Sunday, September 6, 2020

Sermon -- TEN WORDS: 9th & 10th Commandments (September 6, 2020)

EXODUS 20:17



In the name + of Jesus.

      The second table of the Law can be summed up with these words: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is usually pretty obvious when we break that command.  Consider the civil unrest that we see in our nation.  Many are rebelling against civic authorities, making some cities unsafe.  People are causing bodily harm by launching weapons or throwing rocks.  People are burning businesses to the ground, stealing the livelihood of the people who owed them.  And the 8th Commandment takes a beating as people insult each other and cast blame for all the problems.  Love for one's neighbor is lacking in all of this, and it is pretty obvious.  

     The 9th and 10th Commandments address love for one's neighbor in matters that are not obvious.  These two Commandments boil down to this: “You shall not covet.”  Now, if you covet, no one will know it.  If you covet your neighbor's spouse, no one will arrest you.  If you covet your neighbor's property, you will not stand trial or face jail time.  There are no laws in any courtroom which will convict you for having jealous thoughts.  So, if you covet, are you really causing any harm to anyone?

     Sadly, this has become the measure of right and wrong for a lot of people.  If I engage in something immoral or even illegal but no one gets physically hurt or loses money, then it is believed that it is okay.  But if this is how I judge right and wrong, my goal is no longer to pursue what is good and right.  My goal is simply to not get caught.  If no one can prove that I am at fault, then I am suddenly faultless.  

     In the 9th and 10th Commandment, the Lord addresses the heart.  A pure heart desires what God desires, but the Commandments show us we do not have pure hearts.  Sinful words and actions don't spring up out of nowhere.  Everything begins in the heart.  St. James explained why coveting is wicked and leads to more wickedness.  “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)  Everything begins in a corrupt heart.  The heart is attracted to wicked desires.  We act on our selfish desires, and we sin against other people.  Finally, sin results in death and damnation.  

     This is what the Lord says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  Our own hearts deceive us.  We do not think that our desires are wicked.  The sinful heart convinces us that we will be happier if we pursue our desires.  As a result, we are not content with what God has given us.  We crave what he has not given.  Single people are envious of married people, convinced that two adults in the house means life is easy.  Married people envy single people who are free to do whatever they want whenever they want.  We envy the jobs of other people, wishing we had the perks and benefits that we assume they do.  We long for the life that other people have.  Ignorant of other people's hardships, we assume they have none, failing to understand that everyone has a cross to bear.  We become discontent and frustrated.  Ultimately, we fault God, thinking that his gifts are not good or that he did not know what he was doing when we gave them.

     When we survey the Bible, we find many lives were ruined because one person coveted what God had given to another.  David coveted Uriah's wife and arranged Uriah's death in order to hide from him that David had impregnated her.  King Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard.  When Naboth refused to sell it to him, Queen Jezebel orchestrated the death of Naboth so that Ahab could confiscate the vacated property.  The scribes and Pharisees envied Jesus' popularity and schemed to kill him because of it.  The sinful heart is convinced that if we connive and scheme to get what God has not given us, we will be happier, better, and content.  But it is a lie.  The sinful heart is never content.  It always believes there is something better somewhere else.  Our covetous desires give birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.

     A pure heart desires what God desires.  The Ten Commandments show us what God desires.  They teach us the good we are to pursue and warn us of the evil we are to avoid.  Even though the curse of hell hangs over those who are disobedient, we still sin against God's commands.  Our problem is not that we don't know better.  The problem is that our hearts are evil and that we are incapable of doing better.  If we had pure hearts, we would desire what God desires and be content with what God gives.  We are not content because our hearts are not pure.

     Therefore, Jesus came to deliver us from the curse of the Law.  He does not take the Law away.  The Commandments are God's word.  They are always true and they are always in force.  Instead, Jesus came to do for us what the Law demands of us.  Once again, it starts with the heart.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus entered our world without inheriting a sinful nature from any earthly father.  He lived with a clean heart and was guided by a right spirit.  For this reason, Jesus remained content with whatever his heavenly Father chose to give him.  If Jesus grew up as a peasant in a backwoods town, Jesus trusted that this was good.  If Jesus had to be an apprentice carpenter under his guardian, Joseph, then Jesus dutifully did what he was given to do.  When Jesus could have become world famous as a traveling miracle show, he did not abuse his power for personal gain.  His miracles were done for the good of others.  He did not covet fame, fortune, power, or possessions.  He did not attempt to seize the priesthood from corrupt priests or to overthrow the flawed governments of Herod or Pilate.  Jesus maintained a pure heart.  He remained content with what the Father gave him, and committed to what the Father gave him to do.

     If our Lord had let us get what we deserve for our covetous hearts, self-absorbed thoughts, callous words, and selfish actions, he would have demonstrated justice according to his Commandments.  But our Lord was not content to let us perish.  Still, the Law demands justice.  Therefore, Jesus came to take our place under the Law.  He did that not only by fulfilling the Commandments for us, he also did that by taking our place under the curse of the Law.  This is what the Lord says: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13)  By dying a cursed death for our covetous and impure hearts, Jesus demonstrated that God is just.  We are spared from hell and damnation because Jesus assumed our guilt and was assessed the just punishment of the guilty.  Since the punishment has been taken by Jesus, you are pardoned.  Your sins do not stand against you; for they have been taken from you.

     The Lord has supplied to you the benefits of Jesus' innocent life and sacrificial death through your baptism.  For, in your baptism, you were cleansed and purified to be God's holy people.  In baptism, God put to death your sin and raised you up a saint.  He answers your prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)  Day after day, you repent of your coveting.  You return to your baptismal covenant, drowning the sin that still clings to you.  And day after day, the Lord raises you up anew—forgiven of sins and strengthened to do what is good and right.  He gives you a pure heart which desires what God desires.

     The Lord has revealed himself to you as a gracious and merciful God.  For this reason, you can trust that whatever God chooses you to have is for your good.  In his wisdom, your heavenly Father has deemed it best to withhold from you certain blessings.  You may not always understand or appreciate God's wisdom in this.  But faith will continue to believe that God is good.  A pure heart desires what God desires and trusts that he is wise in what he does.

     Ultimately, what God desires you to have is eternal life in his heavenly kingdom.  If this is your desire and your goal, then give thanks that the Lord blesses you as he does!  Everything he sends to you is done with that goal in mind.  And since this is the goal he has for all of you, you need not envy anyone else.  You all have the same Savior, the same promises, and the same glory that awaits.  If that is your greatest treasure, you need not be so concerned about worldly treasures.  That is why you do not need to covet anything, but rather can be content.  A pure heart desires what God desires.  And with Jesus Christ, all your desires are satisfied.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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