Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Third Sunday in Lent - Sunday, March 7, 2021

Text: Exodus 20:1-17

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Dear Friends in Christ, In classroom setting terms, our text for today is not new material. At least not for us. And we still dare to hope that most people in our country have at least some knowledge of the Ten Commandments. Or at least recognize the name.

Unfortunately, what people know about the Ten Commandments (including many Christians) is often incomplete or incorrect. If you polled ten people on the street and asked their view on the Ten Commandments, chances are you’d receive a number of opinions. But most would fall into one of three categories.

Some would say the Ten Commandments are important historically because they form the foundation upon which every workable legal system in the world is built. That is why in years past it was not uncommon to see images of the Ten Commandments in court houses (something challenged in recent years as a violation of church and state).

Others would say they are important morally (or perhaps spiritually) because they “set the rules” on how to get to heaven. For those who see salvation as depending upon their own personal performance rather than God’s grace in Christ, the Ten Commandments become a checklist to follow for earning eternal life.

Still others would say the Ten Commandments are really nothing more than a cultural artifact, sort of along the lines of an ancient vase or a mummy. But beyond that, they are outdated and irrelevant and have no bearing on one’s life whatsoever.

The point is that when it comes to the Ten Commandments, there is much confusion and misinformation as to what they are and what they mean. Which is why it is good for us to consider this text today. It is our opportunity to cut through the haze and set the record straight. And this is what we find:

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ARE TIMELESS AND RELEVANT

1.  They point us to our Savior

2.  They guide us in our new life in Christ

The date of our text is approximately 1500 years B.C. The place is Mt. Sinai, located in an area today referred to as the Sinai Peninsula. The characters involved are the recently-delivered-from-slavery Hebrew people (a.k.a. “the Children of Israel”), their leader Moses, and the One True God. From a smoking and trembling Mt. Sinai God gives his Old Testament people his “Law,” inscribing on two tables of stone the rules he expects mankind to live by.

There are ten of them, but they are not specifically numbered (which explains why there are two different numbering systems within the wider Christian Church). Later on in the New Testament, Jesus condenses the Ten Commandments into two major divisions when he speaks about the love we are to have for God (comprising commandments 1-3) and the love we are to have for our fellow man (commands 4-10).  In Romans 10:13 the Apostle Paul reduces them to a single word when he says, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The opening verse:  And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  This lead-in statement to the Ten Commandments is extremely significant for a proper understanding of what follows. Before saying anything else, God reminds the Israelites of the grace and love he has shown them by delivering them from bondage.

From this introductory remark we can make three very important observations that are worth noting about God and his commands to his people – including us…

First, God gave the Ten Commandments to us as our loving Maker and Savior who demonstrates his love for us in very real ways; not because he is some sort of controlling or mean God.

Secondly (and in view of this), the believer who understands God’s love and care wants to obey God’s commands out of an appreciative love for him; not because we are scared of him. Love for God, not fear of God, is our motivation for keeping the commands.

Thirdly, the believer recognizes that God has given us these commandments in order that we might live a life of happiness; not to take the fun out of life.

We mention this because one of Satan’s most successful strategies is to create the belief that Christianity is essentially restrictive in nature; that to be a believer in Christ means saying goodbye anything remotely connected to fun and good times.

C.S. Lewis tells the story about a boy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that as far as he could make out, God was “The sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.”  Many people have bought into that kind of thinking. God the Great Fun-Denier.

The truth is just the opposite. God created us to be in a special relationship with him – and only within that relationship can real happiness and contentment be found. Sin damaged that relationship, but Jesus Christ restored it at great cost to himself. Now, as his restored creatures, our Heavenly Father has given us these commands because he loves us and knows what is best for us – certainly not because he is trying to deny us anything. More on this later.

Let’s turn to the commandments themselves. There is a sermon series on each one, so we’ll just spend a moment or two on each of them.

The first commandment tells us to have no other gods, and goes on to talk about graven images and idols.  An idol is a false god of any kind that a person gives first place in their heart. They come in many forms. Some are wood and stone images. Others are priorities of the heart like greed or money or fame or power. In this command God is simply asking that he take first place in our life.

The second commandment deals with the proper use of God’s name. Besides every expression the Bible uses to refer to God, God’s name is also, by extension, everything he has revealed to us in his Word. In this command God asks us to use his Word faithfully and treat his name properly – for prayer and praise, rather than as an expletive.

The third commandment talks about making worship an integral and important part of our life. Failure to take this seriously on our part does not hurt God, but it does hurt and weakens us. We need the strength which only God can provide through Word and Sacrament.

The fourth commandment revolves around the representatives God places in our lives. He asks that we show honor and respect to our parents and others in authority over us. The only exception is when they ask us to do something contrary to God’s Word.

The fifth commandment speaks of God’s gift of life. Since God is the giver, only he or his chosen instruments (the government as Paul tells us in Romans 13) has the right to take life. Note: we often think we haven’t broken this command – until we remember that God considers hatred, ill will or thoughts of revenge to be murder in the heart.

In the sixth commandment God is protecting the institution of marriage (which the Bible defines as the union of a man and a woman). His clear will for married couples is faithfulness; his will for all people whether married or unmarried is moral purity.

The seventh commandment deals with God’s gift of possessions. The Lord condemns stealing of any kind (robbery, theft, fraud; even laziness and loafing) and expects his children to responsibly use the possessions he has entrusted to their care.

The eighth commandment deals with God’s gift of a good name. He asks us to avoid every form of slander and gossip and elevation of ourselves by tearing someone else down. Rather God asks us to consistently defend others, give them the benefit of the doubt, and interpret another person’s actions in the kindest possible way.

Lastly, the subject matter of the ninth and tenth commandments is the holy desires God would have in his children. Coveting is the sinful desire for something God clearly has not given us, which can then lead to all kinds of other sins.

Now the question:  Why did God give the Ten Commandments to us in the first place? The Apostle Paul answers that question in Romans 3 when he states that “through the law we become conscience of sin.”  In other words, the first and main purpose is to show us our sinfulness. God says to us: keep these commands perfectly and you will live, eternally. Disobey them, and you will die, eternally.

But when we look in the mirror of God’s law what reflects back is our utter failure and inability to keep them as God would like. We fail miserably. The only conclusion we can draw is this:  If getting to heaven depends upon our own performance in keeping the Ten Commandments, we’re sunk. We need help. Specifically, we need a Savior.

And the good news of the Gospel is that God has provided that Savior for us in the person of Jesus Christ. What that Savior has done for us is the message of this Lenten Season. Unlike us, Jesus did keep all the Ten Commandments perfectly – in our place; as our substitute. But it didn’t stop there.

The perfect life gave way to the sacrificial death, again in our place and as our substitute. Jesus bore the full brunt of God’s righteous anger at our failure to keep the Ten Commandments when God punished him instead of us on the cross of Calvary. And it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity (as if God punished the wrong guy) because God doesn’t make mistakes. It was God’s purposeful plan.

And here is the best news yet:  Everything Jesus did is credited to the account of those who believe and trust in him as their Savior. Through trusting Christ’s work in faith every believer can say with certainty “I am saved.”  Why? Because our salvation does not depend upon what we do for God, but on what God has done for us through Jesus. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling” (“Rock of Ages”).

In view of this, the Ten Commandments take on a whole new perspective and purpose for us. Yes, they clearly point out our sin and our complete inability to gain salvation by keeping them perfectly. At the same time, they still remain God’s will. And because of Jesus and through the power of Jesus, we become the willing.

So, they now take on a new role for us. Now they serve as the guidelines we want to keep. And the reason we want to keep them is to show God in some small way how grateful we are for what he has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Now we see them as ten opportunities to honor him, with the full understanding that he has given them to us so we can flourish in our relationship with him and others.

The Apostle John put it this way in his first letter: This is love for God:  to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…”  Rather, as we read in the Psalms repeatedly, as believers we delight in God’s law.

We began by saying this was not new material. Let’s end with a review. What are the Ten Commandments? They are God’s will which first drive us to our Savior. Then they become God’s will to guide us in our new life in Christ.

Which makes them timeless and relevant for our Christian walk. Amen.