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The Close of the Commandments

4/9/04

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We end our study of the 10 Commandments where we began 4 months ago. The Commandments close the same way they open with fearing, loving and trusting God above all things. All 3 are needed in the human heart, but they can only be there in 2 distinct places.

Fear needs to be in your heart whenever you hear, read, or are preached the Commandments. It's not enough that you know them, you must be in fear of them. If only I could do as God first did on Mt. Sinai. If only I could shake this building under your feet, flash lightening in you eyes, and all but deafen you with thunder claps, then maybe you would fear as you ought. Then maybe you would know that God is dead serious, damned serious, about His Commandments.

You can't imagine how close you are to damnation, on the crumbling brink, when you think of your sins lightly; when you think your excuses or reasons for sinning are anything but laughable to God; when you think you can make up for your sin by doing better next time. It's as simple as this; unless your flesh is in constant fear of these 10 Commandments, unless your flesh fears to act contrary to them, you will be lost, damned, punished eternally. Why? Because there is nothing but bad news, condemnation, judgment, an exposing of your naked sinful flesh in the Commandments. And that's why every single commandment explanation begins, "We should fear..."

Nowhere do we see how serious God is about His commandments than on the cross. The bloody, mangled, tortured Jesus shows us how serious God is about sins against His Commandments. The endless worrying that goes on in your heart caused this to happen to Christ's body. Your lips saying, "O my God," is what caused the swelling and bleeding of Jesus' lips. Your thinking it's just fine to bring your body to Church when it's convenient is what caused the welts and wounds on Jesus' body. Your ears not obeying your parents or other authorities is what caused Jesus to be beat about the ears with fists, lash, and rods. Your sick, twisted, perverted thoughts which flow through your head in a filthy stream of consciousness is what caused the sun and God Himself to turn away in real and utter disgust from Jesus.

Can you see why none of your excuses for your sins, or "mistakes" as you like to call them, merit anything but rage, judgement, and punishment from God? If your many excuses for loosing your temper, lusting after pretty girls, disobeying God-given authority, or gossiping availed anything at all before God, He would not have punished Jesus. But God made Jesus pay, made Him answer, for every time you have lost your temper, every time your eyes have wandered, every time you have closed your ears or opened your mouth in a sinful way. If your reasons counted anything before God, He would have had no reason to put Jesus to such pain, grief, and woe.

All your flesh can do is cower in abject fear, but it isn't. It's fleeing to the last refuged of the damned. The, "I'll do better." You better learn to deal with your flesh spouting "I'll do better" now because it will overflow with this in tragedy, disaster or on your deathbed. Elizabeth Kubler Ross reckons bargaining with God to be one of the necessary stages of dealing with terminal illness or death. No, it's a damnable stage. And as I said, you had better learn to deal with your flesh that loves to bargain today because if it runs away with you on your deathbed it will take you straight to hell.

When your flesh does anything but shake, cower and pee it's pants, it is carrying you away from God. It still has hope that it can make things better, that it can please God, that it can make up for it's sins. If God just gives your flesh more time, it will get better, more God-pleasing. If this is true then Jesus died needlessly. Then He hangs today on the cross having been crushed by His Father for your sins for no reason. You could've made up for them by doing better.

No, you couldn't have. No, you wouldn't have. The only thing you can do about your sins is go to hell and be punished as you see Jesus being punished. That's the only place your flesh can and will take you. Don't listen to it's pleading that it can do better; don't listen to it's 10,000 excuses; don't listen to it's protesting that it's not really that bad. Yes, it is. And therefore all your days, your flesh must be kept under the heavy, bit and bridle of the Law. God wants your flesh to be afraid of stepping out of line in the least little bit. God never wants your flesh to be happy, carefree, easy going about sins. He wants it to be afraid. But don't think God wants or expects your flesh to love and trust in Him. He doesn't because it can't.

You're wasting your time, you're on a fool's errand when you look for your sinful flesh to love and trust God. It can't; it won't. But people fool themselves. They lower the standards of the Law making it more doable, and so fool themselves into believing their flesh does love and trust in God. But this can only last for a time. If not in some disaster or tragedy, then for sure on their deathbed, they'll find out differently. They'll frantically look in their flesh to find the bright beacon of love and trust they always thought was there, and finding nothing but fear there they panic.

This does not have to be you. This is not what God in Christ wants for any of you. I can prove that, if not on any other day, then certainly today, the Friday Christians have called Great or Good for centuries. Today we do see God's judgement on sin, on fallen men, women, and children. Today we do see what our selfishness, perverseness, lovelessness, and unrighteousness deserve. Here we sit, here we cower, all but peeing our pants just waiting for the lightening bolt of divine wrath to tear through our body and send us to hell forever, but it doesn't strike us. Again and again it strikes, but not us. It strikes Jesus. Judgment doesn't fall on us sinful, polluted, dirty people but on the holy, pure innocent Jesus.

I would like to try and illustrate this. Haven't you ever braced yourself to be hit by something but you weren't? Haven't you ever steeled yourself to absorb great pain, but it didn't come? Haven't you ever counted yourself a goner, but you didn't go? Didn't you laugh? Didn't you exalt? Didn't your heart leap? Didn't your soul overflow with gratitude in that instance? This must happen to you today.

All the judgment falls on Jesus' holy head today not ours. All God's wrath against our sin filled bodies falls on Jesus' sinless body. That's why Isaiah fairly shouts, "By His stripes we are healed." The blows of judgement that should've hit us hit Jesus instead and they produced the direct opposite effect in us. They produced welts on Jesus but new skin on us. Blood from Jesus, but cleansing in us. They blows of judgment that landed on Jesus chastened Him who didn't deserve it and gave to us who did deserve it peace with God.

This wonderful, glorious news that God has forgiven our sins for Jesus' sake; that Jesus has paid the ransom so we might go free, that God has spent His full wrath against our sins, does something wonderful in us. It gives birth to a new person, a person who loves and trusts in God. It's not that our flesh suddenly starts loving and trusting in God. That will never happen. The flesh goes to the grave shaking it's fist at God, fighting and snorting like the wild horse that it is. Our sinful flesh strains all its days and nights against the bit and bridle of the Law. But the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake produces something totally new. While the flesh can only live in fear of the Law, the new person created after Christ Jesus in true righteousness and holiness loves and trusts God and His Law.

We look on Jesus stretched upon the cross for our sins, and we are transfixed by Love so amazing, so divine. We've been saved though we don't deserve saving. We've been forgiven though we don't deserve forgiveness. We've been given heaven though we deserve hell. We braced for God's worse and got His best instead. We braced for judgment and got acquittal instead. We are like condemned men who've been unexpectedly set free. We are Barabbas. Only we are not set free by a mob thirsty for the blood of Jesus, we are set free by God's love, mercy, and grace for Jesus' sake.

Can you look at such love, mercy, and grace on the cross and not be moved? Do you think a love like that can ever harm us? Would such mercy as this ever command us to do something evil? Does such grace as this ever command something harmful to us? Is it not for my benefit that God warns me away from making myself or anything else a god? Am I not told don't misuse His name for my benefit? Does He not set aside times for me to hear His Word for my good? Isn't it true that a God who loves me this much could only provide authority over me for my salvation? And are not life, spouse, possessions and reputation good and holy gifts from His hand that are only good for me to honor and use?

Love and trust spring from a heart forgiven of sin, freed of punishment, graced with everlasting life. I am to live my life with a heart that knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is righteous, innocent, and blessed before God for Jesus' sake all its days. Judgment Day has come and gone and I've been spared. The Body of Jesus has sheltered me from judgment and now feeds me for salvation. The Blood of Jesus which spurted from His side has washed away my sins and carried me all the way to heaven. Such forgiving love calls me to love and trust all that God does and says in my life, about my life. While my flesh remains under the fear of the Law, I myself know no judgment, no wrath, no condemnation from God or His Law, and so look to Him and it for only good things, only holy things, only gracious things. And that is the close of the Commandments. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Good Friday (4-9-04); The Close of the Commandments