Text: The First Commandment
On the eve of their entrance into the Promised Land, Moses spoke to the children of Israel. He said to them,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Moses reminded them of the Lord’s Commandment to have no other gods before Him, and our responsibility to teach the knowledge of our God and His grace to our children.
The instruction of Christian doctrine, according to the Holy Spirit, is to take place, first, in the home. Parents are to bring their children up in the fear of the Lord, talking about Him with their children at home, in the morning, during the day, and at night. This is a hard work, but a blessed one that bears much fruit. To aid in this task, the Lutheran Church has long had a tradition of re-visiting the Catechism every Lent. We’ve inherited this from the Ancient Church, which used to teach and baptize converts to the true faith in the 40 days before Easter. This year, we’ll be reflecting on our Lord’s Ten Commandments. Today, we are reminded that, in the First Commandment, our Lord encourages us to trust in Him above all things – for He, only, can help in all times of need.
Let’s back up for a moment, and ask this question, first: what is the Catechism? The word itself is old word we receive from the Greek. Originally, it meant the process of teaching by question and answer. In ancient Greek and Roman schools, this is how teaching was done. The teacher would ask questions and the students would answer. This method of teaching was adopted by the early Church along with a great emphasis on memorization. Catechism was the word used to describe both the process, and then, the content as well. In the early centuries of the Church all Christians were expected to know by heart (at least) the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. These things together were called the Catechism and were taught to children by their parents and Godparents.
What the Lutheran Church has used for about the last 490 years, we know as Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Over the centuries previous, Christian education declined sharply. It fell so far that even many of the clergy could not recite the Commandments, Creed, or Prayer. This was also true, initially, among many of the congregations and pastors loyal to Luther’s reforms. At their invitation, a new edition of the Catechism was to be prepared for the education of Christian homes and congregations – though, Luther was originally not to be the author. After visiting many of the local congregations and seeing how poorly they had been taught even the most basic doctrines (clergy included) and finding the teaching material – then being written – lacking, Luther took on the task. It took about a decade and the preaching of many sermons, until the material we know as the Small Catechism was published in 1529. The first thing Luther covered in this new edition of the catechism? The Ten Commandments. Let’s go ahead and open to them. They’re on page 321.
Today our focus is on the First Commandment, which is the headwaters for all the others. Let’s read it together. “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The first thing we should ask ourselves in order to understand this commandment is, what does it mean to have a god? To have a god is not simply to bow down and worship something, because, really, not all worship takes that form. Having a god is something that happens in the heart. To have a god, in the most basic sense, is to trust in something or to look to something for help in times of need and for all good things. God would have us look to Him for all this; that we would call upon Him in all times of trouble and believe in His promises to provide us with all the things we need.
Therefore, we are forbidden by this Commandment from seeking help and good things from anything or anyone that isn’t the Triune God. The easiest application is that we shouldn’t look to idols or false gods for these things. This is all over the Bible; but I would venture that none of us has worshipped an idol, per se. However, this commandment is concerned, above all, with what’s in the heart. We may never have worshipped an idol, but what have we turned to when things go badly in our lives? What do we trust in? What do we look to, to make us happy? What do we turn to when we are sad? The Lord would have that be Him alone. Whenever we put something else there, whether it’s money, recreation, friends, even family – or ourselves – we are breaking the chief commandment.
One of the functions (uses) of the Ten Commandments is to show us our sins. We reflect on this Commandment correctly when we realize from it that we have not always placed God first in our lives. There are things that we have trusted in more than Him. It may not always look like that from the outside, but this Commandment deals directly with our hearts. We also reflect on the Commandments correctly when we are driven by them to Christ, who alone, has kept them perfectly. He kept the Commandments perfectly, and then willingly suffered the punishment we deserve for not keeping them on the cross.
It’s good we recite this Commandment today, with the Gospel reading being the Temptation of Our Lord. All throughout those 40 days, our Lord trusted in His heavenly Father for all good things. When Satan tempted Him to turn stones to bread, Jesus trusted in God’s Word and that the Father would provide for His earthly needs. When the devil tempted Jesus to test the Father’s protection, Jesus did not put Him to the test. He had faith in the Father’s good will. Lastly, when the devil tempted Jesus to worship him in exchange for all the world’s goods, Jesus held to the Lord His God above all earthly treasures. All of this, He did with you in mind. He was determined to keep the Law in full, so that His death could atone for you.
The Lord promises us in His Word that He is able and will deliver us in all times of need. He says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.” It also says in the Psalms, “He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.” The Lord promises to provide for us everything we need. He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Jesus also comforts us with these words, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Let us pray:
Lord God, author and source of all that is good, give us wisdom to fear Your wrath, strength to love You above all things, and faith to trust in Your promises alone, that by Your grace we may serve You all our days and finally come to inherit Your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.