Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sermon -- TEN WORDS: The Preface (June 21, 2020)

EXODUS 20:1-2


In the name + of Jesus.

      While you know there are Ten Commandments, it may surprise you to know that Christians number them differently.  If the Ten Commandments are the word of the Lord, how can there be differences in their numbering?  One reason is that God does not number them.  God does not even call them the Ten “Commandments.”  In Deuteronomy, Moses says literally, the LORD “wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Words that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.” (Deuteronomy 10:4)  As the Hebrews number them, the first word is not even a command.  The first word is this: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)  The first word is about God.
     God is the creator of heaven and earth and everything in it.  He is the author of life.  As such, he has the right to say how life is to be lived.  As the supreme, all-powerful God, he even has the right to subject us to whatever he wants.  Who could oppose him?  Many find it insulting that God should have that much power and that much say over our lives.  I remember meeting a woman years ago who said that she rejected God and had no use for him.  When I asked why, she explained that she considered God to be a giant toddler—demanding attention and throwing a tantrum if he did get what he wanted from us.  In her thinking, all God ever did was take, take, and take.
     But it is not possible for God to take since everything already belongs to him.  The Bible reminds us, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1)  God did not create the universe for his benefit since God does not need the universe for his benefit.  Everything God created he did for the benefit of mankind.  This includes the Commandments he gives.  Before he gave his Commandments and declared his will for all people, he proclaimed who he is and what he has done.  He is neither a toddler nor a tyrant.  Rather, he is your good and merciful Father in heaven.  More than that, he is your Savior.  The Lord your God has freed you.
     For the people of Israel, God revealed his work as a Savior by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.  The Egyptians were the tyrants.  They had abused the people of Israel for their own glory and gain.  They subjected the Israelites to hard labor dedicated to the glory of Egypt.  When the Israelites complained, the Egyptians made their work harder.  When the Israelites sought to hold a festival to worship the Lord, the Egyptians mocked Israel and the Lord.  When the Israelites began to increase, Pharaoh commanded that all their baby boys be killed.  It was not just a matter of the Egyptians being mean and brutal; it was also a matter of the Egyptians threatening the promise of a Savior to come through Israel.  To destroy every male born to Israel is potentially to destroy the Savior.  The Egyptians had declared war on the promise of the Messiah.  The Lord would not let the promise be jeopardized, so he acted to save Israel.
     The Lord God set them free by mocking Egypt's many gods.  Each plague God sent was also a judgment on their gods.  You worship the Nile?  It will turn to blood.  You worship the power of oxen?  Your cattle will have boils.  You worship the sun?  There will be three days of darkness.  Finally, the Lord declared the death of every firstborn male in Egypt, but delivered Israel through the blood of the Passover Lamb.  He led Israel out and to the shores of the Red Sea.  There, the Lord drove back the sea with a strong, east wind which allowed Israel to pass through on dry ground to freedom on the other side.  Those same waters came back together on the pursuing Egyptian army and laid waste to Pharaoh's army.  Israel won a great victory in which they did nothing.  The Lord saved them and set them free.
     The Lord your God has set you free, too.  Your enemy, however, is not a national power.  The Bible reminds us, and we do well to remember it: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:11-12)  Your enemy is the one who wants you damned.  Governments cannot damn you.  Other people cannot damn you.  Neither can war, disease, civil unrest, or injustice.  Your enemy is the devil.  He works tirelessly to coax and seduce you out of the kingdom of God.  And if you are outside the kingdom of God, that will damn you.  
     Our own spiritual blindness fails to see the enemy for who he is.  Remember that woman who branded God as a spoiled toddler who demands attention and has a tantrum if he does not get what he wants?  We, too, think of God that way.  God gives us his Commandments, and we bristle and chafe under them.  We think they are unfair and unreasonable, and we want to be free from them.  If God's Commandments make life hard, and if God says he will punish all who transgress them, then we conclude that God must be our enemy.
     But God's Commandments are not the problem.  God's Commandments expose the problem: You and I are sinners.  Oh, we will quote the Commandments when it serves our purpose.  We hold them up against people who steal from us or lie about us.  But we shrug them off when we don't like them.  We mock our leaders, we slander those who think differently, and we look for congratulations when we defraud our neighbor.  Your problem is not God.  Your problem is not even your fellow man.  Your problem is your own sinful heart and mind which seeks only your own good.  And God's Commandments show you this is true.  For his Commandments are good and holy, and the fact that you chafe under them shows you that you are not.  Repent.
     The Lord your God has set you free from this wretched condition.  He has not set you free from the Law, for God's will does not change.  “Love the Lord your God above all things” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” are always God's will, and they are always good.  The Lord your God, however, has set you free from being condemned by his Law.  That is because Jesus has put himself under the Law in your place.  In your place, he has done all that Law demands and has avoided all that the Law forbids.  In your place, he has suffered all that the Law threatens.  He suffered the curse for every infraction against the Commandments and he has borne the guilt for every failure to live up to God's standard.  Jesus has taken your place both in righteous obedience and righteous judgment.  By this, the Lord your God has set you free from judgment.  Your sins are forgiven.  Your debts have been paid.  The Lord your God has set you free.
     More than that, your nature has been changed.  God has converted your heart so that you no longer consider his Commandments to be unreasonable or oppressive.  No longer do you see the will of God as something evil which prevents you from living a good life.  Rather, you recognize that the will of God is good and serves for the good of all people.  It protects your neighbor from harm and preserves peace among all people.  When other people afflict us with harm or cruelty, it is because they are in rebellion against the Commandments.  And when we insult our neighbor or hurt our loved ones, it is because we have failed to live up to God's good will.  So, the will of God is good, and that is because God is good.
     But the Lord your God has set you free.  You are no longer a slave who must perform to perfection or be damned.  Rather, you are children of the Most High God whose lives now rest in Jesus Christ.  God has granted you both a new status and a new heart.  Your new heart means that you delight in serving God and your neighbor as perfectly as you can because you know God is good and his Law is good.  Your new status means that you are free from fearing God's wrath.  You don't have to wonder at the end of each day if your behavior was kind enough, if your words were true enough, or if your motives were pure enough.  The Lord your God has set you free from fear and judgment and wrath.  Since you are in Christ, you are loved by God each and every day.  And God tells you so, so that you can live in peace and joy.
     Therefore, when God reveals to you what his will is for a good and godly life, you can be sure that the God who saved you is not out to inflict oppression and injustice upon you.  The God who has set you free is good.  The God who has marked you for eternal life is good.  Therefore, his Commandments are good—good for you, good for your neighbor, and good for giving glory to God.  His first word to you is this: I am the LORD your God who has set you free from sin, death, and the devil.  Love me as I have loved you.  And trust me, as I have proven myself trustworthy.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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