Thursday, March 21, 2019

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Reminiscere - The Second Week of Lent

John 5:1-18; 1 Kings 18:20-40

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The First Commandment of the LORD is that He alone is Your God and that you must fear, love, and trust in Him above and before all things. That First Commandment is the foundation of all the others so that, if you transgress any of the Commandments, you have necessarily transgressed the First and the Greatest Commandment as well. However, the first three Commandments each speak of your relationship with God Your Father: He must be the first and foremost object of your fear, love, and trust. You must revere and use His holy Name appropriately. And, you must hold His Word sacred and sanctify time for hearing it, and for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
While the Scriptures forbid the worship of other gods, truly there are no other gods. This fact is shown clearly in our First Lesson this evening from 1 Kings chapter 18 in the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Baal was the name of the supreme god worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia. The practice of Baal worship infiltrated Jewish religious life during the time of the Judges and had become widespread in Israel during the reign of King Ahab.Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children. Worship of Baal involved sensuality of all kinds, cultic prostitution, and often the sacrifice of firstborn children. Before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, the LORD warned against worshiping Canaan’s gods, but Israel turned to idolatry anyway. 
Ahab was the most notorious of a long line of wicked kings in Israel. Ahab took Jezebel, the daughter of a priest of Baal, as his wife and queen. In spite of God’s laws forbidding idolatry and the worship of any god but the Lord, Ahab married Jezebel who brought to Israel with her hundreds of priests and prophets of Baal. A weak and self-pitying man, Ahab abdicated his rule to his queen and enacted what she decreed, contrary to the Commandments of the LORD.One of Jezebel’s first acts was to order the execution of the prophets of the Lord and to set up altars to Baal. During the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, at the height of Baal worship in Israel, God directly confronted their paganism through His prophet Elijah.
From 1 Kings: “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.”
“How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” That’s a great question! You see, we sinful human beings like to have our cake and eat it too. We hate being committed to any one thing or person for fear that we might be missing out on something better. We’d rather straddle the fence than choose a side and stand firm. We prefer shades of gray to uncompromising black or white, shadows to darkness or light. However, the LORD is a jealous God. He will not share you with another. If you are not with Him, you are against Him. There is no middle ground. There is no lukewarm trust and obedience. There is no other way.
Elijah demonstrated precisely that. Elijah demonstrated that Baal was no god at all, but a creation of men, unable to hear or speak or answer the people’s prayers. Though they danced and shouted and cut themselves so that their blood gushed forth, no god answered them and the sacrifice remained untouched upon the altar. Then Elijah, to emphasize that there is no God but the LORD, had water poured on his sacrifice, not once, but three times, so that the sacrifice and the wood were saturated. Upon Elijah’s invocation, “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” “And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.” The LORD will not share you with another god, not that there is another god.
“You shall have no other gods.” The First Lesson demonstrates that well. “You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God.” The First Lesson demonstrates that well also. “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Our Second Lesson addresses the Third Commandment. By the time of Jesus, the Third Commandment had been reinterpreted by the Pharisees to mean simply, “Don’t do any work on the Sabbath.” The true meaning of the Sabbath, however, was rest– to take rest in the LORD and in His Word. That is why Luther explains the Third Commandment saying, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Like the First and Second Commandments, the Third Commandment is about your relationship with God your Father. To be sure, for Old Testament Israel, the Commandment to keep the Sabbath included the cessation of work, and on a particular day, the Sabbath Day, Saturday. However, the spirit of the Law is much broader than that, binding not only physical acts, but words and thoughts and desires of the heart. The Pharisees emphasized the letter of the Law and gave no credence to the spirit of the Law. In His obedient life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and reinterpreted the Sabbath in terms of Himself. Truly, the Father has given authority over all things to His Son, and Jesus invites you to keep the Sabbath Day by finding rest for your weary souls in Him.
But what is meant by keeping the Sabbath Day holy?” Luther answers: “Nothing else than to be occupied with holy words, works, and life.” It was such as these that the Jewish religious leadership rejected and accused Jesus and His disciples of doing and thereby transgressing the Law of Moses. When Jesus healed a paralyzed man on a Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill Him. However, necessary and loving work not only is permitted by the Third Commandment, but it is commanded by the law of love. Jesus demonstrated this repeatedly throughout His ministry. The Gospels record seven Sabbath healing miracles performed by Jesus. In one Sabbath healing Jesus challenged the Pharisees and exposed their hypocrisy, saying, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” They had no answer and remained silent.
To keep the Sabbath Day holy is to make it holy and sacred to yourself. That is to say that you set aside a day, a significant time, to take your rest in the LORD and in His Word and gifts. Your soul should desire this rest and gladly seek it. Failure to make the Sabbath a priority in your life is also a transgression of the First and Second Commandments, for you have not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things, nor have you called upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Your LORD invites you to take both spiritual and physical rest in Him. Jesus invites you saying, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Indeed, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath and He is your Sabbath rest. In Jesus, you may find rest from your laborious striving to be restored to the LORD by your works and obedience according to the Law.
You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Yes, these are the LORD’s Commandments, and they are Law. However, they are good and true, and blessed are you if you keep them.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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