Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:10 – The Ten Commandments
How do you feel about mirrors? Let’s imagine that you went to a very nice wedding reception complete with white table cloths, fancy dinnerware, everyone’s dressed up in nice clothes. And you have a wonderful time, talking with people, laughing with them, telling stories. You really enjoy the evening. Then you get home and while you’re in the bathroom you look in the mirror and…what is that!?! You have a blotch of red sauce on your face and…what is that!?! A large chunk of food is stuck in your teeth! Ahh!! How are you feeling?
All of sudden you begin to reflect on the night. Were all those people really being friendly? Were they laughing at me? Had I really made a good impression? Is everyone going think of me as some goofball or slob? Great! The mirror was a good thing…but…it had a way of ruining something you thought had gone real well.
God’s commandments are like a spiritual mirror for each of us. We like think of ourselves as real good people. When our conscience starts to bug us about something we’ve done, we just try to do good stuff to make up for the bad stuff. Maybe be extra helpful, maybe do something good for someone, maybe compare ourselves to people who seem a lot worse than us and say, “At least I’m not that bad.”
But then we get in front of the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods, you shall not misuse God’s name, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not covet. God’s commands force us to look at ourselves and see who we really are. God’s commands make us see our sin so clearly, force us to see the reality of our sins, to see that we have failed to do everything God has demanded of us and therefore we are under a curse, that we deserve God’s punishment, we aren’t as good as we thought, in fact, because of our sin we look horrible and deserve nothing but hell. Mirrors are helpful, but they can be quite a letdown.
Romans 1:16-17 – The Apostles Creed
Luther began the small catechism with the Ten Commandments for a reason. You see, God’s law, His bad news, has to do its work first. If we don’t see our sin, don’t see our need for salvation, then we’re not going to be much interested in Jesus and His work for us.
Luther never criticized the Catholic church for giving him a sense of sin and guilt that made him cry out in despair, “How will I ever find a gracious God?’ In that respect the Roman Church did not do Luther a disservice. Later Luther once said, “The more you minimize sin, the more will grace declines in value.” But here is where the Church at Luther’s time when wrong. Having terrified his conscience with the threats of the Law and portraying God as an angry Judge, they urged him to turn to himself and his own good works to find peace for his soul. This teaching drove him to become a monk, to form callouses on his knees from praying, to whip himself, sleep on hard wood floors, etc. He tried to comfort himself by his observance of the law but it didn’t work – he couldn’t be perfect as God demands.
So in his catechism, Luther followed the 10 commandments with the Creed. Why? Because the Creed is full of the wonderful things that GOD has done for us humans: He created us, He preserves us, He sent His Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and buried, He descended into hell, and on the 3rd day was raised to life. It’s all the wonderful work of salvation! The wonderful things GOD has done to save us! So after the Law has crushed us, the gospel is what assures us that we are forgiven and that what Jesus has done for us has been credited to us!
So just like the Law is a mirror and when I look at it I’m filled with despair because I see myself according to my sinful self. The gospel is a different kind of mirror. When I look in the gospel-mirror, I see Jesus. I see his life, his death, his resurrection that’s been credited to my account!
God brought Luther to that understanding through the words of this text. It says that the righteous will live by faith. Notice what it doesn’t say; it doesn’t say that the righteous will live by what they do, or by their good works, or by their obedience to the law, no! It says the righteous will live by faith. In other words, salvation isn’t something that you do! It’s a gift that God GIVES to you.
Luther said that when God gave him that understanding it was like the gates of heaven had been flung open to him. God was not an angry judge who demanded from him a perfection that he couldn’t give, but a merciful and loving father who did for him what he couldn’t do. Now he had peace and confidence and not shame and guilt.
And God’s given that to you too! When it comes to your salvation the laws demands have all been met, by Jesus! The requirements have all been fulfilled, by Jesus! And that’s what you confess in the words of the Creed.
Ephesians 5:25b-27 – Baptism
I need reminders. I easily forget things. If you tell me something on Sunday morning, I’ll probably say, “Please remind me or send me an email or write a note.” Without reminders we can easily forget things. There’s a reminder that we have in front of church every Sunday: the baptismal font. Of what does that remind us? Of our baptism, of course. And what’s so significant about baptism? Luther explained to us that with a little water and a little word at your baptism God works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation. In other words, at your baptism your sins were cleansed and washed away, God adopted you into His family, you were born again as God’s redeemed child, your name was recorded in the book of life, and you were clothed with Jesus’ perfect life, radiant, without stain or blemish but holy and blameless. All in your baptism!
Why is this reminder so important for us? Luther once said, “There are times when I feel my sins most severely. And the devil then tries to get me to question whether or not God really loves me. At that point I say, “Devil, I am a baptized child of God and you can’t take that from me.” Baptism is an objective part of your personal history, a seal from your God to you that your sins are forgiven and no one can take your baptism from you.
So be reminded when you see this font, be reminded when hear water running, when you see water, be reminded of the water and the Word by which God brought you into his family through baptism. Amen.
1 John 1:9-10 and John 20:23 – Ministry of the Keys and Confession
A week and a half ago we went down to the Cities to help my mother-in-law move in to her new home. We carried quite a few boxes into her house. Some boxes were large full of dishes…they were heavy. What’s it like to carry something heavy? It’s tiring, it’s straining, it causes your muscles to ache, your skin to sweat, it’s exhausting. Well, carrying around unrepentant sin is also exhausting spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. King David talked about how God’s hand was heavy upon Him, how his bones wasted away, when he refused to repent of his sin with Bathsheba. Carrying around a grudge is likewise exhausting. Are we guilty of sin? Yes. Are we guilty of carrying around grudges? Yes. What do we need? We need God to lift the burden from our shoulders.
And God has done just that. With Jesus’ death and resurrection God took the first step and forgave all our sins against him. He didn’t hold a grudge, He forgave us. Why? So we could live in repentance. We could live confessing our sins and receiving and announcing forgiveness. Confession and forgiveness is the heart beat of the Christian’s life. Sorrow over sin and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. In His grace God says that when we announce forgiveness to repentant sinners it is as good and as valid as if God Himself were saying it. What an awesome burden God lifts from our shoulders!
Matthew 26:26-29 – The Lord’s Supper
Luther concluded his small catechism with the Lord’s Supper. In his comments in the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Supper he admits that there is a lack of human logic to this. People protest, “How could Jesus give his body and blood to people? How could that really happen?” Luther admitted and we also admit, there’ a lack of human logic to all of this.
But Luther also makes the point that God is way smarter than every human and that God is… God! If God wants something to happen, it will happen, whether or not it makes sense to our human brains. So, when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood.” We can be confident that as we eat bread and drink wine we really do receive Jesus’ body and blood and it offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Here’s one illustration that Luther used when discussing the Lord’s Supper. He compared Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper to an official document which guarantees an inheritance. If you have that official document, it doesn’t matter how scaly, scabby, stinking and most filthy you are, you get the inheritance.
Scaly, scabby, stinking and filthy. That’s who you and I are when we examine ourselves against God’s commands. But then in the creed we hear about Jesus our Savior. In baptism God washes us clean from our sins. The keys are used to keep assuring us of our salvation. And then God comes to us in the Supper. God gives us the miraculous, himself, His own body and blood together with bread and wine. And with it God guarantees to us the ultimate inheritance, he garuantees and eternity with him in heaven! And whether it makes sense to us our not, it doesn’t matter because God is smarter that we are, stronger than we are, and when God says it, it works! Amen.