Lent Mid-Week 1
February 28, 2007
The First Commandment
Text: Exodus 20:1-21
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
This commandment is the first not only because it is the first on the list, but because it is the chief commandment. It is the foundation for the whole Law of God. Whenever we break any one of the commandments, we also break the first, for any time we sin, we are declaring to God that He is not our God, that we fear, love, and trust other people and things above Him, and certainly that we fear, love, and trust ourselves above Him. When we sin, we declare that we would rather follow our own will than God’s will, that we would rather seek our own pleasure than God’s glory. We become our own gods. So, as St. James says, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10; ESV).
Crass idol worship is not the only way of breaking this commandment. It is certainly one way, and that is why as Lutherans we include the prohibition of making and worshiping graven images under the First Commandment. (Incidentally, Roman Catholics number the commandments this way as well.) But I suspect that most of us in this congregation do not keep idols for worship at home. We also break this commandment if we worship any creature or thing as God. We see this among the New Agers of our time in all the various forms that New Age cults take on. For example, certain cults worship the goddess Gaia, or Mother Earth, thus worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. So also Satanists worship a created and fallen angel rather than the God who created him. Other examples of such worship may be more restrained, for example, when some forms of radical feminism worship the divine goddess in every woman. This is idolatry. It is having other gods above the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But again, I suspect most of us in this congregation do not, at least explicitly and crassly, worship created things. Our problem is much more subtle. The primary way we break this commandment is when we fear, love, and trust other people and things more than we fear, love, and trust the Triune God. When we trust in our checking account or our job or possessions above the Lord our God, we break the First Commandment. When we trust in our physical health, education, or the honor of men above the Lord our God, we break the First Commandment. And when we trust in government or even when we love and trust our spouse and family above the Lord our God, we break the First Commandment. “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Ps. 118:8-9). Man cannot save you from the Lord’s wrath and your own sin, nor can your station in life or possessions. “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” (Ps. 52:7). Repent. The Lord our God alone can save you. He alone is your refuge. We must avoid the danger of fashioning false gods out of our material possessions and even our family and spouse.
There is also a misunderstanding prevalent in our culture and even in the Christian Church… even among some in our own church body, the LCMS, that those who worship the so-called “God of the Old Testament” worship the one true God, but do not know the full revelation of Him in Jesus Christ. They mean, of course, Jews and Muslims. It is true that Jews and Muslims are monotheists, which is to say that they believe in only one god, as we do, and in fact they claim to believe the Old Testament. But, dear friends, there is no God other than the one God in three persons who reveals Himself in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. Jews and Muslims and adherents to all other religions have forsaken the God of the Old Testament, for the whole Old Testament looks forward to and proclaims Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.
There is no God but the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three in one and one in three. The Father sent His Son into the flesh, to be born of a Virgin, to be born under the Law that He might redeem those under the Law. That is, that He might redeem us, lost and condemned sinners, who constantly fashion other gods for ourselves and trust in them for deliverance. The Holy Spirit convicts us of this sin and directs our faith to Jesus Christ, God’s Son, for our salvation. In Jesus Christ there is forgiveness for our every act of idolatry. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. His blood covers all our sin. He died for you and for me. He died in our place. He suffered our punishment. By His stripes we are healed. And He has fashioned us as His own people. He has taken us captive by His Word, so that we are no longer captive to sin and false gods. He has made us new. So to Him alone be all our fear, love, and trust. He is our God. We are His people, for He has marked His Name upon us, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).