It's About Opening the Books
I debated this in my heart for some time; I can only conclude that it's my fault. I'm the pastor, the overseer of souls, so I must be responsible. I haven't opened both books for you like I should have as we covered the 10 Commandments. I have opened one or the other for you at one time or another but I haven't clearly set before you both Books. Thankfully we've come to the Close of the Commandments on Good Friday. Both Books are thrown open today in words and pictures.
The Book of Fear needs to be thrown open before you. I think it has escaped some of you that the explanation to every single Commandment begins with, "We should fear and love God." Thankfully, the Close of the Commandments throws this in our face tonight saying, "God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His Wrath and not do anything against them."
Do you fear God so that you are afraid to sin, or do you think it's a small matter to God if you sin? Do you believe there really is a day of reckoning, or do you think God isn't punishing sins anymore? I know; you take comfort in that fuzzy warm theology that says God only hates sins but not sinners, right? Well then He ought to apologize to the millions of people He wiped off the face of the earth with the Flood. If He only hated their sins, why did He drown the sinners? You had better start reading your Bibles you who think God just hates sins not sinners.
Proverbs 6 says: "There are six things which the Lord hates: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, a hand that sheds innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to do evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers." God hates not just sins but sinners. Yet you, a sinner, have no fear of Him. You don't care that God has the bow of judgement pulled back and the arrow of wrath aimed at your heart. You think you can go on living in your sins because you're a Christian. You think you can complain about the sins of others rather than confess your own sins. You think you can refuse to listen to me when I warn you of false doctrine sinful living, and the judgement to come and nothing will happen to you. You think you can shrug it off and God won't do anything about it. Go on with your shrugging. It will come in handy when God rains down arrows of judgement on your life. Maybe by shrugging you can avoid some of His arrows.
The Close of the Commandments clearly teaches that we should tremble when we find ourselves caught up in lust, greed, pride, gossip, or any other sin. But I must have failed you in this area because you shrug them off. I fear I've made secure sinners out of you. "I can do as I please and go to church the next day to take care of it." "Once saved always saved; there's nothing that can damn me now." Think again dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Don't let this weak pastor lead you astray; open that Book of Fear today. Fling open the Book of Fear today; do it right now. Make your sinful flesh tremble in fear as it should. Get the Gospel out of your flesh! Quit telling yourself your sins don't matter. Yes, they do. If God crucified His only Son because of sin, He will do far worse to a sinner like you.
Open the Book of Fear and keep it open. If the Book of Fear closes on you, you will be damned. You can't believe I said that, can you? But that's what Luther taught. Luther warned that any person who is not constantly afraid of remaining in their sins and does not act accordingly, will hardly be saved. "Such people will meet with a fearful judgement," said Luther.
Tremble dear people of God at your hard hearts toward one another. Shake in your boots over your lack of concern for pure doctrine. Cower at the fearful judgment that will come upon you who wink at sin, play with it, think of it lightly. Fall down on your knees and beg God not to send His arrows of judgement blazing into your life. Throw open the Book of Fear and let it subdue that sinful flesh which can only be held in check by raw fear.
However, the Book of Fear is not the only Book to open today. You also need the Book of Trust, or if you prefer the Book of Love open today. They're the same Book, but I prefer to call it the Book of Trust because when you speak to people about loving God they always get wrapped up in whether or not they have warm fuzzy feelings.
Throw open the Book of trust; it too needs to be opened. Some of you have only the Book of Fear open, so in addition to subduing your flesh, as you should, you are terrorizing your conscience as you shouldn't. That's why you feel constantly guilty. That's why your life is one big "have to." That's why you live in continual fear of what "might" happen to you or your kids. That's why you fear crises, tragedy, or disaster might happen at any moment. God is not your kind heavenly Father who only wants good things for you. He is only a loveless, overbearing, demanding father who is always mad at you and so has the bow of judgement pointed at your heart just hoping for a chance to let the arrows of His wrath fly.
You need the Book of Trust open too, but you can't open it yourself. You can't say, "I'm going to start trusting my heavenly Father today." If you try, you'll just set yourself up another law which you won't keep and then feel all the guiltier because you don't. The Book of Trust must be opened for you even as the Book of Fear has to be opened for you. And the Book of Trust too is opened for you at Calvary's cross.
Here again I must have failed you. So many of you are consumed with guilt over your sins. And don't let anyone fool you; it's not because you can't forgive yourself. No, it's because you don't believe that God has really forgiven you. Though I've taken you to the cross every sermon, I must not have sufficiently opened up for you the beautiful Book of Trust lying there.
Perhaps I should have retained the traditional practice of slamming the Bible shut during the reading of the Good Friday lesson at the point where Christ dies. That always scared me when I was a kid, but I could have used it to open the Book of Trust for you. I could've pointed out that when Christ dies the Book of sin is closed, slammed shut never, ever to be opened again.
On Calvary is where God brings down His heavy judgment against sinners. On Calvary is where God lets fly the arrows of His wrath that were pointed at our hearts. On Calvary is where God pours out all of His hatred against sins and sinners. But do note that only God the Son feels the heavy judgment on His back; only the Son of God feels the arrows of wrath ripping into His body; only the God who is Man feels the hatred of God overwhelm His soul.
What is between you and God now? Certainly not sins! If God gave up His only Son just so He could claim you as His son or daughter, what won't your dear Father do for you? Throw away that Book of Sins where you've recorded all your wrongs over the years, the Book Satan keeps shoving your face into, the Book that keeps you looking over your shoulder. Open up the Book of Trust instead. See a Father so madly, wildly, joyfully in love with you that He can't wait to do good for you. See a Father who can't find any reason at all to be mad at you.
Like the Book of Fear, the Book of Trust is to be kept opened the rest of your life according to the Close of the Commandments. Close the Book of Trust and fear will rule you constantly. A rustling noise when you're home alone, a ringing phone in the night, a sudden trip to the doctors will send you into fear. Close the Book of Trust and you will be haunted and chased by your sins all your days making them so heavy you will be crushed under their weight. You will be like Judas who only had the Book of Fear open and so could only feel the weight of his sins and broke under it.
You don't have to go down this path. God says He promises grace and every blessing to those who keep His commandments. In Christ, you have, do, and will always keep His commandments. Because being in Christ means God does not see even one Commandment that you have failed to keep. He either sees Christ keeping them all in your place or Christ paying for all that you have broken. Either way you can expect only grace and every blessing from your heavenly Father.
Do you see why both Books, the Book of Fear and that of Trust, need to be opened? Your sinful flesh, your fallen nature, your old man must be ruled only by the Book of Fear. It's like an animal. Animals are ruled by fear. But your conscience, your new creation in Christ, your New Man, is to be "ruled" by the Book of Trust. It never knows of even one reason not to trust God. Scripture says the new man is created after Christ Jesus in true righteousness; it has no sins to hide, so it can live in free and open trust of God all the time. Yes, both Books need to be opened. In the Large Catechism Luther explains why. He says that the entire Scriptures emphasize these two things, fear of God and trust in God. He then quotes Psalm 147:11, "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy."
What? Our kind, loving, heavenly Father wants us to be afraid of Him? Yes that's the plain teaching of Scripture. We are to be afraid of doing anything contrary to His will even as most of us were raised to be afraid of doing anything contrary to the will of our earthly father. Our heavenly Father is not some feeble old grandfather whose failing eyesight and memory makes it unlikely that He will see or remember our sins. No, He's a father in His prime. Nothing gets by Him. Fear such a Father as this.
But you have a problem. How do you reconcile your fear of God and your trust of Him? The problem is that you're trying to. These aren't meant to be reconciled. They are not meant to erase each other. Both fear and trust are to be present in you all of your days even as most of us feared but still trusted our earthly father all our life. Don't try to reconcile fear and trust of God; do however assign them to their proper place. It's not that God is to be feared sometimes and to be trusted at others as if you had a moody god. No, it's that you are at one and the same time a worthless sinner and a holy saint. The sinner part of you only understands force, wrath and fear. The saint part of you only needs grace, mercy, and peace. You the saint/sinner are to fear/trust the one God all the time.
An illustration from Luther might help. You as a person are like a horse and a rider together. The horse part of you needs a bit and bridle, whip and spurs to keep it in line. The rider part of you does not. It is improper to use such things on a rider. Your sinful flesh needs bit, bridle, whip and spur. Your holy new man doesn't; it needs to be cared for. God's Law is the whip, bit, and bridle; God's Gospel is how He cares for you, forgives you always, and loves you constantly.
You can use the Good Friday cross either way. When you're a bucking, bronco of a sinner, look at the cross and see what God does to sinners. Feel the whip bite into your flesh; wince as the spurs of judgment stab you and fear; be afraid for your salvation. But when you're a frightened rider, look to the cross for comfort. See Christ hanging on the cross with only one hand nailed. With the other hand He is reaching down putting His arm around you. He is saying, "Trust me. I took care of your sins; I'll take care of you too." The cross opens the Book of Fear, by showing you what sinners deserve but it also opens the Book of Trust by showing you that the books are closed on your sins. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (4-21-00) Close of the Commandments