn eternal life by our good works. Instead, because we are set free we ask; how we can I serve others? In this way we can keep the commandments; just look for the ‘but’ in the explanation, it will tell you the good deeds that God wants you to do. In the fifth commandment it is to care for others, that is anyone we come across in our daily lives and support them in their bodies. It might be your family who is your neighbour, your friends at school who are your neighbours, or even someone whose name you do not know, but if you see that they need something to live and you can assist them, God asks you in this commandment to support them. Because Jesus has given us his life for us.
We don’t trust our good works to save us, we trust Jesus to save us. Jesus Christ, who was killed, destroyed as he promised in today’s gospel and did rise again on the third day. We trust Jesus to save us from our many sins because he did take up his cross and die, and now that cross gives us new life and has power to save us.
This message is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at Sunday by Sunday Lent 3B