Sermon on Exodus 20:1-17
Text: And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
A man came to Jesus one time with a question. It is a question that has been asked in various ways throughout the history of the world. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered his question by pointing to the law. He replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The young man answered by summarizing the Ten Commandments. He said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” To this Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28) This morning, we have before us the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. We are going to look at them individually, and yet they can be summarized as the young man did. THE TWO COMMANDS OF GOD’S LAW. 1. Love God and 2. Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.
The nation of Israel was in transit from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. There we are told that God descended on the mountain with fire and thunder and dark clouds. He called to Moses, who went up Mt. Sinai to receive God’s Law. In this Law, God was regulating every aspect of Israel’s life from their government to their worship life. God also gave what is commonly known as the Ten Commandments at this time.
Before we begin our look at the individual commandments, I would like to direct your attention to verse 2. There God says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Before God gives one single command, he reminds them of his love for them. By doing this, God wanted the nation of Israel to realize that the commands that would follow were not given by a God who hated them, but by a God who loved them. If they would follow his commands, things would go better for them. So also it is good for us to be reminded of this. God has not given these commands to take all the fun out of our lives. When we follow his commands, we will have a better time of it on this earth. It is a loving God, who has given these commands to us. Therefore, we want obey these commands, not only because God says that we must, but because it is the better way to do things. With that having been said, let us now turn our attention to the Ten Commandments.
The first commandment reads, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Verse 3) When we hear this commandment, we might automatically think of an idol, and that is very appropriate when you consider verses 4&5, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Is God only talking about actually bowing down to an idol made of wood or stone? If so, I believe it is safe to say, none of us has ever bowed down to an idol. So, we’ve kept this commandment of God perfectly!
However, that is not the full extent of this commandment. We remember Dr. Martin Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment: “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” Let’s just take one aspect of that explanation. We are to trust in God above all things. Is that always the case? Do we always trust in God above all things? Is it, perhaps, that God has become a last resort, at times? We’ve used up all our other resources and ideas, so we might as well go to God. It couldn’t hurt anything. Often, the person that we place our trust in most of all is ourselves. If we work at it hard enough and long enough, we can do anything. However, we aren’t trusting in God above all things. The same holds true for fearing and loving God above all things. If we had the proper love and respect for God, we would always do the things that he wants us to do. We would always obey him perfectly. Every time we sin, we make ourselves to be more than God, saying what we want is more important than what he wants. So you see, we can’t even keep the First Commandment properly. What about the other nine?
The Second Commandment is found in verse 7, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” By the term, “name of the LORD,” we mean more than just the titles that God uses to identify himself. It includes everything that he has revealed to us about himself. Included in this commandment is not only cursing and swearing, but also the command to pray, praise and give thanks. Cursing is to wish evil on someone; with the worst evil that we could wish on them that they spend their eternity in hell. Swearing is calling upon God as your witness that you are telling the truth. A proper place for this would be in a court of law. Swearing when it is not necessary or to cover up a lie is a misuse of God’s name. Another misuse of God’s name is when we fail to praise him. We praise our God when we tell others what he has done for us, much like when we receive a wonderful present from someone else. God has given his name that we might praise him before others.
The Third Commandment deals with our attitude toward God’s Word. It says in verse 8, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Their Sabbath Day was a day of rest in which no one was to work. This was to be a picture of the rest that Jesus would bring for the souls of the world. It was to be a holy day on which people meditated upon God’s Word. As we study the Third Commandment, we want to look at our attitude toward hearing God’s Word. Is our attitude like that of the psalmist who said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD?’” (Psalm 122:1) Is it, at times, ‘Do I have to? It’s always the same old stuff again and again.’? We, also, want to grow in our faith. Our confirmation day is not a graduation day, in which it was announced that we knew all there was to know. We want to grow through personal Bible study, through attendance at Bible Class, Sunday School, etc. Is God’s Word a precious jewel in our lives or a knickknack on the shelf?
With that we come to the end of the First Table of the Law, which deals with our relationship with God. All three commandments could be summarized with the words, ‘Love God.’ If we were able to love God perfectly, we could keep these three commandments perfectly. Keeping that in mind, we turn our attention to the Second Table of the Law, which deals with our relationship to other people.
The Fourth Commandment is found in verse 12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” This commandment is a transitional commandment, as we turn from our relationship with God to our relationship with other people. The Fourth Commandment deals with God’s representatives. Here it specifically mentions the fact that we are to honor our parents. We do what they tell us and with a glad heart. This isn’t only true for the younger members of our congregation. Even as we grow older, we are to love and respect our parents all of their lives. This also holds true for another of God’s representatives — the government. What is our attitude toward those who are governing us? Are we respectful of them or do we enjoy running them into the ground? Do we obey the laws of the government because we are glad to do so or are we afraid of getting caught, if we don’t? When we respect and honor those in authority over us, we are also doing so for God.
The Fifth Commandment says “You shall not murder.” (Verse 13) Again, we might feel that we have kept this commandment perfectly. However, look at some of the pertaining subjects that deal with our physical well-being. Do we always take care of the bodies that God has given us? In this command, God also forbids any words or actions that hurt someone else or make their lives miserable. When we tease one another, do we always take into account how it’s going to make that person feel? Even being angry with someone is breaking this commandment. Flying off the handle and yelling at someone makes you just as guilty of breaking this commandment as if you took out a gun and shot them. We also note that it is not only words and actions that God judges. We read in 1 John 3:15, “ Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” If I have ever held a grudge against a person, I have broken this commandment.
We find the Sixth Commandment in verse 14, “You shall not commit adultery.” In this commandment, God is protecting his gift of marriage. Going back to the first marriage in the Garden of Eden, we are reminded of one of the blessings that God wishes to give in marriage. God said of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) One of the blessings that God wants to give us in marriage is companionship. Anytime a spouse does anything that disrupts this companionship, they are telling God that this gift really isn’t worth much. However, God isn’t only speaking to married people in this commandment. Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) All of those dirty thoughts that creep into our minds are not just a part of a person’s life. They are a sin. As such, we want to be careful about exposing ourselves to temptations to break this commandment. God tells us to flee from them. Take a look at what the world calls entertainment. Notice how easily one can fall prey to its temptations.
In the Seventh Commandment, God tells us, “You shall not steal.” (Verse 15) We want to be very careful about the things that God has given us. We don’t want to be wasteful. We, also, want to be careful about the possessions of others. If they leave something behind, it’s not “Finders — Keepers; Losers — Weepers.” We want to do our best to return it to them. Also included in this commandment is our giving to the Lord. Does God get the best that we have to offer or the leftovers? Here we are not only speaking of money, but also our time and abilities. Do we steal from God?
In the Eighth Commandment, God says, “You shall not give false testimony about your neighbor.” (Verse 16) When we hear the words, “false testimony,” our thoughts might go to a courtroom and testifying at a trial. There, obviously, we want to tell the truth. However, there is so much more to this commandment than a courtroom testimony. Included in this commandment is anything that we say that hurts someone else’s reputation. An area that comes quickly to mind is gossip, both the telling of it and the listening to it. You know how quickly a person’s reputation can be ruined. Some might counter that they are not gossiping because what they are saying is true. However, are we telling the truth to build up someone’s reputation or tear it down? We also want to be careful about not judging someone too quickly. Rather, as Dr. Luther reminds us in his explanation to this commandment, we are to “take (their) words and actions in the kindest possible way.”
This brings us to the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. We will deal with both of them at the same time, since they deal with essentially the same subject. Verse 17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Before we talk about these commandments, we must, first of all, define the word “covet.” Coveting means to have a sinful desire for something or to want something God says we are not to have. The examples given in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments are: house, spouse, workers, animals or anything that belongs to our neighbor. That last phrase is the key. It is wrong to want these things because they belong to someone else. Also, coupled is the idea of being content with what God has given you. It’s the feeling of being happy with things, not the feeling of needing more and more. The fact that God has given this commandment shows us that God isn’t only interested in my actions or words. He is also interested in my thoughts.
Having looked at the commandments briefly, how do you feel? One thought that might run through our minds is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! God really can’t be serious about us keeping all ten all of the time!’ However, we read in verse 5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Yes, God is serious about keeping all ten all of the time. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Another reaction might be to rank ourselves with others, who aren’t as good as we are. Surely, God has to give us some credit for that! However, God says that if we are going to compare ourselves to anyone, we are to compare ourselves to him. We are to compare our lives to his Law.
This morning, we have taken the opportunity for some serious soul searching. If we’ve been even the slightest bit honest with ourselves, we must confess how miserably we have failed when it comes to keeping God’s Law. Each of us is deserving of God’s punishment both now and for all eternity. There is nothing that we can do to change this verdict.
However, it is here that another central theme of Lent comes forward. For, while we could not keep God’s Law perfectly, God sent his Son Jesus, who did. Jesus was obedient to the Law all of his life. Then, he allowed himself to be put to death on the cross, so that we would be saved. God placed all of the sin of the world upon Jesus and punished him in our place. The pain, the agonizing death and the spiritual torment was deserved by us. Jesus, however, took them all upon himself so that we would be saved. Now God looks at us as holy, perfect people, who have eternal life waiting for them.
How are we to respond to the love that God has shown us? God, again, points us to his law and tells us that this is what is pleasing to him. Remember that, before God gave the Israelites the Law, he reminded them of his love for them by setting them free from slavery in Egypt. So, also, we are reminded of our salvation from the slavery of sin, death and the devil. Jesus gave us everything so that we would be set free. Now, as the children of God, we look at the Ten Commandments and say, ‘I want to do this,’ rather than, ‘I must do this.’
When we break God’s Law, we come to him for forgiveness and know it is ours through Jesus Christ. However, we don’t want to abuse this and feel that we can sin as much as we want because we can always go to Jesus for forgiveness. Rather, we want to stay away from sin because we want to thank God for all that he has done for us.
Jesus told the young man, regarding the Law, “Do this and you will live.” The problem is that no one can keep the Law perfectly, so all would be lost. Years later, a jailer in the city of Philippi asked the Apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:30&31) How thankful we are that God provided salvation for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Having been assured of his forgiveness, let us now go forward and live our lives for him.
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