You Shall Have No Other Gods!
O LORD God, my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier—You have commanded me to fear, love, and trust in You above all things. You have instructed me in Your Word that You are the one and only God in heaven and on earth. As I draw close to You, cause me to do so with the utmost humility. You are holy—I am not! You are omnipotent—I am not! You are gracious—for that I am so very thankful! Receive me, forgive me, instruct me, and uplift me, O Lord, as I worship You this day. Amen.
The apostle Paul informed the Corinthian Christians that in spite of the fact that the world is filled with idols, there is still only one, true God! While he speaks here only of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, Paul is referring to the Holy Trinity!
The three members of the Holy Trinity were clearly revealed at the time of Jesus’ baptism. The Father spoke from heaven, the Son was baptized by John, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove!
Text: Isaiah 44:6
“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.’”
In Christ Jesus, who is the Word sent by God to reveal His grace, dear fellow redeemed:
It was a most telling conversation. A rich young ruler came to Jesus. He was so very sincere. He was no doubt the pride of his parents and considered the perfect match for the daughter of many another parent. He asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mk. 10:17) Jesus responding asked: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother’” (Mk. 10:18-19). The young man, failing to understand the point at which Jesus was driving, responded: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth” (Mk. 10:20) Jesus, we are told, “looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up your cross, and follow Me’” (Mk. 10:21). The young ruler, we are told “was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mk. 10:22).
What was Jesus’ point? He surely was not suggesting that the rich young ruler was almost there—he had almost earned his way into heaven…he only had one more thing to do in order to succeed! No, Jesus was trying to lead this very sincere, young man to the realization that he was asking the wrong question. As we reviewed last week in our sermon God’s law cannot and does not save us, for it is intended to reveal our sin. This rich, young ruler assumed that he could save himself if only he were given that last bit of law to fulfill. When Jesus directed him to the second table of the law in order to move him to examine his relationships with other people in order to see his sin, he was blind to that sin. He assumed, in view of his outwardly good behavior, that he had fulfilled everything God expected of him with regard to his fellow men. Jesus, therefore, directed him to an area even more fundamental—his relationship with God. Jesus knew that deep down in this young man’s heart his wealth had become his god. Therefore, because He loved him and wanted him to understand the truth, Jesus challenged him to sell that which had become his idol and dedicate himself to the One who had come to save his soul. This, the rich, young ruler was, at least at that time, unwilling to do!
My dear friends, we are beginning today a series of sermons on God’s Ten Commandments. We are not doing this in order to suggest that by keeping those commandments you will surely earn your way to heaven, for you and I have not and cannot keep them any better than that rich, young ruler. Our study, however, should certainly convict us of our sins, help us to understand the importance of our Savior’s role in winning for us our eternal salvation, and provide for us a better insight into how we as God’s children will want to live our lives to our Savior’s glory. We begin with the First Commandment: YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS! Martin Luther explained God’s intent very simply by saying: "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things!" Let us then examine what is means to fear, love, and trust in the one, true God.
First of all, let us fear the LORD, the King of Israel! Our text today is a single verse in Isaiah 44, a chapter which lays out for us in stark contrast the difference between the one, true God and all false gods. In this verse Isaiah reveals a number of names for the one, true God. He begins with the two names: “LORD, the King of Israel!”
The name “LORD,” which you will find printed in all capital letters in most English translations, refers to the personal name of God—Jehovah, which is at times also pronounced Yahweh. It is a pregnant name filled with meaning. It suggests the God who knows us and cares about us, who promised to send a Savior to deliver us and who fulfilled that promise by sending Jesus. The LORD is the God of the covenant—committed to us by His promises and ruling over us as our King! Isaiah identifies Him here as the “King of Israel,” His Old Testament people. The LORD had led His people faithfully, providing for their needs, protecting them from their enemies, securing for them solid futures. This He did as the “LORD, the King of Israel.” That name could just as soon be translated, however, today to reflect His personal relationship with and care of His New Testament people. He is the LORD, the King of Immanuel congregation, or if you want to be even more personal exchange "Israel" or "Immanuel" with your family’s last name—the LORD, the King of the Klammers, or the Petersons, or the Friedrichs, or the Brandts!
The LORD is our King. He knows us personally and cares about us individually. He rules over us in power protecting us from danger. He mercifully fills our lives with His blessings. He is holy, and as our King we owe Him our awe and respect. David writes in Psalm 24: “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?… Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle!” (vs. 3, 7-8)
Do we fear Him by standing in awe at all times and by giving Him always the respect He is due? I am afraid not! Simply examine your lives. Every time we allow our peers to intimidate us into doing something wrong, we are not fearing God. Every time we think, "I don’t care whether it is right or wrong. I’m going to do it anyway," we are not fearing God, but rather defying Him. Every time we stay up late on a Saturday night, roll out of bed at the last minute, and yawn our way through worship with inattentive hearts and minds, we are not showing Him proper respect.
Thank goodness Jesus did! He went about His Father’s business, even as a child (cf. Lk. 2:49). He submitted His will to that of the Father every time, even when that submission would involve the loss of His earthly life—“not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). In so doing, He demonstrated a proper fear of God, and in so doing provides us by faith with a righteousness which will stand up before God, as well as an example of genuine and proper fear.
Secondly, dear friends, love His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts! Isaiah identifies God not only as “the LORD, the King of Israel,” but also as “His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts.” It is interesting that there is an “and” between those names suggesting not just one, but two persons. We know from the Scriptures that God reveals Himself to be one God and yet three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son, Jesus Christ, is tied most closely to the act of redemption.
We are to love our Redeemer above all things. That means we are to place Him above everything and everyone else. No one and nothing are to be more important to us than He. If we reflect at all upon our lives, we will again see that we have failed to keep this commandment many times. We rather regularly put other people above our God. Consider the common view that there is nothing more important than family. In reality there is—our God and His relationship with us. We often by our actions demonstrate that we love things more than God—sometime things that have little value in and of themselves. I recall a friend of mine, who teaches in one of our parochial schools, telling me of a first grader who announced one Monday morning that her daddy was going to hell. My friend, who was not a little shocked and dismayed, asked the little girl why she would say such a thing. She responded, “My daddy loves his mattress more than Jesus!”
Why do we want to love Jesus more than anyone or anything else? He is our Redeemer. That name is used eighteen times in the Old Testament, thirteen of which are found in Isaiah. It is instructive to read each of the passages in which this name for Jesus is used. In Isaiah 41:14 it is tied to the encouragement, “Do not be afraid!” In Isaiah 49:6-7, God the Father states that He will give His Redeemer, the Lord Jesus, as “a light to the Gentiles,” that is, to us! Later in that same chapter, the Redeemer says, “I will save your children” (v. 25). In Isaiah 54:5-8, the Redeemer compares Himself to a “husband” loving His “faithful wife” with “everlasting kindness.” In Isaiah 63:16 we are told that while Abraham is ignorant of us, our Redeemer is fully aware of and willing to meet our every need. Is that not the God you want to love above all things—a God who will protect you, enlighten you, save you, remember you, and love you forever? I think so!
At the same time, our Redeemer is identified as “the LORD of hosts,” which suggests Jesus’ power, and which at times is translated with the word "almighty." It means, however, almighty in a very special sense. The “hosts” mentioned in this name take one of three forms within the Bible. The “hosts” can refer to the host of believers, giving us the picture of Jesus leading His believing followers into victory—a picture used in Revelation 19. It can also be used of the stars of heaven, reflecting God’s complete control of the universe (cf. Ps. 147:4). It can finally mean the hosts of heaven—the angelic beings who both praise God and fulfill His purposes. This name, too, ought to incite our love, for it reveals to us that our Redeemer God is fully capable of keeping all His promises.
Finally, let us trust in the One who is the First and the Last! The LORD through Isaiah says: “I am the First and I am the Last; besides me there is no God.” Whom or what do you trust? There are many people in whom we place our trust—our spouses, our parents, our doctors, our lawyers, the personnel at our police and fire departments. There are many things in which we put our trust—our country’s constitution, our banks and insurance companies, our various vehicles. The list could go on, yet in each of these cases our trust must be limited, for every one of the people I mentioned and every one of the things I mentioned are limited in their reliability. They cannot be trusted explicitly at all times and under all circumstances, for they can fail.
The LORD alone cannot and will not fail, and therefore the LORD alone is deserving of our trust above all things and at all times. To emphasize that fact He identifies Himself as “the First and the Last.” The LORD existed before the universe came into existence. He created it by His divine power. He stands outside and above it, sustaining it and governing it. He will be there when and after it ends, for it is the LORD Himself who one day will end what He began. We, therefore, rest in His hands and can depend upon Him always. The apostle Paul, when speaking to the Athenians, said: “He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:25b-28a).
The name “I am the First and I am the Last” appears seven times in the Bible—three here in Isaiah and four in the Revelation. It is used of the LORD Himself and then also of Jesus. It gives us insight into the nature of God, for while it is used of two persons of the Trinity, it refers to only one God, for in its very sense there can be only one “First” and one “Last.”
My dear friends, YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS! Why is this the first and most important commandment? Because without a proper understanding of the one, true God we cannot be saved. With that knowledge the Holy Spirit calls us into a saving relationship with God, from which then flows our entire life of sanctification and upon which rests our hope of eternal life! May we indeed fear, love, and trust in God above all things! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting