Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the sixth Sunday after Trinity 7/11/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9:30am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity6 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
The First Commandment is so simple: You shall have no other gods before Me.
But these recent years have shown us that when we find something beautiful, simple, and true, we tend to warp it into something complex, ugly, and false.
Simple as the First Commandment is, we’ve tried to deconstruct it. And to that end, many have gone on expeditions in search of grammatical loopholes; taking the preposition “before,” for example, and twisting it so mean something like an order of precedent.
As if we could have other gods, so long as they come in second or third place after the Triune God Himself. But the translation of the Hebrew ol-phni is not merely “before Me.” Rather, it is “before My presence,” or “before My face.” And, since God is omnipresent, since He is present in all places at all times, it’s an absolute prohibition: No other gods.
You don’t have to explain that to a five-year-old; even if you might have to explain it to a Harvard Divinity student.
The First Commandment is so simple, primary, and pre-eminent, that even Pastor Luther, who is not known for brevity, explains it so succinctly in the Small Catechism: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
And if you could do that, if you could keep the First Commandment perfectly, if you would fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then all the other commandments would follow, as a body following its head.
You would quite naturally refrain from misusing and abusing God’s Name; you would remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy; you would honor your father and your mother; you wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, and lust.
Pull out your Catechism sometime and review the explanations to the commandments. Look at how every single one begins the same way: “We should fear and love God so that…”
This invites us to see a marvelous connection here. The Ten Commandments are not a list of arbitrary dos and don’ts. They are utterly rooted in who God is and who He has made us to be.
We have not kept these commandments. The Law rightly accuses us, and we know that we daily sin much and are in need of constant repentance. But we ought not make the mistake of saying that to sin is just part of being human.
When we say in Confession & Absolution that “we are by nature sinful and unclean,” this is meant according to our human nature as it has been corrupted by original sin.
But that is not how God made us in the beginning. It is not human nature to sin. Jesus is fully human, and He has not sinned. Thus, He has perfectly kept the Law for you; both in His own active obedience to God’s Word, and in His innocent suffering and death in your place.
This brings us right into the center of our Gospel text. When Jesus says that He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, He’s firstly talking about His connection to the Old Testament. As He would reveal to the disciples on the Emmaus Road, Jesus is the content of all the Law and Prophets. To those who were devastated, thinking Jesus had not been raised, knowing that this would leave them stuck with their sins, He said:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24:25-27
Included in those Scriptures are the Ten Commandments. They reveal God’s will for us and also His own eternal character. And so, they also are fulfilled by Christ.
Jesus has perfectly satisfied the Law’s demands, and offered Himself as the perfect, atoning Sacrifice, for those who did not; for you.
This righteousness, this beauty, this perfect keeping of the Law, accomplished by Jesus, has been given to you as a free gift. It has been bestowed upon you, credited to you.
You are baptized. You’ve been buried with Jesus by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you also might walk in newness of life.
Newness of life doesn’t mean that you should go on sinning as if that made God’s grace toward you more impressive. In our Epistle for today, St. Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome, addressing this very thing. To paraphrase, he’s saying:
“What are you doing?”
“You guys are baptized!”
“Why are you living like you’re not baptized?”
“You’ve been freed from sin!”
“Why are you acting like you’re slaves to sin?”
Why are you still speaking down to your husband or your wife? Why are you still getting drunk? Why are you still dishonoring your parents? Why are you still watching pornography? Why are you still fiddling with God’s design and order? Why are you still chasing after money and stuff?
You’ve been buried into Christ’s death for crying out loud. Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Dead people don’t do these things, and neither shall you.
If that sounds like hard work, that’s because it is. Bo Giertz, in his most famous book, The Hammer of God, uses an illustration to show what that struggle can be like.
He talks about a farmer who goes out to his field and pulls out the stones that time and weather bring to the surface. The farmer pulls them off the ground but isn’t satisfied. He starts digging and scraping and turning over the soil to get every last one.
And though he makes a good deal of progress, he finally hits bedrock. This is something he can’t pull out of the ground. This is the ground. This is his sinful nature. To mix metaphors, which Giertz does not: this is the illness of which all the rocks were a symptom.
That’s where the illustration sort of stops, but it forces you to ask, “Now what?” Should he just leave the farming business entirely? Should he ignore the rocks that will stifle his crop and ruin his equipment? Of course not. God can and does bring about a harvest. And so, the farmer does not despair. Neither shall you despair.
The righteousness God requires is yours. Your righteousness far exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, because your righteousness is in Christ. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
You know God’s will for your life as it is revealed in His Commandments. And as long as you live, you’ll be picking stones of the soil. But the answer for these sins and for your sin, i.e., for that bedrock, that sinful nature, is the Jesus who fulfills all the Commandments, including the First.
He has not only satisfied the Commandments, He Himself is the fulfillment of them. He is the Image of God, revealed to you. Fashioned and formed in His mother’s womb, graven, carved into by nails, spears, and thorns. And He is your righteousness.