Date: February 16, 2020
Festival: 6th Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #581 (stz. 7-12) These Are the Holy Ten Commands
Exegetical Statement: These words Yahweh spoke through Moses is in the context of the covenantal renewal in Moab (29:1). After urging the people of Israel toward repentance and forgiveness (30:1-10), Moses then urges the people to choose life by loving God with all their heart and walking in His ways, which is to obey His commandments. Doing so comes with the promise that they shall live, multiply, receive God’s blessing in the Promised Land, and their children shall also live. If they do not love God and walk in His ways but instead worship other gods, however, they will see God’s curse of destruction and neither shall they live long in the land Yahweh is giving them.
Focus Statement: Jesus chose the curse of death to give you life.
Function Statement: That my hearers will obey the 1st Commandment by ridding of any idols in their hearts.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Two Choices: Life or Death
“You have two choices,” Moses tells the Israelites, “Life or death!” That seems like an easy enough decision, doesn’t it? I mean, who would choose death? Even the lie that is evolutionary theory would not argue with this. Survival of the fittest, right? Every living species fights to live. Nobody really willingly chooses death, do they?
But wait. As Moses continues, we find that choosing life means to love God with all our heart and to walk in His ways, which means to obey His commandments. To choose death is to worship other gods and disobey Yahweh. Choosing to obey God is not so easy, is it? Some of us fool ourselves into thinking our ways are better than God’s ways.
We know what this thinking sounds like. “God said homosexuality is a sin? No, love is a virtue of God and sex is good, so that can’t be true.” Or, “God created me as a man? No, I think I’m a woman,” or vice versa, or whatever else they invent. Or, “God said to forgive one another as He has forgiven me? No, I’m really mad at them, so I won’t forgive them.” Or, “God said to obey my parents? No, I’m smarter than they are.”
These lies and others like them is the same old Lie of the Devil in the Garden: “Did God really say…?” It’s not so easy, is it? It sounds easy enough: Just obey God! Do the right thing! Listen to Him! But when it comes down to it, we would much rather disobey God and do the wrong thing. We would rather justify ourselves rather than leaving that authority to God. In such disobedience, we actively choose death over life.
The First Commandment
The root of this is idolatry, which is a 1st Commandment violation. Moses says it quite clearly, “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish” [vv. 17-18a]. Moses’ emphasis on this commandment is not really that surprising since all the commandments that follow flow from this first commandment. If you keep this commandment, all the others are soon to follow because a person who loves God with all their heart, mind, and soul is bound to do all the other commandments.
Here’s a refresher on the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods,” which, Luther explains, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” This is why Luther said every has a god. It is simply a matter of whether or not you have the right God. Obviously, the right God is Yahweh, whom we know as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A god, Luther says, is “that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart” [LC, Part I, 2].
Everybody puts their trust in something. Everybody goes to something to find refuge—or comfort—when they’re in distress. And they fear it because when it judges them, they obey it. This thing is their god. When this thing is not Yahweh, it is idolatry. When you erect and idol in your heart, you choose death—you choose the curse of God to destroy you.
Our hearts are idol producing factories. So, idols are not hard to find. The common image that comes to mind when we think of idols, I think, is erecting a physical image like a statue, much like the Israelites did with the golden calf as well as the gods of the pagan nations around them, such as Baal, Moloch (a Canaanite god to whom they sacrificed infants and children up to 20 years), and Pan (a man-goat god).
While these are certainly idols and false gods, Luther helps us see that true idolatry takes place in the heart. Even with these erected images, the idolatry took place in the heart because it was these things in which they placed their fear, love, and trust.
The Beasts We Worship
What are some of the pagan idols that surround us today? One idol is the god of Mammon, as Luther calls it, which, he says—and I think we all can agree—is the most common idol on earth. “Mammon” is wealth and possessions. A person’s trust and refuge is in money and the things they possess. When their money threatens loss, it strikes fear in them and they do whatever it takes to get more of it. Mammon even has a nickname: Consumerism. We continuously gorge on stuff and we can never get enough.
We erect in our hearts the beast of Mammon, choosing death.
Another god common to this world is pride, which is worship of yourself. There’s even a whole month dedicated to worship of this god: the month of June, now known as “Pride Month.” It is specifically dedicated to worshiping LGBT pride—people who have chosen the curse of God by saying, “I know what the Word says about my sins, but I don’t care. I know more than God does.” And they strike fear in the hearts of companies and individuals, threatening lawsuits and damage to their reputation if they don’t obey their god of Pride.
We erect in our hearts the beast of Pride, choosing death.
Pride and Mammon are even combined into one god. They fuse together into one ugly monster that is pleased with the aroma of sacrificed unborn babies upon the altar of narcissism. Pride and Mammon merge into the beast of Autonomy—the same old beast of Moloch—promising the mammon of success and the pride of individual choice at the cost of an infant’s life.
We erect in our hearts the beast of Autonomy, choosing death for the innocent and for ourselves.
What idols have you erected in your heart? Mammon? Do you place your trust in wealth, possessions, or success? Are you in despair when you don’t have one or several of these? If so, you worship Mammon the beast.
Or what about pride? Are you foolish enough to think you know better than the Creator does? Are you unhappy with the body God created for you? Do you grow impatient or upset when a sermon goes on for too long? If so, you worship Pride the beast, and Satan the dragon snickers because you despise hearing the Word of God for an extra few minutes.
Here’s another idol common today: sports. Yes, I’m going there. Is a sports game later this afternoon on your mind rather than the Word of God and fellowship with your brethren? Are you eager to return home just so you can watch sports? The same can be said about anything else, really, not just sports. Are you eager to return home for any reason just so you can escape God’s house? If so, that thing is your idol, whether it’s sports, video games, or boredom.
The reason we examine ourselves in Confession & Absolution is to identify any idols we might have in our hearts. Is there something you love more than God? Something you choose over time spent in the Word and fellowship with the believers? Is there something to which you go for comfort and consolation rather than to God in prayer, the Word, and the Sacraments, or in your neighbour? Is there an idol that causes you to fear it that you would rather do whatever it takes to satisfy it rather than pleasing God by obedience to Him?
As you can see, our hearts are unquestionably prolific at erecting idols. Today, however, the Word of God through Moses calls you to slay these beasts in your heart. Pick up the Sword of the Spirit and slay these beasts of Mammon and Pride! Swing it mightily with the power of the Word and behead the two-headed dragon of Autonomy! Only by slaying these beasts can we choose life and, therefore, worship the One True God.
Yet the sword is heavy. Our idolatries might be beasts, but we see them as beautiful goddesses with long, radiant hair and smooth skin. We might even know they’re deceptive and fleeting, but it is hard to kill them because, we think, we just might kill ourselves in the process. If we get rid of it, we just might lose everything.
In the Holy Spirit, we might succeed in slaying the beast in our hearts; but then it manages to rear its ugly head again and again. We may choose life for a good while, but we always inevitably choose death—we choose God’s curse rather than His blessing. That is the human dilemma: we always choose God’s curse no matter how good we seem to have it. As our hearts are idol producing factories, there is always something in this world we erect in our hearts rather than God. Because we always choose idolatry in our obedience to the multiplicity of these beasts, God has every right to curse us with destruction.
Who can consistently obey God’s commandments? Nobody. At the end of Moses’ dialogue, the Israelites vow to obey God’s commandments, but do they? No; they fail miserably. Even Jesus gives us commandments, which we read from our Gospel reading this morning [Matthew 5:21-37]. If not even God’s chosen people Israel can keep His commandments, how can we?
What God requires of us is impossible. That is the curse of the Law.
Jesus Chose Death to Give You Life
Instead of cursing you as you deserve, however, Jesus became a curse for you. Earlier, through Moses, God said, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” [Deuteronomy 21:22-23].
Paul emphasised this of Christ to the Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [to you], so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” [3:13-14].
What God requires of you is impossible. So, Jesus did the impossible. In your place, Jesus chose life by obeying God perfectly through the Law to the very iota—to the very last dot. Yet He did not only choose life; He also chose death so that He might give you life—His life. Jesus chose to become a curse so that He might give you the blessing of life. Upon the cross, Jesus took upon Himself your capital punishment of God’s curse in His wrath, being buried in the tomb that same day.
And He did something even more impossible: He rose from the dead. Upon the cross, your sins—your disobedience—died with Jesus. Your sins were buried with Him in the tomb. And when Jesus rose from the tomb, He left your dead sins in there. Thus, He has said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live” [John 11:25]. This is what has been promised and given to you.
The Eschatological Curse & Blessing
And something impossible still awaits you. Two things, really. These will occur when Christ returns, otherwise known as Judgement Day. The first impossible thing is that as you plead guilty, you will be judged innocent. On this Day, every human creature will be raised from the dead to give an account of who they are and the things they’ve done. Everyone will have to account for their disobedience to God.
Satan will rise as the prosecutor of every human creature in God’s court, laying the evidence before the Judge and saying, “See? They have disobeyed You in all Your ways. Therefore, they must be cast into the lake of fire with me since they belong to me!” These ones can do nothing but try to justify themselves just as they’ve done their whole lives on earth.
Except for you. For you, Judgement Day is Salvation. As Satan lays the evidence before the Judge of your guilt and disobedience, the Judge steps down from His throne and becomes your Defence Attorney. You know you’re guilty, but Christ the Judge knows you’re innocent because He took your curse upon Himself. Therefore, He will destroy the evidence, declare you innocent, and give you a new body reunited with your soul completely clean from all sin, evil, and disobedience.
The second impossible thing is that although you fail to slay the beasts of idolatry time and again—although they erect again when you do slay them in the Spirit—Christ Himself will slay the father of all beasts. Jesus will slay the 7-headed dragon, Satan.
With wrath burning in His eyes like fire, a radiant golden sash around His breast, His arms and feet gleaming like molten bronze as clear and perfect as diamond, a voice like the thunderous eyes of a tsunami, and hair so bright and pure it appears as an unblemished white never before seen, Jesus the King shall rise to decapitate Satan the 7-headed dragon along with all his minion beasts, casting them all into the lake of fire!
The One who was cursed for you shall curse Satan and his beasts to eternal fire and destruction, whereas you—with Christ’s innocence eternally placed upon you—shall rise to new life forever with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Never again will you have to struggle between the choice of life and death, blessing and curse because life shall always be eternally yours, and blessing shall be your only option.
For Christ the King died and became a curse for you to make this eternal life and blessing yours for all eternity. This promise is yours right now, which you shall experience in full on Judgement Day.
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our King. Amen.