Note: In an ironic twist of fate, this sermon on the Third Commandment was heard by very few people. One of my congregations canceled do to poor weather and the other did have service, though we were barely dug out. Needless to say, attendance was poor.
The Third Midweek in Advent
December 16-17, 2008
Text: Exodus 20:8-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
The most dangerous place in the world is not on top of the Mackinaw Bridge. The most dangerous place in the world is not on some battlefield. The most dangerous place in the world is not the pirate infested waters off of Somalia. The most dangerous place in the world is that inner space between our own ears. Why is that? Because our mind is consumed by sin and blinded by self. The more we dwell within ourselves, the more we place ourselves in danger. Yet, for post modern man, all real authority is located in inner man. This is why you can never say to a person you are wrong, because there is no authority outside the self. Yet, the more man dwells within himself, the more deluded he becomes and the more distant he is from God. God’s answer to this is to come to us through very specific, external means.
The true God is not spiritual as the current day uses that word. God is incarnational. That is, He comes to us in material means in our world. Central to this is the Word. It is God’s intent that we carry His Word in our hearts and minds. But also that we gather around that Word on a regular basis. The Third Commandment is not about rest, but about the gathering together of God’s people around His Word. Why was the seventh day - Saturday - first chosen as the day of worship? The seven day week and worship on the seventh day, reflects the rhythm of creation. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. So then the seventh day became the day to gather around God’s Word and rest from our other labors. In the New Testament, the Church was freed from the Old Testament ceremonial law, but not the moral law. Thus, Christians were still to gather around the Word, but it didn’t have to be on the seventh day of week. To distinguish themselves from the Jews, they began to gather on Sundays, the first day of the week, but also the day of Christ’s resurrection. But Christians gave Sunday worship a twist. They didn’t originally speak of it as the first day fo the week, but as the eighth day of the week. It was the first day of the new creation in Jesus Christ. Thus, baptismal fonts traditionally have eight sides. But the command to gather as the community of believers around the Word of God remained.
Why does God command this? Because God doesn’t want us to dwell in our own minds. What do we mean by that? The French philosopher, Rene Decartes locked himself in his house, alone, for a couple years, so that he could think things through. After a couple years, he suddenly came up with the proposition, “I think, therefore I am”. This in turn led to philosophy students joking that Decartes, while flying on an airplane, was asked by a waitress if he wanted anything to drink. Decartes replied, I think not, and poof he was gone. But what Decartes did is not what God want us to do. We are not to try to work it out in our own heads. Most people who try this, end up like the Irish writer who said he’s made his own religion, with a little of this and that and put it all together. Rather we are to be students of God’s Word, and in particular we are to be gathered with our fellow believers to hear God’s teaching, together. Originally, the Apostles Creed was worded as we have it - I believe. But the Nicene Creed, originally read, “We Believe.” I was hoping our new hymnal would restore that wording, but it didn’t. Many will have a canipition, saying how can anyone believe for someone else? But that is not the point. Rather, our confession is what we hold in common. It is something we share. We are to believe the same things. Why? Well, first because they are true. It is what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. We learn this from a common source - the Bible. So it is fitting to have one creed read “I believe” and the other read “We believe”.
It is essential that Christians gather around God’s Word, but it is also important to be students of the Word. When we read Scripture, we are to read in such a way that learn and know - not just so that it passes through our eyeballs. The sainted Dr. G. Waldmar Degner, was the son of an old German farmer in North Dakota. You sometimes felt a little of North Dakota soil was still clinging to him. He was not a brilliant theologian. He taught New Testament. But one day, I came to his office with a question. He pulled out his Greek New Testament, and I was shocked to see that every page was stained with the print of his hand, as though he had sat their for hours upon hours studying the text. That is a student of Scripture. I’ve never owned a Bible that was stained like that. So I know that I have a ways to go, before I become the student of the Bible that I ought to be, according to the Third Commandment. Likewise for you. You are not to just rely upon what I say, though I am thankful for your trust. You are to search the Scriptures diligently to see if what I say is correct. This what the Third Commandment lays before us.
Like all of God’s commands, the Third Commandment, has a positive purpose. God’s Word is holy and without error. But our minds, that inner space, is filled with sin, lies, and corruption. God would draw us out from within ourselves, and into His Word. And there we learn that God is indeed holy, just, righteous, and yes, even vengeful. But we also learn that He is loving, gracious, patient, merciful, forgiving and generous. His love and mercy are so great that He sent His Son to be born in a manger as our Savior. We won’t learn that in the inner spaces. We only learn that in Word.