The First Midweek in Advent
December 2-3, 2008
Text: Exodus 20:1-6
Dear Friends in Christ,
Events of the last couple years have convinced me that we living at a time when the most important and fundamental ideas are in flux. As a society, we no longer know right from wrong. I can’t catechize the world. But I have an obligation to catechize you. For this reason, we are doing an extended series on the Ten Commandments that will cover the mid weeks in Advent and Lent. The world may not know what right and wrong are. We had better know. Why should we know? Because God has revealed this to us. The world only has natural knowledge of God’s law. The world might work out part of it by reason. But there is no guarantee that the world will get it right. Further, man’s mind and heart is corrupted and blinded by sin. Man, clouded by sin will say that wrong is right and right is wrong. The Nazi’s argued that they were making the world a better place. The Mumbai terrorists, I am certain, believe that they were acting in righteousness. This is what sin does to the human mind. But we have no excuse. God has given us His law. We can just open the Bible or the catechism and read it. We therefore should know God’s law.
The law is what we are to do and not to do. The law is the basis of God’s justice. As such it condemns us all. None of us can live up to it. The law is the basis for civil government, as a sword to restrain evil in the world. We call this first use of the law. It is for this purpose that God establishes civil government among men. It should be noted that in carrying out the first use of the law, God uses the believer and the unbeliever alike. Likewise, the civil law that God has established applies to all. The law also serves as a mirror to show us our sin. This is perhaps its most important function for Christians. In the law we see how our lives have failed to live up to God’s objective standard. Finally, the law is a guide for how God intends us to live our lives. In this sense, the law is rather like a UL warning on an appliance. Drop this in the water and something bad will happen. Violate God’s law and your life will be less peaceful. We call this third use of the law. But we must always beware of the third use of the law. It must never be used independent of the second use of the law. Unless we first see our sin, the third use of the law will lead us into sins of self righteousness.
The first commandment, as it appears in Scripture is out entire text, from Exodus 20. It starts with the assertion that the one speaking to the Israelites is indeed God. It includes in it the prohibition on making graven images. A graven image is an image made to represent God, by which He has not revealed Himself. A statue of Christ or a crucifix is not a graven image since, in Christ, God revealed Himself as a man. If on the other hand if we set up a golden bull calf and said this is Christ, it would be a graven image, since He had not revealed Himself as a golden bull calf. It should be noted that this is precisely what the Israelites did. The golden bull calf that appears on a number of occasions throughout the Old Testament was always intended to represent the true God. But it was, nevertheless, a forbidden graven image and God did not bless such worship.
That brings us to the first commandment itself: You shall have no other gods. In the Hebrew it is literally, you shall have no other gods before My face. It is first and foremost a liturgical command. You shall not mix the worship of the true God with false forms of worship or with the worship of false gods. The First Commandment does forbids us from praying together with Muslims, Hindus, or Jews, for example. There might be a circumstance when one attends their place of service as a guest and observer and vice versa. But we are not to participate with them in their worship. So for example, some Hindu groups in Minnesota are organizing an interfaith service to commemorate the dead of Mumbai. We would not participate with them in such a thing. It would be a sin to do so. But of course we certainly include those affected by this tragedy in our prayers to the true God.
Some might object by saying, doesn’t everyone really worship the same god? No. That’s the simple straight forward answer. Such thinking is just irrational sentiment. If one were to study the teachings of the different religions, one must conclude that they teach radically different things. Often they teach opposite things. If a religion teaches that something is black and another religion teaches that the same thing is white, they are not teaching the same thing. Further, it follows that one is right and the other is wrong. This is just basic logic. In addition to this, there is one thing that only the true God teaches. Only the words of the true God are ever called Gospel or Good News. Gospel is the opposite of the Law. The law is what we to do and not to do. The Gospel is what God, in Christ Jesus, has done for us. No other religion has a god who does things for His people as pure gift, reflecting His love. Only in the true God, Jesus Christ, do we find forgiveness for our sins. Only the true God, Jesus Christ, has died for us. This makes the true God quite unique. It also makes the true God a God of hope. The law still applies to us. But Christ has fulfilled in our place. He has fulfilled all the law, for us who could not, including the First Commandment. You cannot say that of any other god.