The Sermon for Sunday, March 3rd, 2024, the Third Sunday in Lent

The Lessons: Exodus 20:1-21; Psalm 19:7-14; Romans 7:12-25; John 2:13-22

The Text: Exodus 20:3


In one of his sermons, Pastor Robert J. Morgan gave this illustration of obedience:

My daughter Hannah and I had a Great Dane named Samson that we dearly loved, and Samson, as it turns out, was well named, for he was big, strong, and muscular – and, like his namesake, he also had a penchant for wandering. We built fences, we tried chains and dog runs, we tried everything to keep Samson at home. But he’d dig under the fence or climb over it, and it drove us to distraction.

So we bought the best-selling book on the market on the subject of training dogs. No Bad Dogs was written by the famous British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse, who raises Great Danes herself. One night when I went upstairs to tuck in Hannah, she had a sad expression on her face, and she said, “Dad, I know now what Samson’s real problem is. Let me read you this paragraph.” This is what she read me out of No Bad Dogs by Barbara Woodhouse:

In a dog’s mind, a master, or a mistress to love, honor, and obey is an absolute necessity. The love is dormant in the dog until brought into bloom by an understanding owner. Thousands of dogs appear to love their owners: they welcome them home with enthusiastic wagging of their tails and jumping up, they follow them about their homes happily and, to the normal person seeing the dog, the affection is true and deep. But to the experienced dog trainer this outward show is not enough. The true test of real love takes place when the dog has got the opportunity to go out on its own as soon as the door is left open by mistake, and it goes off and often doesn’t return home for hours. That dog loves only its home comforts and the attention it gets from its family; it doesn’t truly love the master or mistress as they fondly think. True love in dogs is apparent when a door is left open, and the dog still stays happily within earshot of its owner. For the owner must be the be-all and the end-all of a dog’s life.[1]


The first two commandments of the Ten Commandments given by God to Israel lay down God’s requirement of his people that they love him most of all. The First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3) forbids God’s people to worship any other gods before or besides Him. This commandment is repeated in Exodus 34:14 (KJV):

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

The immediate context of this version of the commandment is a section of the Law forbidding the ancient Israelites to make a covenant with any of the peoples inhabiting Canaan, the Promised Land, in case, by doing so, they worship other gods, the gods which the Canaanites worshipped.

If we think about the meaning of the Name by which God revealed himself to Moses in his appearance in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), that name is translated I AM, and it has the various meanings, “I am,” and “I will be.” God’s name is Jealous, since there is no other being that has not been created by Him, and He gives life to all, and worshipping any other being is worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Peoples in the ancient near east had various deities that they worshipped, and the temptation to the Israelites was to think that any of these deities was more powerful than the Lord. Since some deities were associated with successful harvests and fertility, such as Baal and Ashtoreth, it was tempting to worship them instead. But this is to make a terrible mistake. There is only one God who can give life, save life, and destroy it. In Isaiah 45:22, the Lord declares:

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

(Isaiah 45:22, KJV)

In this verse, and in many other places in Holy Scripture, the Lord shows that He alone is God, and He alone gives life. Therefore, to love or any other deity, angel, demon, or human being in place of, or more than, God is to break the First Commandment. Even in the Book of Revelation, St. John is forbidden to worship the angel that showed him the wonders of heaven, for the angel describes himself as John’s fellow servant and the fellow servant of the prophets and of those that obey the words of the Book of Revelation. Then the angel commands St. John, “Worship God” (Revelation 22:9c).


We live today in a culture which is generally skeptical of either God’s existence or whether people can come to know God. Various religions, philosophies, and ideologies are vying for everyone’s attention. The priorities of many people lie in material things. By contrast, Christians are called to worship God, who is described like this in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion:

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

(Article I, Articles of Religion, p.603, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928)

The Christian should love no one more than he loves God. As a faithful witness to Christ, how will you order your life to obey the command to have no other gods before the Lord?

[1] p. 589, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

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