Holy Baptism: The First Commandment

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, 19 June 2022

A Sermon on Galatians 3:23-29 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

Galatians 3:23-29 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

HOLY BAPTISM: THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

P: Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
C: And lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

We learn in Crossways Bible Study that the Lord God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai not to effect a relationship with God but to reflect the covenant God made with Israel by grace after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. In the Ten Commandments, our heavenly Father declares what He wants from His people. Whether cast in the negative or the positive, God’s message in the commandments is clear: “Not that way, but this!”

Now, the ten words, as they are called by the Jewish people, are supplemented by 603 additional commandments in the Torah (the five books of Moses) around which orthodox Jews still order their lives. As we learn today from Paul of Tarsus in Galatians 3, Christians are not required to order our lives around the 613 commandments. In other words, Christianity is not Judaism for Gentiles. Paul makes clear today that Holy Baptism replaces circumcision as the mark of God’s new covenant, and Holy Baptism is given both to males and females. Paul also makes clear that we Christians are not required to keep kosher, that is, to observe the various Jewish dietary laws in the Torah. Originally a Pharisaic rabbi trained by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), Paul reminds us that the commandments were given to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. The Lord Jesus did not give the Torah to His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount or at His Transfiguration or His Ascension.

So, then, if the commandments were given to Israel, why did the Church keep the Ten Commandments as an essential part of its catechism (or book of instruction) along with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer?  After all, doesn’t Paul tell us today that the Law was a custodian or tutor (in Greek “paidagōgos”) for Israel until Christ came? Is Paul making up a new religion on the fly and ignoring the Lord Jesus’ clear word: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18)? Let’s back up and think clearly together.

During His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus teaches His disciples how to read what Christians will later call the Old Testament. He frequently corrects not only how some of the commandments have been interpreted but, at times, corrects the commandments themselves as in the case of divorce (Matthew 19). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus sharpens the commandments as He calls lust a type of adultery and hatred a type of murder (Matthew 5). But why should we listen to Jesus in such matters? This gets to the very heart of the matter. Jesus is both truly God and truly human, as we will confess again today in the Creed! There are those who deny that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. There are those who deny that Jesus was crucified to take away the sin of the world, rose bodily from the dead, ascended to the seat of power, and through Him the Father poured out the Holy Spirit. But, by their denials of Who Jesus is, they cannot be called Christians, and we will not listen to them. We will listen to God’s Son Jesus.

As the magnificent prologue of John’s Gospel proclaims (John 1:1-18), Jesus is the Living Torah, the Word of God made flesh. Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus affirms the Ten Commandments repeatedly as the essence of what His Father wants. And, our Lord Jesus intimately calls God, “Father,” 170 times and teaches His disciples to do so. Those who cannot pray “Our Father,” as God’s Son taught, are addressing a different god if they change the words. After all, to avoid saying “Father” on account of an abusive father is not a word about God.

So, why did the Church keep the Ten Commandments as part of the catechism? When the Lord Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, He answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). Three commandments address loving God and the other seven loving neighbor. This is what His Father wants.

P: Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
C: And lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

The Lord Jesus teaches us that all the other commandments are essentially commentary on the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” When we fear, love, and trust God above everything else, we keep His commandments. If we kept God’s commandments, we would have no need for a Savior, and the Virgin Birth and the death of God’s Son would be unnecessary. But as is apparent by God’s having sent His Son into the world to save us, we do not fear, love, and trust God above all else. Failing to fear, love, and trust God above all else, this world is a mess! It doesn’t need more laws. This world needs to be saved from itself, for the human heart makes idols (Ezekiel 14:2; Jeremiah 17:9). Our Lord says evil comes out of our hearts (Matthew 15:19).

Our popular observance of Father’s Day is more than a sentimental day to buy Hallmark cards, to do something nice for Dad, or to remember our late fathers in their better moments. Father’s Day reminds us that Dads are necessary not merely to provide the fertilization our Moms need. We need godly fathers to bring us to the services of God’s house and teach us what our heavenly Father wants. We need godly fathers to model what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father. If biological fathers won’t show up for work, we need godly grandfathers, godfathers, uncles, foster fathers, and father figures to do the work. Our world needs godly fathers more than ever. Because godly men show us how to strive to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.

Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “The purpose of this [first] commandment is to require true faith and trust of the heart, which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. It is like saying, ‘See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another.’ In other words, ‘Whatever you lack of good things, expect it from Me. Look to Me for it. And whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need. Only do not let your heart cleave to or rest on any other’” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 359:4).

Fathers and men doing fatherly work: this is what you are to strive to model for your children. This is precisely what your heavenly Father wants from you. Look to Jesus, model of limitless, humble service. God needs real men not testosterone-soaked little boys in adult bodies.

P: Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
C: And lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

Today, our nation observes Juneteenth, a remembrance that American blood was shed to keep both the promises of a more perfect union and of justice declared in the preamble of our Constitution, and to preserve for all people the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Just as the Lord God freed Israel from bondage in Egypt and our Lord Jesus died to free everyone from bondage to sin, death, and the devil, so this country fought a bloody war to end once-and-for-all the curse of slavery. Yes!

In Galatians, Paul was making reference to what his hearers understood about the role of a tutor as a guardian and protector of a minor child. Under Roman law, a child’s status was no different than that of a slave until his father recognized that the child was his heir. Then, the child entered into his responsibility and freedom. Our Baptism into Christ sets us free to live as God’s heirs.

So, today, St. Paul declares clearly to the Galatians that when we are baptized into Christ, that is the only identity that matters. We Christians cannot prevent by force the ideological balkanization of our country into various labels of sex, race, language, national origin, and of political and sexual preference. We cannot prevent by force people from trying to make their bodies conform to who they think they are in the imagination of their hearts. We cannot prevent by force people from murdering their babies in the womb. For these various false gospels have become the gods to which so many tragically cling, because they do not fear, love, and trust God above all else. But we Christians cannot and must not allow it to go unanswered when those who claim to be Christians press upon Christ’s Church this world’s other gods. We must tell them “No!”

When we Christians strive to fear, love, and trust God above all else, our lives and those of our spouses and our little ones are qualitatively better, and the example we set for adult children and grandchildren points to a more perfect way in which faith, hope, and loving service abide. The promise God made to Abram and Sarai was never meant to be an exclusive promise for the benefit of one ethnic group among the many. The promise that from their offspring God would bless all people (Genesis 12:1-3) was fulfilled in God’s Son Jesus, who is also the fulfillment of the promise to David (2 Samuel 7) of an everlasting Kingdom (Matthew 1:1). So, then, those baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection are now Abraham’s offspring. God’s Son Jesus is the fulfillment of all His Father’s promises, and in Him alone we have eternal life and love! Faith is trust, and we cannot do that on our own. The Holy Spirit creates such trust through the Good News that Christ has died for our sins and in Him we have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Dip your fingers in the baptismal font as you go to and from the altar to remember who you are, child of God. Look at your empty hands as you come to receive Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He has died for you and me precisely because we have not feared, loved, and trusted God above all else. Leaving the altar with His life in you, go strive again to become who and Whose His Father says you are in Holy Baptism, child of God. And, if you or any in your family have not yet been baptized, please begin a conversation with me today. It is a matter of life and death. Fathers, hear Jesus’ call to bring your children to be baptized (Matthew 28:19)!

Now, one more time, let us confess again what our heavenly Father wants from us:

P: Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
C: And lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

Holy Baptism: The First Commandment

Praying

“O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 616).

Listening

Galatians 3:23 “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law…”

St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “And the consciousness of a greater sickness, that they were found to be transgressors of the law itself, worked not to the ruin but to the good of those who believed, causing them to desire more fervently a doctor and to love him with more ardor” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Galatians, 49).

Galatians 3:24 “… the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”

St. Jerome [4th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “A custodian is given to infants to rein in an age full of passion and to restrain hearts prone to vice until tender infancy is refined by growth… The custodian guards another person’s son and will depart from him when the lawful time of inheritance arrives” (49-50).

Galatians 3:25 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian …”

St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Those who maintain their custody at this point are the ones who bring the child into the greatest disrepute. The custodian makes the child ridiculous when he keeps him close at hand even after the time has come for his departure” (50).

Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

St. John Chrysostom: “For if Christ is the Son of God and you put him on, having the Son inside yourself and being made like him, you have been made one in kind and form” (51).

Galatians 3:28 “… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

St. John Chrysostom: “…He speaks of something more intimate… The former Jew or slave is clothed in the form not of an angel or archangel but of the Lord himself and in himself displays Christ” (51).

Galatians 3:29 “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

St. Jerome: “But when it is applied to us who, receiving the Savior’s word, believe in him and assume the dignity of Abraham’s race, to whom the promise was made, then we should understand the offspring spiritually, as that of faith and preaching” (52).

Reflecting

  • Do I understand that through Holy Baptism I am God’s own child and that changes everything?

Learning

Table of Duties

Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service

To Parents

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

To Children

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Ephesians 6:1-3) (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

  1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
  2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
  3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the responsibilities of parents and children. In this time of moral confusion in our country, this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about why God gives parents and children to each other, what godly authority looks like, and how to speak to those of good will about God’s work through earthly authorities. It also is an occasion to talk about those not of good will and what those in authority must do about them for the good of all.
  4. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please pick up a new devotional booklet before or after worship this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two, Week of 2 Pentecost).
  5. Review this week’s section of Luther’s Large Catechism on the First Commandment and read next week’s section on the Second Commandment and the preaching text (Galatians 5:1,13-25). https://bookofconcord.org/large-catechism/
  6.  If you are not a member and would like to know more about how Lutheran Christians teach the basics of the Christian faith, register for our next New Disciples Class on August 20, 9am-12pm. dcapozio@stmatthewsch.org

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”