No Other God

Third Sunday after Trinity
Micah 7:18-20
June 17, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Who is a God like You? You forgive sin and pass by the wrong of the remnant of Your own people! You will not be angry forever, because You delight in mercy. You will again be kind to us, subdue our wrongs, and throw all our sins into the deep sea. You will be faithful to Jacob and kind to Abraham as You promised our fathers with an oath long ago.

In the name of + Jesus.

Of all the many different religions in the world, there are really only two essential religions that people have ever adopted. The first is the religion of the Law. No matter who or what your god might be—or even if you have no god at all—the religion of the Law is the quest to make yourself right with god, the universe, and everything by works of the Law. The laws may vary across the various manifestations of this religion, but the essence and aim is the same: justify yourself by what you do.

The second religion is not really a religion at all—not in the sense that’s it’s defined by what you religiously do. It’s the religion of the Gospel, a religion where God is the one who makes you right with Him; He is the One who justifies. Among all of the religions ever practiced by mankind, there is one and only one religion of the Gospel, because there is one and only One God who does what is necessary to justify His people. This is the God of whom Micah prophesies, the God who completely distinguishes Himself from every other God by His gracious and merciful activity for His people. This God is the One who is manifest in time in Jesus Christ.

There Is No Other God Who Completely Forgives Sin and Passes by the Wrongs of His People

I.

It is possible to get anyone to do just about anything you want them to do. With the right combination of motivations, every person will eventually turn into Pavlov’s dog, who salivates whenever the bell rings, whether or not there is food. Even the strongest of wills can eventually be broken. And this is the modus operandi of every other religion—other gods demand your obedience and loyalty either by treat of punishment, or by promise of reward.

This past week, I had the privilege of studying with a missionary to Vietnam and Cambodia. He was telling me about the importance of ancestor worship in far eastern cultures, and how difficult it is to present Christianity to them. The religious practice is to offer gifts on the family altar to deceased relatives, and to be baptized and accept Christianity is essentially to reject your family and to be rejected by them. It’s hard for us to comprehend what that must be like, but if you suspend the truth of Christianity for a moment, think of how hard it would be for you to publicly renounce your parents. The gods have a hold on you. If you do what is right, you get rewarded; if you do wrong, there’s punishment.

But gods don’t have to be personal in nature. You don’t have to have an altar and offer sacrifices of food and burn incense to their memory. The Large Catechism teaches us that the most common god is mammon, money, possessions. This is a god that knows reward and punishment.

I can make it rain on you
But Lord I sure do shine
I can bring you love
But I’m not the settle down kind
I can make your eyes light up
Put a dazzle in your smile, yeah
I can make you die for me
      without a single question why
My name is Money
-Sonia Leigh

The threats and punishments of the religion of the Law demand your obedience. Rewards are for those who obey, and punishments are for those who sin. That’s the way the Law works. It is unforgiving.

II.

But then there is a God who sets Himself apart from all the other gods. Not that He claims to be the true God—all gods claim to be true by virtue of their claim to lordship over you. This God is the One who reveals Himself uniquely and distinctly to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To be sure, He is a God of laws. He threatens and He offers rewards. But then, He also does something more. In spite of the threats of punishment and offers of reward, the ones He loves always seem to come out on the reward side, no matter whether they did the Law or not. The God of Abraham and Jacob, and your God, delights in mercy and assumes the punishment into Himself, giving you the reward. And so He creates a remnant of loyal and obedient people.

Who is a God like You? You forgive sin and pass by the wrong of the remnant of Your own people! You will not be angry forever, because You delight in mercy. You will again be kind to us, subdue our wrongs, and throw all our sins into the deep sea. You will be faithful to Jacob and kind to Abraham as You promised our fathers with an oath long ago.

There is no other God like this one. He doesn’t distinguish Himself by His claim to being true, but by become flesh. No other God fully embraces this imperfect creation by become one flesh with it, by marrying Himself to it. But that is Jesus. There is no other God like Him.

And He does this thing that no other god does for a specific reason. He knows full well that the religion of the Law—the religion practiced by everyone who is not part of the remnant—is a religion whose ultimate punishment is death. And by coming into the world to proclaim His kingdom—the religion of the Gospel—He is invalidating every other religious system that exists. And they must do the only thing they know how to do. They must put Him to death.

But it is precisely in this death that Jesus, God incarnate, takes the punishment of the Law into Himself. He suffers everything the Law threatens to do to us. And because He accepts the punishment, He forgives sin and passes by the wrong of the remnant of His people. The God who dies cannot stay angry forever. His delight is mercy.

Now the sins that we commit cannot harm us. That’s the entire message of the Gospel. Not that you cease sinning, but that your sins cannot harm you. It’s as if they are laying at the deepest bottom of the sea. Actually, even better, it’s as if they are buried deep in the tomb of Jesus. Because they actually are. The sins that Jesus bore to the cross, for which He suffered the punishment, He left in the tomb when He rose again to new life.

There is no greater faithfulness than a person who is willing to die for another. God commits Himself fully and recklessly to you. But this sort of dedication has a strange effect. It creates something that was not there before. The mercy of God and His reckless love create new affections in those whom He loves. That’s you. And now, because the love of God in Christ has found you, you are now beginning to do precisely what God’s Law requires, though not for fear of punishment or hope of reward. The reward is already yours in Jesus Christ, and there’s nothing you could do to earn it. But by His utterly unique way of being God—becoming flesh, suffering the punishment, leaving sins buried in the ground—He creates a remnant of loyal and obedient people.

This is why Christianity is the true religion. Not because it makes superior assertions, but because it is the only religion that is not a religion at all, but rather God’s religious devotion to His people. His forgiveness, mercy, and enduring love are what make all things right again.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA