Twin Fences that Stop All
The biography of The Incredible Mr. Pike tells of his escape during WW I from a Berlin prison camp. First there was one fence, then one more. But then he came to an unexpected fence difficult and harrowing to get over. At last he did, relieved he went on to find one last unexpected fence that was higher than all. This is Commandments 9 & 10 according to the Large Catechism. "This last commandment, then, is addressed not to those whom the world considers wicked rogues, but precisely to the most upright to people who wish to be commended as honest and virtuous because they have not offended against the preceding commandments" (LC, I, 300).
But are there really 2 fences? You just heard the Large Catechism refer to the 9th & 10th as "this last commandment." Apart from the Small Catechism Luther did treat them as one (Peters, Ten Commandments, 303). He did so to get the number 10 while admitting that the division is not important since Paul himself combines them into one (Ibid., 90). Some try to make the distinction between lusting after inanimate things, house, versus living things wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, or donkey. But in Ex. 20 the 9th is against lusting after your neighbor's house, and in Deut. 5 the wife is mentioned in the 9th and the house in the 10th; so the distinction isn't here (Lohe, Small Catechism, 71). The point is like Pike we come to a fence doubly hard to cross. Look at secure facilities. Many have an inner fence, a space of 10 or more feet and then an outer. They're both fencing the same space, but being in such close proximity they more than double the security.
Luther translated the 9th as against "hankering after something" (Chemnitz, Locci, II, 677). The 9th is the first step in lust; the 10th is the rest of the steps. The 9th is about the lust we're born in and the 10th is the actual lusting (Reu, Catechetics, 338). You need both Commandments because as Luther observes, the devil wishes "'to hide original sin and to teach the Law no further than against future actual sins'" (Bente, Historical Intro. to Symbolic Books, 168). Lust is only wrong and damning if acted upon. Wrong. In what is now Zimbabwe, a settler wore leather leggings to protect against snakebite. A black mamba, a very poisonous snake, bit him. The fangs pierced the leather, injected their poison, but didn't break his skin. Twenty years later, the man's son put those leggings on. He had an open scratch on his leg. The poison killed him (Undated article, c. 1984, Bryan Eagle). This is as we sing, "From sire to son the bane descendsIn guilt he draws his infant breath/ And reaps it fruits of woe and death" (TLH 369).
What illustration do we use to show the relationship of the 9th & 10th Commandments? Supermarket oranges piled high in a pyramid. The 9th is the desire to just take one out. The 10th is them all come tumbling down. The 9th says, "Thou shalt not even begin to lust" itself producing that spark of desire. The 10th is "Thou shalt not dare go along with the lusts", and you can't help it. First it's one thing: another's house or wife; then it's his house, boat, car, job, life, "anything [or everything] that belongs to your neighbor." It's important you see that the type of lusting here is not specifically sexual (TDOT, IV, 452-61). Since everyone knows sexual lusts it's helpful to use that well-known sensation, but don't limit the 9th and 10th to it.
They expose the wanting of anything more, better, different. Wanting a more loving spouse, wanting a better house, wanting a different life than the drip by lonely drip you know. The 9th and 10th lusting is far worse than sexual lusts. Sexual lust can be worn out, says Luther, but wanting ever more "becomes even younger and stronger as time goes on" (LW 58, 285). Such lusts leave a man no rest and makes him unable to hear Gods' Word. They take "full possession of a man, so that he is possessed' in the real sense of the word" (Girgensohn, Teaching Luther's Catechism, I, 119).I can pop this into focus with this truism: "If you have something you can't live without, you don't own it; it owns you" (Illust. for Bib. Pr., 237).
And the more you use the law telling yourself, you will not lust; you will stop lusting; you will be satisfied; the faster the oranges cascade on to the floor. Luther says somewhere that Original Sin, which is this lust, is like a man's beard. Shaved off in the morning it's grown again by night. That's why Luther said there is no cure for the ever, aching, empty need that the 9th and 10th Commandments expose except death. I know what you're thinking: hair keeps growing after death along with fingernails. Nope, they only appear to grow because skin shrinks. Death does cure' beard growth. That's why Luther said it was Christian to long for physical death and for the fires of the Last Day. Only that will burn out of us this lust that has eaten itself so deeply into our very being (Peters, 314). So in these days when the Devil threatens us with disease, political, economic collapse, or worse we say with Luther, Our enemies "' threaten us with death. If they were as smart as they are stupid, they would threaten us with life'" (Martin Luther: The Life and Lessons, 143).
So the 9th & 10th Commandments are twin fences that stop us all because no amount of doing, trying, or resolving deals with the lusting they expose. They stop all, that is, except Jesus. According to the Large Catechism, "This double commandment above all, accuses us and by doing so points us beyond itself to the Creed and the Lord's Prayer " (Peters, 315). Haven't been drive that far yet? Try this: Have you seen the TV show where the girl hears the songs playing in everyone else's head? Imagine if your lusts were audible to anyone else but you? If so, could you look that person in the eye? No, and now you see why Jesus isn't just tortured, abused, ridiculed, and spat upon but hung naked on the cross. That's the shame our sins call for and He endured.
You know the dream you have where you've have done something shameful and been caught? How relieved you are that it was a dream. Especially after those dreams where you tell yourself it is a dream but you wake' into another dream. How doubly glad you are to finally wake from them. Jesus could've woken Himself from the shame and pain. He wasn't guilty in deed or word of any of the sinful things we have done and said. He had not that stream of lustfulness that runs through us normally.' You know how in times of serious illness, danger, or threat to you or yours, all the normal' lustfulness flowing through you, may slow or even be driven out of mind? You wake to the absence of noise, to the fact that the restlessness, fearfulness, wretchedness is quieted. Well, Jesus could've had awaken anytime He wanted. He could've stopped bearing the pains and shames of a guilty world, and come down off that cross. Nothing pinned Him there but our lustfulness and the sins they birth. And He certainly had the strength as God in flesh and blood to pop those nails out of the wood and pull them effortlessly and painlessly from His body.
But He didn't do that, and if He had I would have no Good News for you today or any other day. The pandemic that media, government, and self threaten you with, would be the very least of your worries. Psalm 90:8 says, "Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance." That's what the Law always says, but the Gospel is that Jesus bore your iniquities, your secret sins: that every aching lust for more, better, different. Jesus bore them under God's wrathful eye and that drew from Him not Hallelujah but, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani." Our Formula of Concord has this, to me, troubling quote of Luther: "'Whether we call original sin a quality or disease, it remains true that the greatest evil is this: to be the victim of eternal wrath and death and not even to realize one's terrible lot'" (Kolb, SD, I, 62). Well, look at Jesus hanging on the cross naked, bleeding, and forsaken by God. Without help, without hope, without a God in heaven, and with the yawning grave opened underneath Him. And He's not heading for hell. He's in it right now. Hell is being forsaken by God.
We sing in a hymn something like 10,000 deaths like mine would be all too few but Christ full atonement made. That's right. We and everyone we know and 9,900 more could die and that would not lessen, let alone quench, God's eternal wrath against sin and sinfulness or satisfy the 9th and 10th Commandments that condemn us. But the one death of Christ did that. You heard in the reading that His death tore down the veil between the Holy God and sinful men. In the death of Jesus, by the wounds of Jesus having bled into that Baptismal Font, into the mouth of absolution, and into the cup of Communion, it's safe for you to draw near to the Holy God. No social distancing needed or desired. His fiery holiness doesn't consume you, but is the warmth of a fire on a cold night. In Jesus, you find that God likes you, wants to abide with you; stay with you; forgive you. Collect all your fears and tears and give you rest.
But there's more. His resurrection from the dead after paying off your debt of pain, shame, and guilt results in new people. We read tonight, "The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life" at the death of Jesus. And, "They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." If then, then now. In Baptism, Paul says you are a new creation; the Old Man is dead and buried with Christ and a New Man has arisen to walk about like he owns the place, free from Sin, Death, and Devil. Do you think you have to wait for this till the Last Day? No wonder we're so hopeless. We're living on the wrong side of Easter. We're living with "My God why have you forsaken Me" ringing in our ears rather than the Easter evening Absolution where Jesus breathes His Spirit of forgiveness and life into us. We're living as if we're eating death and damnation in His Body and Blood. No, He gives us life and salvation in them, and we are to believe that we are what we eat: alive and saved.
The 10 fences of the Commandments aren't to show you what to do to get around them or over them. They channel you ever back to Christ and Him crucified. He's the Door, the Gate through the Commandments and into heaven where there are wide open spaces and no fences. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek VI (20200401); 9th & 10th Commandments, Passion 6