The Heart of the Matter
A Review of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments
A sermon based on 1 Kings 21:1-16
Sunday, August 17, 2014 – Pentecost 10A
It's good to be king! To get what you want when you want it! You call for a cup of wine and it's brought in an instant! You call for some fun and the harem girls are lined up! No demand is too extravagant, no request too great! Nothing but the best for the king! The king gets what he wants!
At least that's what King Ahab, King of Israel, thought. If he wanted heathen princess, Jezebel, for his wife, that's who he'd take! If he wanted a summer palace, the builders would get to work right away. If he wanted to plant a vegetable garden right next to that beautiful palace, then as the King of Israel, it should be his!
But when the king doesn't get what he wants, look out!
This morning as we conclude our series on the Ten Commandments with the ninth and tenth, we hear how Ahab coveted a vineyard that he could not have. And as we examine the account, we'll get to the heart of the matter: His evil thoughts and desires.
Here's how it happened: Ahab saw the vineyard next to his palace and he wanted it. Why that particular vineyard? Well, it wasn't for the grapes. In fact, he wanted to get rid of the grapevines and convert it into lush vegetable garden. So why that particular vineyard? Location, location, location! It was right next to his summer palace. When he wanted veggies, he wouldn't have to wait. The servants could get the freshest produce fast. It would be great! Just like Subway says, he could "Eat fresh!"
He offered a fair price to the owner. He didn't want to cheat him. Ahab said to Naboth, "Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth." In other words, "Name your price! I won't take "no" for an answer! I'm buying!"
Only one problem. Naboth wasn't selling… for any price! Why not? Was Naboth trying to anger the king? Maybe holding out for more money or two vineyards? No. He wouldn't sell because he wanted to keep God's law. In Leviticus 25 God forbid anyone to sell their land permanently that it should leave the family. So it didn't take Naboth long to decide, "No deal!" Naboth replied, "The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers."
And Ahab's response? Not unlike a toddler throwing a tantrum. "He was the king, for crying out loud! Who was Naboth to refuse his generous offer?!" Coveting what he could not have—what God had made clear he didn't want Ahab to have—he'd pout. So Ahab went home, sullen and angry… He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.
Enter his "helpful" wife, the wicked pagan queen, Jezebel. Discovering why her husband was acting like a baby, she taunted him, "Are you a king or what?" Is this how you act as king over Israel? "If you want something, go get it! Or if you're too much of a sissy, I'll get the vineyard for you." And you know the rest of the story. Hiring false witnesses to charge Naboth with cursing God and king, she had him stoned to death. Ahab obtained his land, and finally cheered up. He could finally get his fresh veggies.
Wow! Despising God's Word (the 3rd Commandment) and the authority of the law (the 4th Commandment), the royal couple lied in court (the 8th Commandment), in order to murder a man (the 5th Commandment) and steal his property (the 7th Commandment). It's like they were out to see how many commandments they could break at once? What prompted all this? What was the heart of the issue? Ahab's heart was the issue! He wasn't content with the blessings God had given him.
And if we're honest, rarely are we. We often act like King Ahab who wasn't satisfied with all the rich blessings he had! We act like Alexander the Great, who after conquering every kingdom known to him sat down to cry because he had nothing left to conquer. We act like J.D. Rockefeller who when asked how much money would he need to be satisfied, responded with a sigh, "Always a little more."
We often follow the Toddler's Rules of Possession, which read: 1. If I like it, it's mine. 2. If it's in my hand, it's mine. 3. If I can take it from you, it's mine. 4. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine. 5. If it's mine, it must NEVER appear to be yours in anyway. 6. If I'm doing or building something, all the pieces are mine. 7. If it looks just like mine, it is mine. 8. If I saw it first, it's mine. 9. If you are playing with something and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine. 10. If it's broken, it's yours.
And though such attitudes as greed and covetousness are held up as virtues in our society under the title "ambition," coveting remains a serious matter of the heart; one which affect every aspect of our lives. Over the past two months, we've taken a look at how that's the case with all of the commandments. The heart of the matter is our hearts in any given matter. Why do we steal from our employers? Because we covet. We want to get paid the same even if we don't work our hardest. Why do we commit adultery? Because lust is coveting another person. Why do we lie and hurt others reputations? Why do we cause physical harm? To get something that we covet; maybe just a better reputation for ourselves. And why do we fail to do what we should? Because our hearts aren't right! We covet our safety, our comfort, our convenience. And by coveting, we always break another of Gods' commandments! And we make ourselves our god instead of the true God and we break the first commandment!
What fitting bookends the first and last commandments make! They get to the heart of the matter. We aren't content with the blessings God's given us (breaking the 9th and 10th Commandments) and so we reject him as our God (breaking the 1st Commandment) and serve ourselves and our wants instead (breaking all the other commandments in between). And though these sins of the 9th and 10th Commandments may be hidden from all others and we may appear pious and holy in all our actions, we can't escape the notice of God who knows all our thoughts, our attitudes, and our hearts.
And for such rebellion, for such covetous desires, for the attitudes and sinful hearts that produce the sinful thoughts—whether or not they ever take shape into actions—you and I deserve Jezebel's fate: to be thrown out a high window, to be trampled by horses, to be eaten by dogs, and to be banished to an eternity of hell. Was all that worth a few veggies? Of course not! Jesus put it this way: What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
So guard your heart against coveting! How do we do that? We find contentment in all the blessings that we do have—the greatest of which, of course, is our salvation… Though we deserve hell, what we get is so much greater than a palace with a vegetable garden that it's beyond compare. We get heaven.
We get heaven through Jesus who once said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." And though he had no place to call home, he didn't covet those who did. He never married, yet, he never coveted a wife. He endured suffering and misery and pain and didn't covet the situation of others, but willingly—even gladly!—endured it all and remained content. Why? Because his heart was right, placing God first, us next, and himself last. He willingly did what his Father asked of him to save us from our sins of covetousness. And taking those sins and every sin on himself on the cross, he took them all away.
Now, even though we deserve the fate of Jezebel, we get the fate of Ahab. God sent Elijah to him and brought him to repentance: When Ahab heard these words [of Elijah], he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah… 29 "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day…" (1 Kings 21:27-29)
And bringing us to repentance—sorrow over our covetous thoughts and actions and trust in Jesus work to win forgiveness for us—God does not bring the disaster on us that we deserve. Instead we get forgiveness, peace, and heaven. And when we compare what we get to what we deserve, we learn to be content with what we have.
We can say with the apostle Paul, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances… I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)
And with such contentedness comes big change in our lives. Now, with our sinful natures crucified with Jesus along with its passions and desires, we have new attitudes, new selves, and new hearts. Now, what we crave more than anything is time spent with our Savior in his Word! Now our thoughts and desires are not "How can I get more?", but "How can I give more, not "Me first," but "Me last," not "What I want," but "What God wants."
And in response to Jesus' selfless sacrifice for us, we long to serve him, to "Serve one another in love" (Galatians 5:13), to "Look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4), to do all we can to help another person to keep and improve his property, his reputation, his family, and his life. In short, we try all the harder to keep all of God's commandments. Not because we must to get into heaven, but out of thanks that heaven has been freely given to us already.
Rejoice, dear friends, in all that you have through Jesus! "And be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) And in thanks to him, strive with all your might to keep the Ten Commandments, not just in what you say and do, but in your thoughts, in your attitudes, and in your hearts. In Jesus' name and by the strength he gives in the Gospel, amen.